So titled because of this post. Hey, I like carrying a rough metaphor through, okay?
If you’ll indulge me for a moment, there are some things I have to get off my chest, and it may be lengthy and something I regret, but this is my page so, well, here we go–whatever, I do what I want.
The future of Livi is very much in the air right now. I have said over and over, my stress level now dictates what I publish since I can easily get very, very sick again. My life is stressful in general being a freelancer in a single-income household and struggling with mental illness–I don’t need more of it. Sales of her books haven’t been great–I don’t have the financial resources or clout to give my books the boost they need, and every penny goes directly to keeping a roof over my head and to take care of my pets rather than promotion. But I was willing to give it time to grow an audience–people who have read the books love them–unless they were both not selling and being stolen (and a reminder here that I deliberately use the language of theft).
So now Livi’s being stolen.
This adds stress and changes things.
While I used to post every so often about bipolar disorder and mental health, both to help de-stigmatize it for others (possibly saving a life) and to process it myself, I’ve stopped for the most part. And that’s because I can no longer come at it from the point of view of being well, which means I don’t feel of use to people. My mental health the last two years (like, exactly two years the 30th of this month) has not been great. A good day for me is when I can get out of bed and cope with not wanting to be alive; a bad day is when I can’t stop crying and I just want to go to sleep and not wake up. Those bad days are…frequent.
These books have been my refuge, though. Even when I have too much brain-fog and confusion to write, I can curl up and reread my favourite scenes, tweak bits, and just cuddle up with these characters and this world in general. Even publishing them gave me a goal, something to work toward, and offered the sliver of hope that they might do well enough to change my financial situation a bit. The characters were friends I wanted to be around, their adventures gave me something to look forward to, and West…well, y’all know West.
The reason I went forward publishing Solomon’s Seal and Odin’s Spear, despite knowing what an uphill battle it would be to make them a success, is because just over a year ago I fully realized the odds are not in my favour to survive this constant battle with my brain. I had also lost someone close to me I still miss very much, and she had so many untold stories when she passed that I knew I wanted to have as much out there as possible of my own work, whether I live another five years or fifty. And lately I am so overwhelmed, so stressed, so hopeless, the thing I still had to look forward every day was hopefully getting a few words in on Zheng’s Tomb, Livi #3. It didn’t matter how drained I was with the day’s work and volunteer stuff–if I could play for even a thousand words, it made things better.
These books, like all my writing, have helped me stay alive.
I had to send half a dozen DMCAs last night, more this morning, and felt physically sick–at a time when, mentally, I really cannot afford to go through this. I couldn’t look at Livi #3 last night, though I’m going to try later today. It will get done, because no motherfucker is taking West from me, and all readers will at least get that book. But right now, it looks like it’ll be the last published book, and that might mean it needs some retooling, and I’m too tired to think about that.
My head isn’t clear at the moment–I honestly just want to burn everything to the ground, but twenty+ years of experience reminds me I’m not rational in this headspace. But these are the potential paths that have been rattling around in my head these past few months as I considered this outcome a possibility:
- Livi sales spike by the third book. I’m selling at least four digits per title, enough to pay some bills while I write the books. Good sales, good reception? Hey, I can tolerate theft on the side if the books are otherwise selling well enough to make it worth my while–and do tolerate it with the other stuff I write that does well. (This is the least likely of possibilities, but never say I don’t consider the potential positives.)
- Livi #4 (Shiva’s Bow) and beyond become Patron of Snark rewards (if I ever go back to Demons of Oblivion and Zara, this will be the fate of those books as well). That means a lot of readers unfortunately won’t catch further adventures, but I like my insulated community of lurkers who support me monthly for exclusive goodies, and I’d happily keep writing the books for them if I can swing it financially.
- Livi #4 and beyond is released print-only. And maybe only sell ebooks through me direct via Payhip. The big trouble with this is that print sales cannot cover even the cost of the main stock I use on the covers, which is more expensive than stock most sites. Do I Indiegogo that for a few books? I don’t know. I bought enough photos of that model a few years ago to do covers up to #5. I’d need another five photos to finish the series.
- Livi #3 is it. Done, goodbye, burn it all down and salt the earth afterward. Other than an unfinished dark YA series, I don’t have anything else in the pipeline because hai, depression + full time work on other people’s books; it’ll be years before I’m ready to launch a new series.
Option #2 honestly seems like the most likely, if only because the fourth book is already written and I’m really eager to work on the fifth (as soon as I’m done the third, damn me for writing these out of order).
The fact is, I am not going to publish books that sell a couple of copies a month and are pirated in the hundreds and thousands. I’m not spending a chunk of my limited energy daily monitoring for new links to takedown for a book the day it’s released. I am not putting my heart and soul into work only to be violated while I live in poverty. I refuse to. This is why River Wolfe was cancelled, why Demons of Oblivion was cancelled, and why Livi’s on life support.
I blog about this because people who illegally distribute books do come across these posts, and sometimes go on to buy copies instead of steal. And because I will never stop speaking up about the real, negative impact their behavior has on people like me and the industry as a whole. Humans feeling entitled to things is not new; humans taking without thought to who they’re hurting is not new either. But what bothers me is the very common attitude where people will pay hundreds–if not thousands–of dollars on e-readers and ipads and phones on a regular basis, supporting large companies who usually have workers in countries with horrible human rights violations, all without batting an eye…but balk at spending a few bucks on a book which would support the little guy. People who will gleefully screw over creators and congratulate themselves on how they’re sticking it to those “greedy” artists. People who are willfully ignorant to the fact that if writers aren’t paid, only the independently wealthy will publish, and the only voices you’ll hear are the privileged.
Books would not exist without people to write them. If you don’t think what I write is worth paying for, then don’t read it. Go find something you DO feel is worth your money. Because I assure you, no matter how dire you personally think your circumstances are, it does not justify keeping me in a situation where I have to decide between medication for my dog to keep her alive and rent to keep a roof over our heads.
(Incidentally, this month–as every month–I chose my dog without knowing for sure if I can make May’s rent.)
Do you want there to be more published Livi books? Do you want to read Shiva’s Bow (#4, which is a hugely emotional game-changer, kind of like Exhumed was) and beyond eventually? Here are things you can do:
- If you stole Solomon’s Seal, go buy a copy. Make amends. Literally every book sold makes a huge difference in my life–one book = one can of cat food for Miss Dinah Fantastico, who needs special food for life. 11 copies = medication for Vincent to keep him from peeing on everything for one month. Etc.
- Do not request illegal uploads of Odin’s Spear. Do not spread Solomon’s Seal to other sites. As it starts to spread, that’s more of my time spent monitoring things and stressing; end it here. If you do not want to buy these books, then simply don’t read them. There is no reason to steal or facilitate others to do so.
- If you did not steal the book: I am sorry you get caught in this bullshit. Truly. If you can rec the book to a friend, on your blog, on Twitter, leave a review, or something like that to help move more copies, that’s great, but you bought it and did your part, so I like you, and maybe we can hang out and have coffee sometime. (Kobo sales of the book have been pretty decent, I think in part because of the high ratings, so know that kind of thing does help if you can manage it.)
- Readers talk with other readers. Make it explicitly clear you do not support the theft of books. Try to encourage your reader friends to see how this is an ecosystem, and if they behave as parasites rather than have the symbiotic relationship with the books they enjoy, things will happen and the stuff they like will disappear.
- I have Patreon if that’s your thing. (?) They’ll all be getting the Livi novella free soon, and I’ll have a Christmas story for them in December, etc.
The upcoming Livi novella will be out in a few months. The third Livi book probably won’t be out until next year. So I’ll probably give Zheng’s Tomb a few months to review sales, see if there’s any upward trend, and whether the books will continue beyond that. Let’s say…a year and a half? A year and a half of life support before either her heart is beating on its own or I pull the plug and let her rest.
Understand that the success of a self-published book largely relies on the author’s financial ability to promote it. I live in poverty–I cannot put out money for Facebook ads, for Bookbub, for swag and giveaways to attract readers. I live with very serious, very debilitating depression, and I don’t have the emotional energy to hustle and make book friends to sell books when my priority is trying to stay safe. Instead, I rely on the people who want to read the books getting copies legally. I can’t help Livi find her legs on my own; I can just do what I have been, which is writing the best damn book I can, putting together a quality affordable product, and hoping like hell it finds its way into the (paying) hands of readers. If there’s anything you, dear reader, can think of to help, I appreciate the hell out of it. I am already so grateful for the positive tweets, emails, reviews, and other comments–without them, I might not have bothered with Odin’s Spear.
I have to keep writing–it’s like breathing, if I stop I will die. And when I’m dead, I won’t really give a fuck if books are being stolen or not; I know the most important thing is that I’ve left at least one corner of the world with some stories no one else could.
But it’s the meantime I struggle with–I have to have the financial means to live, and stealing from me is not conductive to that. I don’t need to be rich, and I’m not entitled money just for writing a book–but if you want to read those books, than YES, I AM entitled to that money, otherwise I would just put all books up for nothing.
What I truly want is just to write as many stories as I can and publish them for you while I’m still here, and I can do more of that without having to work sixty-hour weeks with constant financial insecurity hanging over my head.
Please do not steal my books. Let’s keep Livi breathing and rising and fighting until the end of her story.