And now I can tell you…
It’s 1 a.m. on January 20th.
In a few hours Donald Trump will become President of the United States. There are lots of people with far more reason than I to be afraid, but I am afraid for all the same reasons as everyone else. I’m also afraid for completely separate reasons right now. The two threads are unrelated but they are feeding off each other as helplessness and uncertainly abound in multiple areas of my life. The combination finally drove me from my bed at 1 a.m., so I’m going to put my troubles on the page in the hopes that they will then release me.
My tenth book was released earlier this week. It went up for sale way ahead of schedule. I don’t even have my author copies yet. I have never held this book in my hands, but it’s now available worldwide. That should be cause for celebration. Ten books in nine years is something worth being proud of. Normally I’d greet the occasion by popping the top on a $10 bottle of bubbly I’d had chilling for the occasion, the same way I had for the other nine releases.
But this time around, that happy moment was taken from me. This time I found out my book had gone live not from my publisher, and not because I’d been counting down the hours on my own. This time I received word that the story I’d worked for a year on was in the hands of my readers, because one of them wrote to tell me someone had trashed it on Amazon. Or rather, someone trashed me, because the “reviewer” hadn’t actually read the book. They’d merely seen the price, the price I had no control over, and decided it was too high, and therefore the book itself deserved a one-star review, followed by a series of nasty comments.
Reading the comments there in that moment made my heart feel like someone had jammed it into a shoe two sizes too small. Not only were people saying the book was overpriced, they dragged my character into the mix for “condoning” this perceived greed. I was shocked, and, I’ll admit, hurt. At no point in my career have I had one ounce of input on the price of my books. If you’d asked me a week ago what my ebooks sold for, I would’ve had to look it up. Contracts vary widely in this business, but I have yet to see one that designates pricing to the author, and because of this, I honestly didn’t know how prices are set, other than the publisher has to somehow come to terms with distributers, warehouses, and retail outlets in a delicate and balanced web.
What I did know was that this was a conversation I shouldn’t have had to even think about for two more weeks, because the book wasn’t supposed to be available for two more weeks! Close to Home was supposed to be on presale exclusively on the Bywater website January 1st and then go to wide release on January 31.
I immediately contacted my publisher, saying, “Is my book supposed to be out yet?”
The honest-to-God, directly quoted response I got was, “#$@&%*! Amazon is now saying 1/31, but they are selling them.” Then there was lots of talk about warehouse dates, release dates (when books are supposed to ship to retailers only), and publication dates, (the date books are supposed to be shipped to readers). This was the first I’d head any of this, and even knowing it all now, we’re still not sure why Amazon would ignore the dates posted on their own sites.
What followed was three days of meetings and phone calls and emails and frantic pleading. But pleading was all I could do. I have no control over any part of the listing once the book goes to our distributors. And this entire listing for Close To Home was a mess. The shipping date was wrong, the blurb was wrong, the price was wrong. By yesterday, the amazing team at Bywater had spent countless hours working and worrying and reworking the listing to make up for a mistake we had nothing to do with. I didn’t understand this until now, but apparently a publisher sets wholesale prices and pre-sale prices, then from there retail prices get calculated and then large retailers use those figures to calculate their discount prices. If anything goes wrong in the process the whole chain must reset and restarted. My publishing team stepped up like champs and put in tons of hours, doing massive amounts of work most of my readers will never know about.
And then we waited. Because despite the fact that when big companies want something, they demand it immediately, people like me have to wait up to ten days for our work to be fully recognized by their system, and during that time we are bound by legal contract not to offer or even advertise a lower price than the one listed publically on their website. In short, we were trapped for up to ten days.
Ten days of worry.
Ten days of not being able to answer questions about a price I had zero control over.
Ten days of watching the nasty comments pile up under the name of a book I was so proud to have written, from people who hadn’t even taken the time to read it.
Ten days of silent helplessness and fear as I watched my sales ranks hover in the nether-regions of the lesfic charts.
Ten, long, sleepless nights.
As I slipped out of bed a few moments ago, I pulled on the sweatshirt my wife had left out and sneaked into my son’s room. I leaned close enough to breathe in the scent of his ninja turtle shampoo and place a kiss on his soft cheek. I watched his dark lashes flutter, and I tucked the covers a little closer to his chin. Then I stood back and wondered what I would tell him six months from now.
Summer. That’s when I’ll start to see my first royalties from Close to Home. Do people know that? Authors with mainstream distributers generally wait at least six months before they see a penny of their royalties. After Amazon takes their hefty cut (look it up) and distributors are paid and the typesetters are paid and the ebook formatters are paid and the copy editors are paid and the substantive editors are paid and the cover designers and marketers and taxes are paid, I will get my percentage.
When that time comes, what will I tell my little boy about why the check is so much smaller than usual? Thankfully his other mother makes a steady enough income, so we won’t be faced with the choices too many Americans will have to make under a new President. We are blessed. My son will have a roof over his head. He will have food on the table and medicine if he needs it. My wife will make sure of that, but my book sales, small as they may be, pay for things like Little League and trips to the ice cream parlor. My piddly royalties pay for trips to the movies when the summer days get long and hot. That small portion of what’s left after everyone gets paid is what allows my son to buy the new pair of summer shoes he’ll need, because instead of using the brakes on his bike, he drags his heels and wears out the rubber.
What will I tell him then? How can I possibly explain that someone I don’t know made a mistake, and a company I don’t work for decided to sell my books ahead of the presale for a price $1.20 above what some people deem my books are worth? Can he even comprehend that because my books got sent out before we had the chance to shave $1.20 off the price a multinational distributer considers fitting for a genre romance, people who didn’t even read the book decided to write bad things about me online, and for ten days no one bought any of my work?
Look, I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. My kid’s not going to starve. This isn’t a sob story. There are people in the world way worse off than we are, people who would feel blessed to know their biggest problem would be extra spending money six months from now. I’m not asking anyone to host a fundraiser for my family’s Little League expenses. I’m not asking for anything. I’m just rambling because if I don’t get the absurdity of that chain of events out of my head, I’ll never get back to sleep.
This is not my most thoughtful, professional moment. This is my most human moment.
What’s done is done. I’ll never be in charge of the pricing on my books, and even if I were, I couldn’t have those ten days back. I can’t have a do-over on the release of my tenth book. I can’t regain the hours of sleep I lost or the tears that fell as I looked at my sleeping kid, knowing the months I spent writing something we could all be proud of weren’t enough to overcome a $1.20 price discrepancy. That’s not an easy thing to swallow and keep down for ten days … or eight now … or whenever I can legally tell anyone this story.
When that time comes, I will post this blog. I’ll fall on the mercy of this community I’ve been so proud to be a part of. I’ll pray for calm heads and open hearts. I’ll swallow my pride and ask readers to go onto websites like Amazon and Goodreads and Facebook and give Close To Home an honest review. I’ll hope the good ones outweigh the bad, but mostly I hope people will review the book on its merits. I’ll try to believe the work I did on this book and the work I’ve done as part of this community over the last nine years is enough to overcome things I have no control over.
And yes, if I’m being honest and human right now, part of me hopes the Internet trolls will be drowned out completely, but I also hope this doesn’t become about them (After note: I’m serious. Please don’t feed the trolls. Ignore them). I want more than anything for Close to Home to start different conversations, ones about love and regret and missed chances and second chances. I want this book to start conversations about redemption and courage and the resilience it takes to be queer in places were conformity rules. I want to talk about the transformative power of love even under dire circumstances. I want to give that to our beautiful community right now, and I do have faith in their ability to give that back to me as well, eventually.
But for the next ten days, I wait and I worry, my sense of helplessness about global events compounded by the helpless I feel about my own ability to provide for my family. As I pace the floor in the wee hours of the morning, I think about new ways to save a few dollars every week. I kiss my kid and I watch the clock. I pray and I check Amazon three times a day. I wrack my brain trying to think of ways to make things better, to drum up sales, to personally refund people the $1.20 they are so upset about. And I try to tell myself everything will be okay.
Or maybe it won’t be okay this time around, in which case I’ll go back to the drawing board and start over again with book number eleven. That’s my job. It’s a job I’m blessed to be able to do. I love giving voice to our community. I love telling our stories. I love empowering queer women to believe in their right to a happy ending. I just hope Close to Home gets one, too.