Authors, Readers and the Value of Art

vintage-typewriter-100234507This has been a tough week for me, for a myriad of different reasons, both personal and professional. Being an author is a crazy ride. I could, and have, shared all the ways I love what I do–and they’re all true. But at the same time, there’s a flip side, and it’s a little darker than you might think.

I’m not complaining. I’m lucky beyond the telling of it to be able to do what I love, and I am the most grateful person around. Being appreciative, though, doesn’t obligate one to pretend bad things don’t exist.

Putting the struggle into words wasn’t easy, ironically. I couldn’t quite pin down what was bothering until I read a post on Facebook.

These are the words of author CM Foss, as shared by K Langston. I linked the post here, so you can read it first-hand, if you’d prefer.

From the desk of CM Foss…

A Swan Song

Except I can’t sing, so I’ll spare you that.
From what I hear, basically everyone is aware of me bowing out of the biz here. It is not temporary and I am not sad about it.

What I am sad about are the astounding number of texts and emails I’ve received from other authors, ones who I thought had their shit together way more than me. Confessions of marital problems, anxiety, blood pressure dangers, misery, stress, guilt. They say they’re impressed, maybe even a little jealous, that I just shut it all down.

Guys. Wtf.

I am no expert. I’m a mess, quite honestly. But I’m really good at looking at things from an outside perspective and telling people what’s what. Since I’m no longer in the trenches, I can do that now. 🙂 Also, I’m a business major and a business owner. Let me tell you something.

The book market is bad. It’s just bad. Like the housing market has been bad. It happens. It doesn’t mean nothing will sell, but it does mean that your chances aren’t super duper. It means it’s a buyer’s market. That means prices are low and dropping and that means it’s overall a bad time to sell.

I don’t want to sell my house at the bottom of the market, I want to sell at the top, unless I need to fire-sale.

I don’t.

I have watched others (and certainly been there myself) literally killing themselves to get a book out. They do a million takeovers, give away thousands of books, give GIFT CARDS of their own money, mail out paperbacks and swag like its free, politely beg for reviews, entertain, hold their tongue when their work is torn apart, and shrug off senseless character attacks.

Daily.

Daily, people.

Then, they weave stories that make readers feel and think and escape.

Then, they cook for their families, wipe butts, drive carpool, go to work, clean dishes, mow the yard. They try to spend enough time with their spouses or significant other or some late night mistake to capture the same romance in real life as they do on paper.

It’s an incredible world we live in, to be able to connect with people around the globe, to self-publish, to realize dreams. But there is a lot of bad. The negativity, the drama, the stress, the angst. The ego.

It is not worth it. It is not healthy. It is not fun. It is not real.

So, to authors I say: Slow down. Have fun. Realize what matters. Crawl out of your hole and your head and spend some time with people, in person (I know. It’s hard.) Make a phone call you’ve been ignoring and read a book that you just want to.

To readers: Slow down. Enjoy the words. Pay for books. If you are driving the market, don’t drive it into the gutter. Have respect, for your time, for the authors, for family. And remember– authors can write without readers, all for themselves. But readers need authors. Don’t hurt them.

As for me, I’ll be closing my laptop and unplugging my kindle. I’ll be reading old-fashioned paperbacks and re-reading old favorites. My writing life is a chapter closed. My books are unpublished. My last stash has been signed and shipped to The Bookworm Box, so if you get a hankerin’ for one, give them your money. They’ll do right by it.

Despite this note, and the reality of it, I did have fun, and I did meet some wonderful people. I made the USA Today Bestseller list with some fabulous friends, and my words have been tattooed onto skin. That’s amazing. Thank you for the support and the laughs and all the great times.

God bless, peace out, and #dontbeadick.

When I read that, all I could think was . . . YES.

Some of you know a little about my background. For over twenty years, from the time I got married until about five years ago, I was a wife and homeschooling mom. When I hit publish on my first book (it’ll be five years this December), I knew less than nothing. I was greener than Kermit. It took me five months before I realized I could make a paperback book! I didn’t know that there were cover designers and formatters . . . and I knew zilch about promotion.

Needless to say, I learned.

The May before I published, my husband graduated from seminary. He’d been called to a second career (third?) in ministry, and when my first book went live, he was a hospice chaplain. In 2014, right in the middle of THE ONE Trilogy being published, he transitioned to parish ministry.

Why does this matter? Well, in case you didn’t know, chaplains and priests don’t earn much money. I saw a T-shirt for priests and ministers the other day that read, We’re in it for the outcome, not the income. Yup, that’s the truth.

So while we are extremely blessed and very grateful for his ministry, we are also full dependent on MY book income to keep us solvent.

 

Right now, I have 35 books live and published, between both of my writer personas. I’m not doing as well as I was last year–but I am working an average of about eighteen hours a day, seven days a week. In between working, I’m schooling my son (last one at home!), being a wife, a priest’s wife (those are two very different things), a mother and a friend. I do the laundry and about 95% of the cooking in our house, as well as the grocery shopping, budgeting and planning.

Because of the sharp decrease in sales, I’ve had to stop using the services of the wonderful PAs who have helped me over the years. I’ve cut back on every aspect of business, except what I can do myself . . . which means I’m doing most of the work myself, other than what wonderful and generous friends help me to accomplish.

My most expensive book is a box set that sells for $6.99. That’s FOUR full-length books plus a short for under $7. Most of my books are between 99 cents and $4.99.

And yet some readers say they want cheaper books. Some circumvent the system by using pirate sites, where they can download my books for free. (For a telling look at how pirating affects all authors, read Colleen Hoover’s post here .) I’ve had readers inform me that they deserve to read my books for free. I’ve had readers message me DEMANDING that I send them free paperbacks–it’s their right as a reader.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I love my readers and the majority of them are beyond awesome. Earlier this year, one of my readers asked me about a short story she thought she’d missed reading. When I offered to send it to her for free–she is a loyal reader and very supportive!–she refused, saying that it was worth the price for her. Bless her heart!

I love to write. I will never stop writing. I don’t want to stop publishing. But I’ll admit, it’s getting harder. Not only is it difficult from a purely business point of view–and it is–but it’s also demoralizing as an artist. When a growing segment of the population makes it clear via action and words that my books are worthless to them when we’re talking dollar value, it robs me of a little of the joy of being an author.

Maybe one of the dark sides of the indie publishing revolution is that lines which used to be clear are now blurred. Social media means that readers have more access to authors than they ever have–which is good and bad.

I don’t claim to have answers, but perhaps a good place to start would be by defining our rights and roles.

As an author, I have the responsibility to produce my best creative work, in whatever way I might see that. I have the responsibility to give my readers clean copy, an appealing cover, with professionally formatted pages. I have the responsibility to accept fair and non-biased reviews from readers. I have the right to choose which books I will write, when. I have the right to price that work at whatever price point I decide, with the knowledge that overpricing will negatively affect my bottom line. I have the right to privacy, for both myself and my family.

As a reader, you have the right to decide what books you will or will not buy. You have the right to decide the dollar amount you can afford to pay for books and choose which books you will buy with that amount. You have the right to express your opinion of authors’ work in a non-personal and non-combative manner. (In other words, leaving a review that attacks an author for how she prices her work or any other aspect of her personality other than the content of THAT book is not cool.) You have the responsibility not to download books illegally. You have the responsibility to treat authors with the same respect you would any other artist.

Now, I’m going to get back to writing the next book.

{For one of my earlier posts on authors and the value of books, go here.}

Peace, love and romance~

You may also like

1 comment

  1. well said and well taken. Do not cheapen yourself. I do believe this climate will change. For some horrific reason I do not understand this country (not as a whole, but as a outspoken percentage of the populous) is vitriolic and self aggrandizing. It is part of the election wave and bleeding into other areas. Be strong, I pray with you that it will pass. You have always been one of the kindest and most generous authors I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *