I think I’m on a list or a directory from way back when. Something on the internet somewhere that says “here are some people who need a shin-kicking on a regular basis.” I’m on that list.
Every other week or so I will get an unsolicited request from someone to help them write a book.
Ok, fine, true. My website says I like working on books.
I probably need to reword it or take it down completely. I do enjoy working on books, but what these folks who get at me this way don’t want a “book.” What they want is a hard backed stack of 300 pages that they can stamp their name on the cover. A 300-page thick business card. They want that stack of paper so they can sell it when they go give talks at significant corporate events for companies you’ve never heard of who do things that probably make you feel sick. That book goes home with Jackie, who won the door prize, who works some kind of administration job for the unknown company.
Jackie will either let this book sit on her shelf for all eternity. Jackie also doesn’t need to read much of it to know her company wasted her Wednesday afternoon sitting through a mandatory seminar from a speaker who can’t write their way out of a paper bag.
I’ve met these people. I’ve talked with them at great length and taken their money to give them 15 chapters that they go off and do a run of a thousand books. I don’t have the heart to tell them that their idea is the same idea the last guy had, which was also the same idea the person before him had.
I don’t tell them this because sometimes I like to be able to make rent.
I’m not sure where they come from, but I can spot them from a mile away. You probably could too. These are the folks who are always inviting you to seminars. They probably have “guru” somewhere on their LinkedIn page, among the jargon which makes it unreadable. If they do Instagram most of the posts are captioned images that say something like “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” and then it has ten thousand paid likes under it. For some reason, they all want something to do with the millennials even though I suspect none of them could accurately define what a millennial is. If you look at their twitter, they are always trying to get Tim Ferris to retweet their posts.
The latest request came through an email. The latest one of these laid out a life story and why she thought her message was so important. She outlined what she wanted the book to look like and how she was going to sell it.
Then she said she had a budget of $600. For a book.
A stern kick in the shins. The bruise will be there for weeks.
Here is another professional who doesn’t understand the power of words. The real kicker? It was a very well written email.
Depending on time, the depth of the project, and the compatibility with the author, a book realistically costs up into the thousands, sometime tens of thousands, to produce. This is why your uncle who has been trying to get his great American novel published for a decade is so miserable and drunk
Because it is fucking hard work.
I wrote her back to decline kindly. I also attempted to manage her expectations, suggesting she increase her budget and she might find better talent. She wrote back rather swiftly asking me not to tell her “how this works” and then said she found a “great writer” who is going to ghostwrite the book for her.
Bully for her.
As a freelance writer who works with a lot of agencies and individuals, a good deal of time is spent managing expectations. From the time it takes to write, what kind of deliverable will show up, and what it will cost. Price is always the sticking point. It is very rare someone doesn’t come back asking me for a lower price since “it is just words, after all.”
That’s just the thing. They’re words. And aren’t they incredible? The right words can do just about anything.
A few words in a tweet can make the global markets rattle and shake for days on end.
The right passage in a novel can get someone to ask for the help they desperately need
The right line of dialog in a movie can inspire a husband to recommit to his wife.
Carefully selected words can make someone do anything.
Product not moving? I guarantee your sales copy isn’t invigorating enough.
Novel not selling? You haven’t written the kind of thing that inspires people to talk about that “incredible story” they read.
Investing in the right story from the best writer at the right time can be the difference between something that is shared the world around and a blog that is lost forever when the website eventually goes offline.
For 300 pages at $600, that book likely won’t be worth the paper stock used to print it. At that pricing, the writer won’t care enough to invest their valuable energy in it, which means your audience could care less, and who would take you seriously as a motivational speaker or a business guru if your book reads like someone else wrote it? Also, the writer putting together a book for $600 bucks? They have probably starved to death by now.
What is the financial value of words?
There are some books I wish I could have paid the author more. However, the actual value of a book or a story doesn’t usually happen until I flip the halfway page. By then, $20 for a book seems too little, and I start to feel guilty. If it is well written and moves me in some way, I’ll buy all of their other books. If I bought it on Kindle, I would buy it in print. If they only have the one book I give it away to someone and buy a second or third copy.
Even then, it still isn’t enough for some of my favorites. Enough of them are well off with a sizeable audience, so I don’t feel too guilty. Others are small enough that I feel a thrill when I place them somewhere more noticeable in a bookstore.
When it comes to the business book folk, the book can be the foundation of their entire career. It can be the cornerstone of a whole model. Anyone can go on stage, improv for a bit, and spit out an idea that sounds good enough even though we have heard the same a dozen times before. Writing a book is a surefire way to know if you have a terrible idea. If a writer is worth their salt, these kinds of books will never reach the last chapter.
The same goes for your posts and blogs and sales copy and everything else that might put one word after another. Everyone wants to pay as little as possible for it because in the back of their minds they know the page will get a fraction of a second of attention. This is a lousy way to look at content. It makes for a lot of shit content. If we thought of online content the way we think of books, the internet would be a fantastic place with complete thoughts and bold ideas that absorb hours of attention and make great arguments about altering minds.