Stacey Jay, Veronica Mars, and The Kickstarter Controversy

Hey everyone,

Okay, I’m not going to lie. I’m upset. In fact, I’m shaking with the force of my feels. So please brace yourself, because this might be a bumpy ride.

Where to begin?

Right. Stacey Jay.

For those of you who haven’t had the distinct pleasure of meeting Stacey Jay, she’s a tremendous YA author whose talent is equaled only by her kindness. I met her at the Las Vegas Book Festival. I entered a room (where I knew almost nobody) wearing a giant poofy, sparkly prom dress and Stacey immediately made me feel welcome. That’s the kind of person she is.

Proof

You can read about that conference right here!

Unfortunately, Stacey’s book sales haven’t been strong enough for her publishing house to keep her on as an author. And at the end of the day, if a publisher feels like they will make more money investing in someone else’s book, that’s what they will do.

But Stacey’s heart was still with the characters of her most recent YA book, Princess of Thorns. Her readers wanted her to write a sequel. She wanted to write a sequel. Her publishing house wasn’t interested in publishing it.

Now here is where things start to get complicated.

Stacey created a Kickstarter for the project. Her plan was to have fans pay ten dollars for the book, and if they chose to donate more they would receive specific prizes. If enough people funded it, then she would be able to afford to focus all of her attention on writing this book for them.

This project was created specifically for her fans, but nobody was under any kind of obligation to support the Kickstarter.

Here is where things got twisted. Stacey openly shared that she would be spending a large portion of the money she would receive from the Kickstarter on her living expenses while she wrote the book. And some people didn’t think that was right. That meant that she was asking her fans to support her lifestyle, right?

Wrong.

If they wanted this book within the next seven months, well, then this was the only way they would be able to get it. Because the alternative for Stacey was to get a day job to pay the bills. And trust me, you have a whole lot less time for writing when you have another job competing for your time and energy.

Again, I would like to emphasize that at no point was anyone forced to give her money.

What fascinates me is that some people claim that this is not what Kickstarter was created for, that she shouldn’t be profiting from her fans before a book is even written.

To which I say, really?

I mean, Zac Brown raised over $55,000 to make himself a sandwich. Kickstarter can be pretty much whatever you make out of it.

But here is a better Kickstarter comparison.

The Veronica Mars Movie.

It’s a remarkably similar situation, actually. You have a writer (Rob Thomas) who desperately wanted to share his story. Thousands of fans were dying to see it. But the fact that nobody in Hollywood thought it would be monetarily worthwhile made it necessary to take the project to the people. A good chunk of the money that was raised went to equipment and sound and lighting and all those other cool movie things that I don’t completely understand, but have to be there in order to have a quality finished project.

Want to know where some of the money went?

To paying the actors. To paying the writers.

Yes, I’m sure Kristen Bell probably did something awesome with the money she was paid. She probably donated it to some worthy cause, perhaps she even donated it back into funding the Kickstarter. I don’t know. I’m not her accountant. And frankly, it’s none of my business.

But she was paid.

You know why? Because regardless of her net worth, she’s part of the Screen Actors Guild and that means it would be illegal to pay her nothing.

You know who else was paid?

Rob Thomas. He’s part of the Writers Guild of America. Again, it would have been illegal for him not to receive money for his work.

Now here’s what I find fascinating. Rob Thomas made it clear that without the support of fans, this movie would never be made. Nobody accused him of holding the movie hostage. He promised to deliver a product for the fans that did not yet exist. Nobody doubted that he would be true to his word. He constantly mentioned that this project was taking time that would otherwise be spent on other projects and that it was a strain on his family to have him so immersed in the world of Veronica Mars. Nobody accused him of using his home life to manipulate his fans.

So I have to wonder: Why the outrage over what Stacey Jay did when the Veronica Mars Kickstarter was roundly praised and received nothing but love from the YA community?

Stacey made it very clear on the Kickstarter that she was asking for the lowest amount possible for her to concentrate solely on this project. The amount she was hoping to raise would have been over a 60% decrease from the original amount her publisher gave her. Both Rob Thomas and Stacey Jay were willing to ask for the bare minimum of money they needed in order to give the fans what they wanted.

Perhaps the problem is that Stacey had the audacity to be upfront about the fact that she’d be using some of this money to pay her rent? Rob Thomas didn’t disclose that information. I’m willing to bet you almost anything that that is exactly where it went though. To food. To rent. To coffee. To all the mundane things that everyone needs to pay.

Here’s the difference: Stacey didn’t have the protection of a guild that said, you must pay her. She must make some money from her work. You cannot expect her to give you this book for free.

Rob Thomas was seen as generous for taking the lowest possible salary for himself, but Stacey was perceived as needy and greedy for doing the exact same thing.

Basically, Stacey was asking fans to preorder the book so that she wouldn’t have to worry about paying her bills while she wrote it for them. Some people have been comparing it to an advance, but I think they’ve misunderstood how advances work. When a publisher pays you an advance, it is the money you theoretically live on while you finish writing/editing/waiting for the book to come out. I say ‘theoretically’ because, trust me, those advances rarely last long.

The author never returns the money from an advance. The author waits until the publisher earns back that money in the form of book sales, before they will see a penny in royalties. But that initial money always belongs to the author.

Which is why this doesn’t make sense to me:

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The donators are not business partners. They were never intended to be business partners; furthermore, I don’t think being a business partner has ever been a Kickstarter expectation. They were paying for a book that they would have received. Again, the Veronica Mars fans were paying for the salaries of actors in a movie that did not yet exist. Nobody expected Rob Thomas and Co. to pay back the Kickstarter fans when the movie arrived in their inbox. Nor did they expect to receive a percentage of the money the film ended up grossing.

If Stacey had paid her fans back for the Kickstarter after she’d written the book, they would have been getting it for free. And she’d have been super broke. And…huh?!

This is where a number of authors became offended at the expectation that they were supposed to work for free.

I think that that discussion has been covered pretty thoroughly. The gist of it being that art should be valued, because authors and artists also need to pay their rent. I’m pretty sure we can all agree on that.

So I’m going to jump ahead to the parts of the Stacey Jay Kickstarter conversation that are a bit more controversial.

1. Why should anyone be expected to fund Stacey Jay’s career by donating to the Kickstarter?

Answer: Nobody is expected to fund Stacey Jay’s career by donating. Just as nobody was expected to fund Rob Thomas’ career by donating to The Veronica Mars Movie. It is one project. One project doesn’t make a career, guys. And you could choose not to participate if you weren’t interested in that specific book.

2. What makes Stacey Jay so special that we should be paying her to write?

Answer: Well, if you want to read her book, then she is going to be part of the process. Furthermore, you’re not paying her to write. You are paying for the end product. I was not paying Rob Thomas to just write. I expected to have a movie sent to me.

3. Art shouldn’t be a privilege. If we are paying Stacey to write then she is receiving a special privilege.

Answer: Creating art absolutely involves privilege. Virginia Woolf nailed it when she said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” That’s the brutal truth. If you don’t have money, you will be spending all of those writing hours looking for steady employment.

But I’d like to address this notion that Stacey is receiving a special privilege. Here’s the thing, if you want her book? You should be paying her to write it. Nobody else in the whole freaking world will be able to deliver that specific experience to you. That’s part of what makes writing so magical.

4. It was an asshole move of Stacey’s to stop the Kickstarter.

Answer: I find this incredibly upsetting. First of all, this began as a passion project intended specifically to please her fans. When people began to insinuate that it was greedy/selfish, etc. she decided to withdraw from social media.

I totally support this decision.

You want to know why?

She did what was best for her own emotional health. In an industry where the statistics for mental health are incredibly grim, it should always be respected when someone says, I need to take care of myself.

Writers are twice as likely to commit suicide. They are more likely to suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, and to have anxiety issues. I don’t know if Stacey specifically deals with these–again, none of my freaking business–but criticizing someone for needing to protect their own mental/emotional/physical health, that’s not okay, guys.

5. I’ve had two broken arms, three jobs, and a bad case of gout and I found time for my hobbies. There’s no reason she couldn’t do it, too!

Answer: First of all, writing is not a hobby for Stacey. It’s a profession. A poorly paying one, sure, but it’s still a profession.

Secondly, congratulations! I know that sounds sarcastic, but I genuinely mean it. I am thrilled that despite many obstacles and hardships, you’ve been able to dedicate time to your life passions. That is truly a wonderful accomplishment.

That said, please do not expect me to meet your high standards of accomplishment. That’s like turning to someone suffering from depression and saying, “I’m happy all the time and I just got a speeding ticket! You should be way happier. I don’t think you are trying hard enough to be happy. So clearly it’s your own damn fault that you’re depressed.”

6. Nobody was bullying her! I didn’t see anyone bullying her! Why can’t I state my opinion without people getting mad at me? You’re trying to take away my freedom of speech!

Answer: I also didn’t see her email inbox. There’s a lot neither of us have seen. We don’t know what kind of messages she received.

What I did see was a bunch of people saying that they didn’t approve of what she was trying to do for her fans. And you know what? They do have the right to free speech. They exercised that right with Twitter, Facebook, and a myriad of blog posts.

They just shouldn’t expect everyone to be happy with the opinion they are expressing. I know this blog post will upset people. And I’m sincerely sorry about that. I hate hurting people.

Hate. It.

But in this case, I think the issue is too important for me to stay silent. So I am accepting that some people will disapprove of the way I’m handling myself. I sincerely hope we will agree on other issues. Maybe we can bond over Veronica Mars later? Or, uh…unicorns?

I just have to get this last part out first.

This Kickstarter was created for Stacey Jay’s fans. Just as The Veronica Mars Movie was made for the Marshmallows. Nobody was obligated to participate. Nobody was expected to donate. You were more than welcome to join in the fun! But if you just want to critique it from the sidelines…you should expect some resistance.

I think the internet can make it very easy for us to hate on things that just aren’t intended for us. And that in turn can have a dampening effect on other people’s joy, even when that was never the intention behind it. In this case, that means that none of us will be able to read a seriously kickass sequel that only one author was capable of writing for us.

And that, my friends, is why this whole debacle is so freaking sad.

Much love,

Marni

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The Best Writing Advice I REALLY Don’t Feel Qualified to Give! (Mid-list Edition)

Hey everyone,

Wow! So people seem to really love the writing advice that I posted a few days ago. I want to give an extra big THANK YOU to everyone who reached out to me. There has been more than a little twirling here at Casa de Marni.

And then I realized something very important…

ALL of my advice was geared for aspiring authors. It’s the stuff that I wish someone had told me when I was starting out. I wouldn’t have shared this post if I didn’t think it was still applicable, but…each level of publishing has its own unique challenges. And I want to take a crack at some of the pressing issues that my author friends are dealing with right now.

So here’s The Best Writing Advice I REALLY Don’t Feel Qualified to Give… (The Mid-list Edition.)

1. Accept that most days your books will feel pretty irrelevant.

If someone (*cough* the nice neighborhood barista *cough*) says, “Uh…yeah! I think I’ve heard of your book!” there’s a small part of your brain that begins to shriek…

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But it’s okay! Let’s face it, flying under the radar might even be for the best. If they had read your book they might expect you to, y’know…speak in complete sentences.

And before I have coffee, this is my idea of witty banter…

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It’s not pretty, friends. It’s just not.

2. You will never master ALL the social media tools.

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Tumblr. YouTube. Goodreads. Pinterest. Amazon Author Central. Book trailers. Giveaways. Blogging.

Just listing them probably makes you feel guilty.

Especially since you’re supposed to keep up on popular culture, too. Jennifer Lawrence gets a haircut? You’ve seen it. Mindy Kaling gives an interview? You’ve read it.

You spend an eternity trying to prove yourself as a sparkling conversationist in 140 characters or less…only to make an enormous grammatical gaffe. Then you rush to delete the tweet, except someone has already “favorited” it.

So…you debate sending out a repeat tweet that fixes the mistake or pretending to be charmingly blasé about the whole thing.

Oh that? HAHAHAHA…I was distracted by pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Then you post the pics because obviously he will fix everything for you.

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The crazy part is that ALL of this is supposed to look effortless. You’re supposed to have .gifs for any occasion, but it shouldn’t take time. Obviously, this is the reason you’re a mid-lister. If only you spent this much energy on your writing you would be a New York Times Bestseller!

At least, that’s what the majority of your family members will tell you.

Except here’s the annoying truth: Social media expectations will never disappear, especially in an age when author outreach is generally considered the most powerful form of promotion. What’s worse, your image is one of the few things in this industry that you can pretend to control. Book deals, marketing strategies, movie options…you have no say in these things.

Heck, even the next book deal is out of your hands!

So you have to find a way to balance social media duties with writing deadlines and, hopefully, a personal life.

If you figure out how to do this, please let me know. I tend to update madly for a few days and then become so overwhelmed that I start binge-watching TV shows on Hulu.

3. Don’t buy into your own image.

You aren’t the person you portray on social media. There are certain things you should never make public because nerd rage is a very real thing.

The fastest way to activate it is to say that you don’t get what’s so special about Firefly.

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Sometimes your sense of public and private will become blurry. Case in point: I was once told that I didn’t sound as awkward in my blog posts as I claimed to be in real life.

That took me aback for a second. And then I realized…yeah, you’re right! Because I don’t always want to publicize my screw-ups and mistakes. In fact, sometimes I get downright uncomfortable posting about my life. There was one night during my semester abroad in Australia when I experienced something incredible, mystical, borderline spiritual, and I instantly thought, “This would make a great blog post!” I promised myself right then and there that I wouldn’t treat my life as blog post fodder.

I’ve broken that pledge more times than I would like to admit.

So I’m going to repeat this point–for myself, mostly–your life is NOT defined by your online presence.

4. Your friends will not always want to pimp your book stuff.

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You don’t want to retweet everything they do either, right? So don’t start blog posts with the expectation that every one of your witty, clever, effortlessly media-savvy friends will reblog, repost, or regurgitate the advice you thought sounded smart when you wrote it at 2am.

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This being the notable exception. Right guys?!

5. Accept that there WILL be times when you come across as desperate.

At some point, you will offer to mention your friend’s book in the comment section of a vlogbrothers YouTube video…if they’ll do the same for you. Or maybe you’ll create Wikipedia pages for each other!

All the while you’ll pretend that it doesn’t look like this…

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Same goes for Amazon/Goodreads/Audible reviews. We’ve all been there. It’s inevitable. Someday you will see strangers working on library computers and you’ll be tempted to ask them to give your work five stars.

You won’t bother them, of course. But mostly because the library is your second home and you don’t want the very nice librarians to physically escort you out.

6. You will get really, REALLY tired of hearing about John Green.

Actually, Laurie Halse Anderson did a brilliant job addressing this here! SPOILER ALERT: Her frustration isn’t with John Green. You should read it. Frankly, you should read everything she says because she’s a unicorn.

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I promised to stop calling her that though, so let’s keep it between us.

I’m sure John Green is totally fantastic. I just wish that it were possible to have a discussion on YA fiction without spending a solid five minutes on him. It’s not though. Partly because people like me feel the need to discuss his influence here.

*Shakes fist at self*

7. You’ll be tempted to become controversial.

I think one of the hardest parts about being a mid-lister is that you can catch glimpses at bestsellerdom and you think, “Man, if I networked to my highest potential, that could be me!” Then you realize that if you spent that much time voicing your opinions, inevitably something incredibly stupid will slip out. Being controversial suddenly sounds like a silver bullet.

If I mention Author X loudly enough, it will get me attention!

This is how good people become trolls.

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(And yes, I am fully aware that including #6 might make me a hypocrite. Just because I’m giving this advice doesn’t mean I always know how to take it. Should I have skipped #6 entirely? At what point does discussing a controversial issue become link-bait or trolling? I honestly don’t know. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section!)

8. Bullying is very real. And it sucks.

The writing community is an incredible place that includes the warmest, smartest, most fiercely loyal people I’ve had the good fortune to meet. And I’d like to point out that I’m not just talking about authors here. Editors, agents, reviewers, bloggers, librarians, conference coordinators…the passion, dedication, and heart that I’ve seen from all of these people, it’s incredible.

But there is still plenty of behind-the-scenes bullying that takes place every day.

Genre-bashing is nothing new, but somehow when it comes from inside the community it feels a billion times worse. Sometimes professional jealousy gets the best of people. It’s hard not to see it as a competition. As I mentioned in my other post, we’ve pretty much been trained to believe that there are a limited number of spaces available and that for us to reach our full potential, we’ll have to beat out somebody else. Publishing doesn’t actually work that way though. Your friend’s glorious, oh-my-freaking-god, seven figure book deal doesn’t have anything to do with the manuscript you’ve got on submission. The best course of action (which is excruciatingly hard sometimes!) is to keep your eyes on your own page.

9. You will survive bad reviews.

That said, I’ll never forget seeing my debut novel described as, “The devil’s way of poisoning young minds.” What confused me most was receiving 3/5 stars from that same reviewer!

To this day, I’m baffled.

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Then again, I know someone who received a 3/10 from a reader who said that a perfect score was The Holy Bible. I’m not sure how that compares to, y’know…a romance novel. All that begetting could be a little steamy, I suppose.

The surest way to maintain your sanity is to laugh your way through it. Or maybe that’s just my technique. Here’s a solid pro tip though: NEVER confront the reviewer.

Even when it hurts. Even when you have to call up your friend to ask if they secretly think your book sucks too. Even when you think that there’s been a slight misunderstanding that could totally be cleared up with a tweet…

If someone shares a negative review to you, either say nothing or thank them for taking the time to read your work. Then step away from the laptop.

Here’s what you do next: Remind yourself that book bloggers are made of awesome. Reviewers are people who care so passionate about books that they can’t wait to tell the whole world about the one they just read! That’s amazing!

There shouldn’t be conflict between authors and reviewers. We should be holding hands while cartoon birds flit above us and daffodils burst into full bloom. We should be so sickeningly cute that everyone outside the writing community is disgusted by our unwavering adoration of each other.

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I’m going to hazard a guess as to why that’s not actually the case.

Just because I love reviewers doesn’t mean I can read their work.

In fact, I can’t.

I’ve learned that I don’t trust myself with reviews, even glowingly awesome ones. They make me feel great for a few seconds, and then suddenly the project in front of me looks extra crappy. And yeah, I’ve been known to obsess over a particularly bad review for a few days. The way I see it, no matter how many stars I’m given, it interferes with my productivity.

I really wish I could read reviews without messing up my head. I don’t blame that on the bloggers. I also don’t blame my inability to listen to the audiobook version of my novels on the narrators. They are awesome. I am the one who panics over hearing my words said aloud.

And you know what? THAT’S OKAY.

I am a firm believer in doing what you have to do to protect your mental health. If a visit to Goodreads could activate some kind of emotional time-bomb inside you, don’t go there.

If you can read a review and think, “Oh wow! That’s such an interesting point. I’m going to make sure that I avoid that mistake in my next book!”…well, that’s awesome. Then it’s a real opportunity for growth and improvement.

My recommendation is to get a review/rejection buddy who will shower you with .gifs to get you through the hard times. And to know that avoiding reviews doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t mean you need to toughen up. It means that you are taking your mental health seriously.

In this profession that’s an incredibly wise thing to do.

10. Please remember that you’re awesome.

It’s shockingly easy to forget that once upon a time, this was the dream. Maybe because now it feels like we spend most of our energy simply trying to stay relevant instead of writing. 

But the truth is that you did something awesome. You wrote a book. And against all the odds, you even got it published. That is an accomplishment that nobody can take away from you!

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Even Ron Swanson wants to celebrate with you.

So hang in there, fellow mid-listers!

Awkwardly yours,

Marni

P.S. If this was useful to you, please let me know! I’m willing to post writing advice here every Monday if that’s something people seem interested in reading. So feel free to leave a comment here…or on my FB author page…or you could send a tweet…basically, unless you want to use Morse Code, I should be able to get your message!

INVISIBLE has left the laptop!

Hey everyone!

As many of you may have heard, I’ve been working away recently on finishing up my edits for Invisible (aka the non-spinoff sequel to Awkward).

Now editing is not my favorite part of the editing process. Usually I stare at my laptop and say:

 

And of course that inevitably turns into this…

 

 

Why must paragraphs be so sneaky?

 

Luckily, I have a fantastic editor, Alicia Condon, who gives brilliant suggestions. And with her help, I think I successfully pulled off some book-related karate.

 

This is the extent of my actual karate skills.

But it’s over now. For real, folks. I’M DONE EDITING INVISIBLE!

 

This is an accurate depiction of my Starbucks victory dance. 

How did I celebrate? By meeting up for more coffee with romance authors extraordinaire, Maisey Yates and Lisa Hendrix!

Which is kind of incredible considering that Maisey was the very first person I met at the RWA.

Maisey Yates: Made of Awesome.

At the time, I wasn’t exactly acting cool though. In fact, I’m still not entirely certain I was coherent. Probably because every fiber of my being was doing this:

So I was pretty thrilled to see her again, under slightly less intense conditions. And I’m so glad Lisa was able to join us!

Lisa Hendrix: Supernaturally Awesome.

It felt like a mini-RWA conference! Especially when we roped our Applebee’s waitress into a discussion of Fifty Shades of Grey.

It was a night of great hilarity that nearly didn’t end because I can’t give directions to save my life. Seriously. Maisey threatened to shank me and I still couldn’t produce a single street name. I just kept gesturing vaguely to my left and saying, “I think it’s that direction. Maybe.”

So if a young female character ends up abandoned by the side of the road in Maisey’s next book, we will know what inspired that particular scene.

 

And now I’m feeling all inspired to get back to writing. Well, maybe after I watch a few episodes of Veronica Mars

~Marni

 

 

P.S. If you haven’t already seen it, you should totally check out my book trailer for Decked with Holly!