A year ago, I was the happiest I’d been in a very long time. I was well on my way to having my first real book published, and could almost see the bright days ahead.
I should have written this post a long time ago. If there’s one thing that rubs me the wrong way it’s not knowing what’s going on with something, and for that, I truly apologize to my backers. While I did share a post with a lot of information about what was going on with the book a few months ago, it doesn’t seem like many people had a chance to read it. Yes, this is a very long post, but I hope that after I’ve share all that’s transpired, many of you will have a better understanding of the situation and we can arrive at a solution.
Let’s start at the very beginning…
First things first: Yes, there is a book that is still on its way. No, I did not squander away $11K.
As most readers know, PGEW had a major redesign back in November of 2011. Some people wondered where I got the money for such a swanky new site, and I was happy to report that it had been a gift from my best friend from college, Joe. The end result was beautiful as you can see; it was just what my little blog needed to show that it should be taken seriously.
The whole thing came about after a huge surprise visit from him for my 35th birthday. Joe seemed very interested in what I was doing with the blog and seemed genuinely proud of all my small successes. “But you can do so much more,” he told me. And I believed.
After all, I was on the right path, with plenty of opportunities coming my way and over three years’ worth of recipes and ideas to glean from. With readers, friends and family all encouraging me, a book seemed like the next natural step. Joe asked if I’d ever considered Kickstarter to help with my future goals. I told him I had but didn’t really have the time or video-making moxie to really go through with it. He told me it should be the first thing we tackle after the redesign because it would be the jumping off point for many other ventures.
See, Joe used to own a web design, advertising and marketing firm in Phoenix called Metro Advertising, and he did quite well for a while. His particular area of expertise had always been marketing, and after years of knowing him I had complete confidence in his skills and ability to help me further grow my site and my brand. I knew I had more to offer my readers than just a cookbook, and was ecstatic to know that I finally had someone who not only had the knowledge, but whom I trusted to guide me and not steer me down the wrong path. This was his job, he was my best friend of over 15 years; it seemed like the perfect fit.
After much discussion and life getting in the way, Joe put together the entire project. My job, he told me time and time again, was to sit back, relax, and keep writing. I was basically the talent monkey and he would take care of the rest. It was what he told me to do while he & his team were redesigning my site, and what he continued to tell me for the months he was still in contact with me. Fine by me, I thought. I was getting to the point where I felt I might need to hire an intern I could pay in quinoa muffins, because emails, speaking engagements and other opportunities were getting out of hand. Any help I could get with the peripheral stuff that would just allow me to focus on writing was music to my ears.
The project was far more elaborate than I’d expected it would be, but Joe insisted that it needed to be. I was putting myself and PGEW out there as my brand, and should represent accordingly. There were cookies, aprons, tote bags, cards, unreachable deadlines that could no longer be edited once posted… I panicked, thinking “How the hell am I going to have the time or money to do all of this?” But he kept saying he’d take care of it, he had a plan, he had spreadsheets, and it would all work out. “All you have to worry about is writing. Don’t think about anything else.”
And I believed.
The project ended up being quite successful, thanks to supportive friends and readers, and even some strangers. I felt like things were finally going to start happening for me, that my personal hell would start being less hellish and I could continue an upward trajectory out of Working Poor status. I’m a Virgo, though, and I like to plan things, so I started asking Joe details about the project. Where would the bags, aprons and other incentives come from? What did he need from me to get those things going? “Don’t worry about it right now. Just keep writing. I’m taking care of it,” was his usual response. Since we still had several months and I was putting together the fan favorites for the recipe section of the book, I figured everything was under control. I also knew he was having marriage difficulties and didn’t want to keep bombarding him with my incessant need for details.
But I still couldn’t have been more excited, elated and relieved. At long last, my dream was about to come true! Just six more months to shoot the new recipes, get headnotes written for those, and complete the Tips and About Me sections. Then Joe would get everything laid out and finish the cover design, cookies would be baked en masse – it was really going to happen!
And then I made the stupidest mistake of my adult life: I allowed him to convince me that he’d hired a CPA to manage the funds, so that we could make sure everything went according to plan.
Why would I even agree to something like this? Because I wanted to make sure that we did this right, and that money wouldn’t end up going to paying things like bills and go to anything and everything related to the book: incentives, food costs, printing, everything. I was also looking for someone to finally teach me all about the tax side of having my own business, as that is what PGEW is slowly starting to become.
Hindsight is definitely 20/20, and when I look back now I realize that while the intention was a good one, it was a truly idiotic move. How could I be so trusting and give someone control over my money, especially that amount?
But, strange as it sounds, at that time there was no one I would have trusted more than Joe, both as a friend or with anything business related. I think most people that knew him would say the same. He’d been an amazing friend who’d always been there through thick and thin for over 15 years; we had mutual friends that worked with him and, eventually, for him; he had a successful business with a growing team of loyal workers – in short, he was one of the most honest, trustworthy people I’d ever known. Why wouldn’t you trust Joe would have been a better question ask at that time.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until several weeks after the project was funded that I noticed something wasn’t right. Emails and calls to Joe were no longer returned in a timely fashion or were just ignored. The answers I would get were vague, always punctuated with a “Quit worrying so much! Just write.” I did just that, but not without the nagging feeling that something had gone awry. I knew he was having serious financial problems and had had to close his company, and it seemed that his marriage was also on the rocks. But every time I started thinking, “What if he spent….” I stopped right there. It was Joe. He wouldn’t do that.
He gave me enough to cover some expenses at the very beginning and a few months after the project had been funded, but that was it. When I asked for account information so that I could know exactly what was left and where it was going, I never once got a response. If I confronted him about the money in phone conversations, he always told me that the mythical CPA (whose name I was never allowed to have) was crunching some numbers and would get back to me. When I asked him about incentives, when they’d be going out, to whom and from where, it was the same thing: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
Clearly that never happened. And from the looks of it, never will.
I was angry enough to start contacting mutual friends to see if he was even still alive (sadly, I’ve had friends go MIA on me and they have died, so this is a valid thing for me). Alive? Yes. Contacting anyone or returning any calls or emails? Nope. One friend, Boyd, was kind enough to let me vent my entire situation and tried to convince Joe to make things right. After all, he was also dealing with a similar problem: waiting for Joe to pay back several thousand dollars that had gone towards helping his company. Boyd’s been patiently waiting for his own money, but was shocked when he found out what Joe had done with my funds. Boyd had been part of the redesign team and knew exactly how enthusiastic everyone was to take PGEW to the next level, especially considering my financial situation. He’s also been close friends with Joe for about as long as I have, and agreed that there was no one we knew with more honesty or integrity – up to that point.
So why didn’t I say anything about this sooner? Why weren’t updates posted on Kickstarter? Why wasn’t anything about the money addressed… anywhere?
Many reasons. For one, I realized he’d locked me out of my Kickstarter account. Those technical issues I told you Joe had neglected to help me with, the ones where I can’t access the primary email for my own site? That’s where the Kickstarter password reset info would go. (I still can’t check that email to save my life, nor is getting a straight answer from a human at Google an easy feat. I still have hope, though.)
A lot of it was plain old fear. Joe is the main admin on my site and has the power to shut this site down completely. While he doesn’t contact me anymore, I can almost guarantee he still monitors my site, and I don’t want almost five years of hard work to be shut down out of spite. Despite backing up my work, I’m taking the huge risk of having that happen. I have one more thing to try to safeguard myself, so hopefully it will work.
There’s also the fear of figuring out how to come up with $11K I never even had in the first place, either to make my book happen or at least give it back to the people who no longer wish to wait. When I first realized what had happened, I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was hoping to fix this myself. Little did I know that my illnesses would continue to get progressively worse, and that I’d end up in danger of losing the only job anyone has in my family right now. And in trying to save my book and my reputation, I’ve lost face with some of you.
Not with all of my readers and backers, of course. I have an incredibly supportive fan base, and those backers that have followed updates on the blog or contacted me at my updated email address have been very understanding about what’s happened. For that, I am truly grateful. It’s hard to go through this sort of thing in the first place and have so many people think the worst of you; to have such great support is wonderful.
But that doesn’t fix the fact that there are several backers who are, quite understandably, upset. I wish there was something I could do to change that in the blink of an eye, because believe me – this has kept me up at nights for months. I’ve given myself some lovely little shingles outbreaks stressing out over what could be done. So far, I haven’t found a way to make things better on my own. But I want to make this right somehow.
Now, I haven’t been completely idle when it comes to this book dilemma. I’m constantly searching for ways to fund myself again. Aside from picking up any writing gig I can handle, over the past few months I’ve also been pursuing sponsorships from companies that are in line with PGEW, to see if I can at least start recuperating some of the money that was stolen from me. I have yet to find a good sponsor (or two) but I continue to press on.
I’m also taking care of the cover design and layout on my own. At this point, I neither have the money for help, nor do I have a connection I can trust (and trusting anyone these days is not something I do), so even if it’s not something professional and glossy like I’d hoped to have, it will be mine. The time to regroup has also allowed me to clean up some things that could have been done better, such as recipe headnotes and photos. It’s also allowed me to add a bit more to my story, as my illness is now a part of my daily life, and it does affect everything I do, including cooking.
Some have suggested trying a different crowd funding site, but I think I’m officially jaded when it comes to those. Not only will there be several angry backers telling others that they shouldn’t back me, but I just don’t know if any of these crowd funding sites offer protection for the actual artist. Looking back, I realize that taking the money for himself would have been much harder for Joe to do if I’d been the only one allowed to control the funds to my own project. Lesson learned, for sure.
Even my mom has tried to help, God bless ‘er, despite her own extremely difficult situation. After learning what had happened with Joe and the Kickstarter funds, she took money out of her own very empty pocket to get my PGEW thank you cards as a Christmas present last December. Both of us are determined to make this work somehow.
Here’s the deal though, and I’m being completely, embarrassingly honest: right now I don’t have money for refunds right now, nor do I have money to print anything that even resembles a book. I make $10/hr at a part-time job and I’m barely staying alive over here. I was un- or under-employed for most of last year, so I the amount of debt I’m in because of that is even more than it was when I first started this blog. A double deposit at the new place has me strapped beyond belief, they already shut off my electricity and I had to have friends help me get it turned back on before this awful heatwave (more people to owe, yeehaw), my gas bill is next to go, and I haven’t qualified for food stamps in months so even food shopping has been a challenge. Not because I’ve lost my mojo, but because there’s just no money for food. Or for toilet paper, toothpaste – anything. Food shopping. A challenge. FOR ME! That’s when you know things are bad.
So now what?
This will not be the case forever (I hope). Advances being repaid and a couple extra writing gigs here & there should help to get me at least to sea level again, rather than completely submerged and drowning. The fact that I moved to a place where the rent isn’t as expensive will help to save some much needed money. While that doesn’t mean I get to print out and distribute a couple hundred books, it might mean I can start getting something done for those backers who do not wish to wait for the book. I’m not sure if anyone is still interested in the incentives that were going to go along with it (cookies, aprons, tote bags, etc.), but I’m bound & determined to get this book friggin’ printed and published already. Not just for my backers, but for everyone else who’s been looking forward to this. Including me!
So here’s what I’d like to do. I have set up an email address just for KS backers so that they can email me directly. That email address is pgewksupdates [at] gmail [dot] com. Because I can’t get into Kickstarter, Currently, I cannot access names or addresses for those who backed me, so I’m asking that you please send me that information. Please also state whether you’d like to wait for a book or for a refund. At this point, I’m only focusing on the book, not the incentives; those extra goodies are awesome, but the book is the most important thing to cover right now. And while I can’t produce a book or a refund immediately, at least I’ll have contact information and can keep people posted on what’s going on.
This is not a perfect solution, but it’s a start. I gave away control of my business once and I refuse to let that happen again. If I have to start from Square One, I’m doing it. I have a lot to offer, not just for all you recipe junkies, but for those who are in as dire straits as I am right now: the working poor who are trying to navigate a system for which they often don’t qualify; the single moms who aren’t sure how to stretch out those last few ingredients in their cupboards; the college students who are having to shop at food banks because grocery stores are too expensive. I can help these people, just as I am helping myself in spite of all my struggles, and I’m not about to let one jerk ruin that for me. My book may not happen the way I’d like it to, but it will happen and I know people will enjoy it. And believe me, there will be more books. I have a lot to say and a lot of recipes to share.
So, to my Kickstarter backers: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you don’t have the book we were all looking forward to, and I’m sorry that I was so bad at communicating with you about this. I’m normally not one to stay quiet about a lot of things (I’ve always been extremely honest & forthright about what happens in my life and my blog), but this was one situation I wasn’t sure I could get out of. I still don’t, but I can’t let this go on any further. I know some of you might not believe me, but I do hope you’ll at least be willing to keep an open mind. I will do everything I can to make things right for you, but I must ask for your continued patience. I have a chronic illness and can only work part-time, so this will affect the speed at which I can make things happen, unless I’m lucky enough to score those sponsorships.
To my close friends, family and other backers who have been so understanding and kind every time I’ve freaked out to you about this: thank you for being there and talking me off my ledge. Some of you are also backers who have not seen a book, tote bag, or cookies. While it kills me that I haven’t been able to deliver, I appreciate your patience and your understanding. And all the offers to kick Joe you-know-where.
And to Joe: I told you in my last few hundred emails that you were not only stealing from me and betraying me as a friend, but that you were ruining my career as an author before it even had the chance to start. I take that back. You might have stolen, you might have betrayed, you might have even had control of my business temporarily and led me to believe that I couldn’t do this without you; but you will never again do any of those things. I will not let you ruin me. I will publish my books and continue my career.