Monday, January 24, 2011

Is the Novelist Work Not Valued, or Under Valued?

it's not magic . . .

How much do you pay for a haircut? Let’s say your stylist cuts your hair in about 30ish minutes, and you return to have it re-cut every 4-10 weeks depending on you.

What about going out to dinner? Or to lunch? Or a Supreme Latte with extra supreme? Keeping in mind that once you eat/drink, it’s gone, and to have that experience again, you must buy more food/drink by opening up your wallet again and again and again.

Do you like manicures/pedicures? Do you like massages? Do you have a personal trainer? Is there something you collect?

And of all those things, and the et ceteras not mentioned, that you purchase and enjoy, do you ever expect to get them for free, or for the Service Provider to do their work for deep discounts because, just because?

Of course you don’t.

So why is it when authors talk about money they feel uncomfortable, as if they are embarrassed to even consider the idea of making money from Their Craft?

Is a writer’s work not considered Work?

A stylist cuts our hair and we shell out the money knowing that we’ll have to return to have it cut again and again and again for the same results we hope, but do we ask the stylist to give us a cut rate? Do we ask the stylist to cut our hair for free? We’d not dream of doing that—because we Value the Service.

Somehow being a novelist isn’t Valued as a Service. You can buy a book from Amazon, or your favorite bookseller, or an e-reader, (and many times at discounts), and you can enjoy that book and the feeling it gives you as many times as you want. You can lend your book (and one day, or now, e-reader books if I understand right) to a friend or relative and the author receives no royalty on that. You can sell your book to someone and the author receives no royalty on that. The author receives his/her one-time royalty when a book is purchased and that one-time royalty is a very small percentage of what the book sells for. Very small. On e-readers, authors make a bit more percentage because over-head costs aren’t as great.

But what if in some alternate universe an author made most every dime of their book’s cost, which they never would by the way, are they somehow unworthy of it?

An author takes months (some longer) writing their book, then they must rewrite and rewrite, then they may go through rejection and uncertainty, then when they have that contract, their work is not done—more editing, more waiting, more stress. When the book is published, their work begins again: marketing, promotion, personal events, etc etc etc—and many things the author pays for out of their own pockets. Then they must then create more work, and the cycle begins again.

Through all of this, the author does not know if his/her book will be loved or hated or ignored or somewhere in between; he she does not know if it will sell well or will not sell well.

It won’t matter how hard the author worked, how much money he/she spent, he/she never knows what his/her paycheck will be. And, all the while, he/she must cringe in a corner while people tell him/her that they don’t want to spend money on books, or they want to spend very little money on books, and why should they have to spend money on books?

Anyone who goes into the Novelist business to make money should not go into the novelist business. There are simply too many unknowns. There is a lot of work, a lot of stress, a lot of rejection, and there’s a lot of feeling that your work is Not Of Value—imagine going to work every day and doing the best danged job you can and your boss quibbles with you over your salary and makes you feel as if you should be giving your work away for free or whatever he decides that day to pay you based on whatever he’s feeling that day about you compared to some other worker, because your work is Not Valued.

In matters of art and the heart, it’s hard to place monetary values, but frankly, we have to. Novelists have to make a living, too, and for the Novelist to feel guilty for hoping his/her works sells so that he/she can pay the bills or contribute to the household makes this business seem as if it’s more a Hobby than Real Live Work.

Is it because unlike the stylist or the restaurant worker or the oil tycoon or the actor/actress or the football player or the ice cream man we can do our work in our pajamas tucked in our little houses? You can’t see us working? It looks like lots-o-fun? It’s “easy” or “anyone can do it” – well, even the person who digs a hole gets a paycheck, and just about all of us can dig a hole, right?

What is it that separates the Novelist’s work from everyone else’s work? What is it about matters of art and the heart that makes the Work not valued?

Or is it because the writer, the novelist, does not teach people to value his/her work? Did we start it all by being apologetic about what we do or for wanting our work to Sell like a Product. Do we not value our own work?  Is it because many times we readily admit we'd do it all for free because we love it so much? It's all we ever wanted to do? We are begging someone anyone to just read our work and love us, please please please just love us?

What do you think?


M. R. Sellars said...

I think you said it all, and very well. ;-)

demery bader-saye said...

We love you, Kat! And I wholeheartedly agree with you. Think of the hours of joy, escape, laughter, thought-provoking poetry you provide to people... at such a small cost to us. Thank you for sharing yourself with the world so graciously :)

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I know a lot of people who don't buy books who are voracious readers. They borrow from friends and from the library. I love libraries, but also want folks who can afford it to buy books. I don't understand how they can hold an author up to scrutiny, criticize and want high quality contemporary work, but being unwilling to pay for it. Baffles me. No, infuriates me. Luckily with eReaders I see people purchasing more because it's instant and sometimes more affordable - especially than a hardcover. That works for me.

I buy books. Perhaps that should be my mantra.

Erica Orloff said...

I love this!! This is one reason I get annoyed by writers who will write for Demand Studios or some other sites that want to pay $5--or less--for an entire article. Of course it's their own business, but it is the devaluation of hard work and lowers the bar. It's not a living wage and of course in a capitalist economy Demand can pay whatever they want as long as people will do the work, but like the outlawing of piecework in factories ages ago, it doesn't make it right to set a wage so low.

As for novelists . . . you are right. All the love and work and energy that goes into it . . .

john bord said...

One of the facets of a market driven value perception, product, labor or service.

A portion of society has placed a high value on sports by spending dollars by the basket, hence there are gobs of money in the sports market. Yet would one spend the same amount of money on a loaf of bread that they spend on a sports item.

Values of society tip the scales in favor of what people want and the wordsmith is not high on the value list and like you say to many give their work away. As long as people undervalue their work it will be underpaid.

Interesting thought process you traveled through.

Carolyn V. said...

I agree. I hate when people ask me about my "hobby" and I have to tell them it's actually work. ;p

Jill of All Trades said...

Very good. As an artist I am perplexed at what to charge for my pieces and when I ask other artists that have been playing the game far longer than I, they hedge and hem-haw around the subject. Thanks for the help I say. Anyway, yes.

Eryl said...

Crikey, this is a tough one for a Monday morning Kat! I don't think the problem is one of value, per se, I think it's more that the arts as a whole don't easily fit into the value system of money. And writing is the art that fits in least well, for all sorts of reasons. One of those reasons is possibly that books can be consumed and passed on as if new. You can't pass on a haircut or a cup of coffee, you have to pay each time you want one. But we do look for discounts on those things as we do most everything, because there are so many products and services vying for our money, and they're all so damn good at convincing us that we need them.

I'm glad to hear that writers make more money on e-books. I had wondered why they were almost the same price as paperbacks when production costs must be so much less, and worried that the extra went to the salesmen.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I'm reading your comments and very interested in them!

If you walked into my house, you'd see a house FULL of books - hundreds and hundreds of books- and I don't give them away cause their MINE MINE MINE! *laugh* - I don't like to have people borrow them because they don't always bring them back! MINE MINE MINE! :-D

Eryl - we do make more, but so does everyone else except the bookstore and the printers are left out - so it's not that writers are "given" more, but that since some of the other 'equations' are left out, there's a bit more left over to divide between author publisher the ereader whomevers and et cetera - if that makes sense!

I'm very interested to see what authors post as comments compared to what readers post as comments!

*smiling* . . .

rosaria said...

There! You said it all, each line and each paragraph of this blog is about intellectual property, which is valued only if it is scarce, like gold.

Yes, intellectual property, music, art, theater, books, all need to be compensated.

Now, how about forming a better union/organization, as the actors and the directors have, and establish rights and legal remedies.

Karen said...

Kathryn, whoa-all those questions! I just think the worker is due his wage. Beginning writing is such a "maybe" thing for us all, I think we (me included) we write well enought to get money for our thoughts.

Mimi said...

I totally agree with you, especially as I oculdn't write a book.
How we value different careers (I suppose some people wouldn't actually call writing a career?) as a society (e.g. compared to stockbroking/banking/plastic surgery?)says a lot about our value system, and how skewed it is.

Hanny said...

I think that you have a more informed perspective on this than I, but from the x-dollars-per-hour warehouse working, aspiring author's point of view, I see that it's a product of our changing times.
The advancements in technology are amazing, but a little scary to me. Where in previous centuries writers were more public, influential and affluent figures, today people only care about what they see and hear with immediacy. The philosophers and authors of yesterday are now tv personalities, and the only question about a book is, can it be made into a movie.
Writing is a tough job, not for everyone, and not always lucrative, but gosh would I give everything up in a second to be able to write for a living.

michiko said...

Hi Kat,
I think the books are great have in ourlives that myself I don't read much but I do buy a book for all my friends birthday and my family.
AND compare to eating out the restaurant the last a long time:-) Although it is much appreciate for everybody.

You are doing very good work:-)
Are you still singing at bath room? ha ha ha

Glenda Beall said...

I am happy to see someone say what I feel. I've heard other writers say we shouldn't charge to teach writers. We should be generous and give away the knowledge that we worked so hard to gain.
Finding the monetary value of our intellectual knowledge is difficult and many times we just have to charge what the market will bear. But it still surprises me when beginning writers will keep me on the phone or send me their work and expect me to take my valuable time to edit and critique several of their pieces.
I am not a novelist, but I teach and I use my fees to add to my income. I don't apologize for that, but I have friends who seem to resent me for charging for my services. I still do as much for free as I can to help other writers. I always will, but I don't understand why some think I should give away the knowledge I gained over the years.
I buy books. I urge people to buy books and support authors. My house is running over with books. I know that writing is work and takes up many hours of our lives. Therefore people should be happy to pay for that blood sweat and tears.

Susan R. Mills said...

Wow! A very thought-provoking post. I think you've nailed the whys.

Kerry said...

People still have the notion that artists are supposed to suffer. I know this is true for visual artists and I believe it to be so for writers also.

Plus: If I had 20 bucks for every time somebody asked me to do a poster or t-shirt for free, I would be doing ok. I dislike it that people sooo undervalue art, like it's easy to produce and should be free for the having! And then I am the one who sounds like such a snot-head when I suggest that I don't want to do something for nothing.

Ruthi aka abitosunshine said...

Great words for thought! I don't give books away! I may buy a copy and gift it, but nobody gets my copy!

FYI...I followed your link from a comment on Sheila Deeth's blog.