Should Authors Work for Free?

A while ago I planned a book launch affair. It was to be a Wine and Words event and along with a sampling of various wines each attendee would get a copy of my novel, In Three Days, all for one price. Now I know we as authors don’t typically charge for book signings, but this was different. It was to be held at a lovely café and did I mention free wine? The tickets weren’t exactly zapped up at record speed and eventually the event was cancelled.

Recently I got an offer to speak at a luncheon for an exclusive country club in my area. They wanted me to come and talk about my book and experience as a local author. On the invite the PR person asked about my fee. I was absolutely thrilled. Here I was hosting fancy wine events (or almost) and now I was being asked to speak at this opulent club and I’d been an author for all of several months. And they were going to pay meeeee!!

I immediately began doing research on typical fees for authors both new and established. I found rates which I thought were ridiculously inflated and then constantly reminded myself that hey, I’m worth it. I did some more research and found that some authors didn’t charge anything (ha…ha…I’m doing the Snoopy laugh) I finally settle on a “going rate.” After all, he did ask me.

Funny thing, immediately after I submitted my fee I felt this twinge that I should have waited. I never heard back from the guy again.

I can construct a million different reasons to explain these setbacks.  I could go on and on as to why folks weren’t waiting in line for my tickets. And I can find a million more to justify the silence on the other end of the email to the PR guy.  But later, I received some wise counsel (amazing how you always get that after you need it) and remembered some information I’d received from some other established writers with which you may or may not agree. It is as follows:

Most signings of any kind are free. And even if it is an event, such as a book launch where you simply want your friends to come and celebrate, guess what? The wine and cheese are on you. Purchasing your book should be optional. They come to celebrate with you, not pay for you.

Speaking engagements are often free. What?! Yep. I know. Now no one would expect J.K. Rowling or John Grisham to speak too often for free. But most of us do not possess the status and brand of Rowling and Grisham. When people mention our name people will most likely ask “who?” But those guys? Not so much. In the beginning we may do a lot of stuff for free. But really, it is never free. I am a strong believer in the law of reciprocity, or the law of sowing and reaping. Simply put, what goes around comes around. Also, the exposure we gain is priceless. And proving ourselves to what will eventually be our audience is essential. People only tend to invest in the new when the risk is low. Those things that negate risk include: recommendations by others, little or no cost or effort and the likelihood that they will enjoy what is being offered based on preferences.

Free opportunities often breed paid opportunities. Every time you are in front of an audience you are gaining exposure–that, you cannot beat. And as one author/speaker pointed out, as you speak or present your audience may include the answer to your next gig and possibly a paying gig as it did for the author who lent this advice.

The bottom line is that free may be free. But sometimes it is not. And if that statement was confusing just remember that you have to invest before others invest in you.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you.

When should authors work for free

Recently I planned a book launch affair. It was to be a Wine and Words event and along with a sampling of various wines each attendee would get a copy of my novel, In Three Days, all for one price. Now I know we as authors don’t typically charge for book signings, but this was different. It was to be held at a lovely café and did I mention free wine? The tickets weren’t exactly zapped up at record speed and eventually the event was cancelled.

Recently I got an offer to speak at a luncheon for an exclusive country club in my area. They wanted me to come and talk about my book and experience as a local author. On the invite the PR person asked about my fee. I was absolutely thrilled. Here I was hosting fancy wine events (or almost) and now I was being asked to speak at this opulent club and I’d been an author for all of several months. And they were going to pay meee.

I immediately began doing research on typical fees for authors both new and established. I found rates which I thought were ridiculously inflated and then constantly reminded myself that hey, I’m worth it. I did some more research and found that some authors didn’t charge anything (ha…ha…I’m doing the Snoopy laugh) I finally settle on a “going rate.” After all, he did ask me.

Funny thing, immediately after I submitted my fee I felt this twinge that I should have waited. I never heard back from the guy again.

I can construct a million different reasons to explain these setbacks.  I could go on and on as to why folks weren’t waiting in line for my tickets. And I can find a million more to justify the silence on the other end of the email to the PR guy.  But later, I received some wise counsel (amazing how you always get that after you need it) and remembered some information I’d received from some other established writers with which you may or may not agree. It is as follows:

Most signings of any kind are free. And even if it is an event, such as a book launch where you simply want your friends to come and celebrate, guess what? The wine and cheese are on you. Purchasing your book should be optional. They come to celebrate with you, not pay for you.

Speaking engagements are often free. What?! Yep. I know. Now no one would expect J.K. Rowling or John Grisham to speak too often for free. But most of us do not possess the status and brand of Rowling and Grisham. When people mention our name people will most likely ask “who?” But those guys? Not so much. In the beginning we may do a lot of stuff for free. But really, it is never free. I am a strong believer in the law of reciprocity, or the law of sowing and reaping. Simply put, what goes around comes around. Also, the exposure we gain is priceless. And proving ourselves to what will eventually be our audience is essential. People only tend to invest in the new when the risk is low. Those things that negate risk include: recommendations by others, little or no cost or effort and the likelihood that they will enjoy what is being offered based on preferences.

Free opportunities often breed paid opportunities. Every time you are in front of an audience you are gaining exposure–that, you cannot beat. And as one author/speaker pointed out, as you speak or present your audience may include the answer to your next gig and possibly a paying gig as it did for the author who lent this advice.

The bottom line is that free may be free. But sometimes it is not. And if that statement was confusing just remember that you have to invest before others invest in you.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you.

Should new writers do book signings?

Every author at one time has dreamed of their great book signing. It plays in our head like book-signingsomething from a movie: hard covered copies of our book stacked on the table on either side of us. There may be a person or two there to help us, you know…crowd control. And we are ready.

As the signing begins a line stretched down the aisle has gathered; so engrossed are we in scribbling our name across book after book we barely have time to look up except to flash a proud smile and gush at the plethora of compliments our fans insists on heralding upon us. This is the moment we have longed for. This is the life of an author.

Well, then we attend a few signings of other authors and then a few more and realize these fan crazed events only happen for a select few–those whose names top the NYTBS regularly. Even some of our favorite authors don’t get this kind of turn out, at least not in every city. And for the rest of us, plugging along, well…

I once heard a well-known marketing expert say that new authors should not give book signings. She goes on to say that there is nothing sadder than a newbie sitting there with a stack of books as people walk by with barely a glance. Many don’t acknowledge you at all.

I suggest to you that this belief has much truth in it. When I decided to do my first book signing I was somewhat concerned about this advice. But then I decided my mission would more than just to sell books and therefore my expectation became a little different. And if you are not yet a well-known author your mission must be different too. Here are my suggestions if you do decide to have a traditional book signing.

Brand your area

If you are not well-known at least look the part. Hang a large colorful banner with a picture of you and your book cover. Make your area presentable, standing some of your books upright. Have a couple of giveaways on your table such as bookmarks with your name and a picture of your book included somewhere on it; bring along branded pens or bags. And don’t forget press releases.

Bring or invite a few friends to hang out with you

Yep, sitting there alone isn’t very cool. Invite or bring along a few friends to create a hub of sorts. They will not only give you support but will also fill in the white space between visitors.

Smile and look active

If you look as though you’re waiting on something you’re not getting you will be perceived as such. Smile and look as though you are the one to know.

Greet and be personable with all who approach your table

Some will come and pick up your book and you may be thinking, O.K., dude you don’t even look like you read my genre. Keep moving. But you may find out his neighbor was just saying the other day she was looking for a good read (something like yours). Also you want to be perceived as personable and engaging (You are not Harper Lee and therefore not in the position to refuse to be sociable with those who reach out to you).

Include a guest book

Anyone who wants to sign your guestbook should be able to. Allow them to leave an email address for your newsletter if they desire.

Combine your signing with that of another author

They say there is strength in numbers. By combining a signing with other authors both or all of you get the benefit of the clout of each other. Also, it allows you to build relationships with other authors.

The bottom line is you may not sell or sign a truckload of books, therefore go with different goals in mind; prepare to gain exposure for yourself and your book. Some won’t remember you, but others will. At my signing for In Three Days, I had some people who approached the table and did not buy but left their personal information because they love to read and talk about books. They wanted to be added to the email list. One guy was a writer of short stories and I promised to read some of his work. I had an opportunity to connect with the people who worked there as well. I realized as with anything, you sell yourself first and then everything else will follow.

Also an option to the signing is a book launch party, which is more like a celebration, a party of sorts to celebrate you and your milestone. Of course there will be books to sign, but the main goal is to meet, greet and celebrate. I will be having one in a few weeks. I will let you know how that goes.