How many times have you settled for less than you know you deserve? How often have you sucked it up and convinced yourself that you should just feel grateful for what you have and quit wanting so friggin’ much? How many times have you compromised, at the expense of valuing what you’re worth? How many times have you been underpaid or passed over for a promotion you deserved or failed to charge someone what you’re worth?
If your answer is often, you’re not alone -- especially if you’re female. Even those of us with high levels of self confidence second guess and undervalue ourselves. Why? Because we’re afraid.
I know all about questioning your worth. Last week, the publishing house that had the right of first refusal on my next book offered me a book deal for my memoir, BROKEN: One Doctor’s Search For The Lost Heart Of Medicine. It’s a kick ass book, if I do say so myself. My agent calls it “Eat, Pray, Vagina,” and it’s about my journey through a broken health care system, into a newfound spirituality, and ultimately, after a period of gestation, it’s about how I gave birth to myself. I’ve spent the past four years working on it, and it’s honestly the best thing I’ve ever written -- and may be the best thing I’ll ever write. This is my book, the one I’m DYING to get out into the world. And I’m proud of it.
But my publisher only offered me a $15,000 advance for this book. My agent told them they’d have to offer more -- so they bumped up the offer to $17,500 -- and stood firm on that. Take it or leave it. That’s what they believe the book is worth. That’s what they believe I’m worth.
But I think they’re wrong. This offer is only $2500 more than they paid me for my last book, which is in its third printing (albeit with relatively small print runs). But last time, I was an unpublished writer with very little platform and no experience publicizing a book.
Now I’ve shown them my chops. They know that I spent countless hours (and $80,000 of my own money) to go on a 20 city book tour, hire multiple publicists, pay the team who supported me, build Owning Pink, and give my book every chance for mega-success. They told me time and time again that I’m the ideal author, that I do everything a publishing house could ever dream an author would do to get behind a book, and that they’ve never met someone so committed to making a book successful.
And I am that committed. Because it’s not about book sales for me (though they’re certainly nice). It’s in service to my mission -- to inspire and empower and love.
And yet, in spite of all I’ve done, in good faith, to demonstrate my commitment to my books and the publishing house, they’re barely offering me any more money than they did last time.
When my agent (whom I adore) called me to tell me the news, she pulled a Suzie Cheerleader on me (and she’s amazingly good at it!). I got all Rah-Rah’ed up with her and tried to convince myself that this is great news. After all, I got offered a book deal! My memoir would finally get published! I should count my blessings and do a happy dance.
But that night, my mother wanted to take me out to dinner to celebrate, and I could barely eat. I literally felt sick to my stomach.
Because I was disappointed. I wasn’t excited. I felt cheapened. Used. Dismissed. Devalued. Unappreciated. Disempowered. And way bummed out.
On top of feeling all that, I wanted to kick myself not for speaking up about how I really felt. Why did I let Monkey Barbara (my editor) cheerlead me into faking excitement? Why couldn’t I have been authentic enough to say, “The emperor has no clothes, Barbara. THIS BLOWS.”
I mean seriously. $17,500. After four years of writing. It wouldn’t even begin to pay for the book tour my publisher wasn’t planning to fund.
I toasted to my mother over dinner and I did a happy dance with my husband. But when someone asked me how much my publisher offered for the book, I felt shame. Weakness. Embarrassment.
I told him what I was offered. (Nobody talks about this stuff, by the way. Book deal advances are like some industry secret that authors -- even those who are my best friends -- don’t ever discuss). My friend said, “Dude. That’s just WRONG. You’re worth so much more.”
I was like “THANK YOU.” Finally, I felt validated. Then I felt cheap and sleazy and inauthentic again. I felt like I was settling. And I did NOT come this far to settle.
For a week, I’ve felt awful. Nauseous. Irritable. Unsettled.
And then it hit me. I don’t want this book deal. After all this work, all this time, I wanted out, but I felt like my hands were tied. I had already conceded and accepted the deal, even though I felt like I was worth more. I couldn’t back out now, or could I?
What if I called my agent and told her I wasn’t happy with my book deal. What if she was willing to shop it to other publishers and see if we could get a better deal? What if my publisher was willing to pony up more money? Would I be happy then?
Yes, that would be good.
But what if my agent quit? What if word got out among the publishing houses that Lissa Rankin is a pain in the ass and I got blackballed? Forever.
What if my book never ever got published -- and I never published any more books?
I weighed my options. And I felt incredibly afraid. And then I set the number that would make me feel valued in my head, and decided I wasn’t willing to settle for less. Then I leaped -- and called my agent.
I told my agent I wanted to cancel the verbal agreement (we hadn’t signed papers yet) with my publisher. So she made the call. And my publisher (God bless them) released me from the deal with great love and disappointment, best wishes, and an open door for future negotiations. And then my agent informed me -- again, with great love and a promise that we will be BFF’s forever -- that she couldn’t be my agent anymore.
And I cried. A lot.
I questioned myself. I had second thoughts. I beat myself up. I felt terrified. I wondered whether I had just hammered the final nail into the coffin of my publishing career.
And I questioned myself some more. What if I’m not actually worth more? What if this is the best offer I’ll ever get, my one and only chance to ever get my message out there, and I’ve turned it down? With all the unpublished authors out there dying for a book deal just like this, who do I think I am? What if nobody ever reads this wonderful, empowering book I wrote? What if this is it?
I should just get over myself.
And then something deep and primal within me rose up and bellowed in a deep, reverberating voice. NO. YOU ARE WORTH MORE.
And I just knew I was doing the right thing.
So I’m dancing and jumping up and down and screaming YES! I’m spinning and cartwheeling and throwing my arms up in the air.
And I feel freer than I’ve ever felt in my life. Because deep down, I have faith in myself. I know that I will always land butter side up. And the Universe has got my back, just like the Universe has yours.
Has anything like this ever happened to you? Have you been able to overcome your fear and anxiety and stand up for what you know you’re worth? Do you think I’m crazy? Or courageous?
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Change Catalyst coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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