Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Hello Polite Readers!

No letters today, sadly! I just wanted to wish you all a Happy Halloween.

Trick-or-Treaters, remember to say "Thank you" for your candy tonight!

Candy-givers, remember to be polite when denying treats to those who are out of costume or trying to double-dip.

Enjoy the mostly-full moon which should make for some well-lit evening revelries, and come back on Sunday for a new column.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Please spill all your trade secrets!

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's question comes courtesy of the lovely and talented Andrea of Beadmask. She writes:

Hey AJ,

I have a PW topic suggestion/request for you:

Random strangers who write (typically rudely) to ask for detailed patterns, instructions and/or sources for materials. They're often demanding, and I've never once had any of these people acknowledge that my time, talent or resources have value by offering to trade or exchange anything. Friends are different, but it strikes me as rude for someone I've never met to expect so much without so much as a "please" or "thank you".


I'm so happy that you wrote this letter, Andrea, because this is something that I really wanted to address on this blog! I think almost every artist has been in your shoes. The world is full of people who want a shortcut to creativity -- hence the two posts I've already written about copycats.

When someone sends you a rude request for patterns, say simply "I'm sorry, I don't currently have any tutorials or patterns for my work. If I ever decide to make them available, they will be for sale in my Etsy shop." Rude requests for material sources can be responded to with a little "If you Google for <insert leather term here, I seriously have no idea what you use because leatherwork mystifies me> you should find numerous sources for mask leather."

Wow. That was easy! But what about those occasional polite requests? Sometimes you'll get a gushing request for information on your technique and your suppliers. How do you respond to that? You need to balance their good manners against the fact that you have worked hard to develop your designs and/or find the perfect source for materials.

Decide what you're willing to share. I will not give someone detailed instructions on how I did something, but I will recommend great books on similar beadwork. I will not tell someone specifically which vendor I go to for awesome vintage keys, but I will happily provide recommendations on the best prices for seed beads and crystals.

If you get a lot of requests, you might want to write up a little form letter that lists your favorite books, websites, and suppliers that will help a newbie to your craft. It pays to be nice to people who are asking politely, because if they try their hand and find out they just can't do it themselves, they'll probably remember how sweet you are and buy from you.

I am especially willing to help people look for supplies when they work in a totally non-competing medium. My brother, for instance, works at a company that makes fire toys and in the past I've tried to help him find a good source for split rings for their products. I've happily given my fellow belly dancers advice on where to buy crystal sequins (actually, I usually spend late January and early February answering a lot of "Which gem show should I go to for this?" questions). This is another situation where a few minutes of your time will foster a lot of goodwill with a fellow artist and possibly lead you to some interesting new sites as you try to find what they're looking for.

Have your own rude Etsy convo that needs a Politely Worded response? Email me at and you may be featured in a future column!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What if I don't want to party every day?

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's topic comes courtesy of a friend, who writes:

Hi AJ,

I'm looking for a polite way to relay to a few friends that I'm not
into the idea of doing something EVERY night. I work full time,
exercise almost every day, and enjoy spending time with my family.
Plus, it gets expensive to drive around all the time, even if we
aren't planning an expensive activity.

I'm nervous that if I approach the topic too directly they'll think I
look at them as clingy/annoying and there will be hurt feelings. Any

PS: could you please use a fake name if you choose to publish this?
 Can I use a fake name? Oh boy, can I! Friend, your new name is Dmitri. Feel free to try on a fake Russian accent.

Dmitri, you chose the right person to write to for advice. Whereas a lot of my columns are based on me just sitting here and thinking about the politest way to handle a situation I have never been in, this is a topic I have tons of real-life experience with. I am introverted by nature so I have lots of practice turning down invites to social events. It's not that I don't like my friends, it's just that sometimes I need to spend a night at home with a book and recharge.

I don't know whether you identify more strongly with introverts or extroverts, but I have a feeling that even the most outgoing soul is going to occasionally want to lounge around in their jammies in front of the TV after a full day of work and a hard work-out. We all need to rest from time to time, both physically and mentally. It sounds like your friends are leading a less strenuous life than you and you're worried they won't understand.

Well, stop worrying so much, Dmitri (I really like typing your fake name, can you tell?). You've got to take care of you, and you can do so politely. I don't think you really even need to explain yourself. Just start saying "Sorry, I can't come out tonight. How about we do something on Saturday instead?" or some variation thereof. Don't offer excuses! Your friends will counter them, and you'll have to either make more excuses (which makes it clear that you just don't want to hang out but can't bring yourself to say it), or you'll have to let yourself get talked into going out rather than admitting that you're lying.

I also don't recommend making a blanket announcement that you don't want to hang out as often. I think even the most polite wording will lead to some hurt feelings. It's easier to turn things down one by one and be able to decide what you want to do than deal with sulky friends not inviting you to their birthday party because "Dmitri doesn't want to hang out with us anymore."

I can't tell if you have one group of friends that wants to hang out together every night (which I find a bit extreme, but as I said above, introvert. My husband is the only person I see every day), or if you have a big social web that results in different people inviting you out every night. In the first case, it's pretty easy to just limit yourself to only seeing them 1-3 times a week as your schedule allows. In the second case, you may find yourself juggling friends as you try to get a chance to see everyone and make them all feel loved, without hitting the bars or going bowling every night.

My advice to you would be to decide how often you need a "you" night -- for me, I like to have one night a week that I don't go out for anything. You may be fine having one every two weeks, or happy going out every night as long as you come home early once a week. Then look for alternative ways to see everyone -- grab lunch with one friend, weekend afternoon coffee with another, see if any of them want to be workout buddies so you can combine socializing with exercise.

Most of your friends will probably be cool with the new arrangement, as long as they still get to see you on a regular basis. The ones who genuinely "need" to see you every. single. day. are probably the sort of emotionally needy person that you'll want to minimize your time with anyway.

As for the money thing, boy, do I hear you! If you live in a spread-out area, the cost of gas adds up pretty quickly. If you find yourself still going out a lot, do your best to work on some ride-sharing arrangements or make sure that a fair amount of the plans are close to your side of the town. You should never be in a situation where you always have to go see them unless your friend is housebound for medical reasons.

I hope this helps, Dmitri! (just had to type it one more time)

If you have your own sticky social situation, you can write me at and I will see if I can help!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gift Giving Obligations

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's column comes from Alisa, who wrote in with a very timely question about holiday gifts:

I have a bit of a sticky situation.  I worked with a woman for several years, and during that time, we became social outside of work.  We also began to make Christmas/birthdays at work more fun by exchanging gifts.  I kept my gifts around $15 in value, but she began to up the value of what she gave to me.  For my last birthday (in January) she gave me around $50 in gifts.  Shortly after, she left her job for another in a different city.  We still plan to keep in touch via email and facebook, but we probably will not be getting together much in person, if at all.  Her own birthday came up after she left, and since she'd spent so much on my last gift, I felt obligated to get her something, so I boxed up a gift and mailed it to her.  But now Christmas is coming, and I would really prefer not to continue exchanging gifts, since it was mainly a 'work thing', and honestly, I do not have the funds right now.  My question is, how do I let her know?  I'm afraid she is going to spend a bunch of money on me again, and I really do not want that.  But she's very sensitive emotionally, and, I think, lonely right now in her new city and job.  I don't want to hurt her feelings.  How do I handle this?

I think this is a problem that far too many of us have, especially as the bad economy just drags on forever.  In a perfect world we wouldn't mind buying nice gifts for everyone we know, but in the real world, every gift that we feel obligated to buy for a not-so-close friend or distant relative is less money that we can spend on our nearest and dearest, or more debt that we go into so we can keep everyone happy and still pay the bills.

The first question I want you to ask yourself, Alisa, is have you and your former co-worker actually kept in touch via FB and email? Are you having meaningful conversations, or just "Liking" each other's vacation pics? Because if it's the latter, than the friendship is dying a slow, natural death and you don't have to worry about doing more than writing "Merry Christmas" on her wall in December.

If you're still close, though, then she probably does plan to send you something for the holidays, especially if she hasn't found a new work buddy. You should go ahead and break the news to her soon so that she hopefully hasn't already purchased your gift yet. Say something like this:

 Hi! Can you believe it's only a couple of months until Christmas? I was just starting my shopping and I'm pretty depressed about how low the budget is this year. I'm not really going to be able to buy gifts for most of my friends. I wanted to let you know because you've always been so thoughtful with gift-giving and I would feel horrible if you sent me something when I can't afford to return the favor!

Of course, the problem with this is that it might be revealing more of your financial situation than you're comfortable with. You can change the wording a bit to be more relevant to your situation and less about finances. Do you have kids, or is there a new niece or nephew or baby cousin in the family? You can say that you're focusing on the younger generation this year. Or go the tried-and-true "real spirit of Christmas" method and focus more of your giving on charity this year, saying something like:

Hey friend! How are things going? How's the new job? I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about the holidays (hard not to when Wal-Mart already has Christmas trees up!) and feeling bad about how many people are out of work and homeless this year. As such I'm going to be spending a lot of my usual gift budget on canned goods for the food bank and I was thinking you might do the same! Wish you were still local, we could hit Costco together!

 Whatever method you go for, be sure to still acknowledge your friend at the holidays. I would send her a nice card with a heartfelt note, wishing her well, sharing a funny tidbit about a co-worker you both know, something that will make her feel remembered and help tide her over while she builds a social circle in her new home.

Also, keep in mind that whatever you say, she may still send you a nice present. Some people just really love shopping for the perfect gift, wrapping it up nicely, and seeing you enjoy it. It's not about give-and-take for them, because they get rewarded by the act of gifting to you. Did your friend ever seem resentful when you were giving her $15 gifts and she was giving you $50 gifts? If not, she is probably just the sort of person who sees the perfect thing for their friend and buys it, without any concern about the price or what you'll give them in return. In that case, you just have to learn to let it go, and not feel bad when you can't reciprocate.

On the other hand, if she does act resentful and starts making passive-aggressive comments, you have my permission to hasten along the natural death of the friendship by hiding her on Facebook!

Do you have your own holiday-related problems that are already stressing you out? Need to have the perfect response memorized when dealing with your creepy uncle at Thanksgiving? Just drop me an email at and I'll see if I can help!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More Copying

Hello Polite Readers!

Today we have a second question from my beadmaking friend. She writes:

I have a person come up to my table at a show, ooh and ahh, and select a large assortment of beads to purchase.  After the money has changed hands, she casually mentions that she loves my beads, but can't afford my prices to include in her "designer" work, so she's going to take the beads she just bought back to a bead maker she knows to have them "re-created" at a lower price.  Since this person obviously doesn't understand the concept of copyright, how would you handle it?

How would I handle it? Well, first I'd look at her like she'd grown a second head (and not in that "Cool, you're Zaphod Beeblebrox" sort of way, but in that "Maybe you should get that looked at" sort of way). This is, after all, the Politely Worded blog, not the Polite Facial Expression blog.

People who are not in the bead or jewelry making world may not realize just how depressingly common it is to have someone buy a sampling of your work and either farm it out to a crafter who's willing to work even cheaper than you, or worse, mail it overseas to be copied in a factory setting. I know numerous artists who have had this done to them, and I can only imagine that it happens in other industries as well.

However, this is the first time I've heard of a customer flat-out admitting that she is going to have your work knocked-off so she can pass the "savings" along to her customers. What gall! As if you would be fine with the fact, as if somehow buying some of your work negates the fact that she'll only be buying from you in the future if you have new designs that she wants her pet beadmaker to copy.

Not only do customers who do this take money from you, but they dilute your brand image. If people who have seen your work in the past see the knock-off beads in her design, they might not realize that they were made by a copycat and think instead that your own quality is slipping and thus stop ordering from you. Not cool.

So what would I do? I would give the customer her money back and take my beads back. Honestly. How can you let her leave your booth with your work, knowing that she's just going to contract someone else to copy it? Hand back her cash, write "Void" across the check, reverse the credit transaction, whatever you need to do, then firmly request that she return your beads and leave your booth. When she asks why, say something like this:

You just admitted that you're going to help another artist steal my designs. You are taking my livelihood, encouraging an undercutting artist, and damaging my brand image. I don't need your money. Please take your business elsewhere.

 Try not to cause a scene, because the other customers at the bead or craft show are not privy to everything that has happened and will just see a vendor yelling at a customer -- yikes! Keep your voice level, your expression firm but not angry. You may end up needing to let her leave with this batch of beads if she kicks up too much fuss and refuses to hand them over, but be sure to make special note of her face and her name so that if she ever returns to your booth, you'll remember not to sell to her. Make sure that any booth help you hire in the future knows her name and that she's not to be sold to.

Once this would-be idea thief has left your booth, calmly spread the word to your other beadmaking friends so they know not to sell to her, either. I wouldn't go around telling every vendor, just the ones you have a good personal relationship with. Of course, if another vendor saw the incident at your booth and asks what happened, you should calmly share the facts with them, too.

You may also want to share this sort of thing on-line, via Facebook or your blog. If you do, I would only outline what happened, and not post her name, as that may result in some nasty e-mails from the customer if it gets back to her. Feel free to provide her name and description privately to those who message you, but don't post it publicly. I've seen that sort of thing get ugly.

Do you have your own customer problems or sticky situations that you need a Politely Worded reply to? Just drop me an e-mail at and I may use it for a future column! And remember, I am now publishing on Wednesday and Sunday as long as my letter volume remains high enough! Thank you all for your questions, comments, and enthusiasm so far.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Roommate Relations

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's letter comes courtesy of my friend Kimberly, and it's about roommates and cultural differences (probably):

I have a new roommate who's really nice but foreign (Nepali, specifically). He works 9-9 seven days a week and I think he is desperate for socializing or maybe it's a cultural difference thing but he literally pulled up a chair behind me last night while I was at my computer trying to have chat conversations with friends and do research and read over my shoulder everything I was doing! I can tell he has no idea how inappropriate this is so I don't want to be a jerk. I'd like to nicely indicate a boundary so that I can have private internet time without having to hide in my room. Also, he seems intent on feeding me which is odd. Seriously, he cuts cake for me without even asking if I want any. It's really kind of him but... um...awkward!
Here's where I admit that I have never had a roommate who was not my family or my spouse. I love my privacy, and could probably never be as polite as Kimberly would like to be with this young man who is reading over her shoulder.

Kimberly, it's hard to say whether his strange behavior is because of his culture, his upbringing, his own personal quirks, or just the fact that he is a new roommate awkwardly trying to get along with you. The good news is whatever his reasons, it doesn't sound like he is doing anything malicious, and I would have a hard time complaining about someone who brought me cake, up until I started dieting a week ago.

It sounds like your roomie wants to be friendly, so you first need to decide how friendly you're willing to be with him. Are you willing to set aside some specific time to hang out with him? If so, suggest that every Thursday at 10 is when you can play board games and share cake, for instance.

In the meantime, the next time he comes up behind you and starts reading your chats, minimize the window, turn around to face him, and say with a smile,

Oh hey, I'm just taking care of a few things on-line. It's kind of private. If you want to chat or hang out, I'll be done in about half an hour.
 If he doesn't take the hint, then a simple "Please don't read over my shoulder" should get it across.

And then there's the cake thing. This may be a cultural thing for sure. Some cultures have such strong feelings about feeding other people, he may have been raised to believe that it's wrong to get food for himself and not bring some for everyone else in the house, too. It's tricky to deal with this sort of thing without offending, which is why I once had to choke down some cold borscht (though to this day, I wonder why I was singled out for the offending borscht. Neither my brother nor mother had to eat anything. I was, apparently, too skinny?).

You may need to slowly and gently retrain him on this one. Start turning down his unexpected snacks with a simple "Oh, I'm not hungry, thank you!" When you're getting a snack, ask if he wants anything, with the hopes that he'll learn by your example. Maybe even explain to him that he should ask you before bringing you food.

This could lead to some good dialog. Maybe he'll tell you that he was raised to share food, and you can be understanding and say that's just not how you do things. Now that you've both explained your side of the food thing, he'll hopefully be comfortable to bring up any of your quirks that he finds unusual in an equally polite manner, and you two can both take care of any issues before they turn into resentment.

I feel really bad for anyone who is working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so I hope you can resolve this in a way that leaves him feeling like he gets to be social, and leaves you feeling like you can chat in privacy.

Have your own strange roommate question? Send it to me at and I'll consider it for this blog!

By the way. Kimberly also has a great Etsy shop, Night Lily Design. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Hello Polite Readers!

Oh, it's a banner day! I've had so many requests from you all that rather than build a month-long backlog, I've decided to update twice a week as long as I receive enough letters. So please enjoy this first Wednesday edition of Politely Worded!

I've had multiple requests to cover the topic of copy-cats. Here's a specific letter from a friend of mine who makes lampworked glass beads, about a problem she had a few years ago:

I'm at a show and have a newbie set up beside me. She starts quizzing me on general things in bead making, and I answer honestly, trying to help out a new person. She examines everything on my table (I don't think anything of this, back then it was common to do so among glass artists). However, at the next show, I find that this person has the same style of bead (novelties) on her table as the ones I'm making, but poorly done. This continued for all the years I did shows--anything new I came up with, next show it would be reproduced poorly on her table. How would you have handled that?
Much like fair pricing, copying is one of those issues that dogs artists all over the world, in all fields. Sometimes it's not a genuine problem. I have seen a lot of artists complain about being copied, when it was actually just a case of simultaneous inspiration by someone who was not aware of the other artist, and meant no harm. But then there are times like this, when you know someone has looked at your work and is suddenly producing copies of it. What do you do?

This is another situation where it is important to be polite but firm. I recommend sending the artist in question an e-mail. You can of course easily get their e-mail address by snagging a business card off of their table at the show, or if you want to be especially sneaky about it, send an accomplice to get it for you.

Stick to just the facts, and not your opinion of her work or the fact that you helped her out. Say something like this:

Hello! I couldn't help but notice when I visited your booth at the Local County Bead Show Thingie that you have begun to copy my work. Your Christmas trees, Easter eggs and Jack-O-Lanterns are the same designs as the ones you were admiring in my booth last month. I understand the desire to break into the novelty bead market, but I need you to stop attempting to duplicate my beads. Focus on your own original designs. Thank you!

If this doesn't work you may need to examine your legal options, but I am in no way qualified to comment on that and in fact there are few things I dislike more than participating in on-line discussions about copyright in the arts and crafts world.

So, what about when you're in a situation where you are not sure that the person deliberately copied you? In that case, you should give them the benefit of the doubt. Contact them, but it treat it like it's clearly an accident. Here's an example:

Hello! I was just browing Etsy when I came across your beautiful necklace. I was surprised because it looks so much like mine! <include link to the necklace in question, preferably on your blog or something other than an Etsy listing so it doesn't look like the advertising spam we all hate so much> I see some differences, so I have a feeling it was a case of simultaneous inspiration! I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I'm going to blog about it, and you might want to do the same, so we can both assure our fans that there's no copying going on. Keep up the great work, I love that green bracelet in your shop!
 If it was an accident, you both can share a laugh about how there are only so many ways to combine beads (or design scarves, or choreograph to a specific song, or whatever) and defuse a potentially ugly situation where a well-meaning fan goes on a very public rant accusing the other artist of being a no-good, dirty rotten copycat. If it was on purpose, you've now made it clear that you're aware of this person's existence and that if they copy any more of your work, you'll notice.

One more thing. If you are not the artist being copied, don't take it upon yourself to contact the apparent copier. Instead, contact the original artist (IF you know them) and give them the heads-up. Maybe they already know, and in fact, maybe they gave the person permission to use their design. If not, they'll want to handle it themselves in whatever way they think is best.

Thanks for reading, and remember, if you'd like me to continue updating twice a week you can E-Mail me with your own questions that need a Politely Worded response!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fair Pricing

Hello Polite Readers!

This week's topic comes via special request from my Etsy team mates, but I think it's something that all of my crafter, artist, performer, photographer, contractor friends will appreciate. Yes, this week we're talking about fair pricing, how to defend yourself, and how to deal with undercutters.

It's pretty much a universal problem for anyone who works in a creative field. You set a fair price for your work, based on materials, time spent on it, your skill level, what the market will support, what you need to make to make it all worth while, etc etc. You might spend months or even years tweaking your pricing formula, consulting with other professionals in your field, before coming up with something that you're happy with. But no matter how perfect your pricing structure is, someone always comes along and says "Why is this so expensive? I could do it myself! This girl over there says she'd do it for half the price" and so on.

What's an artist to do? It's tempting to go off on the customer and explain in patronizing detail just how your work is better than the cheap imported rip-offs at the mall, because hey, what does it matter if you insult them, they're not going to buy from you anyway! But that's not a healthy attitude to have, and you may chase off would-be customers who were planning to pay your fair prices but were disgusted by your attitude.

It's also tempting to give a polite but thorough explanation of what goes into your product. For instance, as a dancer, I've seen some people advising that when a potential client balks at the cost of a 30 minute performance and wants to know why they can't have 15 minutes for half the price, that you politely explain that they're not just paying for your time, but for the time it takes to get ready, for the time you spend in classes, for the cost of your costumes and so on. But the fact is, the client doesn't care that you spend 45 minutes on your eye makeup alone and that your new skirt cost $75.

Most importantly, explaining has two major flaws. It sounds too much like making excuses, and it lays out exactly what goes into your work and ruins the magic. A potential dance client doesn't want to think about all the layers of makeup you apply to transform from your mundane self to a glamorous performer. A potential jewelry buyer doesn't need to know that those really fabulous beads actually only cost you $2 at a yard sale.

Once again, the answer is to be short and sweet. Smile and say "I think you'll find my rates are actually pretty standard in this area" or "I base my prices on the materials used and the time it took me to create it. You'll find that most artists price their work similarly."

But what if someone in your field is charging much less than you? It's a pretty common problem for artists and crafters to pretty much sell their work for just the cost of material, with no thought to the time it took or the need to make a profit. It's common for performers and photographers (and probably people in other fields as well) to work for nothing or a pittance because they "just love what they do." It's unavoidable that at some point, a potential customer will ask you why you are so much more expensive than the other person. Some people recommend saying something that hints at "you get what you pay for" but I find that often seems a little too snarky and underhanded. Try something along the lines of "I charge what I feel is a fair rate for my work. She has a different idea of what is fair for her work."

And what about approaching the undercutters themselves? I only recommend this if you're in a situation to be friendly with them -- they come to your booth at a craft fair and are chatting about your shared field, they're your classmate at the dance studio, whatever. Don't frame it as accusing them of undercutting you, because that will put them on the defensive. Point out that they are undercutting themselves, ie "I can't believe how little you're asking for this necklace! Your work is so beautiful, you could really ask for more."

Being an artist, whether you're one who creates tangible objects or who performs, is more than just being in a business, it's also being part of a community. By building up your competition instead of tearing them down, you're allowing for friendly competition, fostering an environment where your customers choose based on whose style appeals to them most at the moment rather than who has the cheapest price.

And the people who still think you're charging too much? Well, they can go shop at the mall, and good riddance to them. Don't let them bring you down. You are an artist, you are worth what you are charging, and the right clients will find you in time.

Have a tricky convo that you just can't answer? Rude people getting you down? E-Mail Me and get your own Politely Worded response for life's tricky situations.