Tea Time

by wjw on July 22, 2013

British author Guy Walters recently had what (for me) would be an incredibly successful signing, in which he spoke to 800 people and sold no less than sixty hardback books!  And then he added up his expenses (driving 250 miles and spending two nights away from home), considered his compensation (a few gift bottles of wine, some royalties which, if paid at all, would be delayed for years) and realized the whole business had cost him money.

Over the past five years, every writer I know has been told by their agent to ‘monetise the activity around their writing’. Give talks. Go to conventions. Judge prizes. Write reviews. Write articles. Go on telly. Go on radio. Go on Twitter. Build your brand.

The problem with all these activities is that nobody actually wants to pay you to do them. Instead, you are given vague assertions that it will be good for sales, good for your profile, and if you do all these things, then my son, there will be jam for tea.

Well, I’m now 41, have written 10 books over 12 years, and for me it’s tea time. The kettle has come to the boil, the Crown Derby is laid out, the bread is sliced and I need the jam right now. In short, I want to be paid for what I do.

 Yeah well, good luck with that.  Alone of all the respectable professions on the planet, authors are expected to do what they do for free . . . or, at best, for good will.

In any other profession or trade, asking for money is not such a strange thing, is it? Next time you get a lawyer to drive 250 miles and then speak to you for an hour, try paying him with a few bottles of Spanish dry white and see what he says.

Perhaps lawyers are a bad comparison. How about comedians? After all, they drive around giving talks, some of which are amusing. I asked Al Murray, the legendary Pub Landlord, what he charges. The answer made me feel a bit funny myself. It’s 70 per cent of the door. Had I charged that at Hay, I would have made £3,920. No wonder comedians are so rich.

Of course, people are willing to pay to see a comedian.  How many will pay good currency to see an author?

Now as it happens, I have been paid some nice money to give talks, but they weren’t literary talks, they had to do with a little consulting thing I do on the side.  I’ve been paid a few hundred bucks to appear here and there as an author, and rather more than that to teach, but I’m not sure if I wouldn’t have made more staying home and attending to my main job, which is writing.

I know well ahead of time that my public appearances will lose me money.  I do signings more as a favor to my readers and to friends than out of any expectation of eventual reward.  If I attend a science fiction convention, it’s because I enjoy attending conventions, seeing my friends, and bloviating on panels, not because I’m unaware that I’m losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars every time I fly somewhere.

(Authors at conventions, by the way, are generally compensated by way of free memberships.  Unless you’re the guest of honor, in which case you get more freebies.)

I am entertained by conventions, and I’m willing to pay for my entertainment.

How many people are willing to pay to be entertained by a personal appearance from me is a depressing subject I’d rather not contemplate.


TRX July 22, 2013 at 12:09 pm

>How many will pay good currency to see an author?

Authors may be like politics and sausage. For some reason, a large percentage of the books I’ve liked were written be people who, not to put too fine a point on it, are jerks.

There’s plenty of competition for the customer’s money and time. Ill-considered pontificating may satisfy some inner urge, but telling potential customers you don’t like their politics, country, region, religion, sexual orientation, or stance on various hot-button issues isn’t a useful way to get them to buy your books.

Ralf The Dog. July 23, 2013 at 2:36 am

From the perspective of a business owner, the things you describe, I would call promotion. I generally am required to pay money for such things. If you get to do it for free, I would say, you are coming out ahead.

One other thing I have learned as a business owner, advertising almost never pays back what you put into it. Advertising tends to be, banging your head against the wall, in the hopes, the next time, it will feel good.

K. Rowe July 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Yeah, I know about doing all sorts of stuff for free. I’m a 100 percent Indie author. I’ve driven over an hour to do a book signing in which I didn’t even sell a book. I’ve given copies to my local library to try and garner some fans in the area. And I’ve freely given advice to other authors (which took up some of my own precious time) to help them get published. 8 novels later and I’m finally starting to break even with the expenses of paying my copy editor and some cover art. Maybe in another few years I’ll start getting ahead. Nope, this job isn’t for the fain of heart. Enjoy your tea!

wjw July 24, 2013 at 3:03 am

Ralf, I wouldn’t mind doing promotion if anyone could tell me what promotion is effective and what isn’t.

I do signings, but it’s the same people turning up time after time. They’re people who =already= read my books.

I do readings, but it’s the same thing— the same faces time after time.

The best thing I can do, I guess, is to become a celebrity of some sort. Next life, I’ll become famous =first,= then begin a writing career.

(Note to self: “become famous.”)

DensityDuck July 24, 2013 at 6:36 am

The intent is not to get sales from a specific appearance.

The intent is to get potential thieves to see you as a real person so they don’t steal your shit.

It’s quite easy to steal some guy’s creative work when you don’t know who he is. Because he’s not a real person, right? If he were a real person you’d have met him, talked to him, told him about yourself.

And you can’t steal from a real person. Why, that would be hurting someone, someone you know.

Jerel August 5, 2013 at 10:55 pm

The seemingly futile nature of all of these promotional activities makes me wonder if these things have *ever* actually been directly profitable? “Building your brand” as the marketers call it has to be for the long game. It’s keeping your name in the public eye. It’s like a business that takes out an ad in the local paper. If you run one single ad, somebody may notice, and call you, but most likely not. But if the ad is in there every single issue, it lets people know you’re active and current, and one of the times they notice it, they will need/want what you have to offer and come calling. Keeping your name alive within your target community is the goal. Now, knowing what is the most effective way to promote what you’re offering… therein lies the rub! I would say if you want to expand the number of new faces you see, dramatically change your venue. Set up a table at the mall, outside of a store, where everyone is walking. Or offer to speak at a tech company’s event, and talk about sci-fi and its influence, or … something. And truly, from the bottom of my heart, I wish you all the luck in the world. I show I value your work in the only way I can: by buying your books. I was lucky enough to have discovered Hardwired at a bookstore when it came out in 1986, and made me a long-time fan of your work. Keep them coming!

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