Reader Entitlement Syndrome: Stacey Jay and the Windmill Full of Corpses

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I would like to begin this post with a disclaimer:  what will follow is unlikely to be pleasant; it will be filled with profanity and angry ranting.  If that’s not your thing, then you can find a happy home next door where ponies dance in the moonlight and authors get shit all over for no good fucking reason and just have to smile and take it because they’re the modern equivalent of the court jester now.  Yeah.

So, if you didn’t know that a thing happened over the last few days, then you should probably read this less angry post on Chuck Wendig’s blog.  In short, due to poor sales, an author named Stacey Jay (author of Princess of Thorns) was let go by her publisher, Delacorte Press, and decided to start a Kickstarter for the sequel  to her novel.  Among the things she included in her target goal were funds for living expenses ($7,000, to be exact).  Apparently, some people really didn’t like that, and even less so the idea that Jay might not release the novel if she couldn’t reach her goal.  And so they threw a fit about it.  Jay eventually took down the Kickstarter and threw in the towel, saying she’d continue writing under other pen names.  And still more people threw a fit.

That’s where I come in.  The moment I saw the post on Wendig’s blog, the rage monster rose up.  I was so pissed off.  I thought:  Holy fucking hell; the people throwing fits are entitled pieces of shit.  What the fuck is this garbage?  And so I decided to hold off on the Twitter rant that I wanted to write at that moment so I could rant like a madman here.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this mentality of “what readers want is more important than the needs of the writer” became so embedded into the writing landscape.  Regardless, it’s a mentality that needs to fucking die, not only because it’s toxic, but also because it derives from a series of totally bullshit premises about how writers earn their keep and what we as consumers should be asked to provide.  There are few other classes of workers in this country that people would actually point to and say “you get paid when I damn well tell you” than writers.  Even fucking employees at fucking McDonald’s are treated with more respect than writers, and they’re probably some of the most unloved workers in the whole of the Western world other than IRS agents (who everyone hates, but everyone still thinks should be paid more money than the guy who could be putting his boogers in their food).  I’m not saying that McDonald’s workers deserve to be treated like shit.  I’m just saying that we treat that guy a lot better than we do writers.  Well, unless they’re writers we love and they make a shit ton of money and never have to ask for anything because publishers will toss $500K at them or their books sell so fucking much that it’s never an issue.  Oh, wait.  No.  If a writer who sells a ton of books ever says “gosh, being a writer is tough,” someone will step up on the balcony over their heads and take a steaming shit all over them.  Because NYT Best Selling Authors are as rich as Bill fucking Gates (lies).

Writers are one of the few classes of worker to whom you can say “you write that thing and then I’ll pay you to live later” and almost nobody bats an eye.

Now, it turns out that the mechanics of publishing demand this to a degree.  After all, how the hell is a publisher supposed to know which book to publish if the damned thing hasn’t been written yet?  But we’re not talking about a new writer.  We’re talking about an established one, to a certain degree.  And even so, that’s why good publishers pay this little thing called an advance.  As you probably know, that’s the sad chunk of cash a publisher gives an author when they decide to publish a work, as if to say (not really), “Well, you did all that friggin work, so now we’ll give you something so you don’t have to starve anymore.”  And some authors get paid those things even if the book isn’t fucking done, because they’ve built a relationship with their agent or publisher or whatever through writing other shit — as I’m sure Stacey Jay has.

So the idea that Stacey Jay would say, “hey, you all liked my books, but the publisher wanted to sell 4,000,000 copies, and I’m never going to do that, so I thought, since a bunch of you liked the darn thing, maybe we could do this whole bit where you help me live for a few months so I can write the book without interruption, and then you’ll have it and we’ll all be happy” is really not that out there.  Presumably, her publisher would have paid her that money anyway.

The entitlement of those who think this is absurd is no more apparent than in the tweets from shitheads who seem to think writers are some kind of new class of serf.  Take this shit, for example:

Again, the question:  since when does buying groceries and gas count specifically for the project?


Why, yes.  It is entirely ridiculous for an author who wants to eat to include groceries as part of their writing expenses.  Because no other person on this fucking planet factors the cost of living into their salary needs.  No person who has moved to a new city has thought “Gee, I can just go to work any time and buy a million dollar mansion” who didn’t already have a million dollars to throw around like nothing.  No person in the history of ever who has to actually think about the money they spend — which means almost everyone — has ignored the cost of living when it comes to how much time and energy they will devote into anything else.  Me?  I’m just going to walk out of my job tomorrow and come back when I feel like it, because apparently I don’t have to worry about paying for my groceries anymore.  Since the people who pay writers (ahem, READERS) aren’t required, as a consequence of purchasing or funding writers, to cover their living expenses, then clearly those things will be paid for by imaginary fairy people who come down from the heavens on chariots made of gilded donkeycorns (a new species; the FDA is considering whether their meat is edible right now — I’m told it’s delicious) and handed down on sticks of the most expensive cheese in the history of mankind.

But back in reality land, I will go to work, because I want to eat, and Stacey Jay will probably go back to work writing something under a different name, because she wants to eat, too.  And all these shitheads who think authors should just sit down and write for free will go back to work, too, so they can eat.

Because food IS PART OF THE EXPENSE OF WRITING, folks.  You can’t write if you don’t have food.  You can’t write if you don’t have the tools, either.  Hell, it’s probably really hard to write without a roof over your head, too, and since Jay wants to write a novel in 3 months and release it shortly after, she’s basically saying, “I’d rather get it to you before a regular publisher would, but I can’t do that if I’m working on other things.”  That means, “I can either write this project, or I can write the one that lets me eat.  Up to you.”  There’s nothing fishy about it.  There’s nothing awkward about it.  It’s just a fact of life.

So each and every person who has pissed and moaned on Twitter about how Jay is just so off base here is full of shit.  How many of these people would honestly put in 3 months of work at Job A with no pay (and only the hope of pay…maybe…if you’re lucky — cause that’s what readers are:  maybe pay) rather than dedicate those same hours to Job B, which will pay right away (or even, to be realistic to “normal” jobs, pay as you go)?  I’d be surprised if any of them could honestly say they would.  Because only writers are expected to work for free and just be happy if we give them scraps at the end.  Not that this is about the scraps.  Jay is asking for a continuation of her normal environment.  Readers who like her work can give her money so she can write it without issue (ahem:  she and her family doesn’t starve).

Meanwhile, there’s this gem:

Noooooope.  The ones with entitlement are all these shitheads who have decided that authors shouldn’t be paid for their efforts.  They’ve long rejected the “money flows to the writer” concept in favor of a tacit endorsement of a serfdom which puts writers at the bottom, readers immediately above them, and everyone else at the top.  Writers don’t work when they write.  Writers only work when they’re doing something else.  And to ask for compensation for writing itself is just entitled!

But it’s not “entitled.”  Entitlement is saying “the author gets paid when I buy the book.”  Entitlement is saying “writing is not work, and even if it is, it’s not work that deserves compensation.”

Entitlement is telling a writer this:

A PSA:  authors are not your fucking serfs.  If George fucking R.R. Martin is not required by the Law of the Reader to produce books like some kind of stringed up monkey, then no author is required to work for nothing just because they get “royalties” from book sales.

Another PSA for Ms. Liz Anderson:  I know, right?  It’s not like every reader who actually pays money for a book doesn’t already do this.  That would be lunacy.  What are these fucking entitled writer people on about with all this money?  Let’s keep them down there in the dirt where they belong.  We’ll pay them to live when we fucking damn well please!  YEAH!

Oh, right.  Yeah, no.  Every time you buy a book, you’re paying the author to live.  Those royalties?  For eating.  For housing.  For everything a writer needs to survive, and then some.  Every reader who buys a book is already fucking paying the writer to live.  Why do you think writers throw a shitfit when a publisher says they won’t pay advances?  Why do you think they throw a shitfit when one of their books is pulled from publication or a publisher doesn’t pay their royalties?  Cause that money is for fucking living, fool.  That money is what writers need to keep doing what they do.  This isn’t some kind of weird medieval fantasy land where writers just bend over and shit out fantastic books like any other normal morning shit, and then hop off to work with happiness in their eyes because they can shit out great books whenever they like — isn’t that quaint?  We live in reality, kid.

Also: hats off to all the people on Twitter telling Stacey Jay that the right way to handle your writing career is to write for free even if it doesn’t sell, because after all, the only way to be a real writer is to do it while licking the feet of your readers. Mmm. Just lick them good. Nomnomnom that toe jam. Maybe there’s a quarter buried in there and you can get something from the gumball jar to suck on for a while. That plus the toe jam and you’re in nutrients city!

Meanwhile, in reality land, we have Stacey Jay, who makes money writing under various names, and who is basically saying “I have a family to support, and I can’t support them by writing books that don’t make money, so either this makes money or I’m going to write something else.” Because writing is a business. Because she would rather write books and make a living than work another job and hope she can sell enough books to make a living writing books…But that makes her an entitled turdbasket, because only an entitled person would want to make a living doing what they do. You can’t do that! How fucking dare you, Stacey Jay?! You would ask us to help you make a living doing something you love doing? No fucking way. You get off your lazy shit ass and you go get a real job and maybe we’ll let you be a writer who makes a living later, but only when you’ve figure out that writing is just about the art of it all, and money is just some kind of special prize we readers give you after we’ve felt sorry enough for eating all that toe jam to think maybe you deserve a break. Bend over, dear writer serf. Lick those toes like a good peasant!

In short, this rambling, angry, bitter post is about the entitlement of readers, and the people who serve as them (but may be writers themselves).  It’s about the bullshit theory that readers should be able to dictate the terms, and that writers should accept them (I’m dubious of anyone who tries to dictate terms when it comes to art in this manner).  It’s about the equally bullshit theory that other writers can tell you what qualifies as work, what deserves pay, and how authors should be paid.  It’s about the windmill full of corpses that is the publishing market, with people flinging their speckled shit on people who aren’t actually asking for too much.  After all, what was Jay asking for?  $7,000.  For her and her family.  Let’s break down down, shall we?

[Edit:  the section below is based on a bio in which Jay says she lived in California.  Apparently, she actually lives in Hawaii, which isn’t much better that Cali in terms of living costs.  In fact, it’s basically the same.]

$7,000 / 3 months = $2,333 per month.

Without digging too deep (because that’s creepy as fuck), Jay lives in California with her two children.  Since she does not mention a significant other, I will assume she lives by herself and provides for her two children on her own (holy shit, that’s impressive — go you!).  The Lending Tree conducted a study in 2012 on average mortgage payments in each of the U.S. states.  In California, you could expect to pay roughly $1445 per month.  Ouch!

MIT’s Living Wage calculator says that Jay has to make $3,660 per month just to meet basic living expenses in California for her and her two children.  I used “Sacramento County” as the baseline, though Jay may live in a region of the state with cheaper or more expensive living costs.  Add in the additional cost of a mortgage, which Jay explicitly references as one of her costs, and you tack on an additional $400 per month.  That means Jay needs to pull in roughly $4,060 a month just to make sure she and her family are comfortable.  That’s a fuckton of money, by the way.  Me?  I make less than $2,000 a month working two jobs, and I’m cutting it pretty close half of the year…by my fucking self…in Florida.

All of this is guess work, of course, but I doubt Jay’s expenses are drastically different.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that she needs $3,000 a month.  That means asking for $2,333 per month doesn’t even meet her basic fucking needs.  Granted, Jay probably has royalty income coming in from her other books, but is it really that unreasonable for her to say, “Yeah, I could write this book, but that other book will make sure I can keep feeding my family every month”?  No fucking way.  That’s what we call reasonable.  She’s being smart.  She knows where she can make money for sure, but she really wants to do this.  But she can’t do it, because she has a family to feed.  Fuck her for trying to feed her family.  FUCK YOU STACEY JAY FOR BEING A GOOD MOM.

No.  FUCK EVERYONE WHO SHIT ON A WRITER.  Writers are not your fucking serfs.  They deserve to be paid for their work.  They deserve to eat.  We can haggle over how much they deserve to be paid, but at the end of the day, Stacey Jay didn’t do a single fucking thing wrong (except maybe break a Kickstarter rule — I don’t know).  And if you think she did, you’re an asshole.


Note:  “Readers” is rhetorical here.  Obviously, a lot of readers are awesomesauce.  I’m referring to a particular kind of reader throughout the post.

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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