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You’d think that someone who does cosplay as their full-time job would have been into the hobby for most of their life. But that wasn’t the case for Ginny Di.

“I had never heard of cosplay until I went to my first convention,” she explained. “I was working at the local Renaissance Faire, which was my first real adventure into geek culture, and some of my friends from Faire invited me to come to Starfest, a local science fiction and fantasy convention.”

“I already enjoyed making costumes for Halloween and for the Faire, so once I realized that people could just make costumes whenever they wanted and wear them whenever they wanted, I was instantly hooked. I put together my first costume out of my closet and my childhood dress-up box for the next day of the convention, and the following year, I wore my first fully homemade cosplay to that same convention.”

This year, she’s super excited to be involved with Denver’s Pop Culture Con. She’s been invited to a lot of cons in the past, and knows what to expect from this one.

“I’ve been doing convention guesting as a featured cosplay guest for three or four years now, and what that entails can be different at any given convention.” Di said. “At most cons, a cosplay guest will provide programming like panels or workshops, meet attendees and take photos, and often will judge the costume contest. They’ll also generally be expected to promote the convention and help drive traffic and ticket sales.”

Photo by Photographer of Life LLC

Her first cosplay was “Codex” from the TV show The Guild. But that was just the beginning. Since then, Di has created multiple, intricate costumes and gained enough notoriety and audience to do cosplay full time. This is partly due to Di’s ingenuity in combining her love of music with her cosplay products.

“During the years that I was getting interested in cosplay, I was also doing a lot of organized singing in choirs and jazz groups in college and working at the Renaissance Festival as part of a madrigal quartet,” Di said. “I put together a geek-themed parody at one point as a joke, and it went kind of small-time viral, so I started making more geek-themed music with a few friends.”

Her combination of music and cosplay has done a lot to set her apart in the cosplay landscape. The music videos she’s made over the past three years have garnered thousands and thousands of views, and her YouTube channel is currently sitting at almost 40,000 subscribers. She also cosplays as Jester, a character from the podcast Critical Role, which has gained her a lot of popularity.

“I have a few [nerd media properties] that I’ve loved for many years—Disney, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones—but right now, Critical Role owns my heart! I haven’t felt so strongly emotionally connected to a narrative in many, many years, and I’m so grateful to have found not just the talented, kind, hilariously funny cast that makes it, but also the incredibly loving and warm community of fans that consume it.”

Cosplay and online content creation have been Di’s full-time job for a little over two years now. It can be confusing to understand how someone makes money through content creation online, but the short answer is: it’s piecemeal. Di makes money from the sale of photo prints, merchandise, sales, and streaming of her music singles on iTunes and Spotify, respectively, ad revenue from her aforementioned YouTube channel, appearances at conventions, ghost writing for blogs and newsletters as a safety net, and, like many other online content creators, Patreon, a subscription platform many creatives use to fund their work.

Still, despite the positivity Di feels towards her fan community, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Between the parasocial relationships that can develop between online creators and their fans and the general toxicity that arises in online spaces, Di, like many other creators, has a lot of negativity on her plate.

“It can be extremely difficult to be dehumanized online, even (or especially) by those who claim to be fans of my work. It’s very uncomfortable to have followers make assumptions about very personal things and voice those assumptions publicly,” Di said in regards to the behavior of some fans of her work.

“I’ve had people speculate on my health, on my relationships, on my upcoming wedding, on my weight, etc. It’s also difficult to handle people who truly believe that we have a personal connection and should be close friends.”

Doing this kind of work is clearly more difficult than many give credit for. So, what should those who aspire to do creative work full-time online be keeping in mind? Di has three tips she gives to anyone who asks.

“First, make sure you love it. Some people see pro cosplay or being a YouTuber as being an easy route to fame and riches which is frankly laughable.” Most who do work in this field, even those considered to be ‘successful,’ aren’t rich. Most are lucky to be comfortable.

“Second, be aware that you will be founding and running a small business. Treat it as such! You can get yourself into hot water financially and legally if you fail to think of your creative work as a business from the get-go.”

“And finally,” Di added, “I have a bit of a ‘tough love’ reminder that I give to both aspiring pros and myself: You aren’t entitled to anyone’s attention.” To Di, the goal is to entertain, move emotionally, educate, her audience. That means keeping track of what’s going to elicit the desired response and tuning your work accordingly.

“If they don’t like what you’re doing, you will not be successful. Nobody owes you likes, views, or sales. This lesson can be very hard to stomach, but it’s absolutely essential to learn if you want to succeed in this business.”

To see more of the results of Di’s own hard work, check her out at ginnydi.com, and catch her at this year’s Denver Pop Culture Con.