IT’S A NEW MONTH. WE HAVE SURVIVED JANUARY! SPRING IS ALMOST NEARLY HERE. I’m feeling dangerously new years resolution-y, mostly because the sun is out and I am about to re-dye my hair. New beginnings are upon us! Or upon my washed out highlights, anyway.
Followers of my fiction work may have noticed a new story popping up on my stories blog. The Elastic Band Theory is brilliantly strange and inspired partly by a drunken conversation on New Year’s Eve about Pablo Escobar and partly by people’s suggestions of posh town names when I asked for ideas online, so I should probably thank a) my friends, b) the power of Facebook and c) gin. I’m working on a big old project at the moment have I mentioned that so I’m rooting around for ideas for my next short story that aren’t too long or convoluted. Since The Elastic Band Theory felt a bit like a group effort, I thought I’d expand the group and ask you guys. Yes, you, reading this on your mobile while you wait for a bus. You.
Continuing with the new-month-new-start theme, my current ideas are:
Something about rebirth
Easter/Mardi Gras/Lent/resurrection (which is kind of like rebirth if you stand on your head and squint?)
The commercial evils of Valentine’s Day
Okay Valentine’s is not very spring-like
But I have mixed feelings about it which can come in useful when writing characters
I mean, I’ve made an entire print collection taking the piss out of Valentine’s Day, but people buy those prints thus earning me money what does that say about my relationship with commercial evils?
I mean it might snow here before March so possibly I should just do something about the weather
What do you think? I’m leaning toward something that explores my complex relationship with V Day, but I’m aware that in a week or so, no one on the planet will want to hear the words ‘Valentine’s Day’ again for another year. Let me know and I might, I dunno, get writing.
PS The next instalment of The Elastic Band Theory will be available tomorrow for those of you signed up to my Patreon, and on the story blog on 6th February. Shit gets real. I’m excited.
I have my first ever work Christmas lunch this afternoon, which means 2017 is fast ending and I am gearing up for my annual hibernation. Before I do, though, I have to finish the Indifferent Ignorance Awards 2017. This year’s awards are trickier than I thought they would be, because there is almost too much material to choose from! I have my personal favourites when it comes to books, films and all that… but when it comes to the main awards: the Homophobic Dick Award, the Ignorant Fuck Award, Greatest Social Media Moment, etc., I am stuck. I blame the Trump administration and Brexit. And the Internet, because I would be way less informed about those things if I didn’t have broadband. I’d probably also be happier.
Anyway, I’m writing to you all today and asking for you to submit your suggestions for the following categories:
The ‘I Can’t Believe I’m Living Through This Shit, Although it Will Probably Kill Me So At Least There’s That’ Story of the Year I’m considering the Muslim ban, when Trump retweeted Britain First and the entire UK general election
The ‘I Witnessed this Shit Live and Wish It Had Killed Me’ News Story of the Year Trump’s inauguration, the general election and possibly Weinstein?
Outstanding Achievement for Distracting Me from the Horror of the Year for Five Minutes The Women’s March, my trip to Asia, Blue Planet II and books by Adam Silvera are all strong contenders here
Outstanding Social Media Moment Frank Iero posted some gems on the Internet this year, but so did everyone I follow. Twitter might be the world’s largest example of confirmation bias, but when it’s funny that’s a joy to behold
Indifferent Ignorance Homophobic Dick Award I’ve never given an award to an entire government before, what do you reckon?
Indifferent Ignorance Ignorant Fuck Award Contenders are Trump, Trump and… Trump. I feel like this award was created for people like him, but in the spirit of competition I feel like there should be more contenders. SUGGESTIONS PLEASE.
This is going to be a quick little blog because there is a potato baking in the oven with my name on it, and potatoes come before all things but I would like to ask you guys for your opinion, please. Today I published the final part of The Sea Witch’s Revenge (magic! Cursed sea life! Seagulls?) and also discovered how to add a PayPal button to WordPress, which I have now done to both my stories blog and here. I didn’t realise it, but you can either do one-off donations via PayPal or make a monthly donation.
So my question is: if you were going to donate to my work, would you rather use Patreon or PayPal? And if you were going to donate, would you rather do a one-off donation or a ‘subscription’ donation, if you had the choice? I ask because it occurred to me that in the 18 months that I’ve been on Patreon, I’ve never actually put that question to you. I’ve also only had one dollar in pledges, so clearly the site is not working out for me. Plus, the site might not work for anyone soon: Patreon is changing the way it collects processing charges, so although creators get a little more per transaction, patrons are being charged the processing fees on top of what they already pledge, which makes it more expensive to make lots of little pledges (this article explains the maths better than I can). I can’t in good faith ask you guys to pledge more than I would consider reasonable, and I don’t find the new system reasonable.
Basically, you guys would be charged 2.9% and $0.35 per pledge, which makes a pledge of $1 cost more like $1.50. If you pledge $1 to 10 creators, you’re suddenly paying $15, not $10. Just read the article I can’t explain maths.
I wrote last week about how I need to find ways of making my writing work for me or stop doing it, and that includes this blog, so if you have any thoughts on whether you would/wouldn’t consider supporting me, let me know so I can make a decision going into the new year about where I focus my efforts.
Okay that potato is possibly burning.
Update: the potato didn’t burn! It was nice and crispy. Also, Patreon has announced it’s not rolling out those changes. I would still like to hear what you think about donating/pledging in general!
I got a pitch email earlier from an SEO company saying ‘your Instagram is great and deserves to be seen by more than 186 people!’ I nearly replied with ‘actually that’s 185 people, get with the programme – some new bookstagram account followed me yesterday and has since disappeared back to the Instasphere. Thanks for the encouragement though!’
It’s funny that should happen today though, as I was already going to talk about goals and growth. 2017 is drawing to a close, thank god, and although 2018 will probably be another tyre fire of bullshit, I would like to start it off with good intentions. Case in point: new year’s resolutions. I didn’t have any last year, because I had already resolved to get the hell out of England and did so in the first week of January, but twelve months on I have the itch to resolve… something. I also know that I’m more likely to keep to the resolution if I talk about it publicly, so I thought I would talk about different types of resolutions and the things I’d like to do in 2018.
Resolution 1: The Vague Gesture
My resolution: learn to do my hair? A bit?
I think I may have mentioned my hair is sometimes-often-frequently partially purple. It’s also getting really long, because I enjoy the illusion that I’m a princess in a kingdom with favourable tax laws, but I do nothing to it. Literally nothing. I wash it twice a week, comb out the knots with a tangle teezer and tie it in a bun or ponytail if I’m working. Then I ignore it until it needs another wash. I read somewhere that the longer your hair is, the less you do with it and I want to call bullshit on that. I also want to channel Daenerys Targaryen wherever possible, so in 2018 I resolve to learn how to, like, braid my hair or something. That’s not a huge commitment, and if someone says ‘hey Francesca nice fishtail plait’ I’m going to know it’s working. It’s also not the end of the world if life gets in the way and I don’t learn a fishtail plait, because my hair looks great they way I wear it already (there’s a reason I never brush it dry and that reason is frizz).
So in theory, the Vague Gesture is a good resolution to have. There’s no pressure and I won’t feel bad if I get to June and realise I’ve forgotten it. I suppose a similar one would be something like ‘eat less processed sugar’, because instead of saying ‘eat no processed sugar’, there’s no line to cross, no crushing disappointment of one’s self esteem. It’s something that would be nice to do in the long run but no one cares if you don’t do it, including you.
Resolution 2: The SMART Goal
My resolution: Look after myself better? Look after myself more? Practise self care a day a week until I achieve nirvana?
I looked at a bad website today – not bad as in broken links but bad as in the two thirds of the page was bright pink and white diagonal stripes. My eyes hurt. I’m not even going to link it, it was so hard to look at. Good for marketing, bad for retinas. Especially bad for retinas that already require glasses. And since I am heading into my 23rd year of life and already have to run a bath to get my bones to stop aching when it rains, it’s about time I sopped complaining about my ailments and found a form of exercise that wasn’t physiotherapy. It’s about time I got some sort of blue light blocker on my computer. It’s about time I stopped overriding the Freedom app to check Twitter at 10pm. My 185 followers clearly do not care if I am tweeting at 10pm, so I probably shouldn’t either.
The problem with the resolution to ‘look after myself better’ is that there’s no qualifier. How do I know if I’m looking after myself? I will never not need glasses and I’ll never not ache when it rains. Realistically I will need stronger glasses and more baths year on year. So maybe I should take a leaf out of every business blog’s book and set specific goals I can measure in an achievable, realistictime frame. Something like ‘I will download a blue light blocker to my PC by January and I will sign up to a running club that requires payment in advance because the only thing I hate more than running is wasting money.’ (I actually don’t hate running. I hate that feeling that I’m about to puke up my lungs while I run. Aren’t lungs supposed to keep calm and carry on in those situations?)
I’m going to sleep on the running club, but this type of resolution sounds like one of those you should set if you want to get to December and think ‘fuck yeah I want to high five myself for SMASHING IT’. I kind of think everyone deserves that ‘fuck yeah’ thought.
Resolution 3: The This Has to Work and I’m Going to Make it Work Come Hell or High Water
My resolution: earn more money from my work? Earn increased amounts of money? Don’t sell a kidney to support a hobby?
This is the hardest type of resolution, because it’s a mix of the other two. Saying ‘I want to earn more money’ could just be another way of saying ‘I earned some money this year and would like to continue earning next year’. Realistically I will; my stationery and accessories will still be for sale and I will still crowdfund my writing. There will be money! But I don’t just want to continue, I want to expand. I need to expand if I’m going to continue to justify putting time into both those things. I know the numbers I have to hit if I’m to continue publishing writing with no upfront fees (about $10 a month would cover my website expenses, and $30+ would cover some writing time contribute to my bills). I know I need to double my stationery sales – and grow those follower counts, damn it – to justify using prime space in my bedroom to store stock and to justify spending my evenings and weekends thinking up jokes about Greek gods.
I also can’t ask people for anything other than moral support, because most of the people I know – in real life and online – are as broke as I am. A short story or a funny print is a luxury and if people won’t buy or pledge, there’s nothing I can really do about it except plug away until they go up a wage packet or change their priorities. So going into 2018 I know that, if I don’t get more sales or pledges, I will be shutting up shop eventually – and that’s shutting my Etsy shop, my stories blog and possibly even this place because my spare time will only ever decrease and my bills will only ever increase. I’m not 14 anymore and I have to be pragmatic about where I put my energy – especially if I want to look after my health, because running a shop is eighty per cent adrenaline and twenty per cent pure relief when something goes right. There’s a reason most successful entrepreneurs retire early. They want to spend as much time as they can with their remaining nerves… There’s also reason most novelists have day jobs and eke out books on the weekend – statistically I am not playing a winning game.
So although my resolution is to make my work fucking work, I also know that ‘hell or high water’ will come in the form of a bill I can’t pay in my current status as an intern/freelancer/stationery designer/storyteller. Or in a final argument with one of my parents. Or when I finally decide to trade following what teenage me wanted for adult me and start following what other adults want for adult me.
That took a dark turn there, I didn’t actually mean for it to. I want to know about your resolutions! Tell me the ones you’ve succeeded in keeping, the ones you stopped caring about, the ones that didn’t make it past 1st January. Tell me what you want for 2018, what you don’t want for 2018. Tell me what you did in 2017. Other than swear at the news and drink a lot, presumably…
Afternoon. If you came in via the front page, you will have noticed I’ve tidied up a bit. I’ve been feeling off colour and came home from work early yesterday to curl up and sleep for a few days, because I either have a bad cold that makes me tired or I’m badly tired and have caught a cold. I wasn’t reckoning on my inability to sit still for more than a couple of hours, though, so I thought I’d play about on here. Technically I’m less than a foot away from my bed, so I’m going to count it as convalescence.
I’ve fancied a change for a while, but I’ve been getting general change vibes, which is not that helpful. Do I want to cut my hair? Should I spray paint my car? Would I benefit from a different type of pillow? My subconscious isn’t telling me, so my conscious (hi) has decided to try changing a bit of everything to see what sticks. So far I’ve just done this site, but I’m thinking of revamping the Francesca’s Words branding – the world is so bleak that black and white seems less chic and more depressing these days – and committing to a regular Pilates class. Something to get my insides balancing with my outsides and all that… I’ve also, finally, published the first of a three part story on my story blog that is slightly different from anything else I’ve ever done, but also completely in line with everything I’ve ever tried to do. The next part will be online next week as I want them all to go online this side of Christmas, which is ridiculously soon.
I’m not sure what else to change up without committing hugely to something I might regret – I like the idea of spray painting the Mini, but its current shade of red is actually very nice to look at, you know – so I’m taking ideas. Go and read my story (here is the link again cough cough) then tell me: what do you do when you need a change? Do you book a holiday and get a new hair colour or just ride it out? Have you ever done anything ridiculous just to make life a bit more interesting? You can guarantee I’ll read and reply to comments, because I’m not feeling up to much else.
Did any of you read the post about book piracy I wrote last week? I’m proud of it, and not just because I worked hard to articulate what I was thinking. I wrote it on my 8th anniversary of joining WordPress, so it was a bit of a victory dance. I’ve been blogging longer than I was in secondary school you guys! I’d be lying if I sat back and basked in the glory of the milestone, though. Mostly I did what I’ve done every anniversary for the past four years or so: sucked in my breath, looked at my stats page and wondered how the hell my site was so much more popular when I wrote total bullshit. No, really. Look:
But then I looked properly at the visits vs views and noticed something I hadn’t paid attention to: in 2012 I had 16,000 views but it was the same people, coming back frequently. I’ve had more visitors since then and people seem to come and stay at a relatively steady rate. This was a huge revelation to me, because I’ve spent the last five years watching view rates go down and wondering why I even bother. There is nothing more depressing than shouting into a void, and it’s reflected in my writing: I was blogging about South East Asia pretty constantly until I got home and people (mostly offline, although there’s overlap) made disparaging remarks about my trip. If no one wants to hear me talk about the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, I thought, I won’t bother. I don’t, as I mentioned in the piracy post, get paid for this. I have things in my life that bring me more satisfaction than typing an 800-word post, adding alt text to some carefully selected images then posting it just for none of my subscribers open their emails.
But apparently blog traffic isn’t looking as bad as I thought it was. Which has got me thinking about what constitutes a reader. How many readers do I have? I’ve always judged it roughly by comments: when I follow a blog or person, I probably don’t reply to their every post, but I drop in with a comment or a retweet or the like every five posts or so. If someone comments on here every five posts – which works out as roughly one a month or thereabouts – I’m pretty chuffed and think of them as a reader. Bonus points if they follow any social media accounts!
But then the picture gets weird again, because comments fluctuate year-on-year. I can’t see a trend and some of the things I’ve really thought will get people talking just haven’t.
Possibly I should discount the stats page completely and focus on producing great writing that people will like, but that comes back to comments again because most posts get zero comments (ones that like what I’ve said or ones that disagree), then once every few months one will get half a dozen. It’s tempting to make up some wacky opinions to get a response, but I don’t want to say weird shit for the sake of it.
This isn’t a cry for help: if I continue blogging for another eight years, it’ll be because I’ve got something to say. If I stop, it won’t be because I’ve gone more than five posts without a comment.
I normally end posts with a question – because then people will answer in a comment, geddit – but clearly that has been doing jack shit so I am just going to put this out there and try to be content that I’ve written a decent post. Happy Bonfire Night!
Over the weekend Maggie Stiefvater wrote about the implications of book piracy and, when the Internet told her off, told a story about dealing with book piracy. You can read them both at your leisure (the story is worth five minutes of your time for its sneaky genius alone). Today I want to talk about the questions it threw up for me both as a reader and as someone who posts writing on the Internet for free.
First off, I work at a literary consultancy a day a week so I know a minuscule amount about publishing. I know a little more about writing and way more about reading. But I do know that publishing fiction in 2017 is not the easiest of things. Books are luxuries and household incomes are not always at luxury-buying levels. Savvy publishers will buy a book whose content or author has a reasonable chance of making them a profit before they consider some left-field niche wee book from a new author. My Everyday Acts of Murder series, currently available for everyone on my stories blog, probably won’t get an ISBN-d print edition until I have 8 million Twitter followers or have been to the Olympics or something. So yeah, books are hard to produce and expensive to buy. People are broke. So let’s think outside the metaphor and share art and make money in other ways?
Enter: me, using Patreon to offer readers an early release of my stories, plus some other little perks I can feasibly create with no budget, from one US dollar per month. You guys get free content, I get money from those of you who care enough to pay me, everyone is fulfilled!
Maggie points out that ‘if you take away a paying-for-art model, you end up only getting art from people who can afford to work in their spare time or art that is supported by patrons — both models that we have seen before, both models that end up giving you art produced by and for a homogeneous and upper class group’. But Francesca, you’re thinking, you aren’t upper class and homogeneous, we aren’t upper class and homogeneous and we know you can’t afford to give your work away for free! True. I had to double-check what ‘homogeneous’ means, for one thing, and for another I don’t give any other type of my work away for free – not my marketing services, not the stationery I design on Etsy (or not since I made my watermark uncroppable, anyway). So why did I go for the free-content-with-paid-perks-available model?
Before I opened up my story blog I spent several deeply unsatisfying years trying to find a job that allowed me to say ‘I’m a writer’. Eventually I decided to just go and be a writer. Running my own blog gives me the freedom to make what I want and when. I’m always working on something, because a blog can go on indefinitely, and I can interact with my readers in real time. No one directs me (I do have a critique partner, though, I’m not a complete heathen) and it’s my space, just like this blog is. Although you can have a character named after you for a dollar (one dollar!) or suggest a story prompt, I choose what I do with your name and your prompt. F r e e d o m!
Am I removing piracy’s power by putting everything online myself for free, like Maggie did by flooding the Internet with her own book, or am I ripping myself off and lowing my own standards? If individuals personally gave me hundreds of dollars of their own money, could I still claim to be completely independent? Would I feel beholden to them and their ideas? When someone throws a tantrum on this blog or Twitter, I can comfortably tell them to fuck off. What happens when that person is paying for my car insurance? Were I to publish a full-length novel, would anyone buy it or would they assume I should post that for free, too? I could conceivably follow the route of never charging up front and rely on people buying perks on Patreon forever, but there’s an economic theory I can’t remember the name of which stipulates that people will pay what they think an item is worth. If your price is low or non-existent, as I have learnt with my Etsy, people will assume it’s not worth paying for. If you demand money, they know that what you’ve got to offer is worth money. I feel like that applies to the book industry as a whole – if I offer my work for free and a person who happens to be a fan of The Raven Cycle likes it, will they resent Maggie for not releasing her work for free as well? Am I devaluing books everywhere? Will I become exclusive and homogeneous? Am I ripping myself off? And is it a new level of narcissism on my part that I read about a New York Times bestselling author’s experience with piracy and immediately worried about my own work, which as an audience of about a dozen people, being pirated?
This is the bit where I tell you I once read a pirated copy of The Dream Thieves. I could offer the excuse that I was in a bad state mentally at the time, which I was, or that I had the book on order from my library, which it was. But I know better and I could have exercised restraint. I just didn’t. Sorry, Maggie, it was a dick move on my part.
Book piracy is easy and free and right there. It’s not going away unless a lot of people grow a conscience, which isn’t likely, or until enough authors or publishers or agents find ways to beat pirates (ha) at their own game. At the moment, me sharing stories on a blog is also easy, free and right there. I like it. I feel like I’m working hard to create fiction I’m proud of, and I know I can be proud that I’ve tried another way of making money from something I enjoy and am good at. Karma probably exists after all, because I earn one dollar a month on Patreon and will realistically one day have to send a cease and desist to a shitbag on Etsy who thinks they can copy and paste my designs. I haven’t even talked about second hand books today, because unless they’re advanced reader copies someone paid for them originally, but would publishers be less inclined to cut a series due to low sales if they knew how many second hand copies were in circulation? Should second hand sales count in sales figures given that most people who can’t afford a new book will go to their library and/or favourite second hand bookseller before looking for a pirated copy? Would less people pirate books if we had more libraries?
I don’t have the answers – I barely have coherent questions – but I feel like the only way any of us are going to keep seeing books in shops is if we keep talking about what books are worth, and what writers are worth, to us as readers. Some people will never place value on other people’s art, and instead of debating whether piracy is inevitable, we should probably just concentrate on making it really, really difficult. So tell me your thoughts on free art versus paid art and all of that versus piracy. Tell me how you would end pirated books. Have you ever confronted someone you know is pirating books? I’m kind of done with repeating the word ‘pirate’ even if it is Halloween…
(If I ever show signs of becoming remotely homogeneous, you have my permission to punch me in the face.)
I had a quick glance at my calendar and it’s been nearly three whole weeks since I sat down to write here so I made myself a beverage, cracked my neck and sat down to tell you all… um. It’s been a busy three weeks? But everything in it was too nondescript to blog about? I mean, I read about four books. (I’m on GoodReads, by the way. I never read other people’s reviews but I enjoy writing my own, like blogging.) I had a cold – one of those snotty, coughing, can-feel-your-eyeballs-rattle-in-your-skull colds and swallowed my pride to buy medicine over the counter. My newest job is going well, and I am getting better at parking on the first attempt. I scratched the Mini’s front bumper on someone else’s front bumper. The other person’s bumper was so scratched already that I didn’t feel bad, because they clearly made a habit of parking far too close to other vehicles. I bought my first Christmas present.
I’m not proud of that, but you gotta do what you gotta do to avoid payday loaning your way through January. Since I’ve also been preparing for Christmas on Etsy – do not get me started on the finer details of Secret Santa tags – I’m curious to know: when do you guys start buying presents? Do you set a strict budget? I’m being extra careful this year because last year I got overexcited and bought things for people who didn’t seem bothered that I’d got them anything, so this Christmas is close family-only plus a couple of Secret Santas and realistically something ridiculous for the dogs. Like this:
My dogs live in this two-story doggy mansion that has air conditioning, heating, designer furniture, and a chandelier. Loves it pic.twitter.com/4dXAf5XPXV
So yeah, let me know your thoughts on Christmas. Is it too much hassle? Are you a wee Scrooge? Do you buy your cousin’s dog’s groomer a bottle of malbec and some shortbread? I need to know so I can strike an acceptable balance between Scrooginess and extravagance.