As My Pen Gently Weeps

I write this not knowing what tomorrow holds.

I know this is true of everyone, in a sense. No one knows what tomorrow will bring, but I generally have a sense of tomorrow’s schedule. Will it be the same schedule I’ve followed for the last six years or will it be something entirely different?

I am the Owner/Editor/Creator of America’s only monthly foster care magazine. Will that be who I am tomorrow?

It’s tomorrow.

I thought this was going to be the saddest write up of my life. That’s right, I thought this, of all the sad stories my pen has managed through tears, I thought this was going to be the back breaker. I was fully prepared to explain to you all the reasons Foster Focus had to end the run I’ve been on for six years. I was prepared for this to be a HuffPost piece or a message on the Foster Focus website. I was ready for my friends and family to tell me they were proud of my efforts. I was ready for foster care folks to pat me on my back as I left the game and tell me about whatever or if I’d even had an impact on the world of care. I was ready. I had talked to my wife and kids. I had cried. I had looked back on it all.

A strange thing happened on the way to the Forum (old reference, you may have to Google it); They wouldn’t let me in!

As you know by now, if you’ve been reading my Editor’s Notes musings, I live on Facebook. I have no choice; this job has handcuffed me to a desk. Facebook is my break room. It’s where I eat lunch. It’s where I build the relationships that keep the magazine going. I would venture a guess that I work as many deals via Facebook as ole Zuckerberg does. So, I went to the break room to vent my problems with my boss. (I’m the boss, if you didn’t catch that.)

To my surprise, a kind of rally ensued. Turns out, folks really like this magazine. There were all kinds of compliments and pleas to find through my issues…issue; ad revenue. I’ll get into that in a moment, I want to write a little more about the rally. Folks just sprung up with support. It was enough for me to reevaluate my stance and maybe piss my wife off in the process.

A little background for those of you not in the know about me. I left a pretty healthy salary behind to start this thing. Hell, I spent some of that salary in the first year keeping this thing afloat. It was the first time in my life I had anything that resembled financial security. Maybe it’s leftover foster kid residue but after spending money on all the things I’d wanted, i.e.; DVDs and bigger TVs, I decided to chase a dream I’d had since I aged out of care. I was going to publish and edit the only monthly foster care magazine in the country.

Could be I’m a man of my word or a self-sabotaging buffoon, whichever I am, I was determined to make Foster Focus a reality. I worked eleven hour days at a car dealership, making more money than I had at any point in my life, in between customers and after hours, I would work feverishly on this mission. I was a great salesperson, because of that I was afforded luxuries like days off to travel for the mag and the support of my employers. What I wasn’t afforded was sleep and immediate success.

No sleep became the way this magazine works. After a year of a Fight Club state of “not being there” and huge surge of responsibilities and subscribers, I decided the magazine needed all my attention. To use a car term; I left money on the table. I was a full time Publisher and Editor.

A magazine of this size and style needs 3 things; 1) Writers 2) An Editor who would die at the keyboard 3) At least 6 major advertisers with year contracts. I knew writers wouldn’t be a problem. I already had 2 years-worth of stories before I even finished the first issue. I became very good at finding writers of value. An Editor who would die at the keyboard? Me, of course, me. I’ve wanted this for over a decade, I was ready. Advertisers is where we run into our issue.

I can sell anything. Chocolate ice cream to the Pope on a sunny day? No sweat. Ice to Alaskans? Sure. Cars? Yep. Houses? Could if I wanted to. I could sell boats to people in dried out riverbeds. I have a knack for showing people the value in a purchase. I’ve told the story from high school of the big dude who broke the gym’s backboard and the pieces I scooped from the ground to sell as kids boarded the buses home. I was born to, in a very charming and empathetic way, show you why you should own something I have to sell. Before Shark Tank and the house flipping craze, this was an icky skill to have. I blame Kurt Russell for making car sales look so sleazy but that’s a column for another day.

As good as I am at selling…I haven’t cracked the code in this world of foster care. Maybe I say the wrong things, hit the wrong points. Maybe I’m not showing the value of what I’ve got. Maybe I’m too close to it. This thing is like my child, that could be it. Or maybe it’s because I picked an industry that has only spent money on conference pamphlet advertising and booths to sell to people who already know about them?!?!?! Okay, that came off petty. True. But petty.

In my mind, the people in charge of agency or program money should already know the fate of that advertising investment. I’ve done the conferences. As an attendee, an exhibitor and as an advertiser. (That’s a ton of vowels for one sentence! Won’t let it happen again.) I can tell you exactly what happens. Attendees come up to your table to see what free stuff you have to offer. I give away the magazine at conferences, so I’ve got the free thing covered. They talk nice to you as they take your free offering. It gets tossed in the complimentary bag with the rest of their new found free treasures. It’s in there with their conference guides full of paid ads. It’s in there with their conference schedule that someone paid to sponsor.

They’ll go home or to their room after a day of learning and goodie collecting, networking and catching up with old colleagues. They’ll dump that back of free stuff and conference information on their bed or counter to sort through what they’ve found. Most of the items; flyers, coupons, brochures, pamphlets will find the garbage is their new home. Candy will be eaten. Notes from breakout sessions will be filed. Highlighters and pens with logos they’ll never follow up with are all tossed onto desks to be used until they outgrow their worth. Maybe a t-shirt will be worn down the line but conference swag has a shelf life of about 8 hours.

That’s been my experience in the 6 years I’ve been at this. You can understand why I’d be completely baffled when someone spends big money on that type of advertising when Year One Foster Focus issues can still be found in some (time lenient) agency offices. Foster Focus has longevity to offer advertisers. Just haven’t figured out how to get that across.

After years of struggling to pry open those wallets, I was ready to call it a day and go back to making money.

I told that to my Facebook “coworkers” and that previously mentioned outpouring began. The results of which are before you; Year 7. There were calls to Ellen made on my behalf. (Luckily, they went unanswered! I don’t need that kind of pressure! And I can’t dance.) Calls offering help came in. Introductions were made. A couple folks even made offers to buy me out. (I had to decline. They weren’t former foster kids. This magazine will forever be run by a former foster kid or it dies with me.) Some advertisers appeared and even opened their wallets! Leads came in and things are looking like I can keep this train on the tracks. Print issues are nearly caught up and enthusiasm for the mag amped back up to where it had been earlier in the year. For this I could suffer through one more year without an arcade game in my office.

I knew when I left the world of car sales that I was leaving money and a comfortable lifestyle. Money isn’t what drives me in terms of the magazine. I just want to live the dream of running this thing and bringing as many people as I can the news and information of foster care as I am capable.

I built this thing from nothing. I’ve gone without a lot of the things I love to build it. Friends, time with family and again, money have all become things I have less of now. That isn’t a complaint, it’s a testament to just how bad I want this magazine to be an intagrel part of the foster care world.

It’s today. I’m still the Owner/Creator/Editor of America’s only monthly foster care magazine. Albeit an Editor who is still an issue behind to his print subscribers but an Editor nonetheless.

I’m so very proud to wear this badge. Proud to be at your service. Proud to be a symbol of successes foster youth are capable of. Proud to connect as many people as I can to one another and watch those connections flourish. Moreover, I’m proud to be a husband and father to a family that lets me chase down a dream, even if it means they aren’t wearing the latest clothes or dining out every night. Though they would like more things, or at least more of my time, they understand that others in this field sacrifice much more.

This wasn’t nearly as sad as I expected. And it goes without saying that I’m over the moon that it’s being written for MY magazine.

Before I end the column, let me explain this month’s cover. Before you go looking for an article solely about money and care, I should tell you that it’s more of a metaphor than a story. The feature article this month is all about changes that can improve care. That’s going to take money. My reflection is simply asking if the possible changes are worth the investment. As always, you make the call. I’m just here to present you with the information.

There’s that story and a bunch more great content.

Okay, here goes Year 7. Enjoy.