Yesterday, Baen author Ryk Spoor posted a GoFundMe page, seeking $10,000 to start to cover a number of debts and unexpected family and medical expenses that arose over the last few years, at the same time his writing income was declining.
Fans and friends have responded well so far. In one day, he’s collected a bit over 1/3 of the requested amount. Hopefully, enough will be able to help that he can make his goal, and more. But apart from being a sad thing to befall any author, Spoor’s predicament is also a sobering reminder that being traditionally published isn’t always enough to make a living.
Starting in the eighties and nineties, as conglomerates gobbled up smaller publishers, authors who sold only respectably got squeezed out as publishers found that they needed to aim for bestsellers in order to make their overhead costs. Combined with the collapse of non-bookstore distribution, and the disappearance of many bookstores, this added up to a lot of disappointment for those mid-selling authors.
A case in point is that of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, whose first trilogy sold only moderately well in its initial release, and whose first publisher decided it could do without them. It took about a decade for their books to build enough of an audience through word of mouth that they were able to get another publishing deal.
And that may be something Ryk Spoor has in common with them. Apparently Baen isn’t interested in further sequels to the series Ryk started with them. (At least, I don’t see any of them listed on Baen’s coming-soon page which goes through August 2019.) It’s purest speculation on my part, but I guess that there are limits to what even a small, agile publisher like Baen is willing to do for authors that don’t make the big numbers.
The rise of self-publishing was hailed as a panacea for midlisters, and in some cases it has been. Midlist authors like J.A. Konrath whose traditional publishing work had largely dried up were able to find a new lease on life by publishing themselves. But self-publishing isn’t as easy as just slapping a book up on Amazon—at least, not if you want it to be worth buying. Producing quality takes a lot of work all on its own—not to mention money for hiring editors, commissioning cover designs, and so on. On Ryk’s GoFundMe, he mentions that he is trying to continue his writing career, “but that’s a long-term thing that, in the SHORT run, requires its own money to get going.” And I imagine that the kind of financial pressure he’s under at the moment probably isn’t conducive to creativity in any case.
Financial crises can happen to anyone. I should know, as I’ve had a few—and was helped out of them in some cases by my own friends, and in other cases by my family. I’ve never quite reached the extremity of requiring a GoFundMe, but if I had any less familial support—and more familial mouths to feed than just myself—I might well have. I plan to kick something in to Ryk’s fund, but I’ll have to wait a month or so to do it as my own finances are at low ebb thanks to Christmas. (Between two brothers, I have a total of ten nieces and nephews. I think that after having bailed me out a time or two, my family is now out to bankrupt me on Christmas presents!) But hopefully raising a little awareness in this piece will help make up for my own currently empty pockets.
If you can’t or don’t want to kick anything in (maybe you don’t even know who Ryk is), you might consider buying some of his books. After all, every little bit helps.
If you enjoy hard SF, check out the Boundary series, of which the first one is free on the Baen Library. If you’re more interested in space opera, the Grand Central Arena books might be your cup of tea (again, first one free). Anime fans might like Princess Holy Aura, a brilliant deconstruction of the magical girl genre. Or if urban fantasy is your thing, try Paradigms Lost. (And there are a number of other books he’s written, too, that I can’t say anything about yet because I haven’t read yet. Need to fix that soon.)
In any case, for purely selfish reasons I hope Ryk Spoor is able to find the financial support he needs to get back on solid ground, and to continue writing. I really want to find out what happens in the next books in those series! So, please help out, people.