I love the scene in ‘You’ve Got Mail’ when Tom Hanks is in Meg Ryan’s book store. After Steve Zahn’s character brings out all the features of a book for sale, Tom asks “Is that why it costs so much?” Steve replies “That’s why it’s worth so much.”
We up-and-comers struggle with pricing our goods. No bones about it, I need money. If I want to make a living doing what I love, I need to churn out a product that people are willing to pay for. So I get myself together. I network, read, write, network, write, network, do research, network, run promotions, network, forego social events, write, network, and network. Have I devoted years of my life to my endeavor? Yes! Do I sacrifice time with friends and family? Indeed! Do I resist the urge to scratch my eyes out when I’m checking my manuscript for grammatical and spelling errors? Barely! Have I spent thousands of dollars on pens, paper, promotions, computers, and travel to other states and countries just for the sake of committing a good story to print? Guilty!
Do you care? It’s just us, you can be honest.
No. You don’t care, you non-carer. You know why? For the same reason a lot of people get annoyed by those ‘will work for food’ signs. What do some of us say (or think) to the holder of that sign? “So do I, man! So do I.”
You drag yourself out of bed, dribble coffee on your pants just as you walk out the door, sit in 3-mile-an-hour traffic, laugh at your boss’s jokes, laugh at your boss’s son’s jokes, bite your tongue when Janice finds a discrepancy on your sales report and decides the whole department needs to hear about it, give the new guy detailed instructions while he takes zero notes, eat at your desk because the manager promised a big client twice the widgets in half the turnaround time, get ribbed by Janice for the coffee stain on your pants, hide in your cubicle because Gary is by the copier and WILL NOT SHUT UP ABOUT HIS TOE INFECTION, give the manager your undivided attention when he camps at your desk for an hour to talk about efficiency, stay an extra hour to finish the work you were doing when the manager camped at your desk (Um, yeahhh can I get those reports in the morning? Greaaat), wedge into 3-mile-an-hour traffic after being cursed out by the texting driver who wandered into your lane, stumble home, and finally veg out. Oh wait…you have kids. A spouse who comes home as tired as you are, a sister who can’t live without a crisis. And kids!
Now here I come, with my faerie stories about following your dreams. Oh look at me, I’ve done research and used the archaic spelling of ‘fairy’. Buy my book. I know what third-class passengers ate for dinner on Titanic. Buy my book. I know that they used the word ‘supper’, but I wrote ‘dinner’ just now because I didn’t want to sound pretentious. Buy. My. Book.
Are you really going to equate the money you earned not telling Gary to SHUT UP ABOUT HIS TOE INFECTION with the work I’ve put into my book? As someone who spent years doing ‘real jobs’, I would never insult my band of brothers. You’ve done your own hard work, so who am I to whine about mine? Who am I to foist my scribbling on you while reaching for your wallet?
‘I’ve worked so hard’ may be a true statement, but who’s talking? Me the writer or you the potential customer? We both have a case, but you more so than me. It’s your money, you earned it, and ‘I’ve worked so hard’ is manipulative. It’s a play on your emotions—feel sorry for me and buy my book. Do I care that you worked just as hard for your money? Not if I’m yammering about how hard I worked. Me me me. What’s in it for you?
My job is to assure you that the time you take to hear my story is time well spent. Oy, I’ve been rambling about money and forgot to mention time!
Take Two—My job is to transport you to a world that is worthy of your time and money. I have to ensure that every trip is as gratifying as the first. I have to make sure you still can’t believe a character said that, no matter how many times you’ve read the words. You know how when you read Pride and Prejudice you aren’t sure if Elizabeth and Darcy will get together? Or how you belly laugh every time you watch I Love Lucy? Yeah. That.
Of course, there’s always the chance that your job is hassle-free. But in order to replenish your productivity, you assign your work a tangible value. When you read my books, I consider myself hired. I’m in the office with you, sitting in your purse or phone or tablet, an escape to a world where you can take a load off. Where things make sense. Where Gary shuts up about his toe.