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.


  1. ladyodneal says:

    I loved this Dee. There is indeed a lesson to be learned here. However, one of the key elements of gaining knowledge from your writing is the statement you made as follows: People only tend to invest in the new when the risk is low. I am a member of a group called Global Empowerment where in we meet every Monday night and we’re mentored by a Multimillionaire, Art Cartwright. On last night he said something on the lines of the key element I picked up from your message. Mr. Cartwright said: “People, i.e. investors are looking to invest in you and what you represent at little cost and most of the time at low risk.” He went on to say, “Any successful person can trace back to the very moment that someone corrected them.” I went on to add this into my notes from my own thoughts: The correction causes improvements in either the person, their talent, product or service or all of the above and more, thus leading to their success, because they were obedient to the lesson being taught. And yes, free is free, but never free. Someone or something will and shall pay even if it’s just our time spent. However, well spent time doing something that reaps lessons learned and experiences and expertise earned is priceless. Never be afraid of the extra. God always rewards us for our extra~Mavisism. Be blessed.

  2. Katie Cross says:

    Great thoughts!

    I’m a firm believer that anything that will get me exposure, such as signings or speaking events, should be done for free, as you speak of here. I think, as you said, building karma goes a long way to building our careers.

    Lovely thoughts, and lovely blog!

    • dorcasgraham says:

      Katie, thank you very much! Yes, I’m learning now to embrace the free exposure. You just never know how it’s going to pay off.

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