Turning Whine Into Gold
The euphoria and self-respect of finally being paid for years of hard work will still be fresh on a debut author’s face when requests for her generosity will start to pour in. Never mind that the math may work out to less than a penny per hour invested. Once you are a published author, people will assume you are rich.
You too might now believe your life is rich—with meaning—even while struggling beneath the weight of marketing costs you hadn’t planned for, such as graphic design or video services, travel for a book tour, or an independent publicist.
I like to believe that being a published author is not simply a hobby for the independently wealthy, but I’ve seen financial ruin (sometimes stated as “quitting the day job too soon”) cited as the #1 reason authors leave the industry. They simply can’t afford to keep on.
If you fail to set clear boundaries about what you are willing to give away from the start, you could become one of them.
This issue is confusing because we want any chance to get our book out into the world— even if we are still struggling to survive while launching our careers. We want to be charitable; we are humanitarians who are sensitive to those in need. We want to use the platform that publication confers to make a difference. Yet in doing so we can forget that “tax deductible” does not equal “free.”
When such requests catch us off-guard, we are liable to whine, "Why do people keep asking me for more free stuff?"
Analyze your career goals and set reasonable boundaries
The only way we can negotiate this potentially emotional minefield is to draw firm boundaries ahead of time, so that saying no is a quiet defense rather than a reactionary blowout. We can start by deciding in advance:
Have you ever thought in terms of budgeting your generosity? If you have limited resources, doing so can help you stay positive about your career. Here are a few suggestions about how to handle requests.
1. Will you donate books?
Consider purchasing a stash of books that represents what you can afford to give away each year. This physical representation of your budget will help you weigh decisions about its use.
If this is a charitable cause, is it relevant to your subject matter? If a giveaway, will it substantially increase exposure for your book? If your publication and marketing goals are supported, go ahead and send the books—out of the stack you have set aside for this purpose.
Once those books are gone for the year, your answer is a clear and easy “not this time.” If this sounds miserly, remember that early career growth is crucial to allowing more charity in the future.
2. Will you speak to our group for free?
I adore public speaking, so I’m a sucker for this one. My novels allow me a platform to talk about subjects that are important to me and have the potential to impact lives. But I have learned to say no.
Most lecture series and writers’ groups have a budget for such presentations, and I expect fair compensation. I do want to support libraries with free programming when I can, but it can’t cost me. I always ask for a modest honorarium to cover time and travel. No one has ever yet said no. For underfunded groups you can always weigh the exposure and the likelihood of selling a decent number of books against the cost of speaking for free.
3. Will you send our book club signed bookmarks?
Would I rather you had allowed me to offer them out of the goodness of my heart? Yes, but I’m not going to refuse the request. Of course I’ll send them. That’s one reason I had them made.
4. Will you write a series on our blog for free?
(Coincidentally, that one rang in while I was writing this post.) It takes me at least a half-day to write a cogent, polished blog post. Or, I could draft 2K words on my work-in-progress. You must convince me the exposure is worth it.
There is no one “right” answer to any of these requests. But it is the authors who have a clear vision for the distribution of their book income who will make the most difference with it, and who will not be thrown into a defensive stance when time after time they are asked for another donation.
Aspiring writers: Have you thought about this aspect of your author career yet, and can you see the benefits of giving it advance thought?
Authors: Where are your boundaries? What requests do you think are unreasonable?
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Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.
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