If anyone out there remembers watching Saturday Night Live back in the early ’90s, you have to remember the character Stuart Smalley played by super funny Al Franken.
For those of you who aren’t old enough to have seen the skits, so old you have forgotten there was a decade called the ’90s, or who go to bed early on Saturday nights, Stuart was sort of a life coach who had plenty of his own issues. Each skit he would tell himself, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Okay, Stuart had some serious things to work out, but you as a writer need to adopt his way of thinking and tell yourself you are good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, you don’t deserve to work for a pittance.
What Brought All This On…
Last week I checked into one of my LinkedIn writers’ groups and one person was asking if it seemed like a great offer to write for a company that expects a minimum of ten articles each day and only pays $3.25 for every 500 words. Ever seen those cartoons where the character’s jaw drops to the floor in shock? Yeah, that was me. So many things were racing through my head…one of them being, “Is this person joking or just stupid?” I could only respond with a very non-helpful “This is horrible pay.”
You’re Worth More Because I’m Worth More!
The sad thing is, too many writers do accept these horrible jobs for horrible pay and this completely devalues the work of writers. All writers. Believe me, even the worst writer who has a love affair with adverbs deserves more than $0.0065 cents per word. Stop and think…with the job mentioned above, if you wanted to make a $100 a day, you would have to crank out over 15,000 words…and have them all accepted.
When writers accept terrible pay rates, this perpetuates the idea that writing is easy, that we can just sit down and whip out article after article without a second thought. No, writing isn’t constructing skyscrapers or performing brain surgery, and it can be fun career at times, but it’s not easy and I refuse to do it for next to nothing.
These types of jobs abound on craigslist, elance.com, and other freelance job sites. The crazy thing is people continue to accept them and this only encourages these companies to offer crap wages. It also further devalues the worth of writers’ efforts and encourages other folks offering writing jobs on these sites to not want to pay more than a few dollars for several hours of work — which is why I’ve pretty much given up on these site when trying to find writing gigs. C’mon, you really think that ghostwriting job that expects a 50,000-word book, gives you no credit, and will only pay $250 is worth your time? Well, then I have some oceanfront property in Nebraska you might want to buy.
But I Need Writing Credits
I know it’s tempting when starting out to consider these jobs in the hope that they will bulk up your CV. Don’t! Any editor or agent or other writing professional will not see you as an experienced or serious writer if you have this sort of thing on your resume. They may even pass you by with credits that these jobs give you.
And Then There’s The Books
Another area of contention when it comes to valuing your work and bringing in that Stuart Smalley attitude is when pricing your books. Print books are fairly easy to price — you need to set them a bit higher than the printing costs so you can make a profit. However, the problem comes when writers put out their e-books and set the price at 99 cents (or less) and never raise it. Yes, 99 cents is a terrific promo price for a book, a fair price for a short story, or a great way to get people into a series (price Book 1 at 99 cents and suck readers into the rest of the books).
What 99 cents is not is a fair price for your work. No, I don’t think e-books should cost as much as a print book. They shouldn’t even be priced close to a print book. There’s no printing charge, there’s no shipping charge, and there’s no resale value (although this last one may be changing). So publishers who price an e-book for $1 less than the print book, well, you’re just being greedy, but self-publishers pricing their hard work for only a buck or two, well, you’re devaluing yourself.
And, like those people who accept the pittance wage for articles, you’re also perpetuating the idea that writing is easy and that e-books should all be less than the price of a Taco Bell burrito. This makes it increasingly hard for writers to price their book for what its worth, or at least enough to see the same profit they would from a print book.
I know it’s tempting. You think, “People don’t want to take a risk spending money on my book, so I’ll make it cheap for them.” You know what I think when I see an e-book for 99 cents? You get what you pay for. Unless it’s a promo, I figure the writer doesn’t have enough confidence in his or her writing to charge a decent price…and maybe that lack of confidence is well-founded. And then you know what happens, I don’t even bother wasting my 99 cents on the writer.
You’re Worth More Than a Burrito
What’s the magic number you should price your books at? Some of it depends on the book’s length (a few of my books are very short, so they are priced accordingly), but ultimately, pricing is up to you. Yes, that’s the sort of non-advice Stuart Smalley would give.
Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t offer a bargain on your books now and then. But Smashwords ran a short study last year to find out at what price e-books sell best at. You know what they found? It wasn’t the 99-centers making all the sales. It was books priced between $2.99 and $4.99.
Think about it, if you saw coffee shop after coffee shop offering espresso shots for $1, you might wonder why that one coffee shop on the corner is selling their espresso for $3 a shot. Or, you may just find out that that $3 shop is offering something much better and of higher quality and then you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with that $1 espresso.
So, self-publishers, is your book worth more than a Taco Bell burrito? Do you want the world to value the work of writers? Then stop with the bargain basement pricing. See your writing as good enough, smart enough and, doggone it, something people will like even if it costs them a little more, and your readers will too.