I’m working for a perfectly wonderful author-to-be right now, whose name I’ll withhold until such time as she gives me the okay to let the world know. She is a smart, funny, committed, experienced mental health professional who is now writing me into her acknowledgements, which is slightly awkward. I mean, I have to read about how awesome I am while proofreading her work and formatting it to make it look like a real book.
And she keeps telling me ‘you’re working for too little money.’ and ‘you need to charge more… *laugh* You can charge more after we publish my book. But seriously charge me more money.’
It goes on like that.
These Midwest sensibilities and artistic awkwardness ingrained into me culturally make these discussions so painful, but the short of it looks like this: I like helping people, and I love making stuff, and it makes me happy to do that.
Causes: a massive dose of self-doubt. I mean, I stopped doing Twitter after several bad reviews, and watching this guy I know make it big, like 5-6 thousand dollars a month and more just in book royalties. Other contributing factors include wanting to help everyone, no matter how much money they have.
A world exists in creative circles, pushing for an end to this sort of undercharging. There’s a website called Fiverr which I’ve never used and not really looked at, and the ‘charge more’ circles, the ‘fair trade’ of creative assistance markets despise Fiverr on principle. You can buy services for a minimum of five bucks.
In that way, the internet is really beginning to equalize world markets… if people in Malaysia or the Philippines or India or wherever are okay charging five bucks and booting up their old school computers with pirated copies of Photoshop, (and if the authors are happy with the results) then more power to them. If they can be awake at two in the morning and help prospective indie publishing authors with passable English and good knowledge of the editing or design software, then fuck yes, they deserve it.
This is on my mind every time I boot up my own possibly-legal software and get down to work.
- Am I doing a professional job? I’m just a freelancer, after all. And after that, I’m not professionally published, I’m just a guy who knows Microsoft Word pretty well. I’m just a guy who can watch Photoshop tutorials and combine layers in a way that often makes people happy. (I’m also a guy who’s lost several clients in the middle of the process because people don’t like the direction I’m taking, or I’m not communicating in a timely fashion, or they’re not communicating.)
- Am I delivering a product as quickly as possible? I have a day job, after all. I can’t work on people’s cover designs or edit their manuscripts every day. Sometimes I have to take full weeks off to grade tests and get next to nothing done creatively.
- Why am I really doing this, anyway? Is it to make money, or to have a creative project on the table? I often suspect it’s the latter… I need to be working on something creative to feel useful and successful.
So I charge relatively little compared to people who are either a) actual full-time editors/illustrators or b) confident enough in their abilities to call themselves ‘editor’ or ‘designer’ on their websites. I vacillate between thinking of myself as an artist and considering myself a hack… sometimes daily.
As I home in on the seventh and final book of my superhero series and begin to work towards a new series of books, as my job and students demand my time, as my son asks me to play with him and I’m in the middle of things, I have to consider how to proceed… scale back the freelance work, or keep at it like the workaholic I believe I am. Charge more? Try to find more clients and work behind the scenes? Try to promote my own work, which I’ve neglected for months?
You know what I love? I love getting emails and messages along these lines:
‘Thanks so much for working for me. If you want, I’ll share your name out there.’
‘I really appreciate the suggestions for [name of manuscript in draft form]… looks like I have some work to do.’
In the end, the gratitude is The Goods just as much as any money I receive.
On the other hand I also enjoy seeing that I’ve sold books in Brazil or Germany or the UK, and of course all the books on the plain old Amazon site.
What do you think?