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If I Had a Nickel…

If I had a nickel for every time something like this happened to me, I could buy a large frothy cup of coffee from a trendy coffee chain. If I had $1000 for every time such a thing ended well...I would still not be rich.

Saturday night, as I was fleeing the cold of my weekly LARP (yes, I write and play games), Theresa asked if she could pick my "writer's brain" sometime. I said, sure, sometime in November when I wasn't on such a tight deadline. One of the new guys to the LARP was sitting there and he suddenly realized I was "that writer." (I'm the person every new player who also writes is recommended to as being a "real writer.")

The conversation went something like this:

Him: Oh. Oh!

Me: *smiles and understands he's realized who I am*

Him: I need your email. You have email, right?

Me: Well, yes. Why? Everything depends on my schedule.

Theresa: Which is why I asked to talk when your schedule was less tight.

Me: Yeah. November, probably. *pause* (to Him) If you have any particular questions...

Him: Oh, no. No particular questions. I just want you to read my shit (sic).

Me: Ah. Well, to that I say...$35 an hour. Two hours minimum. Half upfront.

Him: ?? (He had the best WTF? face.)

Me: I am a fulltime freelancer. Writing is what I do. You wouldn't ask a doctor to diagnose you for free, would you? This is my livelihood.

Him: Huh. Makes sense.

Me: I cannot do it for free. I just don't have the time. If I did read others' stuff just because, I'd end up spending all my time on that and not on my paid work. So, if you're serious...that's my consulting fee.

Then I left. Literally more than a dozen people just from the LARP group alone have asked me to read their stuff. If I said yes to one, I would have at least a dozen more asking me why I didn't read their story for a critique. I have had everyone from my hairdresser to my banker to a stranger at Kinko's ask me to read their stuff. All I can do is say "No." Then, recommend workshops, writing retreats, online resourses and the like.

The new player seemed very thoughtful. Like he'd never thought of asking someone to read his stuff being something that would cut into my working day. It is a good day when such a conversation ends without the other person being offended at me. To date, not one person has taken me up on my professional consulting offer. I guess I'm not really that surprised.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 17th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
I'm in the same boat.
Oct. 17th, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC)
I hear ya. Even though I'm long past the point of desktop support in my IT career... I still get asked "Can you fix my computer?" a lot, from people that are relative strangers.

IT is my bread and butter. My skills are all I have in this life. I'll fix for family, of course, but getting asked by strangers irks me. When I say the company I work for bills me out at $175 an hour... people tend to get resentful.

No one (of course) wants to pay cash to have someone fix their problems. If they were willing to do that, they'd take it in to a store. So, when I give the reasons above, I tend to give people an out these days. I'm willing to barter. If they can come up with something worthy in trade, I'll likely do it.

I don't think it would fix the situation for you, but if someone's very persistent, you can enjoy watching them jump through hoops trying to figure out what they could possibly do that would be worth your time. ;)

(Deleted comment)
Oct. 18th, 2010 12:22 am (UTC)
I'll have to remember that one. That's good.
Oct. 18th, 2010 12:41 am (UTC)
I actually had to think, and yes, I've asked you to read some of my stories, but that was after I had published them to the game forum, and I wasn't really looking for a critique, just wanted you to see what I had written. And I wouldn't have been annoyed at all if they had gotten shoved aside for paid work.

But as for not taking you up on the offer of reading stuff...$35 an hour, two hour min. is a bit steep in this economy. But it keeps you from having to read through all that stuff, so all to the better.
Oct. 18th, 2010 05:10 am (UTC)
It's a way of keeping me on track because, honestly, sometimes I feel guilty for having to tell people "No, I'm sorry, I can't read your story." I would love to help out friends and I do as much as I can. Mostly, I don't have time.

However, there is the blunt truth that I really don't like some of the people who ask. I don't like them personally or I don't like their attitude. Or I know how badly they react to authority figures and don't think they actually want a critique so much as a pat on the back.

So, it is easier to tell everyone no unless they officially consulting with me.
Oct. 18th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
Years ago, a friend who took the same approach told me one other advantage to charging for a critique: if someone's paying you, they won't get snippy about what you tell them.

I haven't taken this tack in a very long time, because the last thing I need at this stage in my career is to risk ending up in Preditors and Editors.
Oct. 18th, 2010 05:17 am (UTC)
Why would you end up in Preditors and Editors?
Oct. 18th, 2010 01:31 pm (UTC)
Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but it seems like a part of the reason P&E exists is to warn people about read-for-hire and publish-for-hire services.

Granted, quoting a rate when somebody asks isn't the same as taking an ad out on CraigsList, but since I'm not as established as you are, I'd be afraid that something like this would give me a bad reputation. Especially since someone who has to pay for this service would be unlikely to recoup the cost when the story is sold.
Oct. 18th, 2010 05:08 pm (UTC)
Interesting. So, if I publicly opened my doors to professionally critiquing stories for a fee, I'm a bad guy. But as this is my livelihood, I can't just critique stories for free because of time constraints on my paid writing and editing. So, unless something, like payment, bumps it up on the priority list, I don't have the scheduled time to critique. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Back to why I don't read people's stuff.
Oct. 18th, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's my best guess at the rules--someone else's rules. I could have it totally wrong; it's just never been enough of my livelihood to make it worth figuring out where the hairs split.

Oct. 18th, 2010 06:28 am (UTC)
Gotta say at $35/hour for consult, min. 2 hours, I think you're being really generous! That's a seriously low rate for your level of experience. :)

Just sayin'.
Oct. 18th, 2010 06:37 am (UTC)
Re: $35/hour?
The sad bit is the fact that a lot of people don't understand that this is a low rate. :)
Oct. 18th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
Wow, this advice is really important to me. I teach creative writing, so I'm used to reading my students' work and have rarely batted an eye when a friend asks...but my time has been nibbled away to nothing. Next time a friend asks, I'll hand them one of my novels and say "When you're done with that, with comments, I'll read your short story". :D I love being "nice" but I can't balance anymore.

Recently I stepped off the "on call list" for some free but professional publisher copy editing I was doing. I did so because I suddenly realized that for the two months I'd been editing for them, I hadn't written -at all-. Bad, bad news.

Do you have any advice for balancing editing with creating?
Oct. 18th, 2010 05:11 pm (UTC)
I like the quid pro quo approach. Writers learn while they critique another writer's work. Maybe you can set up a school critique group.

As for balancing editing and writing, I schedule time for each. It is not always balanced per day or even per week but I always have both editing and writing projects scheduled.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )