The business of better writing – Q and A with Sounding Sea co-Founder Tracy Gold
Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop, a startup that offers writing classes and tutoring, launched officially in July with classes offered from three local writers. Creative writing is essential as Baltimore addresses challenges brought to the forefront by recent unrest.
Four University of Baltimore Masters of Fine Arts students, inspired by similar businesses in New York and Los Angeles, started Sounding Sea. “Our friends talked about taking writing classes in other cities, and we thought Baltimore writers should have the same opportunity,” said Tracy Gold, co-founder of Sounding Sea. “Our six-week classes will be perfect for professionals who love to write creatively but don’t have time to enroll in a graduate program.” To view Gold’s tips for how to be a better writer, click here.
Gold and co-founders Justin Sanders, Jessica Welch, and Mia White recently won the New Business category in The University of Baltimore’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s Rise to the Challenge Pitch Competition. Sounding Sea plans to offer about 15 writing classes per year, Gold said.
We recently caught up with co-founder Tracy Gold and talked to her about her entrepreneurial journey and the vision for Sounding Sea.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur, or start this venture?
A few years ago, when I decided that I wanted to move away from my work in marketing and dedicate myself to becoming a published author, I was at a loss for how to become a better writer. I had some friends who were great at catching typos, but I didn’t have anyone to talk to about plotting or character development. I ended up hiring a tutor from an NYC-based company. She helped me craft application materials to apply for Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) programs, and she worked with me on the first short story I ever published. After a few years of studying fiction at The University of Baltimore, and getting several more stories published, I realized there was a need for a company in Baltimore to help people like my tutor from New York helped me. I reached out to some like-minded friends, and we formed Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop.
What is the problem your business/endeavor solves, and how?
Sounding Sea helps people who love to write, but don’t have the time or money to enroll in an MFA program. We also help folks build up their skills so they can get into an MFA program.
Our classes provide structure and community for what can be a solitary pursuit. Our writing coaches work with people individually to help them craft their stories. This summer and fall, we’re offering classes in memoir, fiction, poetry, and getting published, and we’re building our roster of talented writing coaches.
What was the most intimidating part of starting your project?
I run a freelance marketing business, I’m finishing up my master’s degree, and I teach writing at the University of Baltimore. I believe that with enough time, I can overcome any obstacle, but I wasn’t sure if I would have enough time to do what it took to get this business off the ground. That’s a large part of why I reached out to my cofounders, who have been amazing. Figuring out the logistics, like applying for an LLC and writing contracts was intimidating, but with a little help from a volunteer lawyer in my family, we made it happen. Then, of course, you have to hope that, like in Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come.” But what if they don’t? What if we put in all this work, and then there was no demand? Luckily, we just filled our first class, and we’re feeling good about the other classes coming up. But there were a few hairy moments in there where we were afraid the classes wouldn’t take off!
What resources did you use to get started?
We won $750 and some pro-bono services in a pitch competition from The University of Baltimore’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. That’s covering most of our startup costs, and UB is giving us a classroom to use for free for our first class. Otherwise, we’ve been putting in our time, and asking friends and family members to donate their expertise for tasks like reviewing contracts. Our wonderful friend and talented memoirist Lisa Van Wormer even sponsored a seat in one of our classes to get us started. The support from our friends, family, and community has been absolutely amazing. It’s incredibly heartwarming to feel this entire community, both in the writing world, and in the business world, rising up to support us. I’m looking forward to being able to give back once the business is steadier on its feet.
Do you have partners? If so, how many?
We are a quartet—Justin Sanders, Mia White, and Jessica Welch are my co-founders. Everyone brings their own skills and connections into the group and we’ve been working very well together.
How did you decide to go into partnership?
When I got the urge to start Sounding Sea, I knew I couldn’t make it happen by myself. I didn’t have the savings to take time off from my marketing work and dedicate myself to the business, much less to hire other folks to help me. I worked with my three cofounders at the University of Baltimore’s MFA program, and I knew they were all excellent writers, teachers, tutors, and connectors in the writing community. Being in a partnerships means I have people to share the fears, frustrations, and of course, hopes that come with starting a business. Besides, I love spending time with them, which makes running the business a lot more fun than if I were sitting in my office by myself!
Who were the key players in helping you get your business started (family, friends, advisors – feel free to elaborate…)?
My father, aunt, and uncle all own small businesses, so I have been surrounded by entrepreneurs my entire life. Then, my first job out of college was with Right Source Marketing at the Emerging Technology Center (ETC) when it was in the Can Company in Baltimore. I was Right Source’s first employee, which meant I got to see the joys and pains of starting a new business firsthand. Working in an agency meant I was exposed to a lot of businesses very quickly, and I learned a lot about marketing. At the ETC, there were also about 30 other small businesses on the floor. I met a lot of my great friends, and my boyfriend, while working there, and I watched and learned as they grew their businesses.
I think the entrepreneurship bug is catching. When you spend so much time with entrepreneurs, you look at problems differently. It’s not “Oh, that problem sucks. When is someone going to fix it?” It’s “Oh, that problem sucks. How can I fix it?”
I have so many different people to turn to when I have a business question. My parents (my mom office manages my dad’s small law firm), and my boyfriend, Rob Wray, who owns Whitebox and mp3Car, have been great supporters. They helped us figure out how to set up the business and do financial modeling, and of course provide emotional support. Yair Flicker from SmartLogic, a good friend and client from the ETC, is letting us use his conference room to hold a class at night. Again, the support all around has just been so incredible.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever gotten and why?
At a reading at McDaniel College a few years ago, the poet Claudia Emerson gave this advice to young writers: “Celebrate the small victories, because you’re going to face a lot of rejection.” That advice has really stuck with me, and it definitely applies to business just as much as writing. So I try to celebrate every time we make any amount of small progress–when a professor we’re excited about agrees to teach, when someone signs up for a class. It’s easy, especially with social media, to look around and feel like you’re not doing as well as everyone else, or as well as you could be. But that kind of negative thinking is poisonous. So I try to always focus on the positive, focus on the achievement. The rejection and failure is just part of a messy path to success.
At the time Claudia said to celebrate the small victories, it stuck, but I didn’t realize how much her advice would change my approach to writing and life. Sadly, I recently looked her up to write to her and thank her, and I found out that she passed away in 2014. If I can spread her wisdom, hopefully it will help her legacy live on. And another lesson: don’t wait to thank people when they’ve helped you! Life is short and it’s too easy to take the folks who light your way for granted.
How do you measure success – in your business and in life?
If I get to do work that I love that helps other people in a meaningful way, I am happy. I tend to take on a lot and never say no, so sometimes I have to make time for myself to step back and do what Claudia said–celebrate all the small victories.
Where and how do you network?
When I was working at the ETC, I spent a lot of time going to technology events, and I still do occasionally (most of my marketing clients are tech startups). Betamore and the ETC are great sources to stay in touch with those communities. I also do a lot of networking in the writing community by going to readings and conferences. The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators MD/DE/WV region has amazing annual conferences which I highly recommend to anyone interested in writing for children, from picture books to young adult. There are oodles of reading series, too, from author panels at The Ivy Bookshop, to the Seltzer and Writers and Words readings at Charmington’s. Ann Berlin, who owns the Ivy, and Amanda Rothschild, who owns Charmington’s, are both amazing supporters of Baltimore’s writing community. Talk about smart women business owners giving back to their communities!
What is your biggest challenge as a business owner?
All four cofounders work other jobs to pay our bills (at least for now), so it can be hard to find the time and money to do everything we want to make the business successful. We have so many ideas we haven’t implemented yet, because we’re constantly juggling and prioritizing.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Lots! I work on writing my personal projects (I’m currently revising a young adult novel), I ride the horse I’ve had since I was 13, and I hang out with my dog in Patterson Park. I also volunteer with Destination Imagination, a creative problem solving competition for kids.
What are four things you love about Baltimore?
- Berger cookies
- Berger cookies
- Berger cookies
- Berger cookies
Kidding, kidding. For real:
- Baltimore is full of amazing, incredible, supportive people. Put something good into the universe of Baltimore, and it will come back to you.
- Baltimore has a thriving arts and culture scene. On any given night, there’s something amazing to do, whether it’s a reading, a play, or an event at a museum.
- Sunset dinner on the harbor is pretty hard to beat.
- We have a lot of problems, but there are so many innovative people out there working on solving them. My client, The Baltimore Love Project, Thread, a group I volunteered for, The Inner Harbor Project—there are so many good people doing awesome work.
What do you do when you get discouraged?
Having cofounders helps a lot with this. We constantly text and call each other, and then of course, we do celebrate the small victories. Also having people like Monyka to support us, and kind words from others, helps a lot.
And of course, when all else fails, there’s chocolate and Earl Grey tea with honey!
What causes are important to you and if applicable how do you give back?
Everyone at Sounding Sea is passionate about improving education; we see closing the achievement gap in public schools as a key to a lot of social problems. We have a scholarship available for each of our classes for a Baltimore City Public School student. If we can help just a few students find their voices and get their stories heard, we think we can make a difference. We also have lots of ideas for “Storytelling for Change” workshops, which would use memoir as a tool for social justice. We’re working on it!
In the past, I have volunteered with Thread, Healthcare for the Homeless, and Destination Imagination. I don’t volunteer on a regular basis right now but I try to show up for a good cause at least a few times a year.
This summer, I’m also working with The University of Baltimore’s College Readiness Summer Academy. I’m teaching writing and college skills to city school students, who will be able to take free college classes during their senior year of high school if they do well.
Sounding Sea helps emerging and established writers with fiction, memoir, poetry, revision, and publishing. Sounding Sea also provides one-on-one writing coaching and editing services, both online and in person. Sounding Sea was co-founded by Tracy Gold, Jessica Welch, Mia White, and Justin Sanders.
To learn more about Sounding Sea click here. To read Tracy’s top 4 tips for better writing click here.
About Tracy Gold
Tracy Gold is a cofounder of Sounding Sea Writers’ Workshop, which provides writing classes and coaching. Tracy also helps tech startups with marketing strategy, content creation, and social media. Tracy’s stories, poems, and essays are published or forthcoming in several journals and anthologies. Tracy is an M.F.A. candidate in Fiction and writing instructor at The University of Baltimore, and an alumna of Duke University. Connect with Tracy on LinkedIn or @tracycgold on Twitter.