A Cautionary Tale of Cacti

Afternoon. So much has happened in the world since I last blogged (the sun is out, the government has broken and IT’S COMING HOME) that I feel like I actually need to do an update.

A few weeks ago I bought a new mint plant, a succulent and some cacti. The cacti were supposed to be gifts but then I got them home and put their sweet little pots on my windowsill and decided to find my friends other gifts. Little cacti are so cute! Also, I like to have a window open at night but my room is over the conservatory so I can’t leave the big window open in case it invites burglary. So I put my cacti on the windowsill to spike any potential intruders, thus giving me time to wake up to their cries of pain, put my glasses on and source a screwdriver to stab them with.

Unfortunately the only person who has been spiked is me, opening the curtains, so I’ve moved the cacti to shelves and resigned myself to only leaving the top window open. I don’t know why I’m worrying, the sun will remember which country it’s in soon.

succulent and cacti on windowsill
Did you know those spikes leave the plant in order to embed themselves in your skin?

In non-plant news, Dragonnovel is coming along really well. I accidentally stayed up until midnight last night working on edits. Because it’s still in the chop-and-change stage, I can’t post a lot of snippets in case I accidentally reveal too much plot or give away some of my banging one liners. A while ago Maggie Steifvater mentioned that she really liked the latest novel she’s written, and a lot of people replied with ‘what you mean you LIKE this thing that you’re spending ALL OF YOUR TIME on?’ and she pointed out that:

‘Art as pain and pain as art and the Eternal Dissatisfaction of the Poignant Creator™ is so 19th century.  Creating the art you wish you could see in the world but don’t, and then being fucking PSYCHED when you’ve done it™ is very 2018.’

I didn’t get it at the time but GUYS I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN SITTING ALONE IN A ROOM SPENDING TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO DON’T EXIST. I’m even more relaxed about asking for patronage while I work on it because a) I will finish and query it regardless of who gives a shit and b) it’s worth paying $3 a month for. I would pay myself if that weren’t even more horrendously narcissistic than asking strangers on the Internet for money to start with.

I’ll leave this here because I’m getting ready for a market in Leigh on Saturday and trying to work in a rebrand around it which basically means my bedroom is full of boxes and my email inbox is full of really cool top secret website stuff that I’m figuring out, but I’ve been staring at a screen too long. See you soon, I guess. Or not, if the weather keeps up and I continue to spend every spare moment outside. Is this what national pride feels like? Enjoying spending time in your own country?

 

 

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‘Am I Screwing Over the Book Industry By Releasing My Work for Free?’ and Other Existential Questions

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!

Except.

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!

Except.

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?

(Yes.)

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.)

PS I remembered I had photographed my dogeared shitheap partially second hand copies of TRC but I seem to have lost ‘Blue Lily’. How appropriate.

Indifferent Ignorance Awards 2016

I’ve been coming up with the annual Indifferent Ignorance awards for long enough that I know to keep ’em cute and to the point. But there’s something about 2016 that’s been so thoroughly appalling that I couldn’t just list a few bits and pieces. So here is the best and absolute worst of 2016.

Book of the Year

The Raven King, because of cars and kissing, or Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, because of cars and kissing. Mostly. Just read them.

Album of the Year

Troye Sivan’s Blue Neighbourhood, or the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. Neither of them were released this year that’s further proof of 2016’s shittiness. (Actually Frank Iero’s Parachutes came out this year and it’s a gem. Whatever.)

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

A parent had To Kill a Mockingbird banned from a high school in Virginia, US, for its racist language.

Please kill me soon.

The ‘I Witnessed this Shit Live and Wish It Had Killed Me’ News Story of the Year

Tough one. Brexit? US election? The return of Poldark to our screens? Nah man. The only moment my stomach really dropped at the news this year was at maybe 6:15 on a January morning when Nick Robinson interrupted my dozing to inform me, with audible shock, that David Bowie had died. I did not think anything could shock a Today programme presenter, let alone audibly. The return of Jesus couldn’t have redeemed 2016 from that moment on.

Outstanding Achievement for Distracting Me from the Horror of the Year for Five Minutes

Or an hour, depending on the broadcast.

Nominees:

  • Ed Balls’ Gagnam Style on Strictly Come Dancing It aired the week Trump was elected. Coincidence? Or does a benevolent god exist?
  • When Newsnight listened to their critics and played God Save the Queen Stand up, please.
  • The Twitter users who liveblogged the Rio Olympics and came up with 40 different jokes about green swimming pools
  • The Rio Olympics themselves
  • Whoever started those Joe Biden memes
  • American Idiot (the song, not the people)
  • Planet Earth II

Winner: this song, which someone shared the morning Trump was elected. I really, really felt better and so will you:

Outstanding Social Media Moment

This is another new prize, and the competition was tough.

We have Gary.

(In case you were wondering, Gary came back for more.)

We have when James Blunt dropped some news.

We have Joe Biden existing on camera. (I am genuinely not sure what he did in the Obama administration. I don’t care.)

We have when Sam Smith thought he was the first gay person to win an Oscar and, um, wasn’t.

Coincidentally this is the year I learnt what ‘throwing shade’ means. Oh, I didn’t pick a winner. You guys choose (I assume I can trust you with this more than I did Brexit).

Indifferent Ignorance Homophobic Dick Award

Donald Trump’s voters. All of them.

Indifferent Ignorance Ignorant Fuck Award

Donald Trump’s voters. All of them.


I thought I’d put a line there as a metaphor. Because a line is like a wall, right… seriously though I nearly wrote an essay about how the name I gave my blog aged 14 is coincidentally a term that sums up this year’s election results, but I held off because everyone else was writing the same essay and I am so tired of being tired of all the bullshit I’ve lived through recently. I think in 2017 I might use my outraged liberal millennial viewpoint to make art instead of complaining. And by art I mean small stories and postcards about people who are full of shit.

Anyway that is me done for the year. I wish you all health and happiness in 2017, although at this point it’s probably enough that I wish you make it there. Happy new year!

I Got Mail and It Wasn’t Something I Ordered for My Shop

I submitted a piece of writing to a publication today and holy shit I had forgotten how stressful it is. Not the writing (okay maybe a little bit the writing) but the titling and proofing and second guessing whether you can even speak English.

I’m going to de-stress by looking at my recently-filled bank account and browsing Etsy for cute things. Speaking of cute, this arrived in my postbox the other day:

I love fan art zines and anthologies (this is going alongside Ladies of Literature Volumes I and II, and a Heroes of Olympus one). Reading them is the only time I ever wish I could draw as well as I write, because no one ever does writing zines… I guess they would be called books. Anyway thank you to Caroline who very nicely sent me this even though the project’s closed (can  I just say that the level of sleuthing required to find zines that aren’t taking orders any more but you want one anyway and were just broke and abroad when orders were open is insane).

I’m going to peruse it and play a game where I choose which artists I would want to illustrate my work… spoiler alert ALL OF THEM. Also if you have no idea which book series this zine is from you need to read The Raven Cycle immediately. I’ve even reviewed it for you, kind of.

Urgh, now I want to organise a zine where writers and artists collaborate on work. Or just organise a zine. Or just buy more zines.

I’m going to Etsy.

Happy Friday!

Behind the Scenes, Friday 13th Edition

So it was on this very day, sort of, that I released my Ghost Stories zines last year. If you haven’t read them – and you should – they’re full of short stories, advice columns, quirky advertisements and art all pertaining to death, the afterlife and magic. And I hadn’t even heard of Maggie Stiefvater then. Anyway, I don’t have a Volume IV to share with you all, but I have made even more ridiculous death/the afterlife/magic work since, so I thought I would take today to share a bit about how and why I ended up with so many macabre-ish, funny-ish arty-ish things in my portfolio.

Ghost Stories

A couple of years ago I wrote a (very) little story for The Story Shack about something that in retrospect sounds suspiciously like the church watch on St Mark’s Eve. It was sitting by itselfie on the internet and last January I noticed that 2015 contained three Friday 13ths. I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and it’s useful to have solid deadlines, so I thought I could do a project to practise my Photoshop, actually write and maybe have a laugh. My friend Ruby, who proofread, had less of a laugh. By 13th November I had three relatively well-formed zines, a more thorough understanding of the YouTube playlist format and a healthy respect for the black and white filters on Photoshop. I kind of love Ghost Stories – I mean, I also hate it because I read it back and think ‘ew’ – but it’s the first thing I made after I finished school for the hell (ha) of it, and it reminded me why the term ‘black humour’ warms my soul. Now go warm your soul.

Ghost Stories Volume I by Francesca Burke

 

Hell’s Belles

You know that feeling when you’ve recently quit a job, rediscovered supernatural YA novels and decided to dye your hair pink and commit to being a full time eccentric? Last autumn I tried to supplement my income with waitressing, which to cut a long story short was not the career for me. When I rejiggled my freelancing so I could afford-ish to go back to marketing full time, I realised how much I valued being my own boss, muttering swearwords, blasting Fall Out Boy and making ridiculous things because I could. There’s a stall in Southend high street selling home accessories that say things like ‘eat glitter for breakfast and shine all day’, ‘life’s a journey’, etc.; I always wanted to paint them black and ad lib… so I did.

I even made stickers. Hell’s Belles – which was also influenced heavily by the pastel goth tag, 9 years of listening to My Chemical Romance and the exact colour I wanted my hair – is one of my favourite lines on my Etsy. It’s weird, either offensive or funny depending on your sense of humour and made of everything I’ve been interested in over the last couple of years: magic, cynicism, cursing, cynical cursing and inspirational Instagram posts.

I have a suspicion I’ll make more of one or more of the above. Look out around Halloween.

Book Hangovers & Nine Hamlets

Good news: I’ve worked out how to live with a fucked keyboard. Bad news: I haven’t gotten off my arse to buy a new one. I did get off my arse when I got a text last weekend that my copy of The Raven King was in Waterstones – literally as I walked through the door after a day of working opposite my local Waterstones, half an hour before it closed. I haven’t physically run that much since year nine cross country, holy shit. Cue an evening of ignoring the universe and wondering who I can sell my soul to in order to write that well.

In short, I’m book hungover. I also missed this:

But I think Shakespeare would have approved of my forsaking him for a story, so thank u Internet for letting me see this later.

Could I buy all the Raven Cycle merchandise I can find and call it a business expense? Insofar as I have remembered how much I love books and how much I want to make books all the time. Maybe I could enter it under Misc: inspiration. If David Cameron can stash his cash in South America, surely I can buy a couple several t-shirts, some stickers and a handful of posters with my HMRC-approved cash?

Or maybe I will just go and reread the series and plot ways to absorb Stiefvater’s evil genius. The temptation to make a sacrifice joke here is potent.

 

Happy New Year!

Happy new financial year! I weirdly feel like it’s a fresh start, because even though we’re already one quarter into 2016 and nothing has changed since Tuesday, I have a new spreadsheet and a new folder and so far I’ve stuck to my to-do list because this will be my year goddamnit.

Speaking of making things mine, I have been s l o w l y carving out time for myself to write and practise writing (which really just means more writing) and buyoed by new year optimism I thought I would give my Patreon page a spring clean. I still need to make a proper video (I nearly had one a while back until I realised my eyeliner was smudged during the whole thing, and it wasn’t a fashionable smoky eye smudge either), but I’ve re-worked my rewards. As it stands as of now, all $3 patrons get a 100 word story on their virtual doorstep every time I review a book, $5 patrons get to see their name in lights, aka on the sidebar of this very site, and $50 patrons will have their name in the thank yous of every book I publish indefinitely. There are tiers between $5 and $50, by the way. Lots of choice.

I haven’t chosen April’s book yet, because I’m in a Raven Cycle reread frenzy before The Raven King comes out on the 26th, but I’m definitely going to have something done before the 26th because afterwards I will be a mess of Maggie Steifvater-loving (or hating, depending on the conclusion) tears.

Okay my allocated blog time is running out and I have five more things to knock off my list before I sit down with Mini Eggs in front of assorted TV dramas later, so I am going to massively hint that this is the link to my Patreon page and remind you that by supporting my work you not only keep this blog wheezing its way into its seventh year but you also help fund my travel and technical expenses, thus leaving my wages free to propel me into the next income bracket and fulfil my desire to spend less time marketing other people’s work and more time making my own. Like blogs about Mini Eggs.

Harry vs Voldemort and the Art of Waiting

For someone who loathes Valentine’s and all it represents, I have been making an awful lot of Valentine’s-related stationery lately. Buy now to make your friends laugh! Buy now for an alternative Valentine’s gift! Buy now so I don’t have to get another job!

I have spent the last week or so trying to focus on my work in that self-help book kind of way. You know: focus on a task until it’s done, prioritise your goals, live in the moment. Finish those Valentine’s designsTurns out talking to you fuckers hasn’t been a priority. Generally, it works. I can sleep at night knowing I gave my best performance. Except I actually sleep at night beneath three blankets and the weight of no discernible progress, so there’s a chapter missing in those books. ‘What to Do When You’ve Started Implementing Your Plans But the Stats Aren’t In Yet’. I have found that binge reading the work of Maggie Stiefvater helps. So does listening to MCR songs you’d forgotten you’d forgotten.

One of my new year’s intentions was to chill the fuck out, so let’s all be patient, remember that we are only three weeks into 2016 and keep in mind that life could be worse – we could be that bloke they based The Revenant on.

And yet.

Catching up with Blogging 101 tasks, I’m having a bash at writing to a prompt, and one of the Waiting Room ones was ‘“Good things come to those who wait.” Do you agree? How long is it reasonable to wait for something you really want?’ As a freelancer I am my own boss, with absolutely no Monthly Targets or Quarterly Team Goals or Bullshit Exercises To Stop Employees Quitting. One of the reasons I didn’t want to work in an office was the likelihood of Bullshit Exercises – they make me feel the same way as grey suit trousers and nude lipstick does. I have goals with my marketing clients, of course: ‘make them money’, usually narrowed down into ‘build Instagram’, then trimmed to ‘write five snappy posts’, then ‘turn on the computer to write five snappy posts’, then ‘get out of bed because the computer is downstairs’. At the end of all that, the client should have visibility and therefore money, and I should continue my tenure as the Instagram person, and I should therefore have money.

All because I got out of bed, and without a grey trouser suit in sight.

Sometimes Instagram does not build quickly. Sometimes my posts are not good. Sometimes people are tight and refuse to part with their cash despite enjoying a pretty and well-tagged Instagram picture twice a day. These people are dicks.

Back to waiting for good things: with the exception of new Stiefvater novels, I am not content to simply wait. I must be doing something to, at the very least, pass the time. Ideally I must be implementing a scheme to make the good thing happen so that it happens more quickly, more efficiently, and with less time to moan about waiting. It might still take five years, but if I hadn’t made an effort then it might have taken ten. It might not have been as good. Here is a list of good things that came with waiting:

  • I left school (I waited 13 fucking years)
  • The conclusion to Harry vs Voldemort (six years)
  • Danger Days plus Conventional Weapons (four years)

I did very little to hurry those along except exist and bide my time. Probably could have entertained myself more in retrospect. Here is a list of good things in my life that came because I made them happen:

  • I can write without a wrist brace (three years, physio, sheer force of will)
  • A large portion of my hair is pink (a few months, some savings)
  • Doors on my cupboards (a week, a screwdriver, lack of patience to wait for someone else with a screwdriver to do it, especially when that someone is a man)

Here is a list of good things I will also get if I a) wait and b) find a screwdriver:

  • A healthy return on my investment of Valentine’s designs
  • The ability to type on a regular keyboard with a regular mouse, without my fingers and wrists turning numb
  • Money to travel more and move out of my mother’s house and eat well without selling a kidney on the Internet, engaging in prostitution and/or getting that other job.

The question is, how long am I willing to wait. 10 years? Six months? Until my pink hair has grown out? It could take me longer to leave home than it has for Richard Gansey III to find the dead Welsh dude, and I don’t have a Camaro or Blue Sargent to soothe my frustration.*

So, if you are in a commenting mood, let me know: how long is it reasonable to wait for something you want? How long have you waited in the past for something? Are you still waiting? Let’s wait together.

*That is not a spoiler.