A few days ago, I was talking to my sister-in-law, Katie, about how I felt a little weird putting a donate button on the blog (I know that one of my promises was that I wouldn’t mention it all the time, but trust me, this ties into the whole post overall), because it’s not how I’m used to making money from my writing. I’m used to writing something, giving it to someone else, they publish it, readers give them money, and then the publisher gives me a check for my cut. Giving people the option to give me money directly seemed dishonest, somehow. Like I was panhandling, or double dipping.
My sister-in-law’s response? She sent me this video, via facebook:
I really encourage you to watch it. Even if you’re not a fan of Amanda Palmer’s music (she admits in the video that it isn’t for everyone), even if you think independent art is all twee and pretentious and weird, you’ll have to admit that she has a point. Art and creation shouldn’t come down to just what a bunch of marketing professionals can gain from it. It shouldn’t be a game based on, “How do we make people pay us.” It should be about a connection between the artist and the audience, whether you’re a singer, a painter, an actor, a writer, or an eight foot tall bride handing out flowers on the street.
One of the things I have been so, so grateful for this past year is that I feel like finally, I’ve found people just like me. They exist out there, and they’re just as strange and angry as I am. For the first time in my career (and my god, it’s been ten years in this field), I feel like I’m able to be exactly who I am.
When I started writing, being myself was not on the menu. I belonged to different professional organizations that urged me to not say anything controversial, never leave a bad or even an honest review for another author’s book (but be sure to leave plenty of glowing ones for authors who could help you get places), and in general, don’t offend. Anyone. Now that you guys know me, you’re probably not shocked to learn that this model of conduct made me fucking crazy. No matter what I did, no matter which advice I followed, I watched my writing career with New York publishers imitate a firework; big bang, lots of oohs and ahs, but ultimately it had to burn out. For a few years, I chased that old success, basically running in front of the audience I was trying to impress (the publishers) and throwing handfuls of burnt-up mortar tubing in front of them, trying to make them ooh and ah again. But I was already over. Nobody cares about the firework they saw last July 4th. They care about the ones they’re seeing right now.
After a long string of unsuccessful queries with projects I cared deeply about, I decided there really wasn’t anything else that could be taken away from me. I felt like a total failure. And if I ever wanted any chance of getting my work in front of readers ever again, I could never express frustration over the industry or anyone in it, no matter how much I wanted to.
I honestly can’t believe I went so long before I said, “Fuck it,” and started being myself, and bitching about what I don’t care for in the industry (which seems wholly embodied by the travesty that is the continued success of and blatant money-grab surrounding 50 Shades of Grey). But eventually I did, and my reward was meeting all of you guys, seeing the most amazing conversations here, and sharing your lives and some pretty personal stories with me. The idea of anyone wanting to give me money to do this, not by buying my traditionally published books, put me exactly where Amanda Palmer was in that house in Miami, wondering, “Is this fair?”
Amanda’s fear of doing something “unjoblike” and wondering “is this fair?” so resonated with me. It’s what has held me back from exploring literally any avenue in publishing that wasn’t chasing New York. Chasing the traditional model. When I finally broke down and started exploring the idea of self-publishing The Boss, I did so with the hopes that it would result in a traditional publishing contract. I feel like I’ve been somewhat dishonest here. Readers have left comments saying, “I can’t believe you’re giving this away for free!” like I’m doing this really selfless thing, entirely out of my love and gratitude. I feel sleazy admitting this – but less sleazy than not admitting it – but I figured I would post the chapters, get a following, and then use that following as collateral when I took the sequels to a big publisher. “Look, it’s a built-in readership! You should totally buy these books and publish them!” If you feel angry or upset with me now that I’ve told you this, you probably have a right to be, but please bear with me to the end of this post.
Then something weird happened. A publisher I had written a short-story for went out of business. Which is a shame, I never like to see that happen. But I really loved the story. It was called Sex, Lies, and Inventions, and it was set in a steampunk version of London, where the heroine was a lovesick laboratory assistant to a distracted inventor. Suddenly, this publisher goes out of business, and I own the story again. It’s mine. I can do whatever I want with it. I can spend more time with the characters (it was written as part of an anthology, so I had a word limit when I wrote it). No one but me owned the characters anymore.
Granted, if I had paid better attention to my contract, I would have seen that I owned the rights to the characters and world anyway, but I work with a lot of different publishers and sometimes I get their terms all mixed up.
But I digress. When that happened, I had this weird pang. I was like, “If I sell the sequels to The Boss to a big publisher, they’ll own my work. They could decide that if one book didn’t sell well enough, they wouldn’t finish the series. I wouldn’t finish the series. Readers wouldn’t get to finish the series. This could all be taken away from me.” And that was a terrifying thought, because right now? I’m the happiest I have ever been in my writing career. I’m so enjoying writing this book, I don’t want to give it to someone else. I want to give it to readers who will love the characters as much as I do. So far, so good, for the most part.
Let’s not kid ourselves here, folks. The publishing industry doesn’t care about how much you or I love a book or the characters in it, if they’re not making any money. It seems like lately, they don’t even care if a book is even the real work of an author, or another author’s work with the names changed. This might sound like sour grapes from an author who wasn’t good enough to make it big in the business, and you know what? some of it is. I can freely admit that. Would I like to have the biggest selling book of all time, to never have to worry about where I’m going to get money for my kid to go on a field trip, let alone go to college? Who the fuck wouldn’t?
Fast forward to that conversation I had with my sister-in-law, and her response, that video above. I don’t have to work with people who feel that the only value I have is the money they can make off my creations. I don’t have to put up with that shit, when there are people out there saying, “We want to give you money so that we can read your work.” You know what made me uncomfortable about the idea of donations or a “pay what you want” model of publishing? The fact that I wasn’t fulfilling traditional expectations, expectations that I felt obligated to fulfill if I wanted to be a “real” writer. Totally hypocritical, coming from someone who acts like she’s all, “fuck traditional expectations, let’s go crazy and do mushrooms in the desert yaaaargh!” I was the person in the car, yelling “Get a job!” and I was the eight-foot bride on the sidewalk.
So, here’s my revised career plan, folks. I had planned three sequels to The Boss. Rather than trying to sell them through the traditional publishing model, I’ll be releasing them as e-books, with a “pay what you feel is fair” model. My hope is to have the sequel, The Girlfriend, available this summer, as close to the end of The Boss as is possible. More to come on that one. That will be followed by The Bride, then The Baby in 2014. Don’t freak out at those titles. They’re not spoilers, or an indication of the books following some anti-feminist, heteronormative path. The titles are red herrings, and you’ll just have to read them to find out how.
I’ll also be re-releasing the original Sex, Lies, and Inventions short story under this same plan, and later expanding it to be a full-length novel. Another book, a blend of the fantasy and erotica genres, should follow in 2014, but it’s hard to project that far out, since I still have traditional contracts to make good on. What I’m getting at is, I’m going to continue writing for myself, sharing it with people who want it, and I’m going to stop being afraid that I’m a failure, or doing something “unjoblike” if this is how I carry out future projects.
I’m so glad my sister-in-law kicked me in the ass and sent me that video. I am not the easiest person to be friends with, so the fact that she made the effort to see through my bullshit insecurity and tell me something I really needed to hear touches me deeply.
And I want to express my gratitude to Amanda Palmer, even though it’s unlikely that she trolls random writer blogs looking for a mention of her name. She seems like a pretty busy person. Hopefully, through some sub-particle level of universal connectedness, she already feels the intense change she has no doubt inspired countless people to embrace. She has changed my life, lifted a burden of fear from me, and given me the courage to stop chasing commercial success, and start chasing happiness in creating.