As author Richard Ford said in this article about money and the writer, “It mattered a great deal more that my novel would be read than that somebody paid me."
When you’re a writer, sentiments like this seems so romantic. You do it for the love. You do it for the passion. You do it because you’re writing about something that matters and you want to shout it from the rooftops so everyone can hear.
Especially when you’re a visionary driven by a mission, talking about money with regard to the writing you do about your mission feels almost like heresy. A mission is a spiritual sort of thing, a calling of sorts. Getting paid to realize your calling verges on sacrilege. It would be like Jesus asking for a $10 cover charge for his sermon on the Mount. Or the scribes of the Bible asking for a million dollar advance for their book that was sure to be a bestseller.
Notions like this one espoused by Richard Ford perpetuate the idea of the starving artist, one who is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of her art. And I get it - really I do. When I sold my first book Encaustic Art to a small publisher over five years ago, they paid me $3,000 for a book that cost me $25,000 to write and photograph and took six years of my life to create. And then they never bothered to publish my book. I got paid approximately six times more by Random House when the book went over to them, but it still didn’t begin to pay for my expenses, much less my time.
But I didn’t care. I was so thrilled to think that someone would actually read what I wrote that I did a happy dance when my measly advance check showed up in the mail.
My second book What's Up Down There? cost much less to write and took 5 ½ years less long to bring to life, and my advance was almost exactly the same. So I was initially delighted. But this time, I went on a twenty city book tour, hired staff and a roadie to help me manage details, and secured a private publicist to help me navigate the process.
And suddenly, the privilege of bringing my writing to the world landed me in serious debt.
I’m not alone in this. A straw poll of dozens of author friends revealed that approximately 80% of them spent more money bringing their books into the world (via private editors, book launch parties, publicists, PR firms, book trailer videos, book websites, staff salaries, travel expenses, social media coaches, etc) than they earned from their writing. That doesn’t mean the book didn’t help them generate revenue in other ways (paid public speaking, workshops, one-on-one clients, corporate endorsements, etc). But the writing itself, well… it can get expensive to publish a book. And that doesn't even take into account the amount of time you spend writing the book, which keeps you from activities that might generate revenue elsewhere.
By the time I got to book #3 in January 2011, when I got offered another book deal that would pay me an advance in the same range as the other two books, I drew a line in the sand. As much as I wanted to share my message with the world, and as much as I felt called to serve a mission, and as much as I love to write purely for the art of it, I couldn’t afford to publish another book unless I got paid for it this time.
Part of me felt shitty for drawing this line. But another part knew I was worth more than publishers were paying me, and I had to value myself and my time in order to attract the kind of money some people generate from their art. So I turned down the book deal and decided to shelve that book - at least for the time being.
Later on, in the same Richard Ford article, he writes:
Professional athletes are sometimes quoted in interviews as saying, “I can't believe someone's paying me to do this. I'd do it for nothing." I've never quite believed that. But I've occasionally felt vaguely that way about writing. It isn't very hard to do, and it can sometimes feel pleasurable. This was a feeling I had when I was younger, of course. At 67, I'm not sure I'd do it now if somebody wasn't paying me (although no one's paying me very much for writing this – which is probably reasonable). But with less time lying out in front of me these days, other activities have begun to seem more attractive.
I guess I feel the same way these days. Because I happily write for free on LissaRankin.com, OwningPink.com, and other websites (while paying good money for staff and web maintenance for the privilege of doing so), I can’t afford to place so little value on my book writing, not with a family to raise, overhead to cover, and dreams to pursue.
The same applies to my fine art career. In the early days, I sold all my art for less than $500 a pop. Many sold for a mere $50, even though the cost of the canvas and paints and sable brushes and studio rental and shipping costs to galleries - not to mention my time - cost more than that. But I would have done it for free, so even a small payout at the time seemed so fortuitous, like manna from heaven.
Then I hit a wall with my art career. When I calculated one year that I spent $30,000 on my art and earned $10,000, I had to rethink my career. As Marie Forleo says, “If your business isn’t making money, it’s a hobby, not a business.” Ouch.
So I set the intention to generate real money from my art, but my artist friends gave me crap about it. They told me I was selling out, that I wasn’t a “real” artist, that real artists must do their art, that it’s not about the money at all. And while I think, to some degree they’re right, another part of me calls bullsh*t. Why can’t we have and do both - create art for the love of creation and get handsomely paid for it?
After resetting my intentions around my art career, I started bringing in six figures with my art. Simply resetting my sense of value around my own worth - and raising my prices - was enough to shift everything.
The same thing happened with my writing. After turning down an $18,000 book deal in January 2011, I scored a big phat six figure deal for the book I just finished writing, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), by doing the same thing - shifting my thoughts about what I’m worth and what motivates me to create my art.
In short, you can create for the sheer love of creating. AND you can get paid what you’re worth. And it’s not selling out. I promise.
Do you believe this? Or do you think you must go broke in service to your art? Tell us what you think.
Making art for the love - and the money,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary.
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