I’ve begun to write this about five times, and each time, I’ve quit. It didn’t feel right. But today, an odd juxtaposition of events made me think that maybe it’s time.
This is brutal honesty here, folks. This isn’t woe-is-me angst, nor is it a complaint or whining or begging for sales. It’s simply a state of the union post–the union between author and readers, and the union between all of us in this world.
I’m an author. I’ve been published for five and a half years. I have over fifty books in my backlist. I work hard. This is my only paid job, and I take it seriously.
I release between 6-8 books each year, sometimes more, sometimes less. This year, I’ve released eleven already, with at least three more new material-books planned as well as several additional box sets.
I love my readers. Oh, you have no idea! I adore them. They make me laugh, make me cry with happiness; they boost me up when I’m at the end of my rope, and they come see me when I travel. I couldn’t do this without them.
Like many other authors, I’ve been experiencing a trouble drop in sales over the past seven or eight months. Now, don’t get me wrong. I never was among the top-list six-figures-a-year earners, but I used to do all right. More recently, the harder I work, the less I earn.
It’s okay, because I love what I do. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone . . . but I’d do it for free.
I just don’t think I should have to do it for free.
Out there in the larger world, there are apparently a few misconceptions about how much most authors earn and the so-called glamour of our lifestyle. Over the last few weeks, I realized just how widespread that misunderstanding is.
A few weeks ago, I received a flurry of emails from people who had signed up for my newsletter. I have in place an automation system, as do many authors; readers who subscribe are offered four of my first-in-series books free, as a thank you. Now of course, I hope they will want to read the rest of the books in those series! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
The emails I received, though, were from readers who were unhappy with this situation. Several told me that they were displeased with the provider I use for the freebies. Others wanted the other books free. A couple told me they’d already read one of the freebies and demanded that they receive another book in its place.
When I responded to one, explaining that there wasn’t much I could do if the freebie provider didn’t work for her, the answer floored me. She said berated me for being a selfish author, saying, “It’s just an ebook. It didn’t cost you anything to write it. With what you’re charging, you can afford to give these away.”
Of course, there’s a lot wrong with what she said. It did cost me something to write that book. It took me many hours of my own time. Factor in proofreading, formatting and cover art, and an ebook isn’t exactly free. Consider things like promotion and publicity. Now, I’m fortunate that I can swap for some of those services and that my formatter is amazing and kind, but still . . . the effort that goes into any book isn’t free.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time that I’ve received messages or emails like this. But this time, I got a bunch, and then . . .
All of that was on my mind when something else happened. In fact, it happened more than once in a relatively short span of time. My husband is in ministry, and just now, he is without paid employment after the church where he’d been a priest eliminated his position in January of this year. (That’s a longer story, and if you want to know about it, check out the faith blog I’m part of, A Pen and A Prayer.)
We’ve been tremendously blessed by so many during this difficult time. I am filled with gratitude. But within the last few weeks, I realized that some people had a misconception about how we’re doing. Those who are close to us know the score, but some a little farther removed reacted with surprise when my husband confessed that we’re struggling financially. Apparently, they assumed that as an author, I was raking in the big bucks. They figured that with my job, it was okay that Father Clint wasn’t earning anything. Maybe they’ve read about the big advances authors used to receive, or maybe they have no idea what it means to be an indie author. Maybe they figured all authors are millionaires.
Um . . . no.
I’ve spoken about this situation with friends in other professions. Clearly it is not a misconception limited to the arts–and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it, too.
Not all doctors are rolling in the dough.
Not all attorneys are filthy rich.
Not all athletes are pulling in seven figures.
And not all authors are leading the glamorous life. <cue Sheila E.>
So what’s the point of this rambling post? I guess it’s multi-pointed.
First, please don’t de-value any artists’ work by asking that it be given to you free. If it is offered that way, great! Take it with thanks. I love to share books with the loyal readers who support me and enjoy my work. I have no problem doing that. But never assume that an artist can afford to give it away, and please don’t belittle us for expecting some kind of compensation for our chosen profession.
Second, never assume that you know anyone’s situation. The author signing books at your favorite event may be eating ramen noodles for a month to afford the table at that signing. The family next door whom you assume is just fine might be barely scraping by in reality. More people than we know are a missed paycheck away from serious problems. Maybe you’re one of us, too. That doesn’t give either of us the right to make assumptions about others. Let’s agree we won’t do that.
Instead, let’s go around each day, relating to each other while holding onto to the premise that no one’s life is perfect, that we’re all dealing with crap on one level or another, and that by offering understanding instead of judgement, we just might make this world a nicer place.
And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.