Writing Costs Money: On Crowdsourcing and Stacey Jay

Stacey Jay

Last week, there was a tempest about the young adult author Stacey Jay who started a Kickstarter project for her new young adult book. Traditionally published, her publisher wouldn’t take on the next book in the series and she looked to Kickstarter to fund the process of writing the next book. Her mistake (many claim) is asking for living expenses. It’s led to her dropping out of writing young adult (for the time being hopefully) and writing:

If you don’t know what happened to me last week regarding my cancelled Kickstarter and the insane backlash that followed, count your blessings. It was crazy, out of control ugly, and eventually escalated to a point that had me scared for the safety of my family.

That’s crazy, and further evidence that the internet has lost its mind. It doesn’t seem entirely out of bounds to ask for living expenses, because one thing writers need more than anything else is time.

Many posts have been spilled on this topic. One of the major detractors is Trout Nation, writing: Don’t Do This…Ever?: (an advice column for writers): “Crowd Funding” edition

Writing isn’t “work.” It’s a business. If I own a ketchup factory, that’s running a business. If I work at a ketchup factory, that’s work. The owner of the ketchup factory assumes a financial risk in putting their product out there. They have to produce the product and pay the workers. The workers get paid for the work they do, the raw ingredients get paid for, and at the end of the day, if the business owner has money left over, that’s profit. This isn’t a business model that should be alien to anyone.

I don’t really follow any of that. Publishing is a business and work. A writer might own the factory, but he or she is also the sole employee who must manufacture everything by hand. Later Trout continues:

They were just surprised and insulted to be asked to pay for the production of the supply before the demand was fulfilled.

Confused again. This is the entire model of Kickstarter: Investing in something before it’s finished. And though you are funding more than the nuts and bolts of the publishing process (editing, cover design), living expenses are the primary facet of writing a book. Everyone owns a computer already. They already have pens. A pad of paper is $2. The real struggle to writing a book is finding the time to do it. So the major expense for writing a book is not printing costs, it’s paying the mortgage and buying food.

I think one of the issues here is that the main people who were upset at first were her reader base: young adult readers. That is, young people who might not understand what it takes to have a full time job. Writing and working full time is virtually impossible, a 100 hour week. Stacey Jay also has 4 kids and is the sole wage-earner. That she’s asking for 7 months of support in order to write full time doesn’t strike me as greedy or unfounded. I’ll admit, I haven’t seen her Kickstarter project, which she deleted, but people are saying the very idea of asking for living expenses is an abuse of crowdsourcing.

What she’s asking for is a grant. Seems like a pretty normal use of Kickstarter to me, and something I’ve seen time and again for other projects, so I don’t quite understand the outrage. Dear Author writes:

I saw a lot of authors refer to this as an advance or like an advance. It is not. An advance is money a publisher pays an author in advance of royalties earned. And the publisher keeps the first dollar of every sale until the amount of the advance is met and only then are additional sums of royalties paid by the publisher. Additionally, advances are paid in splits. Some part of the advance is paid upon signing, another part on the delivery and acceptance of the manuscript, and finally the last portion on the publication. Some contracts have escalation clauses which pay additional advance money if certain achievements are hit like placement on a national bestseller list.

So in traditional publishing, where the advance appears, only a portion of it is actually paid before the author starts writing.

Well, that’s because this isn’t traditional publishing. It’s a different model. Unfamiliar, fine, but it is a new way to finance a book.

And then:

Readers work hard and often work at low paying, thankless jobs. To see a person ask for donations to live when that person is able-bodied and can hold a job, then it becomes less obvious why they need donations for living expenses.

That seems in part because writing is not often seen as actual work. Everyone can write, everyone can read, and people read in their spare time, so therefore writing should easily be done in spare time. Not really: writing is a profession, very hard to do well, and it can take 8 hours a day, 5 days a week like a normal job.

Finally, Jay shouldn’t even have to write this:

I wasn’t asking for charity or a handout and accusations that I might not have delivered the book are meritless. I would have refunded the money in the very unlikely event that I’d been unable to deliver. I am a decent human being and I behave decently. I didn’t even think it needed to be stated that I would refund the money if I didn’t deliver the book. I’m sorry I wasn’t a terrible enough of a person to anticipate that you would automatically consider me a thief.

I think the moral of this story is that the internet has become an outrage machine. People are constantly looking for their next fix of self-righteousness. Was Stacey Jay’s plan above reproach? Perhaps not, but for this amount of questioning and vitriol to be aimed at her seems overboard at best, and dangerous at worst.

  • DED

    “That seems in part because writing is not often seen as actual work.
    Everyone can write, everyone can read, and people read in their spare
    time, so therefore writing should easily be done in spare time.”

    You hit the nail right on the head. The people complaining just don’t understand the time and effort it takes to write a novel. Maybe Jay overreached, but I don’t believe that she was wrong at all to ask.

    • Henry Baum

      Thanks. Weird thing is this was the position taken by writers. I understand bloggers maybe (“I blog in my spare time, so she can write in hers”) but not writers.