I just learned that a fairly proficient author named Vera Nazarian has started one of those crowdfunding campaigns for a purpose that is drawn some controversy.
She was the sole proprietor of a small press called Norilana, which printed some pretty good books and some very good authors — but a few years ago she went through a period of incredibly bad health and stopped paying royalties. She went through bankruptcy couple of years ago.
Her funding drive is to pay royalties she still owes to authors. By her own accounting she owes over $20,000. This is drawn a lot of flak, because people feel since she spent the money herself somewhere along the line she should pay the money back herself.
As someone who went through a disagreeable business failure a number of years ago – a small newspaper rather than of a small press – I understand how agonizing the whole process is. Sole proprietorships are dangerous creatures; they are often the best way for a small business to start, but when they implode there is usually no place to go for funding.
You end up robbing Peter to pay Paul, co-mingling funds and hoping that eventually you’ll get caught up. When you run out of time, your bookkeeping can look like a pot of spaghetti someone dropped on the kitchen floor.
My newspaper ran into difficulties because of a confluence of politics, demographics, and some health issues on my part. Apparently in the case of Vera, it was all health and very severe. A wise man once said “Sometimes you can die of bad luck” and from what I can tell, Vera was fighting for her life.
I think like any average genre writer, the odds of her coming up $20,000 out-of-pocket would be difficult under any circumstances. I think it’s interesting that she is still trying to do something about this; the average schmuck would just blow it off and go on.
The people the lambasting her, I think, need to remember those sayings about walking a mile in someone’s shoes, or throwing the first stone. That’s not to say what she did was wasn’t wrong, but we all make mistakes in life. We don’t have debtors prisons in the United States – yet – and despite what some people think, you can’t put someone to death for owing you money.
My experience in the speculative fiction publishing field is that a lot of people do it for love and/or fun. They consider themselves fortunate if they simply don’t go in the hole. As in the case of a marriage or a relationship, it’s difficult to admit things have not worked out. We all know how often people stay in marriages and relationships past the time when they should have broken up; this also happens to in businesses that are labors of love.
In marriages the financial fallout is that you owe alimony. In a business failure, you owe creditors. When my newspaper was going under, someone came to my office and smashed it up, and knocked me around a bit. They got away with it, because of collusion between law enforcement and the courts. Well as Kurt Vonnegut used to say, “and so it goes.”
So I find it hard to work up ahead of steam of righteous indignation over the Vera Nazarian’s plight. I may very well toss in a few dollars myself. Some people have suggested looking up the authors she still owes money to and paying them directly. Which is not a bad idea. But at the very least, I think people should at least try to imagine what circumstances led to her financial difficulties as well as her decision to go public in a project that has subjected her to public humiliation.
We are all human, and at any given time most of us are broke.