What is a Patreon, and Why Do I have One?

Last month, I had lunch with a good friend who is an author, too–she lives in New England, so we don’t get to see each other as much as I’d like. She was just returning from the San Francisco Uncon, and she had a lot to share with me.

One of the suggestions she had for me, personally, was to consider starting a Patreon page. Since I didn’t know much about it, I did some investigation. You might know that centuries ago, in Venice and Rome and other settings of classical art and literature, rich patrons would sponsor artists who otherwise might not have been able to survive on what they were earning through their art. This was a wonderful way for the patrons to be part of the creative process, even if they themselves weren’t gifted to create in a particular way.

Patreon operates under the same principle. For those of us who struggle to make ends meet on the money earned by our art, it’s a constant battle between creating and worry. Patreon allows us to offer incentives to supporters who will agree to pledge a certain monthly amount.

And so . . . I have a Patreon page. It’s brand new, having just launched on April 1st. I hope you’ll check it out; I’m pretty excited about the concept. My hope is that I can garner enough support to give me a little breathing room during those months when sales flounder or when I need to beef up my advertisement a bit (read: advertise at ALL).

I didn’t do this lightly. Newsflash: I HATE asking people for money. Hate it. Truth to tell, if I could live without food, a home and internet, I’d write my books and give them away. But I can’t live without those things, nor can my family. So I’m swallowing a shit-load of pride and asking people who CAN afford it to consider supporting the arts and the artist.

I am fully aware that artists are not the only people who struggle with a month that is longer than our paychecks or bank accounts allow. So I don’t expect everyone to jump onto this bandwagon. But I would love it if people who can’t support could SHARE so that perhaps others might consider joining.

I’ve modeled the levels of support on the basis of romance, so there’s First Love ($3), Going Steady ($5), Time for a Ring ($25), Wedding Bells ($50), Golden Anniversary ($100), Always and Forever ($500). Each level has its own set of rewards.

Please DO jump over there and look at the page . . . and consider supporting and/or sharing. Both are appreciated.

Support the Arts Here!

 

Author On The Edge: Why the publishing business can be tough on your mental health

As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. It was my first ambition, and I wrote my first book in grade school, submitted it to Harper & Row and received my first rejection postcard. I wasn’t deterred, though. I knew, with the sort of certainty only an eleven-year-old can muster, that I was destined for authorhood.

Life got in the way of that dream, replacing it with other equally as dear and important dreams. I went through school, got married and became a mother. I used my passion for writing in other areas of life, like editing my kids’ school papers, my husband’s work and our churches’ newsletters. I wrote homeschooling curriculum during the years we homeschooled our kids.

When the universe finally worked things out that I had the time and attention to give to fiction again, I was forty-one years old. The same year I finished my first novel was a pivotal year in the publishing industry, because Amazon had released the Kindle in 2007, and KDP had joined Smashwords and other smaller outlets that made publishing a book on your own possible. However, indie publishing wasn’t mainstream yet. I didn’t even consider going my own way until I’d tried everything I could on the traditional side of publishing.

But in December of 2011, I took the plunge and became part of the indie publishing wave. I have no regrets about making that choice. It has allowed me freedom and control and the ability to shape my career in a way that works for me. I wouldn’t change that path to go the traditional route for anything in the world.

And yet . . .

The last six and a half years have contained some of my highest high points–the proudest moments of my life aside from marrying my husband and delivering my four children. I’ve seen my books climb charts. I’ve seen stories that started as a momentary bit of fantasy in my brain morph into words on a page, both paper and electric. I’ve interacted with readers who told me that my stories helped them or cheered them or helped bring them closure. I’ve met readers who have become friends. I’ve met authors who have become friends.

But these years have also contained some of my lowest lows, days of doubts and fears and so much anguish that I wasn’t sure I could go on. There have been so many weeks when I was sure I wasn’t good enough and never would be. There have been months when I’ve felt like the biggest failure as not only an author and businesswoman, but also as a mother and wife, because I’ve dedicated so much time to my work that I have missed out on things with my family.

One of the great things about indie publishing is the community, and I have been blessed to sit at the virtual feet of some of the authors I have admired for a long time. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for all of it. At the same time, though, one thing I’ve learned is that everyone is on her own path, and so when I ask for advice, it might not be exactly what I need. It might not work for me. It might–but there’s just as good a chance that it won’t.

I’ve increased how often I release . . . only to be told that real success comes from making readers eager and anxious for the next story by releasing less frequently. So I’ve slowed releases.

I’ve increased prices to show that I value my work . . . only to be told that free or 99 cents is a better way to go.

I’ve tried different genres of romance when one didn’t work well, only to be told that I need to stick with one so as not to dilute my branding.

I’ve joined groups where authors with quantified success tell others how to translate what they did into similar success. I’ve read the books everyone says we should read. I’ve listened to the podcasts and gone to the conferences and taken advice.

I’ve tried Facebook ads, BookBub ads, AMS ads, only to be told that advertising is pointless. I’ve spent what is to me a lot of money, and I’ve seen almost no results, because, I’m told, I need to spend more to see more.

I’m not someone who has to be led, who needs someone to tell me what to do. I’m strong-minded. I’ve raised three strong daughters and one strong son, and I’ve run a household, I’ve handled my parents’ very complex estates, I’ve been an Army wife who can organize a move, a dinner party and emergency care for disasters.

But this is breaking me.

I’ve had down times in the past. But nothing has been as bad as the past few months. You see, until last January, while my book income was definitely helpful, it wasn’t crucial. Now it IS. Now, we live and eat and pay all our bills on that book income. And that income isn’t growing with each new release–in fact, despite the fact that I work an average of nearly 20 hours a day 6-7 days a week, that income is dropping steadily. It’s the way the business is trending. There are too many authors, too many books and too much noise. Some of us are still doing well, but some of us are not.

Talk about pressure . . .

Am I whining? Maybe. Am I complaining when I shouldn’t? Maybe. Do others have it much worse? Oh, without a doubt. No question. I know this.

But this is my reality and my struggle. My path. I also know I’m not alone. I’ve talked to authors who are feeling the same, authors who are wondering if they can make it.

Brutal honesty time: I have been questioning, over the last few weeks, if this is worth it. I wonder if it’s time to give up on the dream, stop subjecting myself to the constant rollercoaster ride that is releases and promotions and sales numbers. I’ve been closer to complete despair in the last month than I have been in over two decades.

I’ve been writing this post for a while. I’ve almost deleted it more than once. If I do share it, the only reason will be so that another author who is out there struggling as I am will know she is not alone.

Today, I’m not giving up. Today, I’ll write some more words, and I’ll do something for my next release (my 59th release, which is this coming Saturday, on my 51st birthday). Today, I’ll chat with my reader friends and I’ll hope something I say makes a difference. I’ll reach out to other authors and try to help.

For one more day, I’ll believe that something, somewhere, is finally going to work, not only for me, but for all the dreamers who keep on working and hoping.

Epiphany, One Year Later

Last year, on Epiphany, January 6th, our family’s life changed. In the year that’s passed, I have sat down to write about what happened, but each time, I felt a stop. I wasn’t ready. But now, a year later, I am. This is what happened, the lessons we learned, the challenges we faced and the blessings we’ve experienced.

Christmas of 2016 was a stressful time. Well, let’s face it: the Christmas holidays are stressful all the time if you’re in ministry, because it’s traditionally the time of the year when churches pull out all out the stops and DO ALL THE THINGS. Nativity plays. Concerts. Caroling. Cookie exchanges. Potlucks. Added services mean more bulletins, more email updates, more time on the job for the priests.

Since my husband entered parish ministry late in life, this was quite a jarring experience for our family initially. Yes, we always went to church on Christmas Eve, but we weren’t used to my husband having to be at the church, working feverishly and against the clock. We weren’t accustomed to him having to get up on Christmas morning and co-officiate at the Christmas morning service, because we never went to church on Christmas morning. My kids were not happy about that.

2016 was worse than usual, because there had been tension building in the ministry team. My husband, who was on the lowest-rung of assisting priest, bore the brunt of a lot of things. When he put together the bulletin every week, it had to go through a lengthy and complicated approval process, where often, one person would contradict what another suggested. As with much at this church, there was seldom a defined plan, so at the last minute, everyone would be scrambling to do something–even if no one really knew what they were doing.

I remember on that Christmas Eve, sitting in the front behind my husband and the rest of the priests. My oldest daughter and son-in-law and I were all serving on the altar at that service, so we had a front-row seat to the obvious tension there. My heart ached for my husband, who only wanted to do the right thing.

What no one else knew besides my husband and me was that as the situation at the church had been deteriorating over the past months, we’d quietly spent the final week of Advent–the week that led into Christmas–fasting and praying for God’s direction. We tried to listen to what He was saying to us. And together, along with another praying friend, we received a strong and clear message: I am doing a new thing.

We made it through Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years. Life began to calm a little as we moved into Epiphany, but at the church, things were getting worse. Since I always edited the bulletin, too, I was on the email loop and saw how my husband was being treated. It was hard to see that. It’s always hard to see a loved one being abused.

On Friday, January 6th, I went to church for our noon time Epiphany service. My husband’s week had been long and stressful, so he opted to sit with me during the service, since the other priests were officiating. After the service was over, we both spoke at length to people around us who we knew were suffering, going through difficult times. We spent time praying with some of these folks. I felt an ease that I hadn’t at church for a long time. Afterwards, I said good-bye to my husband and left.

Three hours later, he was home. Carrying a box of his stuff. With an expression of shock on his face, he told me that he’d been let go by the church.

People are fired from their jobs every day. It’s never something easy, and I already know that others have it much worse than we did. What made our situation painful was the immediate severing of a huge part of our life. We lost more than an income and health insurance; we lost our church. We’d attended that church since 2010. Our daughter had been married there. We’d made friends who were almost like family. We’d settled in. And now it was gone.

Was it our choice to leave the church? On one level, yes. No one told us we should. But we also knew that God was most definitely moving us from that time and place. Staying would have been painful for us and divisive for the church body.

The days and weeks and months that followed Epiphany were filled with anger, bitterness and hurt–for me. I was really mad at the church leadership, who had let us down as a family long before Epiphany–but I’d been trying to find the good, up until that January 6th. Now that sense of grace had evaporated, particularly when I learned that they’d known they were letting us go long before we were informed.

I was mad at the people who messaged me or emailed me and told me that I was being unreasonable about all of this–that I needed to display more humility, more grace and less anger. How dare they! These people, who still had their jobs, their comfortable lives and their church family. I was mad at the people who simply stopped talking to us–some of whom we’d been ministering to for years, giving of our time and energy and love.

I spent a lot of those days spewing vitriol at anyone who would listen. I’ve always been a relatively calm person who tends to give the benefit of the doubt. But that was gone. The gloves were off. On car rides when I was alone, I played angry music (The Dixie Chicks Not Ready to Make Nice was a favorite) and screamed along with it.

But there was, under it all, a quiet saving grace. First, I knew one truth right away. I knew that this was of God. The way it happened? No, I don’t think that was God’s idea. That was utterly and painfully human. But I do know for sure that He saved us from a bad situation. He rescued us from that church. He liberated us from being stuck in something that was not going to end well, no matter what.

And then there were the small miracles. First of all, I had a strong sense from the very start that my husband was not meant to seek another job in the church or return to hospice chaplaincy, which had been his job before the church. That was a big deal for me; giving up the ‘security’ of a regular, dependable salary, no matter how small it was, was something that could have only come from God. I felt very strongly that we were to rely solely on God for all of our needs.

If you think that’s easy in this day, think again. Even when we felt completely secure in God’s provision, there was always someone to question our sanity (“But what about retirement? What about a safety net?”). And when we explained that we were doing out best to rely on God, trusting that He has our interest at heart, is our best plan for the future and the very strongest safety net, we got either a pitying stare or a incredulous, skeptical sigh. From people who claim to be Christians, believers.

However, God HAS provided. He rarely uses conventional means–my book sales haven’t skyrocketed, though I’ve seen a nice steady rise that has helped to sustain us. And it’s not always in our timeframe, either; sometimes, bills have been late. Sometimes, we’ve had to change plans. Sometimes He uses other people, and sometimes He uses complete strangers.

Those are miracles, too.

We’ve seen doors open that we never would have expected. We’ve seen lives begin to transform, because of the work God is doing through my husband. We’ve seen relationships form. We’ve seen people seeking God in new ways.

We’ve had the greatest support from those who either have never been church-goers, or who once were and then stopped, along with a wonderful remnant from our church family who have been steadfast friends.

It’s not only a matter of trusting God for our sustenance, either. We have to trust that God is leading us in His path, and that’s not always easy. It means there are some days when it feels as though tumbleweeds are rolling through the kitchen . . . and others when it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in the day. Some days we feel forgotten, and some days, we feel overwhelmed.

And what’s also miraculous is that I’m not quite so angry anymore. Yes, there are still a bunch of unsent emails in my draft box, responses to those people who felt like they knew more than we did about the situation. Yes, there are times when we still run into people who cut us off once we were no longer a part of the church, and it’s awkward, if not downright unpleasant. But it no longer ruins my day. I can laugh, because I know that we’re smack in the middle of God’s will for our lives.

Do we veer off course now and then? Sure. We’re human and we’re imminently fallible. Are there frustrating situations? Do I still get anxious over money? Am I often worried? Uhhh . . .yeah. All of the above. Can I find peace in leaning on God? Yup. I can.

So happy Epiphany to all. You know, the word Epiphany means this:

a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something 
(2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking 
(3) an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
b a revealing scene or moment
That’s why I know this is all of God. Because the entire last year WAS our Epiphany. It goes on. And so do we.

(If you want to know more about what we’re doing, go to http://thecommunitychaplain.com or our Facebook page . To contribute to the ministry, you can use PayPal or our donation page at YouCaring.)