Thursday, April 16, 2009

What are you worth?

I've met some pretty interesting people in my travels and learned some even more interesting things. While on an Easter vacation trip to Amsterdam to visit the family of one of my singing buddies, Johanna, I met a young woman Johanna went to school with. This young woman worked as an escort. Yes, THAT kind of escort. She was beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated, cultured, well-educated and she slept with men for money. A LOT of money. I'll admit I was a bit put off by the whole idea at first. But, she was our hostess that night and took us to some great nightspots in Amsterdam - music and dance clubs and a fabulous restaurant and everywhere she was treated with a great deal of respect. As the evening wore on, I got comfortable enough with her to actually talk about her profession. I discovered she'd never worked in the famous "red light" district and she had definite opinions of those who did. She'd started as a high priced escort and her price and the number of "dates" she went on got higher and more prestigious as the years went on. I say years. She started at age 22 and I met her when she was 28. She fully intended to retire at age 30 and had the impressive stock portfolio and financial assets to do so. One of her regulars was an investment banker. This was in the late 80's when that was a good thing to be.

What does this have to do with writing? I'll tell you. When I asked her what the difference was between what she did and what those girls in the windows of the red light district did she said "The difference is, I think I'm worth more than that." Interesting concept. Now I would never want to decide how much sex with me was worth. It sort of boggles the mind, among other things.

I did know, however, what my musical skills were worth. I sang professional opera. I spent a lot of time and money training my voice, learning to speak 8 languages, taking dance lessons and practicing, practicing, practicing. My voice was worth something. Still is to some degree. (Some days its worth more than others. LOL) I charged a lot for singing certain pieces because they were hard and tough on the voice. I only do free concerts for churches. That's my tithe. Everyone else pays.

There were times I sang in night clubs and bars to make money. My voice teachers would have KILLED me if they knew. I mean really,truly killed me. They called that sort of activity "whoring" for lack of a better term. They saw it that way, but there were times when that starving musician gig was NOT what it was cracked up to be. Singing Patsy Cline's Crazy put food on the table before Mozart started paying.

As a writer, I don't know what I'm worth yet. And that brings me to the question. How do you decide what a book you have written is worth or do you leave that up to the editors and agents. I just spent a year of my life writing my second book. I spent the year before that writing my first book. Some of you can write a book in three months or six months and I am in COMPLETE awe of that. But I don't think the amount of time you spend writing it should determine the value of your book.

Do you send your manuscript off to every editor that requests it even if you KNOW the house consistently pays at the low end of the scale. Is it more important to make that first sale than it is to set a value on your work and then hold out for the better deal?

So, that's my question. How much are you worth? How much is your baby, the thing you've spent all this time writing worth? How do you determine the value? And more important than money, how much does it mean to you to be published. Forget the money, the fame (LOL) and everything else. How much is it worth to have completed a book, to have written "the end" and to know that you gave everything you had to tell a story?


Christine said...

Hi Louisa: I have been pondering the publishing dilemma for a while now. Last year I couldn't focus on it due to a huge move and getting resettled. I felt good just entering contests and the GH with the 3rd MS. Now I have to go in and make some global fixes, write the query letter and redo the synopsis and I keep getting derailed with life hijackings. Any rate, I have made PRO and I read online on the loops about the pros and cons of e-publishers and print publishers. At this point, I am willing to go either way just to get name recognition. My dream is to publish with BLAZE HQN or Kensington BRAVA but I'm not holding my breath. I've queried BLAZE with the 3rd MS and been rejected, so I am wondering if it worth it to try again. Meanwhile I have a 4th MS waiting in the wings to revise and a YA book/series I am toying with and I don't know where to put my energy, especially now that I've had a few health concerns and need to use my time wisely.

Any rate, it is important to me to publish. What is the point of writing the blasted things if only me, my CPs and my reading buddies read them? It's not even about the money at this point. I just want to see some results for all the time I spend in front of the computer.

Okay, I wrote a mini novel--sorry! But it is weighing on me as I thought I'd have queries ready by next week Friday and I've been unable to finish the part of the book that needs revising till now--thus derailing my efforts. I am giving myself a new, first week in May deadline.

Oh, and I am Dutch so I enjoyed your story about Amsterdam very much!!

Susan Gee Heino said...

What a brilliant blog topic, Louisa! (Yes. you had me at "high-priced escort". LOL) When a writer has spent months and months pouring herself into a ms, how on earth can a value ever truly be determined for it? Great question!

After a few years of writing and submitting and being rejected, I finally came up with a ms that started getting some notice. I could tell this one had "value". But how much? Well, like every other comodity, the value is only as much as someone is willing to pay for it.

So, when offers started coming in, I decided to disassociate that "value" from the ms in particular but attach it to my career. Was this the best book ever written? No. Should I keep holding out until I was offered six digits? Probably not going to happen. Did I want the best deal possible that would position me for more sales and another contract? Absolutely!

Fortunately I had a great agent who handled all that for me.
I ended up with a nice 1st contract for two books. (Sigh of relief.) I know other authors who've done much better with their first book and I know some who've not.

For me, though, the value is in the long term. I intend to work just as hard on my 18th book as I did on my first 7. (Yeah, it took that many before I sold!) I have a couple mss in my drawer that aren't half bad--but I don't think my publisher will want them. Will I "whore" them out to some lower-paying publisher? You betcha! Will I use the same author's name that's on the cover of my upcoming release? Probably not! I'm trying to establish a level of "value" there.

And when I write the next high-concept series that will leave Harry Potter and Twilight groveling in my dust I'll attach a seperate value to that, as well. But I'm not there yet. Darn it.

Now, Louisa, you can sing Patsy Cline for me any day and I'll never call you a whore!

Susan Gee Heino

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Great topic, Louisa! And yeah, you snagged me with 'high priced escort' too. I need to learn to write blog hooks from you. :)

And I'm prepared to pay to hear you sing, my dear! Do we get some Patsy in DC? Or an aria? ;-) (And what do you think of Susan Boyle? OMG, that voice! I cry every time I watch the video.)

Value. This is tough. It depends in part on what a writer wants from her career.

Here's what I *knew* I wanted (and I waited a looong time to get it): an agent; a deal with a major house; a reasonable advance with potential for growth. There's not much an agent can do for a first time category author money-wise -- but there was plenty she could do in other areas. My agent is WORTH her 15%, and I feel like my work is worth an agent, if that makes sense.

I made a conscious decision that I wanted an advocate for my whole career. For me, my worth included getting an agent. I know you've asked about what the book is worth, but for me it's a whole package.

Also, if you go the agent route, I believe a good agent will be realistic with you about what you can expect. Having someone to worry about these things for me when contracts come up is awesome. I'm responsible for what I agree to, but she's not afraid to ask for things I'd have never thought of.

Again, she's worth it. And so am I. :) Hope this makes sense because now I'm wondering if I meandered -- but the agent question is part of the worth question for me.

I know that getting an agent can be tougher than selling the book, but I think what a writer should do is keep an eye on potential agents in case she gets an offer from an editor. I signed with my agent days before the offer, but we both pretty much knew one was coming.

And now, after all this blathering, no two experiences are alike -- so what happened for me or for Susan or for anyone else won't be the same as what happens for Louisa or Christine. Just know what you want and know what you are willing to compromise. I think that's all anyone can do.

Diane Richmond said...

Every writer has pondered the questions you raise in your blog. I have often given myself deadlines as a means of spurring me into action. The fact remains, even when those deadlines pass, I still keep writing. Being published is good for the ego and eventually it may even prove to be profitable, but more important to me is the satisfaction I get from the first and last words I put on each manuscript.

What's it worth? .......Priceless!

Carla Swafford said...

Too funny, Louisa. I was thinking about this just the other day. No, not the escort thing, though with this economy...well, we'll see. But what do I expect to receive for any of my manuscripts (10)? So many times in my life I've undervalued myself and would realize my mistake when it's too late. As every manuscript I write is part of me, I need to learn to believe my writing is worth as much as I can dream. And of course, being a writer I can dream big. Yes, I would like my first advance to be in the six-seven figures. Though I'm a dreamer, I'm a realist too. So what would satisfy me? To have an agent and editor love my work. Then for my books to be published and have strangers to tell me that my stories took them away from their troubles or encourage them to love again. All else will come.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Carla, those are wise words, my friend. You said it very well. An editor and agent who love your work, and readers who are swept away. That is value. :) And you (rhetorical you) have to determine, when that offer comes, if that value is there. If there's a sinking feeling in your stomach, probably not. :)

M.V.Freeman said...

This post defininetly made me think, what am I worth? I have read all the comments in this blog and honestly, each one sparks something in me.

For me, at the moment, it's completing the story. From there, I will make the next step.

One day, one day...It all will come and the best thing for me to do is keep on putting one foot in front of the other.

(No pearly words of wisdom...just a sigh of longing as I read what others have written)

Louisa Cornell said...

Hello, Christine! You're Dutch! That's fantastic! I miss my friend, Johanna very much. I had such a great time in her hometown every time we had a long holiday and could make a visit. Her parents pampered us and took such great care of us. Amsterdam is really beautiful!

I am right there with you when it comes to getting ready to query. I am all but finished with the revisions of my Golden Heart 2009 manuscript so I am ready to send out the queries, but it really is a daunting prospect. The thing to do is just keep trying!

Louisa Cornell said...

You're on, Susan! I'll sing Patsy Cline for you one of these days!

And I am looking forward to that series that leaves J.K. Rowling in the dust!

I think you made a really smart decision to look at this first book as the first step to bigger and better things and the most important thing it did was land you and agent! That is HUGE in this business!

Louisa Cornell said...

I did hear Susan Boyle. Is that not a phenomenal voice? I love it when someone is so much more than they appear!

Yes, I figured the escort comment would pull in some Pixie Chicks. We are a rowdy crew!

I think you've got a really good bead on what is important and how to see things in prospective at this point in your career. As you said it is all about what you are willing to compromise to get to where you EVENTUALLY want to be!

Louisa Cornell said...

Great dreams, Carla! And yes you are worth those dreams!! I think many of us tend to undervalue what we do and who we are and it is a hard habit to break.

Your ultimate goals as a writer are the ones we should all pursue. If we do the rest will follow!

Louisa Cornell said...

One foot in front of the other is exactly how all of those big time authors got where they are, M.V. One word, one phrase, one sentence, one paragraph, one chapter at a time. Once you get to the end you will realize exactly how much what you have written is worth and nobody can take that from you!

Louisa Cornell said...

Diane, you hit the nail on the head. Ultimately the value of doing something few people have done, accomplishing a goal that you set and persevered to reach is absolutely PRICELESS!!