An Author’s Giveaways: of Time and Books

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigfree

I realized some time back that I get a lot of requests to do things for free.  I’m frequently asked to donate books to charities and to speak at libraries, schools, and conferences for free. I’m asked to beta test software. Asked to give an opinion, help with a blurb, and have my brain picked.

A little over a year ago, I realized that some things figured into my business philosophy or manifesto.  Some things didn’t.

It used to be much harder for me to turn down opportunities.  Part of me thought that if I didn’t accept, opportunities might dry up.  Part of me thought that any exposure for me or my books was always good, when sometimes it wasn’t worth it.

For a while, I drove hours for the opportunity to sell a couple of books (or no books at all).  Maybe I was flattered by being asked, I’m not sure.

Once I drove 7 hours round-trip to speak at a library.  I love libraries.  But I wasn’t compensated for my mileage and my displayed books were all available for the patrons to check out (which they did).  But you can’t blame the library for asking–I blame myself for losing money and having to rearrange carpools to attend a far-flung event.

Now I find it helps to have some ready responses to reject an invitation. Once I’ve considered an opportunity and decided to skip it, my go-to rejection for speaking is: I wish I could, but I’m completely booked up.  Which is pretty much the truth anyway.

I’m being offered a lot more paying speaking gigs, or being offered transportation money, free meals, and hotel rooms.  If an invite doesn’t address payment, it’s a bad sign.  I’ll sometimes mention (this is nearly always via email, which makes it easier) : I’d love to accept, but I do have a speaking fee.  Before we consider available dates, I just wanted to make sure your organization has a budget for speaking.  My fees are pretty modest–mostly just to compensate for my mileage and time.

I speak to schools for free, but they need to be somewhat local to me so that I don’t lose a lot of time and money in the process.

Another way I’m asked to contribute something for free is by requests for donated books.  I do get emails from a good number of service organizations to donate a book or two for a auctioned baskets.  I usually participate in these things but mainly because the money goes to charity and because the women in the service organizations are frequently my target audience.  But I’d caution writers to create their own policy when dealing with these types of requests.  I’d consider my budget, shipping costs, number of requests, and whether the target for the auction fits my readership.

Although this post focuses on setting boundaries in giving our time and books away for free, we also need to carefully consider our paid opportunities and make sure they align with our overall business goals. If the writing course we’re asked to teach or the panel appearance in another state, or the pitch for a nonfiction project doesn’t fit in with our business goals, we should consider rejecting it.

Conversely, we also need to make sure there are some things that we can say yes to. If an invitation or opportunity is a good fit, if it has the potential to expand our audience,  that’s important, too.

Have you got a method for evaluating speaking and charitable opportunities (and even paying gigs)?

Image: MorgueFile: Jessica Gale

19 thoughts on “An Author’s Giveaways: of Time and Books

  1. Hi Elizabeth – all you’ve said here makes absolute sense – we just need to get past the flattery bit at the beginning of our author/speaker journey …

    Have a very happy Easter – cheers Hilary

    1. Hilary–And also, I think, that almost superstitious feeling that if we reject opportunities that we won’t get better opportunities down the line. Because once I thought about that a little more, it made no sense at all! And yet, it governed my behavior for a couple of years.

  2. I think you’re wise to really think about whether an opportunity is right for you. So often, the instinct is to say ‘yes,’ either because it’s a good cause, or one wants to be nice, or one simply wants a little exposure. But one can’t do everything. And certainly not always for free if one has one’s own business. Finding graceful and polite ways to say ‘no’ is important.

    1. Margot–Being nice! Yes! This is another thing I forgot to put in my post. There is that reluctance to reject that I think is practically ingrained in a writer’s character (maybe because most of us have had so *many* rejections…I must have had 120 or so before I got published).

      Good point that saying no can be both polite and graceful.

  3. I can relate! When I think of all the miles I put on the little Tribute I used to own… over 180,000 in less than 7 years. I won’t drive those kinds of miles now. I just don’t have the time. Many of those trips led to other opportunities and I’m sure I miss some good ones now, but need some kind of compensation at this point.

    1. Diane–Wow! That’s a lot of events!

      Yes, networking can be good for these things, but some of us take more advantage of that opportunity than others! I’m a terrible networker and spend a lot of time by myself at events. Not helpful!

  4. We often (too, often) under value our work so we stretch that out into under valuing our time and products. As you’ve mentioned, once we start rejecting the negative cost events, more positive cost requests start to show up on our calendars. Accepting other’s valuing our work seems like a natural thing, but it is hard for many of us to feel we are “worth it.” The choice is up to us. The universe will respond to our decisions appropriately.

    1. Dean–Absolutely right. It’s so easy to fill up our calendars with events that don’t make sense when we look at the bottom line. Then the bigger/more profitable opportunities are impossible to schedule in. Writers frequently devalue both their time (which they need to keep writing) and their books. Great point.

  5. Great post, Elizabeth! I think the tendency for writers just starting out is to say Yes, Yes, Yes, for fear of never being asked again to do something again! But I definitely agree, after a few years of doing most things that came along, and finding a nebulous “payback,” especially considering the time many of these things require, I find myself saying No, Sorry, No, I Wish I Could, a lot more often. And really, I don’t feel bad about it! I mean, a writer’s got to find time to write, right?

    1. Alan–Exactly. I think it would do a lot of writers good to reconsider some of these opportunities. You’re right–we have to have time to write more books. And driving many hours to potentially pick up one or two readers is really not worth it. I can get better outreach by offering incentives to my newsletter signup (and not even have to leave my house!)

  6. Well said. Thank you for sharing your experience and adding to my “permission” list. With my first novel (book really, collection of ghost stories), I would just about give it to anyone who asked and say, “If you like it or don’t like it, can you leave a review on Amazon?” Guess how many of those FREE books I gave away that people did that? One. I am grateful for the one, but it finally occurred to me to STOP.

    My husband and I teach swing dance lessons. We love dance and are happy to get our community into it. But we found if we did FREE lessons people did not take it seriously. If we charged even $5 a class, people paid more attention and put in more effort.

    I think the same might apply to our gifts a writers/speakers etc.

    Thank you for this post.

    ~ Tam Francis ~
    http://www.girlinthejitterbugdress.com

    1. Tam–Great observation from your experience teaching! I can see how that would apply to speaking, too–if we charge even a modest fee, suddenly we’re in a whole other level, professionally.

      Thanks for coming by!

  7. As you know, I’m a massive proponent of “free” — but as a strategy, not a price.

    I love to help readers and authors.

    I also enjoy sleeping indoors and eating regularly.

    My wife is in charge of my schedule, which means I don’t do much free stuff that isn’t squarely in our path.

    So, that’s my advice: marry someone who doesn’t mind babysitting you.

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