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!


  1. I meant to thank you for this post -- particularly for making the distinction between people who ask in a rude/entitled way VS those who are respectful. Asking is okay, but *demanding* does not sit well with me.

    You also make a good point about the importance of setting boundaries. Like you, I have some aspects of my business that I'd prefer to keep confidential, and others that I am happy to share. While I'm not interested in setting up my competition, I do love helping other artists who have their own unique style.

    Last but not least, your observation about "people who want a shortcut to creativity" is quite apt. I never thought about it in those terms, but that's really the crux of it. It's rare that anyone quits their day job and just falls effortlessly into a lucrative craft. Instead, most successful artisans invest a substantial amount of time and money developing their skills and resources. It's usually a conscious and cumulative process, even when the product seems very simple.

  2. I am glad you found this post so helpful!

    You are so right about the amount of time, money and thought that goes into our businesses. It's rare to stumble across the perfect product and way to sell it right off the bat.