This is going to be a long blog post. 3,301 words, according to WordPress. Please bear with me; it’s detailed, and it’s been building up inside me for literally years. But finally, I’ve had enough. I’ve officially run out of fucks. I just ask that you read it, and any given links, straight through.
I’ve spoken before about how discouraged I’ve been over the years as regards my writing. Even with a backlist of 12 self-published books, I’m lucky if I sell 5 or 6 novels in a month, across all vendors and marketplaces. My budget for marketing and promo is zero, so I’m just relying on blogging, Twitter, a wing and a fuckin’ prayer, really.
Last night I mentioned on Twitter that I’d gone thirty days on Amazon without selling a single book. An entire month. Shortly thereafter, my Amazon dashboard showed two sales, which was good, but also bad. Good because I’m grateful for people trying to keep my spirits up, bad because…it’s not working. I feel like I’m fighting to gain any traction at all in the publishing world and when I see the amount of scammers and hypocrites who do meet with some kinda success, it grates. I’ve got to admit that.
I had people suggest printing out flyers or business cards, and while they meant well, I don’t think they quite understand what my budget is zero truly means. It means every tiny penny I earn from writing goes towards groceries or utility bills. I simply cannot afford to pay for Amazon ads, and as for Facebook — I’m not on that site and nor will I ever be, due to their ‘legal names only’ policy. I use a pseudonym for a reason. [Edited to add: turns out Facebook is willing to accept this is the name I use in a professional capacity, so I now have an account.] And of course, YouTube does not suit those writers who wish to remain separate from their pen names.
I started writing romance at the tail end of 2008 and was first published in 2010. So that’s nine years I’ve had to build up a backlist, a following, some kind of success, right?
Well, it ain’t happening. Which makes me wonder how many times I have to keep trying, how many books I have to write before I finally accept that for whatever reason, no-one wants to buy what I’m selling. When I still had the belief, or the hope at least, that I could make a few quid and build up a readership, I’d say “Just one more try,” but now? I’m tired. I’m just…tired.
The romance-writing world is rife with shady behaviour. I have heard so many stories of things that go on behind the scenes your ears would bleed if you heard them all. I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying “Wah wah, poor me, the scammers are winning; I’m taking my ball and going home.” No, it’s more like, the discouragement is getting to me. It builds up, the running out of ideas of what to try next to salvage my creativity and any hope of a successful writing career. I’ve blogged about my lack of financial success and some of the self-publishing industry’s shadier practises here, in Between the Lines. I’d like to draw your attention to this quote about a website of which I used to be a member:
If I protested, dared to say that it didn’t seem like anyone was bothered about improving their writing any more, a popular saying was “Look to your own paper.” In short, learn to game the system, mind your own business, or shut up.
In other words, “Don’t point out the scams we’ve got going on or we’ll just accuse you of being jealous.” It’s very widespread in romance publishing, this culture of silence. People are afraid to speak up in case it damages their career and that is why people only tend to flag shady behaviour publicly when they’re done. Not because they’re throwing a grenade over their shoulder as they leave, but because it’s a relief to finally…not care any more.
But, you know…if that grenade happens to go off, so be it.
Two and a half years ago, nearly three, I published The Story on my blog, about an, er…interesting experience I’d had at the beginning of my romance-writing career. It generated quite some interest in publishing’s whisper network. If you haven’t already read it, please do so, otherwise what follows will make very little sense. It’ll be like reading the sequel before Book #1. 😉
Back now? Read it all? Good. And yes, I’ll be telling you who “Erika” really is at the end of this blog post.
So, about a year and a half ago, I received a message from one of Erika’s former co-writers on social media. We’ll call them Jay, just for the sake of not referring to them as ‘this person’ or ‘the co-writer’ all the time. I never was a fan of clumsy epithets.
So, Jay got in touch with me after their writing partnership with Erika imploded. I’m easy to find online. And the way it had ended made Jay think…this is remarkably similar to the kind of things Scarlett alleges. The very things Erika had warned were a load of lies, born of jealousy.
Remember, in my blog post above (you have read it, haven’t you?), I’d said:
My concern has always been, “Ah, who’s going to believe me anyway?” By calling out a far-more-well-known author, there’s a chance of looking jealous.
Talk about accurate. Either I’m clairvoyant or Erika is predictable.
Jay’s opening message to me was words to the effect of, “I know you probably don’t want to hear from me right now, but my writing relationship and friendship with [Erika] is over; I wanted to apologise for taking her side over yours. I’ve just read your blog and Erika’s behaviour described there so closely mirrors my experience with her that I know you were telling the truth all along.”
Why had Jay even read my blog at all? Well, apparently, Erika had always told them not to believe a word I said regarding our previous ‘friendship’, piquing their interest. Which, if you think about it, is an admission of sorts. Why try to prevent your writing partners and allies reading a blog post about a pseudonymous someone’s bad behaviour, unless you are the guilty party being discussed?
Too, Jay even informed me that “Erika says you’re stalking her.” Which is an interesting thing to say, given that Jay was so concerned about her “obsession” (Jay’s word, not mine) with my Twitter feed that on numerous occasions, they attempted to counsel Erika into just…letting it go, which she refused to do, instead choosing to constantly piss and moan about inconsequential things I said online.
And yet I’m the stalker. Ironic, given that I’ve also been informed she’s said, “If only Scarlett concentrated as much on her writing as she does on stalking me, her career would be in a different place.”
Yes, if only I concentrated as hard on passing off others’ work as my own, while obsessively reading someone’s tweetstream and telling my cohorts the other person was stalking me, I too could be a friendless user who has difficulty writing entire books unassisted.
So, what was the ultimate reason for the Jay/Erika partnership coming to an abrupt end, you probably want to know? This, again, from my The Story blog post:
That was the point our friendship, such as it was, died. I can be supportive of and happy for a friend — hell, if I couldn’t, why would I have helped her sell books? But as soon as I met with success, I was no longer as readily available to bolster her career.
Jay met with a period of deep personal and financial crisis which Erika dismissed as inconvenient to her writing career.
Yep, you read that correctly. Jay was going through a very difficult time, which meant…they were no longer as readily available to bolster her career. Exactly as I said in the extract quoted above. It was a dashed inconvenience to Erika that Jay was no longer emotionally available. It mucked up her planned writing and publication schedule, having a writing partner deal with other issues, so she washed her hands of Jay and moved on to one of her umpteen subsequent writing partners. I mean, if you can’t keep even one of a subsequent string of writing partners happy, you’ve got to ask yourself what the common denominator is there.
That was ultimately what influenced Jay to get in touch with me and open the lines of communication; my blog post having the ring of truth and accurately describing the lived experience of someone else who had dealings with Erika. Someone else who had realised they were surplus to requirements when serving her career was no longer a top priority.
Jay tells me they really thought they and Erika were genuine friends, but now doubts Erika even knows how to ‘do friends’ and Jay is gun-shy about forming friendships in the writing industry.
Since then, I’ve had seven or eight people contact me on Twitter to ask, “You know your blog post…are you talking about so-and-so? Because…” then they go on to relate experiences they’ve had with the very same person. And the fact they all, all, guess the same name? Isn’t that telling, for seven or eight people to all guess the same name when certain patterns of behaviour are being discussed? I wish I could repeat those individual experiences here, but often times I’m sworn to secrecy. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of “Don’t bring me into it; I don’t want to cause a fuss.” I can’t really blame them for that. After all, I’ve keep my own counsel on it for years, now. Afraid that people wouldn’t believe me, or back me up if I dared come forward.
But a few have since confirmed it to be the case that if they wanted to work with Erika, be friends with her, they should block me on social media. Why? Because apparently, I’m a liar who’s only jealous of her writing success. And it’s easier to snow someone if you cut them off from the person who’s telling the truth. I’ve had confirmation from multiple sources that Erika “strongly advises” people to cut me dead.
I mean, seriously. Think about it. If I were lying, who cares? Only the truth would scare her that much.
How does all this tie in with my utter disillusionment with publishing, and my own lack of success? Well, let me just say I’m not blaming anyone else for me selling only a handful of books every month. I’m not owed a certain amount of money (although I’d like it). I’m not owed a particular number of readers (although I’d like them). No, it’s the loss of time spent on creating books with little to no little financial return and seeing authors behaving badly, combined, that gets me down.
You see, overnight, I’ve been asking myself — is it writing itself I want to walk away from, or the whole idea of Romancelandia with its attendant backstabbing? Writing used to be a fun hobby but there was always the thought in the back of my mind of making money from it someday. And that hasn’t happened after God knows how long of trying. So why not just write for the fun of it and forget trying to make a living from writing? Because I do not want any part of a group that allows such behaviour as I’ve previously described, condones it, or even encourages it. Could I continue writing in my own time and just forget trying to ‘fit in’ to the industry? Who knows? Who the hell knows?
Often, shady practises and flat-out shady people are open secrets in Romancelandia, but others either don’t care enough to call them out (if readers), or are too scared to do so (if writers).
Even when folks do stand up and say “Now, hang on. Such-and-such is going on and it’s not right!” you can’t rely on anything changing. For example, a fellow writer we’ll call, uh…Jenny Trout…because that’s her name and she had it first and yes, I have permission to say what I’m about to say. For example, Jenny Trout has had to deal with someone publishing under exactly the same name as her. I know, I know. If you happen to have the same legal name as someone else that can’t be helped, but if Writer 1 is already published under their legal name, wouldn’t Writer 2 be better off, as a courtesy, using a pen name to differentiate between the two? It’s like actors joining Equity. If someone else already has the name you want to use, you have to pick another one as your stage name.
Because of the similarity in names bar a one-letter difference, readers confused her work and that of the other author, to the point of accusing her of copying the other writer, despite having been published first.
Although “our” Jenny wasn’t plagiarised herself, there are allegations that her clone plagiarised other people. I’ve found an article online which details the matter here, called Coincidences.
The above concerns were dismissed and in fact the other writer’s fans told Jenny Trout to get off the internet and go kill herself. JLA never, to my knowledge, called her fans off. No-one can help having the same legal name, right? No, the cover art similarities were all a massive coincidence. Run along, little girl, and stop causing trouble.
And as if that wasn’t enough, some time later, a whole series of astonishing coincidences popped up in an Alexa Riley book — character names, settings, tropes, you know — skirting a line that’s just way, way too thin for it all to be coincidence. And yes, that’s the same Alexa Riley who’s just had her (their; it’s a writing partnership) Amazon account banned for unspecified reasons. Alexa Riley herself (themselves?) says it’s a blip and their legal team is on it. Amazon doesn’t just delete your KDP account on a whim. There’s something shady going on. Considering I’ve had people tell me backchannel that AR uses ghostwriters and page-read bots, I know who I believe. And that’s without mentioning the questionable ethics of having a book review blog where you give your own work written under a pen name an award, before deleting said review blog to sweep it all under the carpet.
The self-appointed Queen of Romance (yes, I mean Courtney Milan), famed for saying “I never comment on matters that don’t concern me,”…commented on matters that didn’t concern her, and dismissed Jenny’s concerns about JLA as nothing important, and the similarities between one of her books and one of AR’s apparently didn’t count as “real” plagiarism. (CM had never had any dealings with Jenny before, except for passing her at a writers’ conference but that didn’t stop her claiming to be “friendly” with Jenny Trout, who had never given CM permission to speak on her behalf.)
It’s remarkable — and by that I mean total bullshit — because when CM and a bunch of her pals were later plagiarised, the entire internet was expected to don sackcloth and ashes and mourn for forty days and forty nights. I said it was hard to give a damn about their situation given how dismissive they had been about my friend’s publishing industry troubles and Tessa Dare ended up subtweeting people who (and I paraphrase) “only care about plagiarism when it happens to their friends”, suggesting they should stay away from related hashtag discussions.
Uh…lack of self-awareness, much, self-appointed Twitter police?
Which brings me back to my point that sometimes, you can flag bad behaviour in Romancelandia, and things will just carry on as if you had never said a word, because unless you’re a big enough name, nobody cares to listen. If your face doesn’t fit, tough luck.
There are rumours about some folk in Romancelandia that can go on for years. Lots of whisper networks and backchannel discussions from people too cautious to speak up publicly. The shady behaviours and people being discussed are sometimes too big, too influential, or in some cases, too fond of making threats, to be called to account. If the pressure builds and the dam bursts, a number of people may come forward to say they’ve experienced the same thing with the same person or publisher or what have you…but you can’t rely on that happening. You cannot rely on backup and support in an industry based on writing about love.
Plus, by the time it all comes out, if it does, some people are already so disillusioned by the corruption and backstabbing that they’ve left romance publishing altogether. Who knows the total cost to the industry as a whole because of this? We’re losing writers and editors and cover artists because sometimes, it’s just too much bother dealing with the shitstorm that is romance publishing.
So what steps do I plan to take with regard to writing? Will I write anything at all?
- First of all, I’m going to finish Read Me. It’s three quarters done and whatever happens, it would be a crying shame to put the work in to write 60k words and abandon it so close to the finish line. Besides which, I owe it to my Patreon patrons. I mean, I literally owe it. They’ve supported me thus far. Plus, it’s part of a series, so.
- Same with the menage novella of which I’ve written 5k words. Not ‘same’ as in part of a series, but it’s a manuscript on which I’ve started work and I don’t want to leave it partially done. Whatever my feelings about my future in fiction writing or lack thereof, I am obliged to my patrons. I’ve promised them the book, and they shall have it.
- Whether anyone else wants to buy copies of Read Me and the menage novella remains to be seen when they’re edited and published.
- I have absolute no interest in trying to fit in with Romancelandia any more. Now, I’m not saying I was ever super-desperate to, but there was perhaps a willingness to keep the peace or give people the benefit of the doubt. I’ve been screwed over and let down far too many times to think folk even deserve the benefit of the doubt now. Plenty of people know about shady behaviour and dishonest people and the ones who are too scared to speak up? That, I can understand. But those who cover it up because they don’t want to rock the boat, or the person being accused stands to do something for their writing career? They can suck a bag of rancid donkey dicks. I have no interest in even sharing the same online space with them.
- Oh, and as for Erika? You can go back and re-read The Story and this blog post with the knowledge I was talking about LA Witt all along.
If anyone has additional information or experiences to relate connected to anything in this blog post, I’m easy to find online. Email me. As regards Alexa Riley, Jenny Trout tweeted a whole thread here. Please go read it. In the thread, she makes the offer of being a listening ear to anyone who has been plagiarised or otherwise mistreated.
Well, I reckon I’ve shat all over any hopes of having a shadow of a writing career now but I went into this blog post with my eyes open. There’s the small matter of not wanting to be part of any club that would accept me, anyway. So if you’re feeling charitable, feel free to drop a couple of bucks in my tips jar over on Ko-Fi or have a look at this Universal Book Link and consider buying one of my books.