“Good For You, Not for Me”

A gavel

Image courtesy of Chris Potter

In today’s writing market, if writing were my only source of income, I’d have to get creative to generate enough income to support my family. Recently, one YA author opted to start a KickStarter campaign to fund the second book in a series.  Stacy Jay Released Princess of Thorns via Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House) on December 9, 2014. Initial sales did not meet expectations so the publisher declined to pick up the second book in the series. As an aside, initial sales? The book isn’t even a month old! Sorry, now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.  Stacy harbors no ill will towards the publisher, it was a business decision, nothing more, nothing less. Still, she had readers clamoring for the second book, so she launched a KickStarter Campaign to fund the creation of book two.

“I asked for 10k to fund a Kickstarter for the sequel for Princess of Thorns and EVERYONE who contributed would have been given a copy of the book (from the $10 donation level on up). 7k of that would have covered my living expenses while writing the book. After taxes and promotional expenses I planned to take out of that budget, I would have been making about 11.00 an hour to write and edit the novel.”

An Internet kerfluffle ensued.

Some people objected to KickStarter for publishing a book. Some people took offense to her honesty that some of the money would be spent on living expenses while she took 3 months to write the book. Some did defend her, but as these things do, it spiraled out of control and eventually, she pulled the plug.

Making a living wage in creative professions

We don’t seem to have a problem with the existence of banks, or grocery stores or utility companies. No one jumps up and down excited when the oil truck backs down their driveway, but we all seem to understand that paying for these things is necessary. Where do we expect that money to come from?

DUH! Get a job.

Well yes, a job.

Newsflash: Writing novels? It’s a job.

No. Really, IT’S WORK!
There is this belief that if your song is played on the radio, your book is on the shelves of a bookstore or your art is on a gallery’s wall, you are rolling in the dough.

*LOUD OBNXIOUS BUZZER* False! Thank you for playing!

There are artists who make it big and roll in the big buck. They are a very small percentage of the overall number of working artists. Artists of all kinds work hard to get their work in your ears, or in front of your eyes. Everything from the supplies they use, to the promotion to sometimes the placement, costs money. Sometimes, when all is said and done, we work for chump change.  WHY? Well because we enjoy it, we’re good at it and it brings us satisfaction to bring enjoyment to our audience.

For the most part no one gives food, heating oil or tools of the trade away, so we toil away at “day jobs” to fund our creative dreams. I’m not suggesting that hard work is bad. I don’t believe that working for your dreams is a bad thing, but what’s wrong with someone asking to be paid for their creative ventures?

What kills me about the Stacy Jay kerfluffle is that some of the loudest critics are also writers. People who understand the creative struggle and the balance between making money and pursuing art. They know it’s hard and yet they sit in judgement of someone taking a risk. Someone trying a new path. Would I do it? It probably wouldn’t be my first choice, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I’d research it, learn how to do it effectively, keep an open mind and keep it in my tool box.

Yes, Jay was trying to raise money to cover her living expenses and production expenses, but she was also using the KickStarter campaign as market research and that strikes me as a “wicked smaht” move.

“And if the Kickstarter had been allowed to play out without the screams of critics, I would have found out if my readers were up for that. If they weren’t–FINE. I still love them. No harm, no foul, and I could have gone about my business feeling confident that I’d tried to give them what they said they wanted.”

Here’s a revolutionary idea, if the idea of a KickStarter campaign to fund the creation of a YA fantasy novel offends you. DON’T support the campaign, end of story!

Would I support another author’s kick starter campaign? Maybe. I don’t have enough disposable income to rise to the level of patron of the arts, but there are authors and artists out there to whom I would kick a little cash to see them grow their work. Even if it meant I was contributing towards their electric bill.  If I’d read the first book in the series, and enjoyed it, I’d kick in a few bucks to read the second book. If the author had enough fans and we all kicked in a few bucks. We’d all get a story we wanted to read. If the author made money off the book above and beyond the KickStarter campaign, then she might have enough money to write book three and I’d have bragging rights for being in on the ground floor.  Yay for me!

There’s an article on Huffington Post. It happens to be in the parenting section, but if you replace parenting with publishing and update the examples, it fits here perfectly.

“When does the cycle of judgment stop?

I recently finished reading Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please, and if there is anything I wish people would take from it, look to page 149. The concept of “good for you, not for me.” It’s a simple concept but one that is seriously missing… especially online. What works for you may not work for me, and vice versa. Choosing a different path doesn’t make me a moron. It simply shows that I am a mom[writer] who is trying to make the best choices for my family[career] — and doing so doesn’t actually impact your family [life] one single bit.”

Are you familiar with KickStarter, GoFundMe, IndeGoGo or Patreon? Have you supported a campaign on any of these sites? Would you use it to support your own writing?

 

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

 

31 thoughts on ““Good For You, Not for Me”

  1. Well said, Lee. We’ve come so far as a society from the idea of supporting artists as they pursue their work (vs. paying for a product) that the very idea that they’d want to be paid to produce is anathema to many. It’s almost as if in order to be true ‘art’ it must be created without the taint of ‘business’ or ‘gain’ associated with it. Perhaps it’s because artistic pursuits are seen as so much luxury when compared to food, shelter or fuel. While I wouldn’t necessarily create a Kickstarter campaign to fund my next book, it seems to me it’s a fair exchange between the artist and would-be patron. Yes, I write because I enjoy it. I also write to pay bills. Most writers don’t have the luxury of it being anything OTHER than a creative *business* and yet when someone suggests a new model or approach to funding that business, it is met with skepticism and even derision. Isn’t this woman simply being creative about the business side of her work? Are we afraid her patrons won’t get a fair return on their investment? Are we more afraid it will work?

    Your analogy to parenting here is apt. Sometimes those who are most critical of deviations from the norm are those who see it as a commentary on their own choices/path. But, as varied as our creative voices, so will be our means to that end. I say, go for it. Be creative. If you can buy yourself a hot meal at the end of the day, so much the better!

  2. Wait a minute… I don’t disagree that writing a book is hard work or that living expenses is why publishers give stipends to well known authors that are gonna come through. If you ever listen to wtfpod with Marc Maron; listen to Patton Oswalt’s interview where he talks about needing more time to finish a book he was waffling on, eating up the money they were giving him. Why? Because it shows that he was a sure gamble from the publisher. They would see a return.

    But the thing about kickstarter is that, unless you’re famous enough, have a fanbase or willing to knock on a lot of doors, there’s no way anyone can rely on it to raise funds as opposed to raising funds establishing those things first. The main thing is also that people aren’t as giving or as good as we all think we are. We’re all selfish little imps wondering when we’re gonna get our reward. So it’s a wicked cycle anyway.

  3. Thank you for this. I hope to be a journalist someday (different than an author, I know), but it’s hard to explain to people that writing actually is work. I wrote a newspaper column briefly in the last city I lived in. It wasn’t long, roughly 350 to 500 words and only once per week, but it involved a lot of research, work, and frustration. Those who I talked to just didn’t understand.

  4. Great post. When all this started I said (to myself) I wouldn’t contribute because I’m a struggling writer and I’m doing this on my own so she can too, but more power to her if she succeeds and went on my merry way. Then I heard the uproar and the threats and the inappropriate stalking. Now she has my full sympathy and if she decides to renew her campaign I will definitely help. Everyone has the right to express their dissatisfaction in an aporopriate and professional manner, but the lengths internet trolls went to was ridiculous! I think this goes back to a root problem of an inpersonal perception of the internet. The more we get connected the less we are connected. People wouldn’t say these things to your face, especially if they really knew you.

  5. I’ve had a Kickstarter campaign in “ready mode” for about eight months, but have yet to hit the start button on it. Something in me just cringes at the thought of asking for money. Still, if I am going to finish my book the way I’d like to I’m going to need to do some traveling for the final phase of my research. Something that simply is not in my budget. I could finish without the travel, but I don’t think the final product will not have the depth I’d like it to have.

    I will say that what I like about Kickstarter as opposed to other crowd funding sources I’ve seen is the clear goal to give something back to the funders. It’s not just “give me money” but more like “invest in this project and here are the benefits you’ll receive.”

    I’ve been very close to pushing the button on my campaign again recently (as the desire to finish well is almost overwhelming). Not sure if this article has helped me to make the decision or not, but I’ll be watching this thread to see if others would recommend it or not.

  6. I have trouble with the idea, not necessarily Stacy Jay’s situation, that seems different to me, she had a fan base wanting her to write another book. I don’t condone people treating her unkindly. Plus it sounds like with Kickstarter you get something in return. But I had a friend who is looking to self-publish a novel. She started one of the these campaigns asking for donations, and all I could think was am I supposed to help you get the book published and then buy it too? I’m all about supporting people in their dreams but asking others for money to do so bothers me I guess. Shouldn’t the person with the dream be figuring out how to get it financed without relying on others to come up with the money? I don’t know, it’s a newer concept and it may be that I take awhile to come around with new things.

  7. I am not against the funding aspect. It might give new ideas for forums as Kickstarter: just for writers. Besides, I think any author or writer who has the courage to leave their comfort zones and be more creative in putting their work out there should be commended.
    I respect undying support to your heart; when people see that they can follow suit.
    At least she is not a hypocrite to her work, but integral in it’s success (or failure, had it not been successful). But she is saying “I have enough motivation for me and an entire publishing crew (that she didn’t have) and it is coming from MY PASSION.”

    I RESPECT THIS WRITER.

  8. This is a truly personal decision for any writer.

    First I will say, I applaud her for taking a chance, albeit one I’m not brave enough to attempt. She’s honest and dedicated to her art and to satisfying her readers, which is something to admire.

    For me, writing is my passion turned career path. If funding it means I need a day job, then so be it. It may take me longer to reach my goal, but I will reach my goal nonetheless.

    However, writing is more than an art – it’s a business. We all approach business decisions from different angles and in the way that works best for us, which is no different from what she’s doing.

    I would never begrudge someone for stretching from the norm and taking a risk. I hope she’s wildly successful in her venture. I give her a ton of credit for the courage it took to try to make her dreams come true, despite the backlash she received.

    Bravo!

    • Right on Kristina.
      I’m an old guy with a military pension. On retirement I moved from passion to full-time free lance anything that would sell. Lots sold, but I didn’t make a living wage… SO, I started to look at writing as an entrepreneurial business. No more writing for free or subsidizing small newspapers. I figured that the only way to make a reasonable living was to write short “how to” books or to write personal histories. The latter led to my personalhistorian.ca domain, business cards, free meals in return for talks on the rubber chicken circuit, more reasonable hours and a respectable financial return. But it was all business. In between contracts I was still able to indulge in my passion with the occasional television script and short fiction. Now I am retired from the personal history buisiness. But I did prove to myself that I could make a decent living as a writer.

  9. I know someone who did a kickstarter for the next book in a series and it worked out well. He did the kickstarter as a romp but it turned out that it added oomph to finish in a timely manner. He didn’t want to disappoint those who supported him. Those who complain about kickstarters and the like need to chill. It’s like grousing about a free app for your phone. Hello? It’s free. Don’t like it; don’t use it.

  10. The author who you write of in the article was honest enough to admit what she would do with the money. Basically, she would have used the money to fund a project that would have an end result. As Larry says above, the author would have been accountable to get the book done; this would have been an extra incentive.

  11. Thanks for your thoughts everyone. Keep ’em coming. No doubt writing IS a business and Ms. Jay had an audience she was trying to connect with (see the link in the first paragraph).
    I agree, that it’s hard to fund someone else’s dream when you’re struggling to fulfill your own.
    There is a different between an established author trying to bring a book to an existing audience and a dilettante saying “pay for my life so I can write the Great American Novel.” Regardless, the free market system will sort it out and judgement isn’t necessary, if you don’t like it, ignore it.

  12. I am familiar with KickStarter, GoFundMe, and IndiGoGo and yes, I’ve contributed at least once on all three. I am considering using crowd sourcing to help pay for things like a professional cover, etc., but the majority of the work (writing the manuscript) will be already done. These are great tools to help validate that your work has an audience, but I’ve also seen enough campaigns flop to know that just because you can ask for x dollars does in no way mean you will get x dollars. With Kickstarter, you either make your goal or you don’t. IndieGogo: you at least get whatever money was pledged minus commissions, but you don’t get as much marketing exposure. GoFundMe: I’ve only used to help with a friend’s medical expenses.

  13. I have a mixed reaction. I can see myself paying into a kickstarter fund for a 2nd book if I liked author’s first book as long as the $$ would eventually be applied to my purchase of a book. Historically a book’s cost covered (supposedly) the labor of creating it.

    I did pay into a “go fund me” for an artist whose work I used as lessons.

    As long as both get a benefit, I think crowd-funding is here to stay. Authors might as well figure out if there are ways it can ben
    efit thrm.

  14. We all need to pay our electric bills, buy our groceries, pump gas into our cars (or pay bus fare.) Some of us are able to hold a part or full time job and meet those obligations while writing or creating “in our spare time,” hoping that we will be able to make enough of a living to “give up our day jobs.” If stacy Jay found a way to pay those bills and work on her second novel to get it into her readers hands a little faster, more power to her. There are a lot of kind and generous people in this world who will, when asked, send a little something to a person in need. Some established authors get advances. she found an alternative. Too bad it didn’t work out, but hurray for her for trying it out.

  15. I’ve been considering using Patreon and/or GoFundMe as a means to publish my first chapbook of poetry while I’m working one of those “day jobs” (ironically, my current job usually has me working evening/night/graveyard shifts right now, but that was a terrible joke and I’m sorry totally not sorry). This is exactly one of my fears of using such services to try and get that product published: That people will think I’m a whiny piece of shit asking for money when I already have a job.

    Unfortunately, that job has me at part-time at the moment, and I can only (barely) afford to pay what bills/rent/etc. I have at present. I’ve been negotiating multiple times on pay, and for everyone involved it’s getting tiresome, including myself.

    I know there are people out there who do try to help others, especially those hoping for some kind of career in the Arts (whatever that artist’s medium is), but they are far and few between when “Real World ™” is involved. It’s understandable that people have their own budgets and such, and that if they could would help such ‘starving artists’ if they were able. Another unfortunate thing is that there are those people who just wouldn’t because ‘If they can’t do it themselves then why should I help them, despite having a product I like and would like to have in my possession”, especially if said person had a traditional means of bringing their art to the public’s attention from the start.

    What people don’t understand is that, like most other things, writing /is/ a business when one takes the plunge into that fore. Writers have to pay for the amenities they need to survive, after all, and when their ‘day jobs’ cannot support that, what else are they to do? Sit on the corner where they’d be ridiculed in a heartbeat when they’re trying to pay for things like food, water, etc.?

    Most people don’t understand that, whether consciously or not, the writing business is just as cutthroat as any other.

  16. I’ve actually thought once about using KickStarter to fund my writing.

    It’s a brilliant idea, really, if real writers (emphasis on real; there are scammers) could make extra to produce books that the readers want.

    Supply and demand, why not?

  17. Pingback: Writing takes work — writers should be paid. | The Saturated Page

  18. The idea that this was even a controversy blows my mind. It’s exactly the sort of thing for which Kickstarter exists. I’ve contributed to indie plays via KS. Like you, I don’t have enough to be a “patron” so to speak, but I’m totally down with kicking in a few bucks to help make something happen that sounds like something I’d like to see happen. That includes supporting an author so they can focus on writing.

    I saw that someone above was talking about how it’s not sustainable. But the thing is, if you don’t reach the target you set, then no harm no foul. The project doesn’t happen and nobody is out any cash. So why not give it a shot?

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  20. Interesting article. There’s always a lot of judgement where money is concerned. Crowdfunding is another cash raising platform and I noticed on there recently, several individuals raising cash to self publish their books. It amounts to the same thing -and people are donating and there’s no fuss. It’s a mystery. I was going to self publish but, alas, due to the costs I will be holding out for a publisher to take a punt on me, fingers crossed. Enjoyed reading this article.

  21. Pingback: Patreon for Writers – A Fascinating and Evolving Space | Live to Write – Write to Live

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