Friday, February 12, 2010

Selling Yourself Short

On Wednesday, I read a post on Rachelle Gardner's blog about separating one's writing life from his or her financial life. In it, she argues that when writers put their pens to paper with only dollar signs in their eyes, their work suffers. I have to say I agree with this. Thought of being the next James Patterson or Stephen King are often delusional, and chances are you won't write the next Twilight either. Those types of trends are often completely random, so if you trap yourself in the mindset that whatever you're about to write will be "the next big thing," you'll end up driving yourself crazy. Or worse - into a writer's block.

Now, I don't mean to sound like Carrie Bradshaw here, but as I thought more about the relationship between writing and money, I couldn't help but wonder - do writing goals and financial goals need to be mutually exclusive? If you're a writer, your number one goal should be producing work that you love and are proud of. Writing is personal and therapeutic and people do it because they need to. Like any art, the best writing comes from the passion behind it.

But writers also shouldn't be ashamed to expect adequate compensation for the many hours they put into their work. It's not selling out and it doesn't make you shallow. If you're at the point of querying agents, chances are you are trying to turn "what you love" into a viable career option. And really, isn't that what everyone wants?

I'm not going to sugar-coat the state of the industry. Unless you already are James Patterson or Stephen King, you will most likely not become a millionaire with your first six book deals, let alone your first one. Even when we're not in/recovering from a recession, that probably wont happen. Sorry.

That doesn't mean setting financial goals for your writing career is unrealistic. Once the scary querying stage is over, knowing you're being artistically recognized and monetarily compensated can be a great motivator. Don't be afraid to know your worth. Selling yourself short puts you at risk of working for way less than you deserve, and then nobody wins.

I am in no way suggesting you scream at your agents every time they come back to you with an offer. (Let me repeat: PLEASE DO NOT YELL AT YOUR AGENTS!) I am simply saying that you should choose an agent who you know will fight for you, agents you can trust to get the most they can for the work you've produced.

The sayings "don't quit your day job" and "starving artists" apply, especially, to writers and they exist for a reason. It's hard to turn your passions into your job when the competition is already high and the chances of slipping a measly query letter through a slush pile are exceptionally low. That doesn't mean it's impossible. All it takes is for someone to believe in your work the way you believe in it.

And so I leave you for this LOVE-ly weekend (get it?) with one more affirmation, because if anyone knows what it means to get what they deserve, it's these awesome ladies! (Warning: this song will stay in your head until President's Day, but it is so worth it.) 

2 comments:

  1. What you have to consider is--would most writers be more or less productive if they didn't need money. I don't mean happy. I mean productive. It's an complicated problem. The other issue not mentioned here is journalism. You can keep your art high minded, but end up writing profiles of Mariah Carey and Sharon Stone, and trying to make them good because after all, you are a writer.
    --mr. b

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  2. Interesting question. I'd like to think that authors would be just as productive if they didn't need money because they'd still be doing something they enjoy.

    Maybe some journalists or freelancers can share some opinions on the "integrity in a puff piece" topic? Has anyone experienced something like that before?

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