In the last few days, I’ve gotten a lot of concerned messages through message boards and email regarding some things I have posted online and my lack of responses to other emails. To make a long story short: no, your Sith Witch is not having a nervous breakdown. No, I am not depressed. No, I am not going crazy (as to the matter of the last statement, such worries would, of course, be based on an assumption that at some point I was sane.)
This is the actual situation, which I will try to convey without naming names and starting flame wars. This post is not about causing drama. Most of you I think know I am not one to talk publicly about my business or personal life except in the most general of terms. But I’m just trying to provide information so some candor is needed.
Bards and Sages has always been a labor of love. I have a full time job that pays my bills. So my publishing company has always been my passion, not my career. I started the company back in 2002 for no other reason that to run my charity contest, because I thought running the contest would be enjoyable (and it is). Then I discovered self-publishing, and decided to self publish by first two books. September and Other Stories was a train wreck, and the first incarnation of Neiyar was hideous in design. They sold anyway, in spite of themselves. And I enjoyed working on them.
I love working with authors. I love editing. I love putting together anthologies. Doesn’t really matter if I sell 10,000 copies of a book or not. I’ve never put out a product I did not 100% believe in, even when I knew the commercial value was minimal. Because it was never about making money. I make enough to pay the writers and artists I work with and make some extra cash on the side.
Over the last year, things have exploded. I mean that in a good way. The Bards and Sages Quarterly is doing very well. The Karma Roleplaying System has taken off. I just finished serving as an editorial judge for IBPA’s Ben Franklin Awards. Heck, I’m attending I-Con this year as a guest panelist because someone decided I’d be a publicity draw. (Not sure what she was thinking! Lol).
Bards and Sages had gone from a labor of love to a serious business, and it was time to take the next step. Last summer, I had a substantial amount of money set aside from publishing that was earmarked to hire on more help and launch some new initiatives. These projects were meant to help capitalize on the growing momentum. We were going to really start targeting bookstores, to start doing even more conventions to promote the games, to create more products on a more rigid schedule.
But then Hurricane Irene came through and left two feet of water in my basement. Total damages were over $10,000, and the insurance company wouldn’t pick up any of it. Despite the fact that I had a sump pump rider on my original policy, at some point over the years they quietly dropped the rider from the homeowner’s policy. Mike and I applied for disaster relief and were told we make too much money. So we had to finance the recovery ourselves. You can guess where my publishing money went.
The situation was compounded by changes at work. As I said before, I have a full time job. While my publishing makes money, I can’t afford not to work. But as with any corporation, changes in direction from higher up the food chain hurt the minnows at the bottom. Without going into details, it became less and less practical to consider taking out business loans to grow Bards and Sages when I wasn’t sure if my regular income would continue to come in and pay the mortgage. particularly with most of my savings wiped out due to Irene.
Meanwhile, over the Fall my editor needed to reduce her workload due to her own personal matters. I restructured some projects and shuffled a few assignments to freelancers, but she was still handling a couple of major projects. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard from her since around December, and it wasn’t until too late that I learned the projects I thought she was working on were not getting done. This left me in a scramble to complete a couple of major releases.
I also contracted with someone to take over writing content for some of the RPG product lines. It was a work-for-hire arrangement that included both per word payment and royalties. As people involved in the RPG industry know, if you don’t support a product line with new supplements, it dies on the vine. While supposedly working on my IP lines, however, this person tried to pitch the ideas as his own original work to a couple of other publishers. He apparently was not aware that these publishers were familiar with me and knew my IP. Thankfully, they both alerted me to the issue. But again, I’m left with a half dozen only partially fleshed out supplements and no time to do anything with them.
I had also contracted with a salesperson that was going to start working on getting our books in bookstores. He was someone I had met at a convention a few years ago. This person had worked with some other larger publishers in the past, knew I was basically a one-woman show, but because he liked many of my books offered to provide sales support on a commission basis. After a couple of months, however, not only had he not managed to actually sell anything, but he had committed my without my knowledge to providing door prizes and such to events that I had not budgeted for. To protect my company’s reputation, I fulfilled those obligations but it was money I was not planning on spending and essentially was flushed down the toilet.
All this was going on while I was trying to get Indie Firsts! Magazine off the ground. The truth of the matter is, if the rest of this nonsense was not going on around me, I probably would have had the patience to try to stick the magazine out longer, or at least not ended it as abruptly as I did. But the casualness with which so many authors disregarded their commitments to participate in the magazine was too much to deal with on top of everything else. I made a decision to terminate the magazine in order to focus on those things I could control without depending on other people.
Through it all, I have keep these issues to myself and continued to take care of my people. I’ve continued to pay my authors their royalties despite the fact that Amazon, via the now defunct Mobipocket.com, still owes me a substantial amount of money from sales through the program. Mobipocket closed in January and was supposed to cut final payments to publishers when it closed. It is now almost April and despite multiple emails I have not been paid. I have some retailers who sell my books on consignment who have been “delayed” in their payments. This has been an ongoing problem for months now. But I’ve never once not paid my people. I’ve reached into my own savings (what is left of it, anyway) to make sure people got paid what is due them.
I have sacrificed and done without to make sure my authors are being taken care of the way I promised them I would, despite everything else going on. I’ve not used any of my business or personal problems as an excuse to take advantage of them or not fulfill my promised to them. Because of this, I have been especially sensitive to blanket accusations posted in various communities I belong to that claim publishers are useless, greedy, and that authors are better off self-publishing. Whenever I read some accusation about how authors don’t need publishers, I think about all of the work I’ve done for my authors, none of whom have any interest or desire in being self-published and only a few of them even have active blogs. Whenever I read some accusation about how greedy all publishers are, I think about the fact that I routinely reach into my personal bank account to pay people while waiting for vendors to pay me. Whenever I read some accusation about how publishers don’t promote books, I think about the thousands of dollars I have spent in the last six months on conventions, book fairs, print ads, and giveaways.
Maybe the snide comments, backhanded compliments, and in-your-face-with-my-uber-sales-without-a-publisher posts wouldn’t bother me if everything else around wasn’t as chaotic as it is now. But things are chaotic right now, because I am dealing with major problems while still trying to do right by my people. So it makes me angry when people mouth-off about how unimportant people like me are. And when I get angry, I suck at hiding it. It is my flaw. Which is stupid on one hand because why should I care about what someone online says, but on the other since the bulk of my business is done online it is my professional reputation being sullied. Even when those comments are not directed at me personally, it impacts me professionally because it colors the perception people have of what they think I do compared to what I actually do. I have worked very, very hard over the last ten years to build an honest and ethical reputation and I’ll be damned if I should just sit idly by while others indirectly attack it.
So yes, I am angry and frustrated. No, I’m not sitting in a white jacket waiting for the doctor to bring me happy pills. .And I’m certainly not going to go anywhere anytime soon. But yes, I have deleted some comments I made on some forums and message groups, not because I’m having a breakdown, but simply because I don’t want to be drawn into the fights anymore when certain people entered those conversations. I deleted a bunch of reviews on Goodreads not because I’m having a mid-life crisis, but because people see the reviews and think I am still reviewing and I’m not, and I don’t want to keep explaining why. I haven’t returned some phone calls or emails not because I’m in a corner crying. I just don’t want to repeat myself fifteen times. And if I have said or posted something that you took personally, I apologize. I posted something that made you worry, I’m sorry. I’m not real good at asking for help or talking about my own problems so sometimes things come out the wrong way without context. Consider this the context.