Not only does he spell his first name the same way as your man out of Radiohead (sorry, couldn’t resist), Thom Chambers is a very talented bloke.
He edits and publishes a beautifully designed monthly e-magazine called In Treehouses, which is inspired by Kevin Kelly’s influential concept that an artist only needs 1,000 True Fans to make a living (highly relevant for anyone wanting to be a Clear-minded Creative).
I’ve been reading In Treehouses since the beginning, and the latest issue is an impressively in-depth look at a topic very close to my heart as a writer – the future of publishing. So I was delighted when Thom agreed to answer my questions about what makes him tick creatively:
Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?
I’m the editor and publisher of In Treehouses, which is a free e-magazine designed to help people reach 1,000 True Fans.
A True Fan is defined, pretty much, as someone who buys everything you create, who reads everything you write – someone around whom you can start to build your microbusiness.
Beyond that, I’m currently the marketing manager for a design and marketing agency in Cheltenham, England. As of May, though, I’m setting out on a new adventure and exploring uncharted waters by starting a digital publishing house. I can’t give too much more away on that just yet, but you can follow @intreehouses on Twitter or subscribe to In Treehouses to be kept up to date as things develop.
At the moment I’m living deep in the Hampshire countryside, working on an ebook that’s going to help people get a start on the journey towards their True Fans.
I’ve had lots of readers asking for help in the early stages – rather than reaching 1,000 True Fans, they’re more interested in how to reach one or five or ten to begin with. The great thing is that it scales. The things that will get you one True Fan will also get you your second, your hundredth, and your thousandth. So I’m writing an ebook to help people get over that first hurdle and get started on the journey.
And then there’s the latest edition of the magazine, although at the time of writing I’ve only just finished the latest one. I’m taking a breather for a day or two before starting the next edition.
Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?
It’s evolved, really. I wanted to work online and I wanted to create something stickier than a blog, so the magazine was a result. All the same, it took a few nudges from blog posts and the like to get started.
As soon as I started on it, though, the magazine felt natural in a way that blogging never did. I like being able to multitask with it – to do the writing, designing, editing, publishing, promoting, and so on.
One doesn’t have that control with a blog – you’re bound by the constraints of HTML and your own coding abilities a bit more. The magazine played to my strengths, really, and my desire to make sure all aspects of the experience were up to standard.
Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?
One has to, I think. I’m still working full time at the moment (although doing so remotely, so thankfully there’s no commute) and I’ve had to set myself a fairly strict routine of when I can work on the magazine and the creative side in general. I’m up at 5 most days, working for a couple of hours before I start the day job, and then put in another hour or two at the end of the day.
I’m putting in fairly anti-social hours for a few months so that I can reap the benefits longer-term, really. It’s winter, there’s not a whole lot on, and I’m living in a fairly rural part of the world so there are few distractions. It’s good, it forces me to focus on the work and get stuff done.
When you’ve constantly got temptation and are having to turn stuff down to work creatively, it can be easy to start to resent the creative side. It can start to feel like something that’s holding you back from going out with friends or whatever, rather than something on which you want to be working.
I look at what I’m doing now and the way I’m living now as a short-term thing, though. Come summertime I’ll have left full time work, so will be able to balance things a little more.
How do you define success?
Emerson said, “As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions”. I’ve always held to the idea that success is to be able to see the life you want to live and to set about creating it.
What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?
In terms of the creation, I couldn’t do it without the technology. Being a digital magazine, I’m reliant on computers – that said, I’m no expert so am limited far beneath the extent of the design software that i use (Adobe CS). It’s nice to know the possibility is there, though.
And technology is at the heart of the way I promote the magazine, too. I’ve never advertised it and only ever done a handful of interviews, so the only way it spreads really is by people talking about it organically and spreading the magazine via digital word of mouth.
As for the negatives… it doesn’t affect me too much, but I’m intrigued by the lack of value placed on digital art. The digital world has created new opportunities for musicians and writers to pursue their 1,000 True Fans and sell digital versions of their work, but because computers have such visual possibility and one sees a thousand incredible images every day online, it’s hard for digital art to have value. Art (and photography) has become a screensaver and nobody wants to pay for that.
It seems that, unlike music or literature, we only value art and photography when we can have the physical version of it. Digital doesn’t work.
Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?
I have interviewees and the occasional contributor, but it’s mostly all me. Partly through the necessity of running such a small operation, and partly because I believe in the power of the individual to make something great, rather than the power of the collective – which has the power to spread the idea. Maybe it’s just a controlling thing, but I think there’s more chance of creating something remarkable when you’re working solo.
Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?
Yeah, naturally. The community is how the message of the magazine spreads, which is great. There are always cheerleaders who don’t need pushing to tell others to check out your stuff. Even though I prefer to create the magazine alone, it’s written for the community and for their enjoyment. When R.E.M. play live, Michael Stipe often introduces their biggest hit – Losing My Religion – with the words “this is your song, we just wrote it”. I like that idea, that once you’ve created something successful then in a way it becomes the property of the fans and the community.
I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?
There’s the saying, isn’t there – you don’t wait for the spirit to move you, you have to move the spirit. I think that’s the best way. You’re never going to be on top form every day. To drop in another cliche, even Shakespeare wrote bad plays. It’s about turning up and doing the work and accepting that some days you won’t feel like doing it. And then doing it anyway.
Thanks Thom for taking the time to answer and sharing your knowledge! What do you think? Why not say hello in the comments.
As well as being able to get the current issue for free, you can also buy the first 6 issues of In Treehouses in a handy 120 page ebook called The Almanac (they are no longer available to buy individually).
Note: This is of course an affiliate link, so I can sit back and watch the money roll in whilst I plan how to spend the endless hours of leisure that will make up my early retirement (if only!)