Last week in one of the Facebook groups I manage, I posted a link to a free webinar I’m giving about how to create and sell your first digital product. That prompted comments from several members who said it’s unethical to sell an ebook for more than $10.
While I like hearing other people’s opinions (partly because it helps me better build my business, which relies on people buying guides that cost from $24-$59), I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly why so many writers and artists and creators can’t figure out how to make a living doing what they enjoy.
Do you think a lawyer who specializes in a certain type of law would NOT charge $250/hour if his clients value his expertise that much, just because most lawyers he knows charge only $100/hour?
Do you think a lobbyist who has developed a niche would NOT charge for the knowledge he’s gained over the last decade?
Do you think anyone else who has something the world considers valuable would be happy and satisfied with getting paid less than they’re worth?
The answer is a BIG, FAT NO.
So why shouldn’t a writer who can offer a special type of value and organize that information in an interesting and inspiring way charge whatever people will pay to access that niche information, even if it’s more than the $9.99 price point of most ebooks?
Informational guides — and what you can charge for them — are a different beast than most ebooks (particularly novels); here’s a post that explains why. Yet the beauty of our information economy is that one of the best ways to convince people to buy your products is by offering lots of quality, FREE information (like the post you’re reading right now). Which means everyone wins: people who don’t want to buy get to learn for free, people who might consider buying get to taste what the creator offers before shelling out, and the creator gets plenty of opportunity to create and sell. Wins all around, right?
But this post isn’t really about ebooks, nor is it about the price of ebooks. It’s about learning how to make a living off your craft. It’s about knowing what you’re worth and charging what you’re worth. In fact, sometimes others won’t value your expertise until you charge for it. (And no, I’m not talking about 99 cents.)
Because here’s the thing: we all need to make a living. Most of us respect each others’ need to make a living, which is why we’re willing to pay fair prices for services and products. No one is going to judge you for doing your best to make a living.
Actually, I take that back. Some people WILL judge you, and that might be hard to swallow. But you have to ignore those people if you want to make a living doing what you love.
Otherwise, you will be one of the many writers and creatives who constantly fail to make a decent living off your work. I’ve completed a handful of fellowships at writer’s colonies, and each time I am shocked at how many fellows — and these are talented artists and writers — struggle to earn enough money from their art to support themselves and their families.
Why? I think writers and artists and creators fail to make money from their art for two big reasons:
1. They don’t know how to use their skills to create something people will actually pay for
2. They’re creating something people will pay for, but they don’t know how to market the product or themselves
You could easily replace the “don’t know how” in both of those reasons with “don’t want to.” Often, artists don’t want to shift their mindset or routine to include what it takes to make money (and yes, that includes spending time on marketing and promotion).
But guess what, folks? Money doesn’t make itself. Sometimes you have to suck it up a little if you want to continue doing what you’re doing, if you want to support your artsy habit. Even those of us who love our jobs have to do some things we don’t enjoy. Loving your job, as awesome as it is, does NOT mean loving each and every one of your responsibilities; it means loving most of it. You’re probably always going to have to do a little something you don’t enjoy. That’s just how earning a paycheck works.
It’s worth it though, because when you do spend a little time figuring out how to monetize, you can continue making your art. And you might even enjoy making that art even more because you aren’t worried about money.
(If this is making you wonder how I make money off writing, here’s a post that explains.)
What this means for you and your life
Here’s what I’m getting at: it is NOT wrong to try to make a living from your art, to charge enough money that you can afford to create — so long as some people will actually pay what you’re asking. So stop feeling guilty about it! (Click to tweet this idea.)
What’s truly WRONG, what’s truly a disservice to yourself and your community, is when you undervalue your work: when you sell it for less than you deserve to earn, less than you could earn.
What’s wrong is not giving yourself the opportunity to make a living doing what you love. And if you don’t charge for your work, you are depriving yourself of that opportunity, even if you don’t mean to.
So get out there and do these three things:
1. Charge for your art, whether that art is writing or painting or building an awesome product.
2. If you can’t charge for it — that is, if no one will buy it — figure out how to turn what you usually create into something people will pay for. (In other words, be more than a writer.)
If you’re not open-minded about this, by the way, IT WILL NEVER WORK. If you’re not willing to be a little flexible and a little adaptable and a little entrepreneurial, you will continue to fail at making a living from your art. Worse, you’ll maybe even criticize other people who have figured out how to make a living doing what they love, because you will be bitter.
3. Be willing to put in the hours to promote yourself and your work, so you can sell enough to support your lifestyle of creation.
What do you create that you should charge for? If you struggle with this, what’s keeping you from experiencing success?