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.
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?
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:
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.
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.