Do me a favour

I struggle, truly, to understand people who don’t bat an eyelid at handing over £3.50 for their morning cococcino frappe-foamed mochalatte but baulk at the prospect of paying that, or less, for an eBook.

Happy to support an international coffee-house chain but not an independent writer who may be shivering around a mug of thin Maxwell House instant blend while you’re wiping airy white bubbles off your nose?

Oh do me a favour.

“Do me a favour” is something established writers hear far too often. I was reminded of this recently when the writer Helen Yendall, who runs the friendly and readable Blog About Writing, wrote a post entitled On Doing Writerly Things for Free, and included an anecdote about an out-of-the-blue request for help from a stranger.

Helen’s book

The subject of the request was one which Helen has written a book about — called Start a Creative Writing Class. I’ve just bought it. I have long toyed with running a local writing class of some kind, albeit non-fictional, and I’m currently picking up some valuable tips … including one which made me laugh out loud on how to deal with chatterboxes, which I intend to transfer to everyday life.

The stranger appeared reluctant to invest in that book, or an other affordable book which would help them. So while that individual may still be hunting for information, I’m here learning, chuckling, and feeling smug that I’ve supported a writer.

Your frappuccinolatte caffeine hit won’t last as long, trust me …

Periodically in writing circles, the subject of working for free or being asked to offer professional services for the experience really kicks off, and we writers all have a moan.

Good. We are entitled to moan. Our books are being pirated. Freelance writing rates have stagnated. Publishers are increasingly making ‘all rights’ grab attempts in ‘take it or leave it’ contracts. And still, still, people are reluctant to give us the price of a cup of coffee, simply because, I would hazard, they just don’t appreciate the skills involved in research and writing.

Or is it because it’s just Too Damned Easy to download a free book these days?

Or is it because there are too many out there willing to work for nothing, or for peanuts, because, you know, exposure and stuff?

A combination, perhaps. It not only makes us writers financially poorer, it also makes us all culturally poorer, and not as information rich as we should be.

With my other hat, I write about allergies and gut health and related issues, such as specialist foods (gluten free, vegan).

You should see the requests for favours I get …

I buy and eat ALL the pickles yeah

I’ve been asked to provide consultancy, to give business advice to a brand looking to expand overseas, to gain access to my mailing / subscriber list, for links to be added to my website (interminable, that one), to share promotional material with my followers, to email a chapter from one of my books because “I don’t need the rest of them” … On and on it goes.

I mean, really. “Send me chapter 6 because that’s the only one I want.” As reasonable as mailing the manufacturer of a jar of mixed pickles and asking them to take the onions out and send them to you.

Please know this: the people making these requests are strangers, on the whole. They are people I would not be able to pick out of a police line-up, but would dearly love to put there.

As I said to Helen in my comments to her post, if people are customers already (I’ve worked with them before, or they’ve bought one of my books) I am more than happy to try to help. Similarly, if I’ve established a relationship with them, even if only online, I will do likewise.

No, it’s when people materialise out of the ether to look for you and your skills and knowledge only when they need something from you that I get Very Grumpy.

Normally, I’m a bloody delight ….

Comments 4

  • Thanks for the mention, Alex! I feel the same as you: if someone I’ve worked with, or who’s done me a good turn (or even someone I vaguely know!) asks for help, then I’ll usually try to oblige but cheeky ‘strangers’ who, as you say, can’t even be bothered to spend the price of a coffee on my book, get short shrift! (Or at least, a polite ‘Sorry, I don’t have time’!). I’ve lost count, by the way, of the number of times I’ve emailed requested information to people and never even got a thank you. There’s something about an email that makes people – who would ordinarily never forget to say thank you, in a face-to-face situation – ‘forget’ their manners! Gosh, don’t I sound like a grumpy old woman!

  • I think ebooks have exacerbated the issue. Readers expect ebooks to be cheaper than print, and now get frustrated when they’re not (because publishers don’t want the cheaper ebook format cannibalising hardback and paperback sales when those formats are released). And the waters are further muddied by ‘marketing’ techniques used by both traditional and self-publishers when they offer certain ebooks for free (such as the first in series) or simply do a short-term free promotion. Some of these have devalued the perception of writing as a skill. And the only way to fight it is to stand our ground!

    • I am ALL for standing our ground! There seems to be an energy gathering around this amongst writers. I think the piracy issue could galvanise us into launching a new wave of writers’ rights!

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