About two months ago, I decided to add a “Pay What You Want” pricing measure for consulting that was intended to be an option to generate some income for the time I put out. I’ve been looking for ways to make what I do sustainable as well as allow me to focus on this as my career, because of how much time and energy I actually put into it. It’s way past the point of being a hobby and it certainly isn’t something I do for fun.
This appeared to be a good idea because, in my mind, it did not put me behind a paywall. The person on the other end who knew their own situation could decide what they could afford. I presented it as an option. I phrased it as an option. And I figured it would be interpreted as an option. It was not.
Instead, many people just interpreted it as a paywall that separated us. In the past two months, I have received far, far too many comments, messages, and emails from people literally pleading with me for my time, perspective, and assistance though they had no money. I am not okay with that. I absolutely refuse to have anyone sacrifice their dignity on my account. I wish I could put into words how awful it felt to read those words and know I was the cause of them.
And that’s not considering the number of people who didn’t reach out at all as a result.
So, fuck that. That is going away in the very near future.
About Traditional Paths
I’d like to take a moment to talk about traditional paths involving writing and promotion.
A lot of people tell me something to the effect of, “You should really write a book, get it submitted to publishers. Someone will want to publish it, you can reach more people, and become a bonafide, published author!” Let me take a moment to explain what it means to be a bonafide, published author in the traditional space.
There are several different ways the path can go, but let me give an approximation. An author writes a pitch or a manuscript and shops it around to publishers. Let’s say that after about 20 rejections, the author finally gets an offer for a $10,000 advance with a 10% royalty to publish the work.
That sounds pretty nice, right?
Wrong. Writing a book is a lot of tedious, difficult work. The author may spend months to years writing that book. Writing the book is maybe 50% of the process. That’s not including research, editing, proofreading, redrafting, proofreading again, and finishing the manuscript. Bam! After a years worth of work, the author finally finishes their book and it’s ready to send to print.
So the author is going to make money now, right?
Wrong. You see, that publisher is going to do next to nothing to actually promote or market your book. They only agreed to print it, little else. You need an agent, which costs money, or market it yourself, which costs time. And guess what? That advance you received? Your book sales are going to go to paying that back to the publisher until the advance is paid off. THEN you will earn the 10% royalty.
Let’s take the average mental health memoir. It’s like what, $20.00 for a hard back? So, after that $10,000 is paid back, the author will make a whole $2.00 on each book.
So, let’s talk about marketing. Want your book on a bookstore shelf? You or your agent have to make that happen. Want to have book signings? You are the one paying the expenses associated with it. That is, unless you somehow make it big and are important enough for other entities to want to handle those expenses for you. And most authors do not.
About Marketing as an Author
In today’s marketing landscape as it pertains to being a published author, social media is an imperative part of building an audience. Twitter is pretty much an essential platform for authors to interact with their audiences. I’ve tried to expand to Twitter in a meaningful way on two different occasions. As someone familiar with marketing through it, I know it is a powerful tool if you take the time to do it correctly and network. The first time? I couldn’t remember why I hadn’t stuck with it. So, earlier this year, I decided to give it another go.
“I can expand my reach this way! I really should commit to making this work!”
Round two lasted about four days. On Day 3, while perusing the hashtags related to Bipolar Disorder, I caught a tweet from another Bipolar author who was offering her memoir for free in exchange for reviews and blog post exchanges. Blog post exchanges are a pretty solid way to expand one’s audience, so I sent her a message.
I pointed out that I was new on Twitter, but my website had a fair following and generated a good amount of traffic, which is more valuable from a marketing perspective than 40,000 Twitter followers. After some polite conversation, I suggested we should both read one another’s last six blog posts to get a good idea of what we were both about. She agreed that was a good idea.
I read her six. She was a good writer but her content wasn’t really worth reading. It provided no value to the reader. I received a message from her a bit later that said, “You’re going to have to write with more passion if you want to appear on my blog. You’re too technical.” I found that puzzling. My last post was indeed technical, but there were also two angry posts in my past six. They were certainly emotional. I asked her if she had read the past six. She said she had. I sent her links to the two rantish posts and asked, “Is this more what you had in mind?”
She replied, “OMG, NO! You’re so angry! I don’t want that on my blog!” Confirming that she didn’t read the past six, otherwise she would have seen those two and commented on them to begin with.
I sent her a message.
I politely, tactfully, delicately (seriously, I went total, over-the-top professional mode here) explained to her that lying to people who were willing to help was not the best way to form meaningful relationships with them. I essentially opened a door for her to acknowledge her mistake, which would have been fine for me, and then we could move forward. After a lot of consideration and convincing myself that, “I really need to make Twitter work. The sacrifice will be worth it if it will allow me to reach more people.” I added the following to the message, “I’m not particularly fond of your style of writing. It’s not for me. But, I think we can work together on an exchange that will benefit both of us.”
You would think I had threatened to beat her children. That elicited three full direct messages of ranting with such highlights as (and these are actual quotes):
“My story is inspirational and I’m changing the mental health paradigm!”
“I have 40,000 Twitter followers. How many do you have? I am a Queen of Social Media!”
“You need to pay me, my work, and my story the respect it deserves! I am an inspiration to thousands I’m going to be on Dr. Oz someday.”
It ended with: “If you’re willing to apologize for being so rude, I suppose I might be willing to do an exchange with you, if you’ll read my book and give me a review on Amazon.”
Here, my friends, is where my brain somehow left without me. I’m ashamed to say that I sat there, seriously considering how I could salvage this interaction so I could reach more people. As I sat there in thought, my email notifier dinged. I swapped over to my Inbox where four emails awaited my Replies.
One was from a mother facing the prospect of cutting a toxic child out of her life, one was from a newly diagnosed Bipolar person who was terrified for their future, one was from a person whose Bipolar spouse quit their meds, cleaned out their bank account, and bailed, and the latest was from a person I had helped a few years ago who was sending me an update on how they were now doing in life and to thank me.
And that’s when the revelation struck. The reason I didn’t stick with Twitter the FIRST time was because I HATED dealing with people like that author. I wasted THREE HOURS of my time talking to her. That’s three hours I could have spent far more productively: like working on my next eBook, responding to emails, working on marketing, writing blog posts, downtime and decompression, or hitting myself in the junk with a hammer.
I am not an author trying to sell books. I am an advocate who uses the vehicle of the written word to dispel stigma and enable people to better help themselves. I am an advocate who is trying to make quality information and assistance available to anyone that needs it.
You know why I haven’t written a book and shopped it around?
Because 15 year old me, erratic, suicidal, and unstable never would have bought it. Because 19 year old me, squatting alone in an abandoned house never would have bought it. Because 29 year old me, newly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and ready to recover, couldn’t afford to buy it.
And he certainly would not have believed any author that told him, “My story will totally inspire you and totally might help you! It’ll totally change your paradigm! You should totally buy my book for $20 you totally don’t have! And please be sure to totally review it!” I would have looked at that person and thought they were an asshole.
I opted to price my eBooks on a “Pay What You Want” basis so I didn’t have to do the things that are required to succeed in the traditional space. I don’t want to spend my time convincing troubled people to buy my shit, especially since I cannot guarantee that it will resonate or be useful to them. I’ve read a bunch of books on mental health and Bipolar Disorder that were fantastic books, but meant nothing to me because they were written for people with Type 1 Bipolar Disorder.
Times are different now. Technology is the order of the day. For all of the bullshit that goes along with traditional publishing, at a $20.00, 10% royalty? Moving even one $5 eBook means 2.5x more money in my pocket. Traditional publishing is a very poor Return on Investment and time.
About Further Development
In the coming weeks and months, I will be sharing more with you about my plans to expand on what I do. I have a two year goal of establishing a Charitable, For-Profit web-based business aimed at serving not only the mentally ill, but our loved ones and the people who care about us.
Allow me to share with you the most common sentiment I’ve heard in the four and a half years since I started my website.
“I tried talking to my friends and family, but they just don’t understand.”
Well, what if there was a well-managed, well-moderated internet community where you could be around and talk to other people who understand? A community centered around dealing with mental illness in a realistic way and pushing towards results? A community that was healthy, because paid staff with an expectation on quality of service were used instead of unstable volunteers with dangerous or stupid ideas about mental illness? Where the toxic, abusive, and disruptive are shut down and removed?
Life with mental illness is far more than crisis and medical advice. Sometimes, you just need a friend that understands what you’re going through to help keep you pointed in the right direction. Sometimes, you just need someone to help you to your feet and get you moving forward again.
The internet and technology could be very powerful tools for making that happen.