I promise that at some point in the near future I'll start posting a bunch of inane rambling reviews of Dungeons & Dragons products again, but in the mean time: yet another post about Cat Valente
Actually, this one's not entirely about her. I mean, this whole thing isn't entirely about her... she's the crux, the fulcrum, of the matter, but it's about the publishing industry, it's about authors and artists and performers, it's about new technology, it's about our ability to create and control our creations and to interface with our audience and to reach audiences without a filter in between us.
She's started to receive a bit of a backlash: people telling her to suck it and up get a "real job", people telling her she's selfish, people telling her that what she's doing isn't "grown-up behavior".
And what is she doing?
She's creating something of value and expecting people who benefit from it to compensate her for her work.
That's basic grown-up behavior right there.
It doesn't look
like grown-up behavior because it doesn't involve putting on a hideous uniform or wearing a name tag or signing away any rights, literally or metaphorically... it doesn't look
like grown-up behavior because instead of putting a price tag and a bar code on the output of her soul, she's asking people to pay what they can and what they will for it.
You know, I had a day job, a year and a half ago. I quit it to do this, to produce reader-supported, cyber-funded stories when I was sure that I could support myself this way... and I almost fucked that up, in no small part because I let myself be insecure about the fact that I do
deserve compensation for what I do and so I went through a period of being shy about reminding people that I do know money to get by. Other than that hiccup, it's gone pretty dang well.
And you know what? In the time since I quit, my day job was downsized. The department was shrunk in half and then folded into another one. If I had been there, I would have been another body fighting for a chair... which means I would have been out of work or somebody else would have been.
Why do I need to be a body in a chair? What benefit would I provide to society by doing that? Here, I'm not taking anybody's place. I've made my own. It's uniquely suited to my strengths and weaknesses. I create things for the enjoyment of thousands of people, and some of those people are able to pay me a dollar when they can or five dollars a month or fifty dollars one time or whatever they can give me, whatever value they feel I've provided them.
Is this a rip-off? My actual output varies with my circumstances, but people just pay what they think I'm worth, with no obligation to keep paying. How could that be a rip-off? My dad once told me I should tell people to pay me half what they think I'm worth, so they feel like they're getting a deal and they'll keep coming back for more... if anybody's worried about being ripped off, they're welcome to do that. Treat yourself to a 50% off coupon. Treat yourself to a 75% off coupon if that's what it takes for it to be "worth it". You pay what you feel like. That's how it works.
I mean, if everybody who read my work paid me a dollar for every novel's worth of material they read, I'd be rich and they'd all be getting a huge discount compared to any other book out there
. Think about that. And most people aren't even paying a dollar. They're paying nothing.
Who's getting ripped off?
What Cat's doing is the action of a mature mind. She's taking responsibility for her situation and she's doing something about it. Her plight is not her fault, but like everybody else, it's her responsibility to support herself and her family, and that's what she's doing. It's easy to miss this fact, with the initial frenzy that was whipped up on the twittosphere... the somewhat desperate tone of which she had very little to do with... but what she's doing is taking control
, of her talents and her rights and her resources.
And it's going to work. That's the thing.
It. Is. Going. To. Fucking. Work.
What she's doing is a proven moneymaker: taking a talent and a unique vision and going online with it. It works. All the naysayers miss the point... they probably look at the internet and they see the one trillion amateur animators that don't make any money, the one quadrillion little webcomics, the googol of hobby sites and blogs that don't go anywhere and they say "There's no money on the web." But the same things that let anyone succeed offline work online as well: talent, dedication, hard work, willpower.
It doesn't matter how many folks are doing it at the amateur-level. They don't take money away from the successful ones, and the qualities that bring success shine
... and Cat Valente possesses all of these in spades.
I'm not going to compare our talents... we're way too different. We both have a fairly complicated relationship with the concept of "plot" and nontraditional approaches to structure, but she is at heart a poet and I primarily write dialogue and monologue. Okay, well, I am obviously comparing our talents, so let's do it:
I started Tales of MU with nothing but a name, "MU Tales", which I changed quickly because my mind wanted to read it as faux Spanish "mutales". I made it up as I went along, just to see what I could do, and I published it as is.
And I made it work.
Because, ladies and gentlemen, I am that fucking good
That's my talent. I can sit down and I can write and people will read it, rough. Even people who hate what I write about will sit there and tell me that they wish I would write about more sensible things because they love reading it. It comes easily, naturally. For me, the hard part of why I do isn't writing, it's keeping my shit together, keeping my life together even when the parts of my brain that don't write aren't talking to each other, keeping track of the plot of day-to-day life the same as I do with my stories.
But Cat Valente is the hardest working person I know. I only met her briefly but that was obvious. She researches. She plans. She workshops. She vises and she revises and she retrovises. All those little foreign language puns I scatter in character's names are just things I have bouncing around in my brain, but she translates things.
And the results...
Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you she is that fucking good
The talent is there. The drive is there. The willpower is there. Everything it takes to succeed, she has... and she's proven it offline. A dozen books. A deal with Tor, I think, though I might be making that up. Of course, the reality is that "success" as an author in traditional publishing is nothing like money in the bank.
But online... she pays bandwidth and hosting, maybe hires out webmastery and graphical artistry if she can't get it donated... but the pie is only split one way. If she sells 20,000 books the Olde Way at $20 a pop, she ain't getting anywhere near $400,000. It doesn't work like that. But if she sells a hundred ebooks at $10 a pop, she is walking away with something that's within a phone rebate of $1,000 even after PayPal takes their fees.
Do you haters and doubters not realize how huge that is? What a profound cosmic shift that is for authors?
Anyone else just starting out... someone like me... would have to do something to become a proven quality before they could hope to make a living. Free samples. Heck, if I hadn't twisted Cat's ear as much as I have already, I'd tell her to increase the excerpt size of ebooks. Give a whole chapter's worth. Or forget about arbitrary breaks and give 'em as long as you think it takes to get them hooked. Give a whole first section of each book. She probably won't have to do that because she is a known quantity with even greater known quantities vouching for her, but it's a viable strategy.
(It's also a viable strategy to give all the books away for free to begin with, but people who don't understand what she's doing will never grasp that.)
This was going to happen sooner or later, that a traditionally published author would go this route and attract a lot of attention. I'm so sorry for the circumstances that forced her into it, but I'm glad it's Cat because I love her work so much and because the conditions are perfect - she's a cult author with wide but non-"mainsteam" appeal as defined by the industry that decides what to market to the mainstream, she's got the support of notable literary lights with large web presences, she's friends with an author who's explored this path before and who won't fucking shut up about it.
So this is going to work for her. Okay, there are no guarantees in life... but that's true about "real jobs", too. This could fail just as jobs can be downsized and companies can fold. But she has everything she needs to succeed, everything that's essential.
Why should she take a spot at a Starbucks that somebody else could fill? Why should she occupy a spot in a phone queue? Who would ultimately benefit from that?
The fact that she gets to do what she loves for a living might gall some people, but it's not a failing on her part. The fact that she's found a way to for herself instead of doing for seventeen layers of middlemen and then waiting in line every second Friday to hold out her hands in hopes that they'll do for her might threaten the composure of everybody who's still sucking it up and swallowing their pride every time they get out of bed in the morning. The fact that she's proving that you don't need to wend your way through the apparatus of The Industry to get paid for your art might be offensive to the sensibilities of those who are in the process of making compromises they hate in pursuit of a brass ring that they're terrified might turn out to not even be real brass is not ultimately her problem.
And, y'know, when Fairyland is a going concern, some of the naysayers and the doubters will say that she couldn't have done it if she hadn't already been a published author, if she hadn't had the support of folks like Neil Gaiman... never mind that some scatter-brained nobody living smack dab in the middle of flyover country already did the same thing... but a lot of the naysayers and doubters will just ignore her success and keep
saying it won't work no matter how long it does.
We know this happens, because we see it all the time: "nobody makes money in webcomics", they say, and what s00j
has done with her music for the past five, six years is clearly
It has worked, it is working, it will continue to work.
The print industry's not going to go away... people like books, and I don't think Cat's doing this because she's pissed off at the world of paper or anything... but the publishers are going to have wake up soon and notice that authors now have another serious option to explore when it comes to paying the bills.
They need to notice it, because I can guarantee that more and more authors will.