We seem to be in an age of internet rage. You see it pass by like ripples of mild life disruption on social media each day. Someone becomes angry about something, and there is much rage and wailing and electronic gashing of electronic teeth and then nothing happens.
Only sometimes it does.
And sometimes the whole affair leaves an uncomfortable feeling. Like, maybe someone just got stoned by a mob and no-one quite had the presence of mind to stop and ask, hey, wait, what are we really doing here?
If you have lately been wandering the bright-lit fields of Twitter, and in particular the YA community, then you already know where this is going. A little while ago, an author named Stacey Jay discovered that her YA novel Princess of Thorns did not earn out enough to tempt her publisher to a sequel. This sort of thing happens a lot. Author writes book(s). Book(s) don’t sell quite as well as everyone had hoped. Publisher declines to purchase a sequel. But then what? Author moves onto to other projects usually. Sometimes, often even, fans are left wondering what ever happened to the prematurely truncated story, and sometimes, sometimes the author decides to see if they can use fan-funding to continue the otherwise abandoned tale.
Because the thing is, most writers don’t write for free. They can’t afford to. To be honest at the rate that writing pays many writers can’t afford to write for money either, but that’s another essay.
Now, all this chain of events has already happened quite a bit in the past. Sometimes the campaigns via funding venues like Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Pozible pull together the required funds. Sometimes they don’t. But until recently, a crowd-funding campaign of this sort hasn’t attracted the rage and ire of the internet as far as I know.
So here is how it is. As far as I can piece things together this is what happened to Stacey Jay: she started a crowd-funding campaign to continue an abandoned series and the internet arose in rage. The strange part of the rage is that it is not exactly clear what made people melt-down and attack. No-one seems quite able to articulate it. Possibly it was because Stacey was unwise enough to state that she needed some of the funding to help pay for her mortgage, heating and bills. Perhaps it was because the price-to-reward ratio wasn’t great. More than one person has suggested it might have been because Stacey Jay has two x chromosomes. This last uncomfortable possibility is more plausible than anyone would like to think. Many male authors have done exactly the same thing Stacey did: asking for money to start, write and finish a book and get a hot meal or two while doing it. Male authors have often mentioned that they plan to spend the cash on food, bills or their therapy (in one case I know of). None of this raised an eyebrow.
But even the rampant sexism of the internet doesn’t seem to fully explain what happened. The vitriol was enough that Stacey Jay has withdrawn from social media and is no longer writing YA fiction under the name Stacey Jay. And here’s the strangest of the strange things: I’m not sure it was readers who were angriest. It seems like most of the anger came from other YA writers (or would-be writers) and the argument that comes up often seems to be one of writerly machismo: how dare an author ask for money before the product is produced. Writing doesn’t work that way. You write the book by light of an old oil lamp, eating cold spaghetti out of a tin, and maybe suffering from a bad case of infestation by one of the parasitic platyhelminthes. Blood flukes perhaps. Or a cestode. Anyway, you suffer and you suffer, and then, only after the suffering has been suffered do you finished and sell the work. That’s the way it is. The way it has always been.
Only it isn’t. Certainly, publishers do expect a writer to prove themselves with their first book or two or three, but if your work sells well, if you prove yourself a reliable writer of good books… well, publishers do start to pay something (true, not everything) before the book is fully written. And alright, this tends to be the case for very successful writers, but it seems to make a lie of the argument that it was somehow offensive for any writer to ask to be paid before the work is done.
You can still read the Kickstarter page that started it all and judge for yourself if the tone was out of all bounds of reasonableness, or the dollar amount being asked for was somehow offensive. The campaign has been shut down but it is still online, merely inactive. Simply go to Kickstarter and search for Stacey Jay. I’ve read it several times, parsing the sentences and trying to work out what provoked the rage. So far, I can’t see it.