Monday, September 19, 2005

How Much Is Your Career Worth?

I met an author at BookExpo who was all upset because her publisher had been sitting on her manuscript for more than a year and wouldn't give her a pub date or tell her what was going on. Should she bail, self-publish, or what? I told her that I'm a consultant and gave her my card. She called a few days later, wanting my advice. I told her that I charge $75 an hour. "Seventy-five dollars! Ohhh, I don't know..." Then I told her that I offer a free 15-minute initial consultation. That was fine by her. When would she like to schedule an appointment? The next morning, "but it has to be early because I'm going into New York to have lunch and see The Producers."

Which got me thinking...

How much is your career worth?

You spend $1000+ on a computer & printer; hundreds more on a sturdy desk & ergonomic chair, stationery (gotta have nice paper to send out agent queries!), business cards, postage, toner, internet service, computer programs, etc. All those are considered as the cost of doing business in the 21st century.

But what about the other stuff?

1) Do you belong to the Authors Guild?
If you earn less than $20K a year from your writing, dues are only $90 a year. That's $7.50 a month -- the price of a breakfast special (if you don't leave a big tip). And it's tax-deductible as a professional expense. For that you get free legal advice on contracts, a free web page and the AG's excellent quarterly bulletin, which always has useful information (an article on FOIA requests and the write-up of the January symposium on publicity were alone worth this year's dues), plus other perks.

2) Do you belong to other writers' organizations?
Examples: Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, National Book Critics Circle, American Society of Journalists & Authors, press clubs, etc. They are invaluable for making connections (and friends even!), learning the tools of the trade and publicizing your work. Also tax-deductible.

3) Do you subscribe to Publishers Marketplace?
It's only $20 a month (one latte & a cookie per week), for which you get a daily email news digest & weekly book deal digest, plus access to the stupendous database of book deals, agents, book reviews, job board, rights postings, etc. Again, tax-deductible.

3) Do you pay for professional advice and assistance?
Confused about how to deal with your publisher, agent, editor, or publicist? There's only so much help you're going to get from friends and family. ("I hate it when writers talk to their friends," an agent recently confided to me. "They have no idea how the book business works.") Pay for knowledgeable advice, even if it isn't from me (though of course I'd prefer it were). What's the price of an hour or two with a consultant when your publishing career is at stake?

You want an opinion on your just-completed Great American Novel before you send it out to agents? Leave your friends, family & fellow writers alone, and find a freelance editor or manuscript doctor. An author I recently consulted with, whose first book is coming out in January, told me that she paid $300 for a line edit of the first chapter. She said, "My friends were horrified that I spent the money, but it's the best thing I could have done." The editor got her going in the right direction and the author was able to clean up the subsequent chapters without any further help. BTW, that book is the first of a 3-part series, with the others following in Feb & March, and the author has a deal for another 3-part series.

If you are too busy and/or inexperienced to do your own publicity, pay for someone to do it right. And pay that someone enough to do it right. I was mortified to learn that an author friend I'd referred to an independent publicist asked her whether she'd give him a "divorce discount" (and not only because I didn't know that he was being divorced). I'm sure he didn't ask for a divorce discount at the supermarket or the gas pump, or from his plumber. I'm also sure he wouldn't have expected less work for the lesser rate, either. An author who took my workshop hired an out-of-work cousin as a publicist, who put up an abysmal website larded with fake blurbs, including one from me that credited me as a reviewer for the New York Times (as if! I mean, I tried, but the little guy in the plaid shirt & big specs was So Not Interested). On the other hand, another debut novelist who took my workshop used her advance to hire a top-gun publicist, who squired her to an awards dinner and introduced her to the NY press, plus pitched the book like crazy to media and reviewers. Consequently it got a lot more media attention than other "midlist" novels and made it as an Amazon pick and a Readerville featured title.