I’d really like to thank a couple (I think, it seemed to be more than one but not by much) of anonymous/pseudonymous individuals who sent me disparaging messages over the weekend, trying to… well, actually I don’t know what they were trying to do. Disparage me, discourage me, stir up drama… some combination of all of the above? But I kept getting nasty messages referring to other authors running fundraisers or starting up Patreons right now, in a goading “Look how much better they’re doing than you are.” way. Some of them were encouraging me to give up, some were basically telling me I shouldn’t be “putting up with” or letting others “get away with” their success, whatever that means.
The thing is, I don’t find the success of other authors discouraging. I find it hugely empowering. N.K. Jemisin, a successful traditionally published author who I believe has been nominated for just about every major fantasy award, launched a Patreon campaign on Friday-ish in order to help her quit her day job and focus on writing.
This kid of thing happens because “successful author” does not necessarily mean “making enough money to live on”, no matter what your publishing model is. That discourages me. That makes me feel somewhere between defeated and fighting mad. But an author figuring out a better way to do things? That makes me happy. I mean, heck, it was knowing about this reality that led me down the road I chose in the first place.
Now, I know N.K. Jemisin personally, if not closely. We’re mutuals on multiple social media sites. We’ve met in person. It’s possible we’ve even shared a meal together, although I think it would have been a “push three or four tables together” kind of meal, which is part of why I’m not sure if we have or not. I don’t know if she’d call me a friend, but we’ve had nothing but friendly interactions. I admire her as a person and while I have bounced off some of her books, I love the ones that I got into and I recognize the quality of the ones that I didn’t.
So how could anyone be so petty as to imagine that I’d react to her great achievement with anything but, “Well, good for her!”?
I mean, I’m not just going “Good for her.” I’m taking notes about what she’s doing, and sharing my experience with the platform when she asks. To the extent that our paths overlap, we have a lot to learn from each other. I find her example inspiring not just because of her success, but because I’m watching someone succeed while making some of the same decisions that I’ve struggled with. So it’s like getting a vote of confidence by proxy. Yes, one short story in a month is plenty of short stories. Yes, relatively clean drafts are a fine standard for this sort of thing. Stuff like that.
I have a hard time convincing myself that any amount of work or effort is truly enough to show my value to the world, which makes it hard to muster the energy for any amount of work or effort. So seeing where other people set their benchmarks… well, you can’t live your life living up to other people’s examples, and you shouldn’t try. But it can be a good way to quiet down the doubts.
I think I’m supposed to be jealous because I’m re-jiggering my Patreon at the same time she’s launching, but as far as I’m concerned, we both had really successful weekends. My goal for the weekend was to get enough money to fly two people to WorldCon, and you know what? Mission accomplished. Now, I do also need to make more money on a regular basis, and I have plans to do so, but it’s a “one thing at a time” kind of deal. The plane tickets was a “money right now” situation. Patreon is a longer game, and now that the plane tickets are taken care of, it’s where my focus is going.
It’s no secret that I’m struggling financially, but it shouldn’t be a secret that my financial struggles have spun out of personal/emotional struggles that I’m now putting behind me. Another author’s success didn’t cause my troubles and another author’s success isn’t going to prolong them. I’m ready to start making real money again. And yes, the key word there is “again”.
All the anons who tried to discourage me by pointing to other authors living the dream did is remind me that eight years ago, I managed to get enough recurring income to quit my day job and focus on my writing, and I did it without Patreon. I did it before Patreon. I pioneered the kind of direct micropatronage for authors that Patreon enables, and if I didn’t get a lot of recognition for this… well, that’s partly because I’m an awkward self-promoter, but at the end of the day, I didn’t do it for recognition, I did it for money to live on, and I got that.
You know what the biggest amount of money I crowdfunded for my writing over a couple days was? I don’t know to the dollar and cent, off the top of my head, but it was… as they say dans la belle internet… over 9000. U.S. dollars, that is. Now, that was basically meant to cover several months’ worth of expenses projected backwards over time, but still. I did that. Me. Almost a decade ago. There was no Kickstarter. There was no IndieGoGo. There was no GoFundMe. There was just me rattling a cup, reminding people that I was doing work and that my work had value, and that I had expenses that needed to be covered for me to keep living and doing my work.
Back in the day, my example inspired Catherynne M. Valente to take a chance on crowdfunding and web-publishing her first …Fairyland… novel, which also became her first New York Times bestseller and is now a much-loved series. Before the web response proved that people would read it, it would have been a hard sell: a young adult novel written in a style emulating books for younger readers that is actually a spin-off of a very adult novel? Who would read that? The answer, it turns out, is everybody. The books are a legit phenomenon, an all-ages hit.
The other individual that my anonymous correspondents have tried to pit me against is Rachel Swirsky, who’s launching her Patreon with a fundraiser drive for Lyon-Martin health services through the one-two punch of offering a parody of what is possibly her own most famous work as an incentive for participation, and donating the first month’s proceeds to LM. I think it’s a great way to get people in the door, where they can see what she has to offer. I predict she’s going to get a lot of long-term patrons out of this short-term campaign, and even if she doesn’t… well, it’s a great cause, isn’t it?
The thing is, Rachel actually reached out to me for advice on this before she did it, though I was not in a place where I could offering any. I’m helping her out how I can now. At her invitation, I’m pitching in with one of her incentives, which seems like it’s going to be a lot of fun for everyone involved. I’m in a time crunch, but I have a sketch of a blog post I’ll be making about what she’s doing and why it’s important.
All of this is to say: (a small number of) people are trying to be jerks about crowdfunding, probably because they don’t like it when artists and creators they disapprove of find ways to make a living that they have no power to interdict. This is not new, any more than patronage itself is new.
And I’m a little grateful to the jerks because they forcibly reminded me that however I feel right now, I am not a failure. I have achieved great successes in the past, and there’s no reason to believe that I cannot achieve greater successes in the future.
Even more so, I’m grateful to the readers who have supported me over the years, those who circulated links and spread the word, those who pitched in their dollars and cents and the few individuals who have personally invested hundreds or even thousands of dollars in my life and career, and I am grateful to the writers and artists who have shared the bonds of respect, admiration, and friendship with me.