Buckle in for a long one.
This is an incredibly difficult post for me to write but I want readers to have a heads-up about the situation, and I’ve always tried to be as transparent as I can (much to the chagrin to those who think I should just shut up and write).
I warned about this when Solomon’s Seal was first published in 2016.
I said this series is on life support when piracy first started. I explained about delays. I have said over and over that I cannot continue a series that isn’t selling, especially when it is being stolen more than bought. I have had pirate after pirate hit my page set up with certain search terms for them to find, so they know what is at stake.
Now here we are.
I hate bringing up the numbers because it’s so embarrassing and demoralizing but it feels like the only thing some folks will understand.
The latest Livi Talbot book, Yampellec’s Idol, released June 1–six months ago.
It’s been in my head since I wrote the first book in 2012.
I started writing it in 2018.
It is 150 000 words and required several drafts. We’re talking a good four to five hundred hours of my time just with the physical act of writing/revising. Not including the hours of research, reading books and academic papers (books and papers that ran me about $120, btw). Not including the time spent on the cover (just the stock ran me another $40 btw) and the interior formatting and all the administrative stuff that comes with publishing a book. The editors and proofers involved all worked on it as a favour to me–if not for that, and because I can do just about everything else myself, the book would not have been published.
In those six months, Yampellec’s Idol has made about $900. Canadian. (That’s $700 USD.)
Please really consider those numbers for a moment. Consider that to produce that book, I have to a) spend money out of pocket to begin with, b) favour it over paid work, and c) strain my physical health with long hours at the computer. Consider what your own bills cost just a month let alone for a year.
This is not even poverty wages at this point–it’s well beyond that.
I write because I have to–it’s the only thing I can do. But what I write and certainly what I publish comes down to money.
I’ve gotten this far, hands down, because of monthly support on Patreon. There is no question about that. It does not mean that those who buy the books and support them the traditional way don’t matter–but it means those sales alone simply cannot support the series. Look at those numbers. The bulk came in June and July, the rest petering out to a couple of books sold a month afterward. As much as I appreciate every single one of those sales–$150/month covers my hydro bill!–in another six months that’ll be down to maybe $15/month for that book since it’s still a “new” release. It’s the regular income from Patreon that has allowed me to keep writing these books because that money buys me time.
Factoring theft into it now? Work from nearly ten years of my life being copied and distributed without my consent, while I live in poverty and these are my sales numbers? Nope.
I have made the books affordable and available everywhere I conceivably can with no geographical restrictions. I run sales regularly. I gave away books at the start of the pandemic. I am super cognizant of all the excuses folks have for stealing. I have warned that there are consequences when you steal from a poor person, and that is: no more books.
Talked Off the Ledge
Last night, I was so upset I wanted to nuke my entire career and just walk away
So many writers complain about piracy and keep going anyway. And I cannot speak to them and their circumstances or how they do it.
But I…have been through things in my life. Terrible things that involved having control and autonomy forcefully taken from me. Violation of my rights sets off all kinds of sparks in my brain where I go into a panic and relive all kinds of things and the feeling of being trapped. Therefore my first instinct is to grab for any control I have–like cancelling a series.
Do I need professional help for this? Probably! (But therapy? In this economy?) Even if I had that, it wouldn’t change the fact that sales are not sustaining the writing of these books.
I pointed out, last night, “I cancelled River Wolfe over this. I cancelled Demons of Oblivion. I cancelled Elis outside of Patreon. I have done this before and never regretted it.”
“Yes,” my very tired platonic murder wife said, “but this is different. Because you have built this series with the support of all these other people at Patreon. You’ll feel different if you nuke the series this time because of what they’ve invested. But I still support you if you’d rather sell panties on the internet instead.”
She is not wrong.
So no, I am not here today to push the nuclear button and blow everything up.
But I have very limited paths forward at this point and there are choices to be made.
A Different Set of Numbers
I have been rationing groceries all month.
That is probably not as dire as it sounds because, due to pandemic anxiety, I have like ten boxes of oatmeal and other supplies. I’m not starving, I just have to get creative with certain meals being out of various supplies (tonight I’m trying vegan mac and cheese with a tin of coconut milk).
Shawn needs some teeth out. His poor little mouth is red and enflamed, and while he’s still eating, we’ve had to stop brushing his teeth because he’s sore. His surgery is next month and the worst-case scenario quote is $1500. Every extra penny I get has been going there which means I don’t get groceries, I don’t get to rent a movie, I don’t get takeout, I can’t do my Xmas shopping until next month when I’m sure Shawn is paid for. I’m running various sales in the hopes someone will be interested because I’m still short, and though I’m sure I’ll make it up through work in the next four weeks, we might need to see the vet sooner with an eye infection he’s developed.
This is not unusual for me. This is how I live day to day. One expense means I can’t afford to eat. When I’m sick and bedridden–as I was for much of this year–I can barely get enough work done to keep a roof over my head.
I cannot pay my vet in screenshots of all the illegal downloads of my books.
The End Is Nigh (with caveats)
Charon’s Gold, Livi 6, went up for preorder last month. Those numbers are…embarrassingly low. I know a lot of folks don’t know it’s scheduled yet, and others will wait until next year to preorder, but I also know plenty were upset about Yampellec’s Idol (*cough*thebooksaren’tromancesFFS*cough*) so there’s going to be a big dip in readers from 5 to 6. That’s just a fact: as low as YI’s sales numbers are, CG’s are going to be even lower by the time it comes out.
This is to say I was already considering where I can end this series when all this went down last night.
A big part of me wants to just…walk away right now. Take my toys and go home. Cancel Charon’s Gold and be done.
But last night I spent a lot of time rereading old messages from readers who reached out about how much Livi means to them. I went through my Patreon messages. I looked at the years of support folks have given me there, investing their extra pennies monthly to buy time away from freelancing for me to write.
You have trusted me with these stories.
I have to write these books, so yes, my feelings are important here, but this isn’t just about me. There must be recognition for what these books mean to so many of you and what you’ve invested in them. I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t want to give the impression that you don’t matter. You do matter. You matter more to me than you probably will ever know.
I’m trying to balance that against what else I know is true: this series is not sustaining itself and the psychological damage from theft of my labour cannot continue.
The likelihood is that Livi #7 will be the last widely published book.
It wouldn’t be the end of the series, and it won’t have an HEA, but it doesn’t have an emotional cliffhanger the way some of the others do and I might be able to tie off some broader plot things.
I will not leave you hanging. I will ensure it’s satisfying and caps off an arc, and can be interpreted as an HFN.
This is not what I want but, to be perfectly honest, I need to do this for my own health–both physical and mental.
“Widely published” is the operative word there. There are five more books after #7 that are stories I want to tell and I will have to find other ways of doing so, whether it’s Patreon only and paperback releases like Elis’s books or something else I haven’t thought of. I don’t know yet. But I’m going to take some time to figure it out. #7 doesn’t have a final title and isn’t written yet, so the very earliest you’ll see it is late 2023. I have two years to make firm plans.
The other significant change is that I am about 90% certain the recently illegally uploaded books came from a borrow at Overdrive (the small benefit of shitty sales? you can determine where stolen copies came from). Because I get almost no Overdrive sales in general, future books will be removed from availability there for the first year of release. I apologize for that but, again, no one but a literal thief has used it lately, so this is what I have to do.
So here’s what all this looks like:
- Charon’s Gold (Livi 6) releases October 22 2022 as planned
- Untitled Livi 7 releases late 2023/early 2024 (tbd–it’s not written yet) and for all intents and purposes it’ll act as the last book.
- Livi 8-12…I figure something out, probably using them as Patreon rewards.
Here’s what I can guarantee about the end of 7:
- it’s will work as an HFN (happily for now)
- it will not end on a cliffhanger
- I will (hopefully) cap off one of the story arcs
Maybe things will change?
I’m doubtful after all this time.
Livi has had five years to find an audience. Five years. That is more than a lot of series get. I don’t have money for Amazon or FB ads and I never will. I’ve had to rely entirely on word of mouth, and I know so many of you talk up the books–I appreciate that–and have helped spread the word, but… *points to numbers above* Every single year, the series picks up a few more readers than the one before, so I’ve given it a lot of time–and going on six books now–as a leap of faith.
I think I’m about to hit the ground.
There is always hope things will change. I don’t need to be a bazillionaire–I just need to pay my bills and take care of my cats. Maybe regular series readers will jump to a few thousand over the next two years. Maybe Patreon income will continue to rise. Maybe something else I write will take off and bring in more readers, although Livi was the most high-concept and commercial of my books so I don’t know about that.
I’ve added a new Patreon goal detail–at $1000/month, whatever Livi Talbot books written past the seventh will be published widely regardless of low series sales because I’ll be able to devote more days a week to writing. That is the best promise I can make right now. That might take another ten years to reach, however, so don’t rely on that.
Why do you keep talking about this?
There is basically no winning as a public person with obligations to your readers.
I can keep quiet, reach book 7, and announce then “Yeah, guys, series is over! Sorry if it feels a bit unfinished but we’re done unless you head to Patreon!” And deal with the ensuing complaints.
I can be vague and and say “Oh my health’s not great” or “sales aren’t good” and get emails for years about why the next book isn’t out on Kindle yet.
And I can be upfront and say, look, this is what’s going on.
The thing I want folks to realize is that, although my first instinct is always to nuke everything, I ultimately give this a lot of thought. I never, ever am hasty about these decisions and weigh a lot of factors. And I don’t take the obligation to, and support from, readers lightly.
This comes with a risk that I’ll piss off even more people who find me off-putting, but I opt for transparency always. This is what’s going on. This is how I feel. Do with that what you will.
Is there something I can do?
Buy the books.
Tell your friends to buy the books.
Remove the books from piracy sites.
If you find a link to illegal downloads of my books, send them to me (anonymously, if you prefer) so I can get them taken down.
Do not request other books at piracy sites.
Do not upload the books to piracy sites.
Do not tolerate theft among your friends and family.
Join Patreon if you’re so inclined.
Honestly, many of you reading this are already doing everything. This isn’t your fault. You’ve already done so much and for that I thank you.
Only Read This Next Part if You’re a Thief
For several months this year, I was fairly certain I was going to die.
I was stuck in this no man’s land of healthcare where I couldn’t get seen. My autoimmune disease relapsed and I spent the better part of the year getting worse and worse until the pain was intense enough, the daily fevers worsening, the coughing and vomiting constant, that it suggested things were getting very bad for me. I had an emergency notice on the inside of my door with my medical history and emergency contact in the event I was found unresponsive. And I am the kind of person who doesn’t got to the ER when she has a fever of 104.3F or a broken foot, so when I am scared about something, it’s pretty serious.
This is who you’re stealing from. This is what the stress YOU create does to me. This is why, when I say I have to walk away from publishing to prevent you from stealing for the sake of my health, I’m being deadly serious.
If you have ever downloaded, uploaded, or requested a book from this series–if you’ve ever come to my site looking for illegal downloads or ways to bypass Patreon’s paywall (yes, I get your search results)–you have contributed to this decision. You have killed multiple series and now you’ve done it to Livi too.
How can you purport to love books when this is what you do to the people responsible for them existing?