There’s been a whole lotta hoopla this week from every corner of the Interwebs targeting Yours Truly with some vile and venomous accusations. For several days, I chose not to feed the trolls because, let’s face it, they’d only find a way to twist my words further and make me look like even more of a bad guy. But since the pitchforks are still raised and the lynch mob is still demanding my blood, my head, or both, I reckon it’s time to address my past, present, and future readers. Be prepared to be hit upside the head with the Mighty Womancock of Truth…
For the next loooong bunch of words, I’m setting aside the persona and addressing you as an author talking to her readers. Notice I used the term readers and not fans. Many of you know I have a strong aversion to that dirty F word, and I’ve actually chastised readers for calling themselves my fans. Fan suggests being in a lesser position of power relative to someone else. Fuck that bullshit. I’m not that way. You and me, we’re equals. Plain and simple.
Let me start with some background. I was asked a few weeks ago by an owner of Authors For Life to prepare a post about my “success story” with STRINGS. I tried to frame my publishing experiences with words of wisdom that I wish someone had shared with me earlier in my career.
The post, entitled “Selling Out 101,” went live on May 15 and caused a big ruckus. Authors for Life chose to take it down, but if you’d like to read my original words, I’ve included them below this post.
My writing career started nearly five years ago. I had the framework for a crazy novel in my head and spent a long-ass time getting it onto the page. It started as contemporary fiction, then morphed into paranormal romance, and ended up as urban fantasy. It grew from a single book into a trilogy.
Like many other writers, I pitched to agents, publishers, and anyone who would listen. The net result, as best as I can tell, is that the industry professionals liked the story, but it didn’t fit into a single genre, and it wasn’t commercially appealing enough for anyone to take a risk and publish it. It had too much of a love story to be fantasy and too much fantasy to be romance. Simply put, no one could figure out which shelf to put it on. But this was my story, told in the way I wanted to tell it, and I was too stubborn to let it die. So, I took a chance on myself and released it independently.
By all accounts, for an indie-published book, the JUST BREATHE Trilogy did well. It found readers. Most liked it. A few loved it. Some were really confused by it. I felt like I hit a chord, but the success I’d hoped for eluded me.
Frustrated about what to do next, I went back to square one. Over the years, I’ve squirreled away notes for many stories that never got written. I had plenty more ideas for my JUST BREATHE universe, but I needed to expand my audience instead of narrowing it. I wasn’t sure if continuing on that course would bring me the new readers I wanted. I toyed with writing a few contemporary romance stories, but after deep reflection, I decided to take a stab at erotica. I had some experience with writing steamy sex scenes in my JUST BREATHE books, and most readers seemed to enjoy them.
Erotica had emerged as a hot new genre. There were some exciting trends there, so I figured I had nothing to lose by giving it a whirl, even though I wasn’t completely comfortable with it. Remember, I’m a fantasy writer by choice. Writing contemporary erotica required major paradigm shifting for me.
After some trial and error, I found Letty’s voice, and STRINGS (and ideas for the entire Hard Rock Harlots series) emerged. Unlike my JUST BREATHE novels, writing STRINGS was easy. It was completely over the top. The scenes and language were outrageous. I knew it would be polarizing. But it was fun. I enjoyed the hell out of writing that book.
I wove themes underneath the explicit XXX sex scenes. The story of Letty and her connections to her bandmates, her lover, and The Rock were all there, and the overarching, multidimensional theme of “strings” came to life. Letty’s desire to find her audience, her insecurities with her art, and her frustrations with the music business stemmed from some of my own experiences as a writer, which brought me even closer to the book.
Despite my resistance, I fell in love with STRINGS.
I pushed “publish” on a Saturday night, not knowing what to expect. STRINGS took off like a bullet. I was both shocked and thrilled that the book found its audience so quickly. Sales poured in, and word of mouth spread. I was surprised the book resonated with such a wide variety of readers. Some loved the sex scenes, some loved the humor, and more than a few loved the story.
What I loved, was the connection the readers made to it. While many readers connected with JUST BREATHE, it was nothing like this. I got hundreds of comments like, “I laughed until I cried!” and “You made my husband a very happy man last night.” What a huge rush for an author! My little old book made a ton of people happy.
I received Tweets, direct messages, emails, and Facebook messages from around the world. I made time to respond to EACH and EVERY reader who made the effort to connect with me, even at the expense of my own family.
It should be pretty obvious from all of this that I would never do anything to purposefully harm the readers who gave me my success. There is no other group of people in the world that I respect and value more. Readers and the whales are the two reasons why I write.
Sometimes my sarcastic persona gets in the way of my intention. Sometimes people take my snark seriously. In “Selling Out 101,” I called my story “trash” and “smut” in a self-deprecating way–to make fun of myself, but absolutely not to demean my readers.
Perhaps my reference to “art” was misinterpreted in my tongue-in-cheek post. Every artist must write what’s in her heart, but those who wish to pursue their passion full-time are often forced to compromise their comfort zones in favor of putting food on the table for their families (or in my case, to save the whales). Sometimes we stumble upon an unplanned path to reach our goals. This is a fact of life. I meant no offense by stating this truth.
I felt it was appropriate to share with developing writers (for whom the post was intended–NOT bloggers or readers) who must make career decisions based on their individual and personal needs. Can I continue writing in genre X and not make money? Or must I find a different way to make money at my art in order to pay my bills? These are tough choices every artist faces. I only meant to bring them to the surface as something for writers to ponder.
There is no right or wrong answer here, but the cold truth of the matter is…professional writing is a business. If you don’t provide your customers with a product they demand, you go out of business. Right now, the market demands contemporary romance, new adult, and erotica. Tomorrow it might be Hot Gay Sailors Riding Seahorses in Space Whilst Toting Bows and Love Arrows. If that’s the case, the writers who work to get paid had better jump on that shit right now.
Over the last few days, my friends have been telling me about what’s happening on Goodreads and several blogs. I’m balls-out shocked by some of the vitriol over my post. Several recent Amazon reviews clearly state the readers’ enjoyment of STRINGS, yet the reviewers downgraded their ratings to 1-stars based solely on this fucking post. How is that a remotely FAIR review? People have boasted to me that they were glad they pirated my stories or abused Amazon’s return policy to avoid paying for my work despite reading and enjoying the book. This is a new level of low, in my opinion. Have people really sunk to this level? Over a fucking snarky-ass BLOG post I wrote to mark off an item on my To Do list? I’m sad to say, the answer is yes.
I don’t write for liars, thieves, and bullies. I write for honest readers who value a good story and a fun voice–those who are willing to look beyond a post that was misinterpreted and taken out of its original context.
I did not intend for my comments to offend readers or anyone else. I hold you all dear in my heart. Could I have employed less “shock value” wording in my post and opted for nice, sweet, politically correct terminology? Absolutely. But that’s not me. If you’ve read my books or follow me on Twitter, you understand that. I chose those words for their shock value. To make readers of the post feel something. Apparently, it worked too well and on the wrong audience. The post was exploited to the masses outside of its intended audience. It’s pretty obvious who came out on the losing end of this debacle. The person with the most to lose and the best intentions. Kendall Fucking Grey.
I value each and every one of my readers. You’re worth a million times more to me than the $2.99 you paid for my book. Aside from the misinterpreted post, I don’t think I’ve ever given a single person a reason to believe I’m only in this for the money or that I hate my readers or readers of erotica. Those who’ve interacted with me personally know that couldn’t be farther from the truth. My actions speak for themselves.
There are two sides to every story. I feel strongly that many of the facts surrounding this particular story have been blurred, obscured, and in some cases, twisted into flat-out lies. I encourage you always to seek out both sides before you decide which “truth” you believe. The world has enough bullies. Even if you still think I’m wrong, please don’t be one of them. Share your opinion, but be better than that. Bullies demean the entire human race.
To the countless readers who’ve privately contacted me to show their continued support, belief, and love during these last few days, THANK YOU. A million times, thank you. This week would have been the perfect time for me to throw up my hands, toss in the towel, and disappear into oblivion. You’re the reason I didn’t give up when I thought I was alone in this mess. You’re the reason I will keep writing, despite the haters. You’re the reason I have chosen to face this bullying head on. Readers, you are my WORLD!
With that out of the way, Kendall Grey is moving forward. I hope you will too. Fuck the haters, the baiters, the bullies, and the trolls. I got an electronic cigarette hanging out of my mouth, a vodka martini poised at my lips, and my Mighty Womancock in hand. Let’s blaze a fiery path into the future and make history together, my friends. Thank you for being the amazing human beings you are!
ADDENDUM added on May 20 at 11:30 a.m. EST:
I want to be absolutely transparent here. There is a screen shot circulating that contains a message I posted IN A PRIVATE FACEBOOK GROUP called Hard Rock Harlots. The person who shared this image did so without my knowledge or consent. But since it’s out there, let me be clear what I meant by “this is a stealth mission.” I asked those who were willing to help to report some abusive “reviews” as bullying. I did not ask anyone to speak out publicly on my behalf, only to report the truth. Bullying is bullying, whether it’s done to a kid on the school playground or an author in the public eye. There is no excuse for it. I did NOTHING wrong by asking people who offered to help to report these attacks for what they are. Again, I encourage readers to SEEK OUT THE TRUTH before you jump to conclusions.
Here’s the original article posted at Authors For Life on May 15, 2013:
Selling Out 101
I self-published an urban fantasy trilogy last year. I spent four years writing it. I poured all kinds of money, time, and energy into that bugger. I did everything “They” tell you to do: blog tours, paid advertising, securing reviews, professional editing and cover design, book signings, pimping, pimping, pimping. I put way too much cash into making my books as perfect as they could be.
Okay, they didn’t really tank, but the output wasn’t remotely proportional to the input. I viewed the series as a bomb, despite good reviews and positive feedback from readers. The books just didn’t do what I needed them to do. They didn’t make money.
So, I went through all the stages of grief, and in the end I got angry. Anger is a great motivator for me. I looked at what was hitting the tops of the bestseller lists: Contemporary. New Adult. Erotica. None of my preferred genres. But I was so driven to prove to myself that I didn’t suck as a writer, I did something I swore I’d never do.
I sold out.
I wrote an erotica book.
It kicked my UF series’ ASS in sales and rankings.
Go effin’ figure.
Some hard truths came to light through this process. The biggest revelation was that as authors, we have to decide whether we’re in this business to make art or to make money. We can’t have both. Very few authors make art that sells. Commercial viability does not lend itself to artistic endeavors, and vice-versa. If New York doesn’t want your book, then you’re probably too creative. If they do want it, then you’re marketable. New York publishers run a business. They don’t give a shit about art.
Apparently, they have something there. Readers generally (don’t throw stones—I’m referring to the masses here, not individuals) don’t want art either. They want easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of warm fuzzies. They want simplicity. Art is neither easily digestible (you sometimes have to chew on it for days to filter meaning from it) nor simple.
I made $10,000 in two weeks off my new erotica book STRINGS. Nearly three weeks later, I’m selling over 100 copies of the book a day. And this piece of trash never even cracked Amazon’s top 100. Imagine how much I’d have made if I’d busted open THAT list. My beautiful, artistic, deep JUST BREATHE urban fantasy series? Well, I’m still in the hole there if that tells you anything.
I spent exactly two months plotting, writing, editing, and publishing STRINGS. The JUST BREATHE Trilogy? Four YEARS.
My total production cost for STRINGS was under $500. I’m embarrassed to reveal how much money I poured into producing the three JUST BREATHE books.
How did I transform from nobody to Somebody? I sold out.
And you can too!
I know it’s depressing to hear that in order to find success, you may have to compromise your principles. I’ve come to grips with the fact that in the current market, trashy smut sells, and urban fantasy does not. Tough shit for me. If you want to sell books, you have to feed the market what it craves.
You can be noble and stick to your guns and say, “Screw that! I’m gonna keep writing what’s in my heart no matter what!” Fine and groovy, as long as you accept that this guerilla mentality of badassery won’t pay your bills. More power to you for upholding your principles!
For us artists who want or need to make a living at writing, there is a silver lining. Once you’ve done your part to feed the reader machine, and you get paid ridiculous amounts of money for publicly shaming yourself and lowering your standards, you’ll be armed with the power to write what you want. Once you’ve built your readership, there’s a good chance many of your readers will follow you into your preferred, artsy-fartsy genre because they like you. Yes, you may have to compromise and write more sell-out books along the way to feed YOUR machine, but the beauty is that you can do BOTH and make it work.
Compromise: The name of the game for writers in the New World Order of Publishing.
So, who do you write for? Yourself or the market? How far are you willing to bend to achieve your dreams as an author?