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