Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Filler: Do you ask for what you're worth?

This last week I have been busily working on a document I have to produce for work. The deadline was yesterday, and I made it, but that's not really the point.

Along the way, my boss and I set up a breakfast meeting to talk to a graphic designer who would produce a schematic for the document. I got to the meeting early and had a chance to chat with her before we officially started. She works freelance, and she was telling me that she had a bad habit of working cheap because the non-profits she likes to help rarely have enough money. I got this just a few days after I was at a pool party and a friend told me she's great at helping other people negotiate, but she isn't so good at negotiating for herself.

I thought about how this might apply to our writing. After all, eventually, money does exchange hands eventually. I'd gotten paid (not much) for a few of my short stories. I've won some prize money. I've also had to put a price on my self-published collection, and that price has fluctuated a lot. I started it with the print version at $7.99 and the e-book at $4.99. Currently, the prices are $5.99 and $0.99. The changes haven't had so much to do with marketing as they do with my own self-esteem and sense of charity. For some of you, you may also face advances and the negotiations that deal with that.

So, I'm curious, how do you value your work? If you were to self-publish your last completed story, how much would you price it for? If you were to be offered an advance, is there any number you'd turn down?

Okay, I know money isn't everything. But it's something. And it's Friday! (So feel free to talk about upcoming meals and dreams and children's birthday parties and the such.)


  1. Interesting. Although I'm not seeking money for any of my work (really), I would turn down an insulting amount. I have no idea what the number is; probably what everyone else charges. On the other hand, I'd be thrilled to give anyone that asked a free copy.

  2. Money has weird powers, and commerce has nothing to do with art if your art is something you do (or would do) whether you got paid for it or not. Hey, that's a deep and original thought!

    I don't know. Since I have a pretty good day job, I'd do a book deal with no advance if I knew the book would get in front of readers. I don't know how my agent would feel about that, though! I love my agent, so I want to get a big advance so she can pay her rent and buy food.

    What is art worth? What is an artist's time worth? Nobody knows, not even the artist. Very likely I'll always be overpaid at the office and underpaid in the garret. I'll keep writing anyway.

    But I think the philosophical detective book I'm revising might=$$.

  3. For me, it's easier to value my worth as an attorney than a writer. Maybe that's because attorneys are more fungible than writers, and it's easier to know what the market will permit. Or maybe the degree/training fosters more confidence. Probably both.

    More importantly, I'm here to report that the Vegetable Wellington was lame. Nearly inedible. Maybe three mushrooms, total. The rest of the innards looked like something you could purchase in a frozen bag at the grocery store.

  4. j.a.: That stinks! So often the vegetarian option at catered meals is something nobody would ever cook for herself. "Here, have something bland and inedible." Why is that?

  5. Charlie, I've been happy to give away free copies too. The hardest part has been doing it in a timely manner since I never seem to force myself to go to the post office. I end up waiting for the mood to strike me, and it so rarely does.

    Scott: $$$$$$, and furthermore, $$$. Money does have weird powers. I feel like I've been thrown into a whole new world at work, and sometimes it's cool and sometimes I feel a little dirty.

    j a zobair, I'm finding that it's easier to value my technical writing time too. It doesn't seem right. I'm brain wrestling with myself. Sorry the vegetable wellington was lame! After you and Scott talked about it last time, I admit all sorts of tasty veg versions were running through my head. Maybe I should become a vegetarian wedding caterer?

  6. I give away a lot of free copies of my books. Not more than I sell, but still a lot. I haven't made a dime, really, on any of my work. I haven't broken even on anything. Mostly I just see myself paying for more things than making money off them. I don't care. Art is art and I don't do it for the money. However, there will be a point that I'd have to ask myself if all this marketing and networking is worth what I'm making. I think at that point, if it wasn't worth it, I'd step away and mostly write for myself.

    I can honestly say I don't write for money since I signed a contract for my books with $0 advance. I'm in this for the slow, long haul. One day it will all even out, and if not, I'll still be happy. :)

  7. Beautiful sentiment Michelle, I agree. We all would like to make some crazy cash, but if not, we'll still be happy!!!!

  8. I am terrible at 'selling myself'..So much so that my advisor once commented that I " couldn't sell a cadillac to a beggar for a dollar" because I was playing the devil's advocate while talking about my results..

    I know this isn't directly related to measuring the value of your work in money but fits in with the larger theme of underselling yourself..:)


  9. Michelle, I think you have my writer's zen at the moment. I've been looking all over for mine.

    Lavanya, There's someone in my lab with the same habit. I think she associates it with this idea of being honest, but of course they're not the same thing. I hope you're able to see your strong points!

  10. I didn't mean to. It just ended up over here. Maybe it has a life of its own.

  11. Okay, I think that qualifies as zen. Now I have to get it back without wanting it back and without caring if I get it back or not. :P

  12. I haven't gotten my first self-published book up for sale in paperback yet, but I'll try to price it as low as possible. My e-book is priced a 99¢.
    If I were famous and had a larger audience, I'd probably charge a bit more. But, the fact is, the only audience I can guarantee I'll reach at this point is made up of my own students -- and I do not teach in a wealthy area. I can either price my books for what I think they're worth or what might actually sell -- and I'd rather sell a few books than none at all, so I'll choose low prices.

  13. My wife introduced me to an expression a few years ago. I’d heard it before but she took me by the lapels and made me understand it: What the market will bear. Worth is not the issue and even cost is only a factor. On the surface it’s foolhardy to sell books for less than cost and even e-books have a cost in time and effort (assuming you’ve not paid for editing or cover design which many will have). Writers want to be read and at the moment readers can get their hands on lots and lots of books for pennies or even free and so once they see books for $1.99 or $2.99 or more they start to swither before spending those pennies. If they are satisfied with rubbish then there will be a never-ending supply of books for 99¢ to last them until they die and if they run across the odd gem then all the better. Shops like Poundland sell a lot of poor quality merchandise but you can always pick up a bargain or two as well. An unknown author may well be the next Proust but most people will judge him on his choice of title, his cover illustration and his ability to write a decent blurb. (Seriously, how much research are you going to do before forking out 99¢?)

    It helps to have more than one product for sale. At the moment I have two books available as e-books, the first is available for 99¢ but if you want to read the sequel then you’ll need to cough up a whopping great $1.99. In a few months there will be another book and although it may well have its sale period, not that I see that sales make any great impact, it will also cost $1.99 because I think that is the price the market will bear. Poundland are also in business, and doing very well, because they’re content with small profits on mass sales. I think my novels would be fairly priced at $3.99 and they would still sell but if I could attract enough people to pay just 99¢ then that would work out better in the long run: more money but, more importantly, more readers who might be willing to shell out $1.99 the next time.

    Who knows?

  14. Once upon a time I was in sales. I did a lot of cold calling and I think I made that company a lot of money and while we could be flexible on price, but there was a limit. I think the key is remaining flexible but not selling yourself short.


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