Imagine standing in line at the grocery store. The person in front of you is a few dollars short. It appears they are on hard times as their clothes are worn and dated, the items in their cart few and basic. They appear to be doing what they can to simply survive. An inner nudge causes you to hand over the $10 difference permitting the stranger to have what they seem to need for each day.
The person behind you notices your act of generosity and tells you how health insurance is sucking them dry. They had to choose between medication and some food. They don’t ask but give you a look of sadness that tugs are your heart. So you give. This time, it’s a $20 as that’s all that’s left in your wallet.
On the way to your car you notice a young father struggling with their children, overhearing how he can’t help that he was laid off and that dinner is going to be another nutritionally questionable meal. You’ve already given and have no change left in your purse so you give a bag of your own groceries to this unsuspecting stranger. He is floored by your kindness and first refuses to take the bag. You persist; he acquiesces then asks how to pay it forward.
Then as you open your car door you catch a glimpse of customer #2. They enter a luxury vehicle and their laughter carries on the wind. “Yeah, got a twenty from some gullible woman. Ha! People! They really should be more wary.”
You cringe. You were, indeed, duped.
But what about the other two families? The third seems obviously in need. They had no idea anyone was listening. They even refused the kindness at first and appeared embarrassed. But the first one? There is no way to tell. Appearances aren’t everything. You question your decision to help that soul out but there really isn’t any way to know if what you did was honorable or naïve. And you feel sick. You want to make life easier for others. You don’t want to take the risk that your “selfishness” (as some would say) could hurt another. So, you continue to give.
Once home you empty your groceries and notice the bag you handed to the stranger contained a few items you really needed. You go without until next time as your grocery budget is depleted. You had your own unexpected bills and need to wait until Friday’s paycheck to go shopping again.
In short, you are mixed inside, a ball of hurt for those hurting yet anger for those choosing to siphon off the kindness of others. How to learn and grow for the next time? How to know if the next person who asks for help is a user or scammer?
There is no simple answer.
Although this scenario can speak to us about giving to others who hunger (and who merely play that role in an effort to take from others), it is reflective of how many of us in the creative world move through life. We create with the goal of brightening others’ lives, helping them, connecting them to something beneficial.
More specifically, I pictured this in my head while working out how to move forward this blog, my Etsy shop micro-business and my freelancing career. Whenever a creative chooses to monetize their content, screams can be heard from the masses, “Greedy! Only in it for the money! I thought you were sincere!”
But the reality is blogs and such take work to keep alive. They cost time, actual dollars (webhosting for many of us, security layers, etc. and equipment such as laptops and tablets to record and create content), and something else unseen: personal energy. True, some come to these platforms to make a quick buck but many of us do it as we are givers. We want to share, we want to make someone’s life a little easier, we want to connect with others.
Enter a hard truth: we also get used.
Enter a second hard truth: getting used sucks.
So, how do we differentiate between the suckers and those who are good? Sometimes, we can’t.
But there is another side to this, too. There are so many people in need it is impossible for one person to help them all. (I’m talking to you, fellow creative!) And that fact sucks, too.
As a published author, I have been approached countless times to give freely of my time via writing articles for free, giving free talks and handing out free copies of my book. There is this misnomer that all authors are instant millionaires – and have an endless supply of time, energy and comp copies. Yes, my book has gone into a second printing. Yes, I am traditionally published. But – my book is a niche book in a niche market. And still I receive these requests. I can only imagine what high profile authors are asked for!
All this to say the following: It’s still good to give but you need to “check yourself before you wreck yourself.” (This includes how to perceive and handle comments, too.) I recall the first time I stood up for myself and quoted my fee to someone asking for a free blog post. They snapped at me. It hurt. Which is whack because they were going to make money off my free post. *eyeroll*
Here is a giving tip this author is still working on. Take what works, leave the rest. And, yeah, this advice is “free.”
Create parameters on things you give and do for free
Before saying “yes” to the first person who asks for a freebie (free blog post, free book, free reading, whatever) sit down (or, hey, go for a walk) and identify:
- What you are willing to give away?
- How much of that are you willing to give away?
- Who will you give it to?
For example, let’s say you decide on giving away free copies of your book plus you’re willing to write articles for free. Here are few ways you could sort this out.
Understand how many copies you need to keep for yourself and hold that number firm. Once that’s done, it’s always good to keep a few copies on hand to give to people in the field such as interviewers and others who are in positions to help promote your work. It’s also good to hold on to a few for “thank you” copies. After that number is settled on look at what’s left in your inventory.
If you have books left over, consider this the inventory to pull from when giving to those who ask for freebies. Once that’s done, it’s quite easy to tell others who ask you are out of your comp copies. Most will understand. If they don’t, that’s on them, not you. (Yes, I know that sounds sassy. I’m getting sassier with age.)
Now, you may find after tallying the above you don’t have any left; not even one for a giveaway. If this is the case, decide if you are willing to spend your own money to purchase your own book to give it to people who want a freebie.
If this is the case, I suggest saying the following aloud, “I am going to spend my own money to give my own book to someone who asks for it and is not willing to purchase it.” Then ask yourself how that sounds. You may be ok with that. Maybe you won’t be. Regardless, it is important to understand how you feel when you look at it that way.
Of course, there are times buying your own book and giving it to someone who would genuinely appreciate it is a fantastic, feel-good moment, but you’ll find those are rare. The cold hard truth is that if someone can afford to go out to lunch, buy smokes or drinks, they can buy it. There is also the library.
As for articles, don’t fall into the trap of “writing for exposure.” Unless you know that writing for a certain publication really will open doors (we’re not talking a hunch – that could be lunch that’s talking), figure out how much of your time it will take to write. Now multiple that by minimum wage, then the number of articles you’ll do at no cost. That’s a monetary example of what you’re giving away. Add to that this little nugget: many publications asking for you to write for free are managed by people who are getting paid to put your content up. In other words, they are profiting off your free labor.
Again, I know this sounds harsh to many of you. I’ve learned this the hard way.
ONE OTHER OPTION
One other option is to create a list of people and publications you’ll donate to and stick to it. Most people understand these lists and should respect them. I’ve found saying, “Thank you for your interest in my work, but my commitments are already booked for this year,” an easy, non-confrontational way to say “no.”
At the end of the day do what fits you and your lifestyle. Remember, not everyone has the luxury of working for little to no pay. And trust me creating content is, indeed, work.
Back to our story
If you have found yourself shaking your head, telling me how it hurts others to put content behind a paywall remember this one thing: the need (desire) for content will always exceed what you can produce. If you do not set healthy boundaries for yourself you will burn out. You may even become bitter and resentful in the process. Again, there are countless readers, subscribers, strangers who will benefit from what you produce and truly appreciate it! This is what makes it all so hard. But can you afford to run dry? Can you afford to cover all these costs, yourself? Maybe you can? Some of you can. For some, this is nothing other than a hobby. But for some of us, we scratch and claw to provide for our own homes. As I’ve said before, the mortgage can’t be paid in blog articles, give-aways, or YouTube videos can it?
This is hard to hear for some of us. But it’s important to be direct about difficult situations like this. You must chose self-love and self-care, protecting yourself as you create and give of yourself. It is good and wise to create boundaries, too.
For those ready to write an essay in the comments as to why “I’ve got it all wrong” and that “paywalls are of the devil” I have to ask if you are looking at both sides of this coin. True, it sucks to keep content out of reach of everyone. But it also sucks to create it all just to give away the store.
In closing, this isn’t a case of “one size fits all.” There is no one right answer. For anyone interested in an analytical study, Benebell Wen analyzed her YouTube channel and came up with some incredible insights and data. You can find the link to that blog post HERE.
Whew, this was sassy. But I felt it needed to be said.
Wishing you all the best,