12 January 2015

How I'm Using Crowdfunding to Attend a Writing Conference

Crowdfunding. Maybe you love it. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you don't know all that much about it. If you don't, it's pretty much exactly what it sounds like: people asking other people to help fund their project or cause. Some of the most popular sites for this are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe. People ask for funds to help them create something tangible like a comic book or movie, or for help paying for things like large medical bills, or to help with living expenses after personal tragedies for family or friends. There are endless possibilities of what people will try to fund this way. Authors will often use crowdfunding to raise money to publish books, or for the smaller parts of production along the way, like cover art or editing. For me, I'm trying to fund my way to the Romance Writers of America annual conference this summer, which is being held in New York City. So let's talk about the logistics.

Know Your Platform

And no, I don't mean your author platform. I mean the site you plan to use for your crowdfunding campaign. Look at their terms and conditions, FAQs, and pricing. Browse other campaigns that might be similar to yours and see what the successful ones look like. Make sure the thing you want to fund is a good fit for the platform you choose. For example, Kickstarter only allows for campaigns that will produce a tangible product. A book, a film, a CD, etc. While I am working on another book to release this year, that's not what I want to fund (because I'm not sure on the timeline that I'll be able to get it done). So Kickstarter wasn't the place for me.

Credit
I knew of GoFundMe and Indiegogo, and when I asked the Twittersphere about platforms, a friend pointed me toward a new branch of Indiegogo called Indiegogo Life. So I started looking into those. I was somewhat familiar with the main Indiegogo platform already after helping promote and offering a perk for a friend's campaign a while ago. I have very little experience with GoFundMe other than always seemingly having trouble with text readability on my phone whenever I checked out someone else's campaign. (Random, I know, but sometimes those are the things that will tip you one way or another.)

There are a few different funding and campaign models you can use with these platforms. Indiegogo has both flexible (you keep whatever money you make) and fixed (you have to meet your goal to get the money) funding. You offer perks to people donating at certain levels. If you're funding a book, for example, an obvious perk would be to offer a copy of the book to people who donate. You could offer a digital copy at a lower donation threshold and a paperback copy at a higher donation level. But again, I'm not funding a physical product. GoFundMe and Indiegogo Life don't use the perk system for donations, and GoFundMe doesn't have deadlines.

Know Your Project

When you go to set up your campaign, make sure you've done your research about what things will cost and how much you will need. I researched registration and hotel rates on the RWA website, then found a friend who is planning on going to share a room with. That cuts my room expense in half. I researched different travel arrangements to get a range of prices. Make sure you don't just automatically go with the rock bottom option when it comes to pricing your project. My two options for transportation are coach bus or airplane. Could I potentially go even cheaper with a complicated network of passenger buses and trains? Maybe. But I would be miserable, it would take me twice as long, and it would mean additional time away from paying work outside of just the conference, and that's no good.

Conference registration opens on February 3rd, and I know from checking on past conferences that rooms and registration fill up quickly. Ideally I want to know whether I'll be able to financially make conference attendance a reality by mid-February to make sure that I can secure a room and that I don't leave my roommate hanging until the last minute. Know what your own timeline looks like for your campaign--when you need funds and/or when you need to deliver a finished product if that's what you're funding--and set a deadline for your campaign accordingly.

Know Your Platform (Again)

This time I do mean your author platform in addition to the crowdfunding platform. Take an honest look at your social networks, your friends and family, and any resources you'll have at your disposal to secure funding and to spread awareness for your campaign. How many of those people do you think will actually contribute to your campaign, and how much do you realistically expect you can count on? Are you setting your hopes on a big surge of public support from people you've never been in contact with but who heard of your campaign through some great word of mouth? Know yourself, too.

I'm a shy introvert who hates asking for help and feels super awkward about putting myself out there for something like this. So realistically, I'm not planning on slamming my social networks with this all day every day, asking people to share and spread the word. I can feel my blood pressure rising with anxiety just thinking about doing that. Besides, I don't have a huge platform. I don't have thousands of followers on social media, and I'm not a big-name author (yet). I feel confident that the majority of my benefactors will be friends and family who love me and want me to succeed. Perhaps there will be some friends-of-friends who donate, or random internet strangers, or even a kind reader who finds their way to my campaign through my links on Facebook or Twitter. But all of this factors into which platform I chose for my campaign.

I decided to go with Indiegogo Life for my crowdfunding campaign for a few different reasons. As I mentioned, Kickstarter was out from the beginning because I'm not asking for funds to produce a tangible product. Because I don't need a large amount of money in the many thousands of dollars range, and because I'm unsure of my ability to reach large numbers of people willing to donate aside from my closest friends and family, fees suddenly became the number one deciding factor in choosing a crowdfunding platform.

Both Indiegogo (the main site) and GoFundMe have platform fees on top of transaction fees. That means either increasing the amount of money I ask for or sucking it up and dealing with that 8 or 9% loss of funds once everything is said and done. With Indiegogo Life, there are no platform fees, only the 3% transaction fee to process payments. I set up a 60-day campaign where I will receive all funds donated (minus the 3%) and I don't have to worry about different fees based on whether I make my goal or not, or the dreaded possibility of coming within mere dollars of my goal, not making it by the deadline, and then not getting any of the money at all. That's what made the most sense for me, for this project. It may not make the most sense for you and your project, so always do your homework.

Why Crowdfunding?

I do mention this briefly in my campaign description, but I'm sure some of you may be wondering why I turned to crowdfunding to help me attending this conference. First of all, the RWA conference is something I think will be very beneficial to me on the business side of writing. That's why I want to go. Unfortunately, it's an expensive conference, and certain circumstances make it financially difficult for me to even think about attending without any assistance. That's why I'm crowdfunding.

My husband has a great job that has transferred us a few times over the past few years after he was promoted. The adventure of moving and experiencing new cities is really fantastic. Unfortunately, we have been unable to sell the condo that we moved out of the first time we moved... almost four years ago now. And because of complicated rules and regulations, we also could not rent the house to at least break even on what we were paying. So for nearly four years we've been paying the mortgage for a house we don't live in, as well as rent in our new locations. We accumulated a lot of credit card debt trying to make ends meet during this time and recently took out a loan to consolidate all of that into something more manageable. There isn't any room in the budget currently for the hefty price tag of the RWA conference. And even though my husband is asleep in the next room as I write this, I can pretty much feel his death glare at the thought of financing this business expense with our newly-cleared credit cards.

This conference is a business expense that I can write off on next year's taxes. But I still need to pay for it up front. It's a very first world problem to have, I know, which makes it even more difficult for me to ask for financial assistance to fund this experience in the first place. But I've already seen that several kindhearted friends are willing to give me a little boost, and as the saying goes, you never know if you don't try.

I have several friends who will be attending the conference this year who are everywhere on the spectrum from traditionally published to hybrid to 100% self-published. They will be coming from various places in the U.S., Canada, and even England. As the shy introvert I mentioned I am, having a handful of familiar faces in the midst of the huge conference will be a welcome lifeline, which is part of why I decided I wanted to go to RWA this year especially.

Make it Your Own

If you're an author looking to crowdfund a product or experience, do whatever you can to make your campaign your own. Personalize it. Post video updates of you dancing, if that's your thing. Offer unique perks if you're able to do so on the platform you choose. Have fun with it and see where it takes you.

And now here's the inevitable part where I ask you to look at my campaign page and see if you are able to donate to my fundraiser. I know not everyone can. If we were all in a place to donate money to causes we wanted to support... well, then none of us would really need to be supported by anyone else, I suppose, right? But if you can share the fundraiser on Facebook or Twitter or anywhere else you think it will reach people, that signal boost can be just as beneficial and every bit as appreciated.

Even though Indiegogo Life doesn't use the perks method, I would still like to offer my backers a hand-written thank you, at the very least. I can also offer a digital copy of one of my books if you don't already have one. If you donate (or have already donated) to my fundraiser, please use the Contact button on the fundraiser page to drop me a line and give me a name and address for your thank you note.

Happy crowdfunding!

Have you run a successful crowdfunding campaign? What was your experience like?

02 January 2015

Compersion for the New Year

No, that's not a typo in the title. I did mean compersion and not compassion. I came across the term in some reading a few years ago (oh, the things you learn as a writer!) and it has stuck with me ever since because I think it fits a part of me that I never knew how to name. Compersion is a word coined by members of the Kerista Commune in the '70s, I believe, and it was used in the context of polyamory to describe the feelings of joy or happiness upon seeing one's partner(s) experiencing their own happiness. When you hear polyamory you might be tempted to zero in on romantic and sexual relationships. Of course, when speaking of polyamory and compersion together, that's going to be part of it. But this post isn't about polyamory. And no matter where the term originated, compersion doesn't necessarily have to be romantic or sexual in nature.

Photo by african_fi
Think about it. When someone else's happiness or joy causes you to feel your own happiness or joy. If you've never experienced it, maybe it doesn't make as much sense to you as it does to me. I think compersion is something I've experienced and expressed for as long as I can remember, in completely platonic ways. It's still something I feel to this day, in many circumstances. It's not quite the same thing as empathy, either. Empathy is when you can understand and identify with someone else's emotions, and perhaps experience them vicariously. But with compersion, it isn't that I'm identifying with someone else's happiness exactly. If a friend gets promoted at work, my empathy allows me to share in their excitement and identify with their happiness. If I experience compersion in that same scenario, what I'm feeling is my happiness. Does that make sense? Empathy and compersion can be experienced simultaneously, and they probably are quite often. I've only very recently (as in, just today) learned of the Buddhist concept/term mudita, which appears to be very close to what I mean when I say compersion. If you're familiar with that, perhaps that's a better framework to think of it. But since compersion is the term I've come to identify with, and I really know very little about mudita, I'll stick with compersion for now.

So anyway... why do I bring it up? Because in our society we often discourage talking about feeeelings past a certain age or beyond a certain scope that doesn't fit into predetermined stereotypes. You can "love" your friends, but you luuuurve your romantic partner (and by golly, you'd better only have one of those at a time, and you're always searching for The One who will show you that you obviously never really knew what love was!) and there's absolutely no in-between or crossover. Boys don't cry. Girls cry a lot. You're allowed to be angry, but not too angry! And so on and so forth, but most of all, nobody wants to really hear you talk about any of those feelings. And so when I experienced what I now identify as compersion at a younger age (and even still now) sometimes it led to feeling tremendously awkward and unsure. I never knew what to say or how to say it. I just knew that I would find myself in these moments of love and joy and happiness that centered around particular people. Friends, teachers, sometimes near strangers, family members. It might've been a simple smile, something small or large happening in their lives that brought them happiness, or even just their natural optimism on a particularly good day. It could be any or all of those things that triggered my own happiness in turn. And it can be potent, that happiness. But when you're a teen experiencing all sorts of complicated things, and no one ever stops and says "Hey, let's talk about happiness and touchy-feely emotional things," it's very easy to start wondering what the hell it is you're actually experiencing.

Growing up, I'd usually just keep my thoughts to myself, especially when they centered around feelings of compersion. Sometimes, though, it got to be too much, and words would just spill out of me. On paper, naturally, because that's how I've always chosen to express myself. (My shyness makes face to face expression of these things nearly unbearable.) So I'd write heartfelt thank you notes to teachers or friends. (Or I'd channel it into fiction if I couldn't bring myself to tell the actual person.) And I probably rambled a lot and tried to name specific things I appreciated about that person because it felt too weird to boil it all down to the simple truth: Your passion brings me joy. So I'd write the note, and I'd hand it over, and then I'd worry myself sick over how they might respond. I didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea about what I meant, because I was certain they would. It would be easy to interpret it as something other than what I'd intended. And I was so very afraid of looking stupid, or not being liked, and I would vow never to put myself out there that way again. And I wouldn't, for a while. But then the cycle would start over again.

My teen years went by like that. I'll be 32 this year, and somewhere along the line I really did stop taking the time to put myself out there and express to specific individuals how happy it made me to see their happiness. And if I did express it, it was in a much more careful and guarded way. I'm not sure why. I never did experience that Holy shit, you are such a creep, leave me alone response that I so feared. But I fear it still. Maybe even more now than when I was younger. I'd like to let my compersion be more readily visible again, though. Partially for purely selfish reasons. It just feels so damn nice to revel in that joy. But also because... well... maybe we all need more of it. Even if it's not a feeling you identify within yourself, imagine what it might be like if someone told you that the happiness you derive from the good things in life made them happy as well. Wouldn't that be pretty fucking fantastic? You didn't even have to bake them cookies or loan them money or cure a disease. Just being happy for something good within your own life was enough to make someone else smile. I think it would be pretty nice.

So to all my friends, family, acquaintances, and anyone I may come into contact with this year (and here's the real point of this post) I just want to say this: I'm not trying to be creepy, honest! Don't think me weird or strange or awkward (well, okay, I may very well be awkward) when I tell you how much I love the way you light up when you talk about something wonderful that you've experienced. I really do love seeing the passion you pour into your hobbies and the things you enjoy. That actor or artist you love. The new relationship that's making you walk without even touching the ground. The courage with which you face adversity. The rewards you reap from your hard work. Your book deal. That picture you drew. That kid you're raising. The animal you adopted. I love it. All of it. I'm not just happy for you in all those cases. You truly give me a joy and happiness of my own, the magnitude of which you may never truly understand, just by expressing the happiness those things bring you. Your passion brings me joy. I hope you don't mind if I say so.

22 November 2014

Pushing Boundaries

Quite a while ago I wrote a post about how I wished the "trashy" erotica out there would go away, because it gave erotica in general a bad name. I hated the idea of people who might very well enjoy reading erotica being turned off or scared away from giving it a try because all they knew of were "those" stories. And by "those" stories, at the time I referenced mainly things like pseudo-incest stories, because that was what had set me off on my rant of sorts at the time. It wasn't exclusively the subject matter, but also the fact that they're (the ones I wish would go away, at least) poorly written, unimaginative, and repetitive. I didn't express that very elegantly then, and was rightly taken to task for my views by some. That's fine. I'm someone who has always said that when my experiences and knowledge shift, I'm more than happy changing my opinions on a topic if warranted. And so I wanted to revisit this topic a bit. My thoughts have changed somewhat, and I want to explain those, as well as try to better explain the aspects that haven't changed.

First, there's the question of what constitutes erotica versus porn. I know plenty of writers who happily say "I write porn!" Or smut. I occasionally use that term. Is it the same as porn? I have no idea. Is this a hopeless game of labels and self-identifying labels versus industry labels? Perhaps. But for lack of better terminology or ideas on my part, I tend to see a difference between erotica and porn. If you think of movies, it seems much clearer that there's a line between a film that's erotic and one that's porn. Most of us (I think) watch porn for the sex. That's what we want, and porn fulfills that want. We watch other movies to be entertained in other ways, even if there is sex and arousal as part of the film. There's writing that falls along these same lines.

There are sexually explicit stories meant to arouse and titillate that also have emotionally satisfying plot arcs and interesting characters that keep us turning pages at least as much as our desire to read the next hot sex scene. That, to me, is erotica. There are also sexually explicit stories meant to arouse and titillate that are pretty much the written equivalent of a porn compilation: sex scene after sex scene geared around a particular sexual predilection (whether it's just plain vanilla sex or extreme fetishes) with very little holding them together. If some attempt at a plot exists, it's probably extraneous or silly or both, and it probably has little to no impact on one's enjoyment of the sexual situations. It might be there in the barest sense, and only to state the existence of the particular fetish or kink (like to set up the fact that it's teacher and a student, for example) and after that it really doesn't even matter if the characters have names. To me, that's porn.

Let me be as absolutely clear as I can be right now: I'm not trashing porn. I have nothing against porn at all. Porn is great. Got it? Good.

Going back to porn in movie format, we all know where to get porn, right? It's not in the same place where you go to watch romantic comedies or the like. But when you go online to find erotica, and what you want is that entertaining, emotionally satisfying story that is about or contains some hot, explicit sex, you'll also be flooded with all of those stories I mentioned that I would file under the category of porn. And it's frustrating! It really is. Both as a reader, having to sift through everything going nope, that's not what I want, nope, nope, nope, sometimes reading enough samples that I might as well have read half a book already, and also as an author writing erotica and trying to reach readers who (hopefully) want what I've written and are trying to wade through everything else to get to it.

And you know what? I don't have an answer or a solution. I don't necessarily want written porn to be relegated behind a shameful black curtain to keep all of the literature (say that in your best posh accent) pure and untainted. And categories only work so well, especially when we innovative and quick to react self-published authors will try out even only marginally related categories if we think they'll get us more visibility. (*cough* I'm looking at you, non-New Adult stories filling up Amazon's NA lists. *cough*) But that's a different post altogether. Maybe I'm just being overdramatic and throwing an adult hissy fit. You're certainly allowed to think so. But it doesn't change the fact that it frustrates me that it can be so much dang work just to find good erotica when I want it.

I fear my point about the quality of writing is becoming an afterthought yet again, and I don't mean for it to be. I just get so long-winded about other stuff and then I figure the one person left reading this wants me to get on with it already... but I'll touch on it again. I have no patience for poorly written erotica or porn. Unimaginative language, repetitive scenes, far-fetched plot points that don't allow me to suspend disbelief even for a moment, recycled tropes, blah, blah, blah-freaking-blah. There's plenty of poorly-written erotica. But I dare say that... well, 95% of the written porn I stumble across and toss aside as I'm searching for erotica is quite poorly written. And that's really the worst part. I don't want to police anyone's fantasies or sexual turn-ons, and I've definitely broadened my thinking on this since the last time I wrote about it, so I'm not going to tell anyone to stop writing on these topics. But please, for the love of smut, do it better! I can only read mind-numbingly boring sentences like "He shoved his cock into her pussy" so many times before I want to beat you with a dictionary. (But who knows, maybe you'd like that.) I mean, really? Thank you for describing the gist of all heterosexual sex everywhere in one sentence... again, and again... and yet again... because I didn't understand the mechanics of it the first time. Not any sexier the fifth time than it was the first time.

Of course, what do plenty of writers do when they're frustrated with the quality of writing available? Lots of them throw up their hands, say "I can write better than this!" and then go do it. I realized that bringing the sexy forbidden down to a level that's more palatable for more people (while still maintaining some of that naughty edge) is something I've always been fascinated by. Even in a non-sexy, or non-forbidden context, I've often loved taking an idea someone might not agree with and reshaping it and asking "Well what about now? What about now? How about this way?" until I can get them to agree with me, even a little bit. It's like Hah! I have bent you to my will! Mwa-ha-ha... Okay, maybe it's not exactly like that. But it feels like it sometimes.

Getting back to the smexy stuff, there's a hint of that very thing in Steven and Charlotte's relationship in Sorry's Not Enough. It didn't really click for me until someone called it "acceptably taboo." So I started thinking about some of the slightly taboo things that make me roll my eyes at best, and make me want to retch at worst, when they're poorly executed and poorly written, but that have the potential for much more. Once I removed the aspect of how much I hated how other people had written similar themes and focused on what the appealing aspects of those themes were, the ideas flooded in. I am (notoriously) a slow writer, so I'm still working on the first one, but I have plans for a series. If you'd told me even a year ago I'd be excited to write a series about slightly forbidden relationships, I would've rolled my eyes at you. But like I said, I'm not afraid to change my way of thinking when life and learning have shown me that I'm wrong. My writing life is certainly no exception.

So look for The Taboo Series to start sometime next year....

06 November 2014

Live Free or Die

Live free or die is the state motto of New Hampshire. My husband and I (and our dog, of course) moved here at the end of July, and I'm still discovering new and quirky things about the area that differentiate it from other places I've lived. We're enjoying it here so far and are cautiously waiting for our first New England winter. There are lots of things that I find awesome, weird, funny, or otherwise interesting about my new home, and I thought I'd share some of those with you.

Welcome to New Hampshire...

 

Pretty!
... where grocery stores close at 9pm during the week and 7pm on Sunday. What? I'm used to at least one 24-hour grocer nearby!

... where autumn is freaking gorgeous. There are trees everywhere, and they burst into the most glorious colors.

... where Dunkin' Donuts is king. This is true of New England in general, apparently. I grew up with Dunkin' on a much less intense level, so it's not that they were completely new to me. But it's practically a religion here. Cream and sugar in your coffee is "regular" here, whereas if you ask for it that way somewhere else, like in New York, as my husband recently discovered, they might look at you like you're nuts.

... where drivers don't know how to merge or yield. Yes, this is a sweeping generalization, but it has held up in my experiences so far. Many merge points around here are also much shorter than I'm used to. But they're twice as wide, meaning you can practically drive right next to the car you need to merge behind for a good 200 feet before you really need to merge. So it evens out, right? Granted, I've only been driving for three and a half years, and all of that in Pennsylvania, so perhaps my experience is different than most. I've also been told this experience is unique to my particular area, but I've seen it in some of my cross-state drives as well. 

... where the accent makes me giggle. I lived in Pittsburgh (PA, I've learned to stipulate, as there is also a Pittsburgh, NH!) for three years and that accent made me smile. I got used to it, though. Pittsburghese is sort of a midwestern and southern mash-up of accents, and the vernacular can be interesting, too. Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I'm accustomed to a bit of twang, so maybe that's why Pittsburgh's dialect didn't feel quite as foreign. But the New England accent is something that I'm not sure will ever not make me laugh inside. Not because I'm making fun of it, but just because it's such a peculiarity to my ear. I suppose to a lot of people here, I'm the one with the accent.

"Hampton Beach, New Hampshire 2004"
... where the beaches sparkle, the water is freezing, and seaweed is unavoidable. We arrived in late July and within two weeks we made sure to hit the beach. Technically we went to Maine and Massachusetts and didn't get a chance to visit the NH coastline before it got too cold. But I'm fairly certain this observation will hold up when we get to test it next summer. The sand sparkles like I've never seen before. I'm guessing it's because of the quartz and other mineral content, but I have no idea. I just know it's freaking awesome. The water is colder than I'm used to, but still refreshing. It's clear to a greater depth than I ever encountered in my mid-Atlantic beach-going experience, and it doesn't taste quite as salty. No, I'm not drinking it, but it's difficult not to taste it while swimming in the ocean. New England beaches have climbed to the top of my favorites list, despite the need to fish out bits of seaweed from unmentionable places afterward...

... where you can buy beer at Wal-Mart! This may not seem so strange to some, unless you've lived in Pennsylvania or another place with bizarre liquor laws. After needing to practically jump through hoops in PA to be able to buy a six-pack of beer, it was a shock to the system to see it all over the place in stores here.

... where the speed limit is just a suggestion. I'll admit to having a bit of a lead foot, so I love to see the 65 mph speed limit on stretches of highway near me. Usually that means I'm doing 70. And yet people still speed past me quite often. And when it drops down to 55 mph after that exit? Nah, the flow of traffic is still going 70. When we first moved, we had movers to bring boxes off the truck and into our apartment. They were super nice guys and talked to us about the area and asked about my husband's job (which is the reason we moved) and gave us a word of caution about police being sticklers for the speed limit in his experience. Sadly, I think his experience may have been more a symptom of driving while brown, as I've seen many police cars monitoring traffic who don't seem to bat an eye at everyone traveling at least 5 mph above the posted limit. They do pull people over, but I wonder just how fast you have to be going or how erratically you have to be driving for them to actually stop you. I don't think I'll try to find out, though.

... where everyone is SO. FREAKING. NICE. There are nice people everywhere, of course, but I've never
encountered so much genuine friendliness in other places. Perhaps it has to do with it being a smaller city? I don't know. I live in the largest city in the state, but when you look at population density, it's the smallest place I've ever lived with the exception of perhaps my hometown. When we explored downtown, we stopped in the tiny little visitor's center to grab some brochures and the woman there talked to us at length about the area and welcomed us several times before we went on our way. Even in the grocery store, if I mentioned I was new to the area, people went out of their way to welcome me and ask about where I was from and how I liked the area. Today I had a physical with a new primary care physician and went for blood work immediately after and even there they were all smiling, friendly, welcoming, and enthusiastic. Having worked in retail for many years, I think I've learned the difference between genuine personality and a customer service facade (which isn't necessarily a bad thing to have perfected, of course). Everyone has been wonderfully genuine and authentic, and I've never felt like anyone was putting on a good show for the sake of their job.

"Old Man of the Mountain 4-26-03"
So thanks, New Hampshire, for being so dang cool. As an introvert, the abundance of friendliness can make me feel a little awkward and uncomfortable at times (I'm like OMG somebody is TALKING to me!) but at the same time it can be a blessing in disguise because it takes the pressure off me to be the one to initiate conversation in new social environments, like the choir I joined as soon as I got here. I don't know how long we'll be here, but I will certainly enjoy every moment of it! Now, bring on the snow! I mean... er... be gentle with me, Old Man Winter!

Tell me something quirky about where you live!

09 August 2014

I Emailed Hachette on Amazon's Behalf... Sort of

**Edited to add: It didn't take long (literally, just moments) after I sent the email for me to regret wasting the time of those I copied on the message for the sole purpose of saying "See, annoying, innit?" Please forgive my dumbassery on that point.**
I'm sure by now many of you have heard about the tasteless email Amazon sent out to KDP authors late Friday/early Saturday. I answered their call and emailed Hachette about the ongoing dispute, and I made sure to copy "Readers United" and a small handful of other people, too. Here's what I said:

Dear Mr. Pietsch:

I'm writing to you (and some others) today as a direct result of receiving Amazon's email propaganda in the early hours of the morning. I am appalled and annoyed at being dragged into an argument against my will, especially when the party doing the dragging is quite aware, and even acknowledges, that I'd rather be left out of it. But Amazon asked me to email you with my thoughts--actually, they wanted me to email you with their thoughts, and I decided I liked mine better--and so here we are. Let me make a few things clear before getting to my main points:

1. I am not published by Hachette or by any publisher.
2. I am self-published and my work is available on Amazon, among other places. Amazon is not my publisher. They are one of my retail partners, though "partner" probably isn't really the best word for it.
3. Hachette is a business. Amazon is a business. I am my own business. The first priority of any business is making money, or else they will no longer be in business.

That Amazon would ask me to plead their case to a publisher with which I have no relationship is laughable. As Heidi Cullinan puts it, there are Not Enough Memes in the World For My NO. That they would do it with such poorly written propaganda--and propaganda is truly the only word for it, as Matt Wallace explains--is laughable. Further, that they would do it under the guise of  doing what's best for "reading culture" is downright ludicrous. Because I have no stakes in the specific dispute between Hachette and Amazon, I have not read every last word reported on the issue. I have read a handful of posts about it from people I respect on both sides of the debate and mostly ignored it outside of that. One thing I am absolutely sure of, however, is that this is about money. Period. And that's okay, because as as I said, this is business. But for Amazon to go on about helping "book culture" as though readers are incapable of changing the market by making their decisions about how much to spend (or not spend) is disingenuous at best.

Mr. Pietsch, I may not agree 100% with your side of this dispute (I truly don't know to what extent I agree with any side) but I feel a bit of solidarity with you based on one glaring similarity we share: Amazon thinks you and I (and every KDP author to whom they sent their email) are idiots with our heads up our own asses, apparently. They must think so, if they believe an email full of buzzwords, emotionally-charged imagery, and one-sided spin is enough to get me to fight their fight. To do that, I'd need to ignore a whole lot of common sense.

This is where I'm supposed to implore you to "Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle" while ignoring the fact that by doing so Amazon obviously thinks it's okay to use me as leverage and put me in the middle of this so long as they come out on top.

Or perhaps I should remind you that "With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock," etc. while ignoring the fact that, although they're obviously referring to large print returns, they make it quite easy to return e-books, potentially to the detriment of the author when that feature is abused. If I'm going to remind you of this, then I should also ignore the fact that as a self-published author with Amazon I am already pigeon-holed into their pricing requirements with no means of negotiation and subject to their whim should they decide to pull my books for any reason they see fit.

Am I convincing you of Amazon's position yet? No? Here, let me keep trying.

It's important to note that Amazon thinks "books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive." I'll ignore the fact that people regularly pay more money for a mobile game than some e-books cost, and then they pay money again and again to buy more features within the game. Let's also ignore how actors are paid more per movie than I can hope to make in many, many years, and that movie tickets are expensive but people still choose to buy them. While we're at it, we should ignore all of the books being made into movies, because they obviously they were only made into movies because the books were too expensive and nobody bought them. And nobody in the history of the world has ever seen a movie adaptation first and then bought the book after, am I right? Movies and TV shows are never adapted into video games, free news sites obviously never post books reviews, and no author in the history of the Internet has promoted their books on Facebook because all of these things are supposed to be in competition with each other! The logical solution is to make all books as cheap as Amazon wants! Um, right?

I should wrap this up soon because I am obviously terrible at doing what Amazon tells me to do in their ridiculous emails. One last thing, though. The thing Amazon is ignoring, and hopes I'm ignoring, too, is choice.

I have friends published by Hachette and its imprints that have been caught in the middle of this nasty fight. I have friends published by other big publishers who have been treated poorly, and others who've been treated like rock stars. I have self-published friends who have been hurt by Amazon's policies and past actions, and others who have made six or seven figures since self-publishing, largely with Amazon. There are so many choices about how and when and where and why to publish these days, and there is no one golden path. Authors have a choice, and as Amazon is so quick to point out, we are not all united. Why they took that to mean we would all fight their fight still escapes me, but that's neither here nor there at this point.

Hachette has choices. Amazon has choices. Is there an amenable compromise to be had here? I be there is, but I also bet one or both parties are unwilling to compromise on a lot of things. Which means there's also the choice to sever the business relationship, as unpleasant as that may be.

As a self-publisher, I have the choice to sell my book where and for the price I want. I choose, currently, to include Amazon in my sales plan. Despite the fact that they give preferential treatment to pretty much everyone else--in the name of "book culture," I'm sure. Despite the fact that in addition to taking a slice of my profits they want me to grant them exclusivity before I can take advantage of their Kindle Unlimited program. That is, unless they handpick me from the unwashed masses or I'm published by a big publisher whose books are priced higher than mine. So much for that "cheaper is better" thing, right? Despite their many shortcomings, I sell my books there. It's a business choice.

Readers have a choice of where to purchase e-books. They have the choice to either pay what is asked, or not. If they choose not, that's a clear signal to a publisher or a retailer that they need to do something differently or risk going out of business. Consumers have a long history of speaking with their wallets without Amazon or anyone else forcing the issue.

Amazon had a choice, and it chose to treat me and others like idiots by sending an email full of out-of-context quotes and cherry-picked statistics in the hopes that we will defend their position in this negotiation, despite the fact that we don't even have the ability to negotiate with Amazon on our own behalf as author-publishers. That was a poor choice on their part. I have to agree with Chuck Wending when he says, in quite possibly the tamest language I've ever seen him use, "I think it's tacky." To say the least. And it has me looking long and hard at my choice to sell on Amazon, which is probably not the reaction they had hoped for.

Mr. Pietsch, I hope Hachette and Amazon can come to a decision that is beneficial for both businesses and for the authors involved. What that decision is, though, is up to you and Amazon. I have no part of it. I hope that I haven't wasted too much of your time today. That goes for everyone who was copied on this message, too. You may not have cared, you may have wished to be left out of it, and you may not have wanted to spend your time reading just another writer's opinions of something in which they have no stakes. But Amazon didn't let that stop them from dragging me along for the ride, and if there's anything I gleaned from their email, it's that they obviously know what is best. Have a wonderful day.

Yours,

J. Lea Lopez

Needless to say, the whole thing is making feel a little something like this....