A few years ago I wrote a mini-essay, "Doing It for Pleasure." This post is about doing it for money--writing, that is.
It's only the beginning of May but so far this year I've had a score of requests for essays, introductions, invitations to speak and so on. (I don't even bother keeping track of the 'my daughter/husband/gerbil wrote a book/story/poem, will you look at it and tell me how to sell it?' emails. They get deleted without a response.)
The answer is no. Unless you're willing to pay.
I used to accept all kinds of appearance invitations, especially for schools and colleges. I didn't mind paying a little out of pocket to make the experience pleasant: upgrading the flight to first class, adding a night to the hotel stay, paying for K to travel with me, and so on. After all I love meeting readers, talking to students and teachers. But I'm not a charity. I've reached a tipping point. So now, no. No more. If you want me to come to your college and impart wisdom (or wickedness) to your students, you will have to pay the full freight. Plus a reasonable fee.
What is 'reasonable'? Well, imagine you're paying me by the hour for every hour I'm out of my house--including travel time. Remember I'm a professional, an expert at what I do; I don't work for $10 an hour.
This applies with a vengeance to actual writing. If you ask for an article, an essay, a story, expect to pay. If you ask for an interview, I'll need to know who has agreed to publish the piece. Nothing pisses me off more quickly than finding out the whole thing's being done on spec; it's a waste of my time.
If you want my opinion on your manuscript, expect to pay a per-page fee, with a hefty minimum.
The world has spent years taking advantage of artists. We're expected to donate to charities, rally to causes, give our time freely in exchange for publicity or for the greater good. Why? Because we're perceived as needy and neurotic; our kindness and generosity is mistaken for desperation--and pathetic gratitude--for attention. Here's some news: I'm not needy or neurotic; I'm a professional, an expert. I know my worth. Frankly, I wish more writers did.
If you're a writer, stop and think for a minute: who is profiting from the time you're donating? From your name? You can bet someone is. Make sure it's you.
I write fiction for the art, for free, for love. For myself. Anyone else who wants access pays. Except, of course, readers of this blog, who can send in questions and have them answered in public for free. Because I like you. You lucky dogs.