Friday, December 12, 2008

Q: Why did you agree to this interview?

It's Friday and the forecast is promising snow in waves--this afternoon, again Sunday, and probably a third wave next week.  I'm wishing for that snow, though it'll torpedo my weekend plans.  Maybe because it'll torpedo my weekend plans.  I do like going out and accomplishing Stuff and Things but it's been a while since I've holed up in my house for days and days.  I've got good reason to hole up, too.  I've been working on the grass widow book--it's up to 13,000 words now--and I don't want to stop.  
Speaking of which, if anyone out there is a grass widow or knows someone who has a spouse overseas (soldier or contractor, doesn't matter) who is willing to be interviewed for the book, contact me: kamila at easystreet dot net.  I'd like to hear all about it.  I'll even make the interview super easy and painless, and folks can choose to have names mentioned or remain completely anonymous.
Which brings me to an anecdote.  Chatting with a non-fiction author about the quirky situation of writing about real life (with such topics as how real is real, different accounts of the same event and how they relate, etc.) the subject of using real names and interview materials came up.  The author said that after a short interview one subject of his book asked how much he would get paid for the use of his name.
Um, nothing?  
The author changed the name rather than feel beholden, even though the person had no legal right to demand money for the use of their name in a creative non-fiction work.  He didn't want to deal with the emotional and possibly legal fall-out should this person come after him in the event the book was actually published and, heaven forbid, did well in the marketplace.
The thing about writing and selling books is that unless you're super lucky, super famous, or established, or--er, I don't think there's a fourth option--it's unlikely you can pay for groceries with what you make, much less a mortgage.  If most writers paid themselves the federal minimum wage for the hours spent on their projects, they'd go bankrupt in no time.  In fact, they'd go bankrupt if they paid themselves only a dollar per hour.  Assuming a part time schedule with two weeks vacation, I'd have to pay myself around $1500 a year at a buck an hour.  This year I've earned about $150.  If I sold a book and got a $2000 advance on it (no guarantee of that advance, especially if it's published through a small press,) I'd be about $500 ahead.  I could pay my taxes with the extra cash!  Yay!
Er, boo, actually.  And the book may not even sell.  Plus, I write closer to full time.
So the folks that participate through interviews or share ideas or critique or what have you to be a part of a writer's process should help out because they want their information out there, or out of friendship, or professional courtesy or in exchange for similar services, or maybe as a promotional opportunity if the book relates to a commercial venture.  You can do it for the oblique gratification of being included in the acknowledgements, or because it feels good to contribute to an art form.  Maybe you just would like to transmit important information to the world community on a non-fiction topic.  Maybe you've succeeded at something, and you'd like to help someone else succeed--paying it forward.  Regardless, even if an author is financially able to compensate you, is there a reason why they should?  There is one.  If it's your book, and you're paying them to ghost write for you.
Sure, if I make a gizillion dollars on a blockbuster, I'll do something nice for the people who contributed.  If I can't even buy groceries, I'll still try to arrange for a free copy through the publisher, or spend money out of my own pocket (assuming I have two dimes to rub together and I'm not eating cat food and living in my car,) to get a free copy of the book to interviewees, signed if they like, with my profuse thanks.  But getting interviewed is not a way to make money, and the use of your name in a book doesn't imply you ought to be compensated.  
End of rant.  Where's my snow?

No comments: