Thursday, December 3, 2020

The End of an Era: Finding my Worth

Blue Ribbon Designs ornament from Just CrossStitch Magazine
I hope fellow needleworkers, friends, and creative enthusiasts will read this post (apologies for the length) and think about how we can support the designers and artists that fuel the stitching industry.

It's hard to believe the first Just CrossStitch Special Christmas Ornament Issue was published in 1997. Truth be told, I was a fan from the start...way before I started designing professionally. I would pick up my copy at the local needlework shop or newsstand and analyze every single page. There was just something heartwarming about the diverse selection of designers, seeing their personal photos, trying their favorite Christmas recipes and reading about their stories/memories...it was truly a treat. I would spend hours perusing the pages and choosing the Christmas ornaments I wanted to/would stitch.

I honestly can't even explain the joy I felt in 2006, when I was invited to participate in this annual issue for the very first time...it was that feeling of "wow, someone has noticed my designs...I've finally made it!" That's right, 2020 marked the fifteenth year I received an invitation to design an ornament for this special issue. Even with changes over the years and many favorite designers disappearing from the issue (believe me, I've had second thoughts about it for a few years too), I continued to feel blessed to design my ornament each year. 

About a month ago, I received my sixteenth invitation for the 2021 issue (yes, designers are invited almost a year in advance). Again, I started weighing the pros and cons of being involved - mainly, because designers are NOT PAID for this issue. You heard me correctly - Just Cross Stitch Magazine does not pay designers to be in their boasted "best selling issue of the year." If you are new to the industry, sure you can get noticed being in this issue and being paid in "exposure" might be worth it; but for hardworking designers that have been around for a number of years and built a brand, giving away work for free, just doesn't seem like the best decision. I started to think about the time involved, the supplies needed, what my art is worth and even the cost of postage to mail the ornament to the publication. Plus it takes away time from working on paid pieces...and I market it for them on social media...is this really the best use of my talents?? This is my full-time job. Then I thought about my fans and the needleworkers who stitch my pieces - will I let them down if I decline?...will they be disappointed? I started questioning why...if this is JCS's best selling issue of the year, why aren't they paying and supporting the designers that make it possible? Why do they pay their staff, but not the artist? Would this be a paying job if the needlework industry was a male dominated profession? I know, a bit over the top...but that really was my thought process. I tend to quietly let things sink in, weigh it all out and make measured decisions. I took a deep breath and formulated my response (and yes, I sent this exact response in reply to the invitation):

Hi [Editorial Assistant],

I apologize for the delay in my response. To be honest, I have gone back and forth, struggling to make a decision on whether or not to be involved with the Christmas Ornament Issue in 2021.

I have shared my talent with this special issue for fifteen years…and even before I was designing full-time, it was my favorite issue and something I looked forward to purchasing. Every year, Just CrossStitch advertises that this is the “best selling issue of the year”, yet the designers that make this issue possible are not being properly compensated. Yes, the exposure is good if you are new to the industry…but for those of us who have built a name and a brand, the exposure is doing little to compensate us. This is my full-time job and something I take extremely seriously. Giving away my work for free and enabling that behavior to continue is something I can’t advocate. I’m sure you don’t ask your staff to work for free. I have expenses, time and creativity involved – not to mention the postage to send my sample to you. Plus, I have always marketed my design in this issue on all forms of social media, something I also do without compensation. Exploiting designers on any level is not something I can support.

I have decided it is in my best interest not to participate in 2021. I truly hope Just CrossStitch will take a look at this policy going forward and start paying designers fair compensation for their work – without designers, there would be no needlework industry.

This was a tough message to write and I truly weighed my options (mostly because I don’t want to let my fans down that count on me being in this special issue). I tried to write this in a kind, yet professional way. I have always been (and I still am) a fan of Just CrossStitch Magazine and I hope we will have a chance to work on future (paid) projects together. 

Sincerely,

Belinda

[Signature]

I don't know what I thought would happen - I mean, who am I, really??...and, in all reality, I enabled this poor behavior for years. I didn't expect a big change...but I did think I would get some sort of response that would give me some closure. I did get a short, nice response from the Editorial Assistant:

Hello Belinda,

Thank you for your response to our Christmas ornament design call.  As the editorial assistant for Just CrossStitch Magazine, I personally don’t have any control over the details of this publication, but please be assured that I have forwarded your concerns. Your note was very well written. I understand and appreciate you sharing your view. 

Kind regards,

[Editorial Assistant] 

Your basic - it's out of my hands and I'll send it on....but that was it. 

What an overall disappointment - disappointment in this particular publication and disappointment in myself for enabling this behavior for fifteen years. So, here I am, sharing this - my learning experience - hoping I can make some sort of difference. 

Going forward, I plan to be selective with my artistry and work on projects that are in my best interest. I, have too many times, been way underpaid (or in this case not paid) for my creativity (hmmm, AccuQuilt also quickly comes to mind)…and, in reality, these instances started to make me undervalue myself...and that is a terrible headspace to occupy. I plan to make 2021 the year to value and believe in myself and my talents!

So, for my needlework friends and fans...I am working on some ideas for a Christmas ornament(s) for next year...I have several fun ideas floating around and I will make sure you have a BRD Woodland Series ornament available for stitching next year...and it will be on my own terms! 

I hope you will share your thoughts (positive or negative) on this post with me...and/or share this post with your stitching friends and needlework communities. Maybe you'll share your thoughts with Just Cross Stitch Magazine. Think about how you can help secure the future of our industry by supporting designers and artists...

Thank you for reading this lengthy post...I'll be back soon with positivity and creativity!

51 comments:

  1. I know this was a hard and well thought out decision for you. And everything thing you stated is absolutely true. So move forward with the grace you always exhibit, know that all your fans are with you and looking forward to seeing what your amazing talent brings us next.

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  2. Good for you & shame on them. I have also purchased their Christmas & Halloween Ornament Magazines ...but had no idea you Designers were not paid More of the Designers have to do the same as no one works for nothing.

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  3. Wow. So many thoughts. I think the most insulting part is that the response letter was written by an assistant, and she condesended to compliment your writing.I was expecting to find a more positive and supportive response. I'm wondering if that assistant was perhaps the only person who viewed your response. If I were in your clever shoes, I would be SO done. I'm very sorry that you were treated this way. As a prominent and well-loved designer, you were shown no respect whatsoever. This in no way reflects on your amazing talent and integrity. I will continue to support you without your being in the next ornament issue. Now I understand why I don't see my favorite designers in the issue anymore. Good for you for speaking up.

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    1. Shari, you missed that her email was addressed TO an editorial assistant, so it was read and respond to by the intended recipient. I understand hoping to get a response from higher up, but I think you read things into the response that were not there.

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  4. I remember being excited to be considered for one of these issues... and then I also passed on submitting anything.

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  5. Good for you! I think women as a whole under value themselves! I’m glad you took a stand. You are worth it and deserve to be compensated for your time, talent and expense.

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  6. Good for you! I wasn’t aware that the designers weren’t compensated, but somehow I’m not surprised. Looking forward to purchasing what you come up with next year (and the years to come).

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  7. While the ornament issue from JCS is pretty much the icing on the cake, I totally understand your decision to not participate. It will be hard to not see your company and name in the 2021 issue, but I am sending you Great Big Momma Bear hugs as you move into the 2021 year. With love Karen ��

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  8. This is really the best decision - they want to make money from your work, they should pay for it.

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  9. Oh I absolutely agree with everything you wrote to Just Cross Stitch. I am SO PROUD of you for standing up for your right to be paid!! But I am THRILLED you will still be continuing to design a new Woodland Series ornament!!! I am so thankful to be able to add that to my collection!!!

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  10. Oh I absolutely agree with everything you wrote to Just Cross Stitch. I am SO PROUD of you for standing up for your right to be paid!! But I am THRILLED you will still be continuing to design a new Woodland Series ornament!!! I am so thankful to be able to add that to my collection!!!

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  11. You should absolutely be compensated for your work. I am sure everyone on the staff of the magazine gets paid for their work, and so should you. I think given their response the best course of action would be for you to compile some of your works and publish them, either in a booklet or a magazine format. Best wishes.

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  12. I understand where you are coming from. I designed for a while (Feathers in the Nest). I want to go back to it soon. The most discouraging thing for me was seeing my designs on Pinterest for free with no reference to myself but other people. I always love looking through JC magazine for Christmas. I like actually reading the stories and the recipes besides the pattern the most. I think it's great that you are being more intentional with self-care. It's something we all need to do for sure. I didn't realize people were not compensated for pattern submissions for JC. Thank you, though for the many years of talent you shared with us all.

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  13. What a well thought out and perfectly worded response. I had NO idea that designers aren't paid for their submissions. While I have bought the issue every year since 1997, I look at it a bit differently now that I know this. I think the magazine has changed quite a bit since it changed hands.

    I do admit that there are designers that I found out about through their ornaments. I think, though, with the advent of social media, blogging and flosstube, it's much easier for stitchers to see work from designers that they're not familiar with.

    I look forward to more if your ornaments on whatever term you choose!

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  14. Good for you for taking a stand. My issue is part of my subscription but I certainly would not buy it separately knowing this. Got to stick up for our designers! Thanks for being willing to share this with everyone and get it out in the light.

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  15. Belinda, as one of your many fans, I believe you should do what is appropriate for you and your business. I know you think of us all the time and we look forward to supporting you in your very hard decision. p.s. love your designs and I’m happy I was in your class at Lois’ Elegant Stitches in Modesto in 2011.

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  16. Ahhhh, I now understand why so many well established, talented designers have not been appearing in the Christmas Ornament issue. Although there have been some nice designs I, and a number of others, have commented that the Christmas Ornament issue is not what it use to be. I have even debated whether I should continue my yearly subscription since I do not see as many designs that interest or inspire me. It would be in the editor's best interest to take notice of your note and take action. Designers should be compensated for their designs. If more designers took a stand then change would happen. I applaud you.

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  17. Not good , I am shocked you don't get some kind of payment .
    It's very sad with all the time and hard work you put into your designs .
    I think you have done the right thing .
    And that more designers take note .
    Enjoy your week .

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  18. Your letter is very well written, & I totally agree with you.
    Let's hope that a higher up will read it & that you get a better response.
    That must be the reason so many long time designers opted out of these issues.
    Marilyn

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  19. Belinda, I support you and your decision.

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  20. I, too, was thrilled to be asked to participate. And I did so for a number of years. But I reached the same decision you did and have not submitted a design for at least 4 years. The time spent was just not worth it, especially since I never received any feedback from stitchers about my designs (mostly counted canvas, but I did some cross stitch ornaments as well). So now I create a design and send it to my email subscribers as a thank you to them specifically. Good luck with your career, and don't look back.

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    1. I love that you reward your fans with a design. It's ok to share your work freely occasionally, either as a thank you or as motivation to see what else you have to offer. I'd love to know which designer you are so I can look into your work.

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  21. Can I add a different perspective? While I don’t disagree with you, why can’t you view it as charity or giving back something to the industry? I am a professional who gets paid well for my services, but occasionally I like to volunteer my services for free. It doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of being paid, it is simply my way of giving back and sharing what I’ve been blessed with. If all designers quit contributing designs because they don’t get paid, there will be no Christmas issue and perhaps no magazine. Sometimes life is about more than money.

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    1. Thank you for your comment and perspective – I appreciate the time you took respond. Volunteering for a good cause, generally does not benefit/profit a large corporation. I have volunteered in the needlework community many, MANY times over the last twenty years and I have given back and said thank you to stitchers and my fans countless times – happily! I have shared my time, knowledge, talent, and complimentary designs…and will continue to do so. I believe most stitchers (including myself) do not want the Christmas issue to go away - they just don’t want a large company (who doesn’t publish this magazine for charity) to profit off of the hard work and creativity of the artists that make it possible.

      Belinda

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  22. I will miss your contributions, but I understand why you are not participating.

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  23. Thank you for sharing your letter with us. Entrepreneurs in every field can follow your example of setting limits. I love the JCS Ornament Issue and will continue to purchase it every year. I also would love to see them pay the contributors. If I were a new designer trying to get my name out there, it would absolutely be a great avenue to offer for free though.

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  24. Your letter was thoughtful and well written, dear friend. I know for years, you have given your time, your creativity, and your energy to coming up with a wonderful ornament as your contribution to this issue. I am proud of you for taking the stand you did and perhaps this will help those who weren't aware to understand the why behind their favorite designer(s) no longer contribute. Love you much!

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  25. I'm confused, why would the needlework industry being male-dominated change anything?

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    1. Because it seems less likely men would be willing to design for free.

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  26. While I'll miss seeing your designs in the annual ornament issue, I completely understand and support your decision. I had no idea designers weren't being appropriately compensated for their submissions to the ornament issue. I truly hope your message is taken to heart by the editors and the policy is changed! Designers should absolutely be paid for their work given the amount of money that particular issue generates for the publisher each year.

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  27. It makes me so incredibly sad to know that for the past several years I have been supporting, and enjoying, a publication that is not supporting it's needlework designers in all ways possible. Particularly given that without the needlework designers, the publication would be nonexistent. Stitching your designs has brought me so much joy, and seeing the ornaments on my tree evey year has stirred up so many happy memories of stitching some of them with the help of my young daughters who are so eager to learn needlework and follow in the footsteps of their mama. Please do not feel that you have let us down. Standing up for yourself, and for your fellow needlework designers, was incredibly noble and something you should be incredibly proud of. The heartbreaking part is that you were ever put into a situation that you had to do so. I will continue to support the beautiful art you share with the needlework community, and look forward to.more of your beautiful designs in the future.

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  28. Kudos to you for taking a stand! Your letter struck just the right balance between thoughtful and forceful, well done. I think many stitchers would be appalled to learn how little designers are compensated (if at all) by these sort of large publishers. The more designers speak up about this problem, the more pressure publishers will feel to change their policies. I'm a full-time designer myself and have never regretted turning down work for "exposure".

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  29. Wow - I had no idea! I won't be buying the Halloween or Christmas issue again. Thank you for letting us know.

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  30. I want you to know...I just posted on FB my feelings about this...I am saddened, yet happy you feel this way and are sharing...kindly read my post tonight, and thank you for shaking the tree girlfriend!

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  31. I was really sad to learn this year that most (but not all!) designers were not compensated for their work when I purchase the magazine. I commend you for your decision and well-written letter. I hope that others will do the same and there will be some change at JCS.

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  32. I think you *will* make a difference by speaking out. Just from reading these comments, it's clear (well, to me anyway) that this isn't well-known to the average stitcher, and it should be. This speaks volumes about the publication and its business practices, and I thank you for speaking out❤

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  33. I support your position 100% .

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  34. Dear Belinda, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the Christmas ornament issue of JCS.
    I have had those same thoughts for many years, especially since the Christmas issue is not only their best selling issue of the year, but shops used to love selling it their faithful customers. I designed ornaments for more years than I can remember, and eventually came to the same decision as you have. I commend your decision not only to write but also to let others know about the response of the magazine.
    I am so proud of you for speaking out.
    Sincerely,
    Judy Whitman/JBW Designs

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  35. I am so glad you had the courage to write your thoughts to JCS magazine Belinda! Good for youth's! I hope they take your letter to heart and make some changes to bring the magazine back to the quality of a few years ago. That's awful to know none of the designers were paid for their ornament designs! I haven't been very impressed with the magazine the last couple of years, they used to have more appealing designs but the styles do not appeal to me and I'm not renewing.

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  36. Thank you for sharing this. I have wondered the past few years why there have been fewer and fewer of the designers we always looked forward to...now I’m wondering if they just made the same decision you have made. It is disgraceful that J C S doesn’t compensate designers for their hard work and creativity. I’ll continue to follow you and look forward to whatever you design in the future.

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  37. Your annual Christmas ornament was the one I always looked for first in the annual JC ornie issue. I had NO idea that designers weren't compensated. Good for you for taking a stand, and in a kind and professional manner.

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  38. Bravo!

    I have every ornament issue from the first one (thanks, eBay, since I missed when it was actually available at my LNS) up through last year's. Yes, I have been disappointed over the years as favorite designers disappeared, but when I found out that the designers are not paid, it was easy to understand. I'm appalled that JCS does not pay the artists for their work that appears in this most popular issue.

    Last year's issue is the only one I purchased after finding out designers were not paid, and it will be the last issue I purchase unless and until JCS changes this execrable practice! I know I'm only one person and that my boycott is likely useless is the long run, but it's the one thing I can do to protest.

    Thank you for your decision and for speaking out.

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  39. Thank you so much for starting this conversation. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t promoted myself well and depended on things like the ornament issue to help with that. I’ve always been a bit shy about putting myself out there and you have judged me in the right direction! I decided since I started designing again that I will not offer my services for free. And you offered validation! Thanks again for this thought provoking post! Tracy

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  40. We can support designers by letting the folks at Just Cross Stitch know we find it unacceptable and disrespectful, not to pay designers for their work. There are email addresses in the front of the magazine.

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  41. Wow, I had no idea the designers were not paid for their work in this, the best selling issue of JCS! And that fact is appalling! There's a big difference in giving a design for free to your fans and giving a design for free to someone who is getting paid for distributing it. I believe if you give a design for free, it should be free...not sold by anyone else! what is the difference between a large distributor selling a free design for profit and those that make copies of designs and sell them violating copyright law? I see no difference. I am happy you've spoken out and hope that others follow suit.

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  42. I’m glad to find out this information about not being paid, I really had no idea. I love the ornament issues and buy all of them and will continue to do so. There are certain designers that I always look forward to seeing what they made. I hope the start doing some kind of compensation in the future but if that happens the special issues will probably stop. Hugs,

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  43. I have been thinking about this for several days since I first read the original blog post. It reminded me of a conversation I was in a few years ago. Two women who had been volunteering time and talent for many years were considering quitting volunteering for the organization we were in. Another long-term volunteer wisely explained: if you do something on a volunteer basis, do it because you want to and because it brings you joy. If you cease to get joy or cease to want to, stop----no questions asked. He reminded all of us that organizations will never "appreciate" us the way they should, so it's up to us to do or to give what we want for as long as we want. In this case, you can easily decide because of all the help you've already given, that volunteering (i.e. contributing) is not for you any more.

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    1. Thank you for your comment and perspective – I appreciate the time you took respond. Volunteering for a good cause, generally does not profit a large corporation. I have joyfully volunteered in the needlework community many, MANY times over the last twenty years and I have given back and said thank you to stitchers and my fans countless times – happily! I have shared my time, knowledge, talent, and complimentary designs…and will continue to do so, with joy in my heart. I just don’t want a large company (who doesn’t publish this magazine for charity) to profit off of the hard work and creativity of the artists that make it possible. My post was not about volunteering - JCS pays their staff to work on this issue, they should respect and pay the artists that provide the content.

      Belinda

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  44. Your letter was very thought-provoking. My first reaction is, Absolutely, the annual Christmas ornament designers should be compensated for their time and the ornament they provide for the magazine issue. I can't believe the magazine would go forward and not start compensating the designers. There is one thing I'd like to point out that you might not have thought about in regards to this free work you've done for 15 years. I'm now retirement age and this week I am taking up counted cross-stitch again since I first did it in the 1980's! I wish I hadn't let it go, but that's another story. Fast forward to now and the designs, threads, fabrics today are amazing and beautiful! I went to Barnes and Noble to pick up a cross stitch magazine to inspire me to get started again. I saw the JCS Christmas Ornament 2020 issue and fell in love! I had to have it. I brought it home and spent two evenings enjoying going through all the pages. Some of the designs are so delightful I had to look up the designer and their website to see more of their designs I could buy. Every designer was new—to me! Blue Ribbon Designs is new to me. I would not have heard of you or your design company outside of the Christmas issue...except as I immerse myself in the cross stitch and stitching world again, I'm sure I would begin to see your popular designs in my local stitch shop, in monthly magazine issues, and online. I guess I just want to make the point that for some stitchers, that one (sadly unpaid, it's true) ornament design may spark an interest in collecting designs from a particular designer that is new to them. So you may have gotten more benefit than you realize from your 15 year of "unpaid" work! Plus, I believe when we give from the heart, good will come back to us. However, there is a time when the right thing is to be compensated for our work! :)

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  45. I feel your letter was clear, concise and very well written. I think all too often we just continue the way we always have and that we rarely put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Hopefully your letter will open some eyes at the magazine for you and your peers. If not for all the designers generously submitting designs and recipes, there would be no issue.

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