The Cookie Story
This will be a long blog post, so grab a drink. Maybe a snack. Some of you may have read on my social media that I lost my corporate job last Friday. It didn’t come as a complete surprise but definitely hoped I’d have longer to be there. It paid really well. The most I’ve ever been paid. Twice as much as two jobs combined in my past. Yes, they are giving a decent severance. Yes, I’ll file for unemployment. I’ve already checked into self-pay insurance to cover my meds for my diseases. But here’s the most crucial thing beyond losing an income.
It also paid for my book and author business. Now, you’re wondering if I can call it a business. If you’re not a creative, it’s sometimes a hard concept to grasp. So, I thought, as I often do, use a parable. A fable if you will to, make it easier to understand. So…
Welcome to my Cookie Shop.
For story elements, we’ll name it The Twisted Cookie Shop (not a real place I know of, but I’m sure there is one out there. This virtual, figurative, imaginary one is mine).
I’ve always loved cookies. Eating them. Frosting them. Decorating them. I’m sure it contributed to my fat kid childhood. Anyway. As I grew up, I thought what better than to sell cookies. Make the best, most unique cookies in my world. To share them with others that love cookies. I didn’t want to just make normal sugar cookies or snickerdoodles. Not to mention every time I tried, they didn’t turn out right. They weren’t a twisted recipe.
I focused all my efforts on making MY kind of cookies. But doing that, one has to have flour, sugar, vanilla and other ingredients. None of which are free. But I had high hopes. I knew my cookies were good. I worked so hard on them. And then I had tasters that tested and let me know—this one sucks. Or this one is great. And this would be awesome if you just did this. And I listened. That insight was bakery gold. And in exchange, those people got free cookies. But…that’s not going to buy my supplies. Or keep the bakery lights on.
I needed customers in the door. More people needed to know about my Twisted Cookies.
So… once I KNEW I had a quality product. I’d spent so much money on the supplies. On the packaging, I started handing them out at the door of my bakery. Free cookies and samples to anyone and everyone whose attention I could grab. They loved it. They told a few friends. They too came for a free cookie. Some even came inside and looked around. But left. Others bought a cookie! THEY PAID FOR ONE OF MY COOKIES!? Can you imagine my excitement? And when they bought a dozen. I cried. Happy, joyful tears. Because someone else would now find the same joy I had when eating what I believed was one of the best cookies I could make. Maybe they’d buy more? God, the anxiousness of checking my register everyday was stressful. So was biting my nails as they checked out the baked goods on my shelves. Whispering to myself the whole time desperately, “Please buy a cookie. Please love my cookies. Please come again and buy more. Please tell your friends.”
Most days I’d flip the sign on the door to closed. And knew tomorrow I needed to make more sales. Because I was out of flour. Or the next day, sugar. Or next month the electric bill was due.
Knowing my cookies couldn’t pay for their own supplies, I worked a second job. It paid the bills. It got the groceries. And it kept my bakery open. It was as necessary as the supplies to make the cookies. One took care of the other. Exhaustion became my constant state—working all day. Making cookies all night. Trying to sell them around all of that. Praying someone, a lot of someones or someone very important would discover my cookies. Others were singing the praises of some cookies out there. Lining up at their bakery doors anticipating a new cookie recipe to be released. I walked past those bakeries on the way to mine. No lines waited there.
I didn’t have the budget for the flashing neon sign. The snazzy social media gurus. The big ads on billboards. The side of buses (Yes, I have a very broad imagination… don’t judge). But I also loved their cookies. Tasted them. Respected them and some I even looked up to with complete, awkward admiration. They were making it. Their cookies were out there. Were they better than my cookies? No. Just different. Did they have some gold dust in their recipes? No. Same ingredients, different way of baking. But all good. And I believed if some of those of people in those lines just wandered down the block to the plain, simple shop with no flashy neon and no lines, they might find a new cookie to love. A different taste not even known, but now craved.
Winter. Summer. Spring. Fall. Night and day. I worked and toiled. Job to keep the lights on in the bakery. Passion to make the best damn cookies I could.
It is frustrating to pour everything you have into something you love. The thing about loving something alone is it tends to be your sole focus. It’s all you have. It’s something you have to cherish because just as it’s your only thing, you too are all it has. But you wanted to share it. You felt like if you did, that love would grow. Then you could make more of it. Spread it out. Share the joy. And take off some of the pressure to maintain it… because love grows when more feed it. You don’t give up. You keep standing in the door of your bakery, handing out free samples, hoping you’ll have enough sales to maybe buy one of those flashing neon signs. One day. Then maybe a billboard. One day. Or the side of a bus. How amazing would that be? Others have done it… you’re just as good as they are.
Just work harder.
So you do. You owe it to all that passion you put in your recipes. To make all that expense for the eye-catching boxes and energy spent making it different worth it.
But then, you lose the moneymaker.
And the cookies and the bakery are all you have. The only income. That’s it. If you thought your desperation of hoping, praying and mentally begging for sales was overwhelming and crippling before? No… now it’s making you lose sleep. Making you refresh a dozen times a day – sometimes an hour – on your sales graphs. No sales? Why? Look! These are AMAZING cookies! See this beautiful box they come in? Please, please… PLEASE take a bite. You’ll see.
But you can’t keep giving them away for free. You just can’t. Your flour and sugar are running low. Even if you wanted to stay up all night and bake more and more, you can’t. Because your supplies cost money. And you need cookies to make that.
You never got to get that neon sign. Nor the rest. So, you sit in your bakery and know your cookies are going to get stale if no one buys them. You stand on the sidewalk, and you yell “COOKIES HERE! I HAVE THEM TOO! THEY ARE SO GOOD! I PROMISE! JUST TRY BUYING ONE COOKIE! SEE! I DISCOUNTED THIS ONE FOR YOU TRY!” And no one stops. Because they’re drawn to that neon sign down the block. And you’re just not sure what to do.
So, you cry.
You sit on the curb in front of the one dream that fed your soul. To just bake cookies people would love. And you know, tomorrow, you’ll have no flour. Next week the electricity bill is due. The cookies on your shelf, the beautiful, amazing unique recipes that some people love… but not enough to keep the lights on… are going to go bad. You’ll have to throw them away. You’ll sob while you do it. Maybe donate them to some charity only to know you might be crushed when you see they just tossed them anyway. After all, they’ve never heard of your bakery. They only know the flashy one down the street.
This… is how dreams die. And yes, some should die.
But when you know all it takes is someone, just one person, to notice that hey, there’s a dream here. There’s someone’s livelihood here. There’s someone that worked so hard on that dream here.
If only… they would have taken a bite.
A dream could have been saved.
Now, you’re going to ask, if you’ve read this far, if I’m giving up writing. I don’t think I can, to be perfectly honest. I’ve always written stories. Even as a child in a rough childhood. It provided then what it does now. An escape. But I can’t keep doing it for free. I have to work smart and harder. Make more money at what I KNOW I’m meant to do. Those who have given my “cookies” a chance, love them. The reviews for my books in the hundreds prove readers love my twisted, different stories. Yes, I’ve tried to write to market. I can’t do it. I applaud other authors who do.
Since losing my job last week, I did as I’ve always done. Forecast my budget. Stretch things out and make them last. But the priorities must be shifted. Bills – electricity, water, house payment, car note—come first as they should. And trust me, I’ve lived very frugally for a while. I thank my being homeless and living in my vehicle so long ago for that. I can live on a very lean budget—I was a single parent with three kids making minimum wage. Boy, do I know how to pinch a penny until it screams. I have avenues to make money doing contract work. Maybe I’ll open Ink-N-Flow back up to help authors with their project management. I’ve even begun getting my Real Estate license. I’ll make it. I always do. There’s a reason I have Survivor tattooed on my arm. And it’s not just for being a domestic violence survivor. It’s my nature to survive. No matter what.
I’ve started over three times in my life. Possibly more. But three huge times that I remember. Gave up my dreams. A farm. Horses. A place I loved. Friends.
I REFUSE to do that again. I will NOT lose my home. Not again. I will not move away from an area that I’ve come to feel at home in. Finally, my vagabond spirit has settled. Or maybe it’s just I’m getting old. Who knows… but I will not do it again.
Which means… books drop on the list. AND I HATE THAT. It kills part of my soul. I’ve put SO much into them. I’ve paid people literally thousands of dollars to make my books the best they can be. And I have an amazing hardcore Team Ward that helps. And my hardcore readers? Oh my god… they are incredible. Without them? I don’t think I would have published a single short story, much less books.
But I have to keep the lights on. I have to be able to pay for my medications that are literally keeping me from having a nurse in my home. Being on disability. Or worse, having to move into assisted living if I don’t take care of myself.
I still believe that if enough people give me and my books a chance, I can keep my dream alive. I can keep the proverbial light on in the writing cave. But I have far less money now. And that’s so scary. That I can’t get my neon, bus or billboard. And yes, I’ve done all the moves. I’ve paid for all the exposure. But it’s hard when you have a bigger, broader and flasher “bakery” right over there. It doesn’t mean my goods are less or not as good as others. They just aren’t getting seen. And without money to keep me from having to stand on the curb and yell in order to get attention, they won’t be. I know that.
But I’m going to keep trying.
Because the things with dreams are this…
They don’t have to be big to make you feel whole.
They just need you to believe in them.
And maybe… just maybe… someone else will see that little bakery on the street… and believe it too.