Imagine receiving this letter with your utility bill:
Please see the attached statement asking for payment. We are so very sorry that we feel the need to ask you for payment. We know we have provided electricity and running water for you faithfully, and without interruption, all month. Judging from your usage, these are services you both need and want.
As you are aware, Hestia, the goddess of hearth and home, has graciously provided fire so we can run our generator. As Hestia’s servants, we don’t want to disgrace her in any way. We love providing utility service to you so much that, because of Hestia, we would gladly let you enjoy lights and water for free, forever, if we could. Sadly, because this world is cruel and hard, we are forced to ask for meager compensation.
Please don’t let Hestia or any of her earthly representatives know about this missive. We know that money is filthy and should never be discussed. We apologize a million times for bringing up this matter and would avoid this discussion at all costs if we could. Again, we are so sorry.
Your Obsequious Servants,
The Utility Company
If you ever get a letter like this from any corporation, let me know. Because it would be weird, right? Unfortunately, many writers express similar feelings about being paid for their work. If you are one of these writers, I get it. But. Please. Stop. Today.
For one, money is not evil. It is the love of money that is evil. Money is a tool, and currency is our agreed upon system to gauge the worth of an item or service. That’s all.
Of course it’s wonderful to possess a sweet spirit, and not to be money grubbing. But the fact is, we must not be afraid of money. Writers need to give their agents an overview of their financial needs. While the best agents will work as hard for a rich author as a poor one, knowing how the author is positioned moneywise does help us help you make the best decisions for managing your career.
If you’re shy about talking about finances, working with an agent who isn’t averse to talking money with publishers is a gift from the real God. You can say to your agent, “I love writing so much I’d do it for free!” Your agent should know not to tell that to your editor!
As a writer, you are providing a service to your publisher and to the public. Never, ever, be hesitant about discussing your compensation with your business partner.
What tips can you offer writers when they need to talk about money?
I wonder why talking about money is such a hard topic.
No matter what job I’ve had, if my hours were short I’ve always had a hard time bringing it up to my boss. I’m definitely shy about discussing finances. It’s a good thing my husband is better and helps me stand up for myself.
What a wonderful letter! I especially loved the use of the word “obsequious.”
It’s a hard balance to strike for Christians, not focusing on money yet realizing the necessity of it in our lives. I’m sure it doesn’t help either that there’s an attitude of entitlement among consumers that so many movies, shows, and books should simply be free. They don’t understand why artists should expect to be paid! Pirating sites abound.
I’ve never had a problem accepting money for nonfiction or technical writing–in fact, I’ve supported myself with it for my entire adult life. But when it comes to fiction… somehow it feels like it’s too much fun to be paid for this. Plus, I’d be writing it anyway–those ideas just bubble to the surface until they’re dealt with 🙂 But there’s an extra joy in being paid for something you love, because it places concrete value on the work of your heart. And there’s nothing wrong with that. God enjoys blessing us for our obedience–and not just in the unpleasant tasks, but in every work He asks us to do.
It’s comforting to know that the money topic is not so absurd even as a Christian author… And that agents really care about their clients financial state.
I’ve learned as a freelance writer who rarely writers for free anymore that writers have to look at what they do as a business, even if they haven’t sold a book or article. As the Apostle Paul says, a laborer is worthy of his wages, and as writers, we do labor to write the best stories, no matter how “easy” or “fun” it is. Therefore, we should expect compensation according to our skills/abilities, which means first time authors probably aren’t going to get advances that rival established writers. But expecting to be paid for writing elevates the writing (and writer) itself in a good way.
I think when writers don’t expect payment, it belittles in a way their writing and what God has called them to do (write). So I always encourage writers to expect payment (most of the time) for their work, whether fiction or nonfiction.
I have never had a problem talking, or even arguing if necessary, about money. I have amassed a great deal of it over the years.There doesn’t have to be any shame for any party in an honest business deal.
When it comes to my Christian writing its different. For me, the clash isn’t about money per se, its about motivations. As a Christian author my motivation (being moved) is to serve God without reservation or condition, period. I don’t do it for the money.
This motivation does not look for payment, is impervious to scoff, pain, sacrifice, embarrassment, criticism and so on. When you have an author who’s first and foremost motivation is to serve God it clashes with others in established publishing who’s primary motivation is profit. It feels like trading upon (profiting from) what started out to be the authors sincere offering to Our Father. When asked to change the manuscript so that it will “sell better” (to obtain more money of course) lays bare the age old conflict between having to choose to serve God or serve man. The moneychangers, sellers of sacrificial animals and other “tradespeople” in the temple saw no problem with profiting on the adoration of God. HIS son Jesus saw it differently, HIS wrath set an everlasting example for us to witness and heed.
I, in no way, judge those who would place themselves between me and my sincere offering to God, if permitted, while adding a profit for themselves, that will be up to Our Father. If an author has made the conscience decision that they are in it for the money or fame then they may be much more comfortable with the mercenary aspect.
IF THE SUBJECT MATTER WAS ANYTHING ELSE THEN THERE WOULD BE NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER, BRING ON THE PROFITS!
I hope this helps give some insight as to why some authors have that nagging feeling inside about “selling” their Christian work.
Matthew 6:24 [Full Chapter]
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon. (money)
Luv ya! God Bless!
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Wow, Rochellino–I’m really, REALLY surprised to read your analogy of writing for pay to being a money changer in the Temple!
My dear friend and her young adult children are all multi-talented in vocal and instrumental music and composition, which we all consider gifts from God. All have advanced training in teaching and/or performance–one with a master’s. They have won competitions and prestigious scholarships, played in professional orchestras, and one has played on international stages. Yet combinations of them sing and/or play for our congregation of <200 every Sunday, leading us in worship and bringing glory to God. That is always their motivation.
The dad of the family is in vocational ministry. The mother and young adult children operate a music school. They charge fees for their lessons and professional performances that reflect their high levels of education and expertise. Their income helps pay for the groceries, insurance, and utilities in their home and gas for their cars. Is that mercenary? To me, that seems very congruent to a Christian writer being paid for the books and articles s/he writes using God-given talents that have been sacrificially honed with education and practice. It seems to me that it is using what we have to bring glory to God, and acknowledging that He is using those means to supply our needs. Am I missing something?
Dear Linda, it looks like you may have read things into my comment that aren’t there or possibly arrived at faulty conclusions. I will attempt to clarify. First, at no time did I criticize writing for pay. I have written and spoken for pay many times in the past (secular). My God given talents have earned me a fortune over my lifetime. Their is nothing wrong if God chooses to prosper someone.
I make a distinction of secular work I do and work I do for the Kingdom. I clearly point out this differentiation when I say “when it comes to my Christian writing its different”. I went on to explain my motivation for my Christian writing which is to serve God. I cannot serve God while at the same time conform my work to what “man” wants (profits).
The moneychanger example is clearly in reference to the choice one might have to make to serve God or serve man. Without doubt they were serving their own profitable self interests even though some may have convinced themselves that they were being of service to God in the temple to fit their own agenda. I can only point to Our Father Jesus reaction to them and always keep it in mind.
The family of your dear friend that you describe sounds very blessed. Of course they should be paid for stage performances, professional orchestra work, teaching at their music school and so on. It sounds like Our Father has indeed prospered them. Here is the only question I have to ask you pertaining to them that went unanswered in your description. Do they charge the congregation for participating in the Sunday service?
Lastly, I made it very clear that this is how I feel about MY Christian writing and that I “judge not” anyone else for THEIR opinion or feelings on the matter. This was not meant for anyone to internalize or feel uncomfortable about. It was meant to perhaps shed light and understanding as to why some authors (at least this one) may feel this way.
Obviously, I am not the only one who holds such trepidations on the subject. It could be more widespread than one may think. If it wasn’t a chronic issue it would not have warranted being a blog topic on such a prestigious website by a very respected agent. As always I appreciate your opinion and thank you for your comments.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Thanks for the clarifications, particularly: “I make a distinction of secular work I do and work I do for the Kingdom. I clearly point out this differentiation when I say “when it comes to my Christian writing its different”. I went on to explain my motivation for my Christian writing which is to serve God.”
I realized that your perception and mine are opposite on the issue of making such a differentiation. I have long taken the admonition of Colossians 3:23 very literally–that whatever I set myself to do, I should do it heartily as unto the Lord, and not unto man, so I do not want a sacred/ secular distinction between aspects of my life or work. I work hard to see that it’s all done with the same attitude and the same motivation–for the glory of God (Eph. 1:12). Do you think your life and writing be different if you didn’t seek that distinction? Food for thought? 🙂 Grace and peace to you.
I am quite happy with my life and writing traveling the path illuminated by the light of the Lord. Yes, I imagine my life would likely be different if I didn’t discern the distinction between trying to serve two masters. Terribly different. I refer again to Matthew 6:24 admonishing us regarding service to God or mammon, a clear distinction being made.
Haggai 1:5-7New King James Version (NKJV)
5 Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!
6 “You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.”
7 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways!
Reading carefully your latest comment I realize we may be talking about two different points. Yours is about doing the best that you can do applying all the gifts given to you by God (Col 3:23). I totally agree with this. Mine is about serving God or man and whether I should be paid for it. (Mat 6:24) I steadfastly maintain and I am sure that you would also agree that there certainly is a distinction between God and man. When I work for God I wouldn’t dream of charging for it. When I work for man I wouldn’t be reluctant at all to charge for it.
That fact that your friend nor her children charge performance fees for their professional level musical performances to the church services speaks volumes to me, much to their credit. They seem to be making the same distinction that I am, charging for secular services rendered to man employing all the gifts given to them by God while joyfully contributing their work that is being rendered to the Kingdom of God without regard for payment. God bless them.
To borrow from Ronald Reagan “If we agree eighty percent of the time you are probably my friend”. I believe our interaction was constructive and I can clearly see that each of us has overcome the dreaded curse of reticence. God bless you Linda.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
PS My friend is the paid staff music director for the church. Neither she nor her children charge performance fees for ministering in services.
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Critically important and right on target, as usual, Tamela!
When I began consulting for scholars writing their dissertations, which involves several kinds of writing by me, I had many of the same thoughts you so creatively expressed in the utility company letter. The worst challenge came when an acquaintance asked for a reduced fee based on her economic situation, and I gave it, then kicked myself. Her economic situation was no worse than mine, and my well-researched standard fees were already on the far low side of standard for that level of coaching/editing, because of all the reasons you listed. 🙂 I felt she had taken unfair advantage of me, and I had allowed it. I had to pray about my attitude in order to keep our friendship–but I also learned from what had happened.
After that, a far-distant college asked me to present in-services about research I had published, but said they didn’t have money for anything but my expenses. I said I appreciated the offer, but would not come on that basis. They wrote my fee into their next budget, and the next year I had the opportunity to go there and speak four times and be paid my expenses AND my set fee.
I am a Christian who always wants to be a giver and helper; but the laborer being worthy of the hire is also a biblical truth, although we writers seem to find difficult applying to ourselves. Sometimes I donate my writing and speaking, but when pay is contractually agreed, I no longer feel bad or less godly for requesting it.
TIP? Be a Christian business person. Know the value of what you offer, and put it in a contract. When I have to write a letter reminding a client about an overdue payment, I can just refer to the contract–and offer to re-negotiate means of payment (not the amount) if they have extenuating circumstances–that’s brotherly love that preserves their dignity and my respect. The contract helps me be more professional in every kind of writing and speaking I do that deserves pay. I agree that true professionalism carried out with the right attitude doesn’t diminish one’s testimony at all.
I’m so glad you posted this!! Writers need to buy groceries, pay for gas, pay bills, etc. I’ve had so many people ask me to “just use you talents” to “help” since “well, you know how to write”. I’ve had doctors, lawyers, friends, acquaintances ask, and the list goes on… Some get downright miffed at me if I say no. But then I say, “I suppose it’s all right with you if I use your talents to help me because you know how…”
Often they realize the problem. Sometimes they don’t and I have to explain that this is my job that I’ve earned through a lot of education that cost me money like theirs did. To write for free means I can’t buy groceries, and like them, I need to buy groceries regularly. To do it for one person isn’t hard. But because I’m known as a writer, this is a request I get multiple times a day. So, if I do that all the time for free then when do I actually have time to write for my job? ,
Writers have to take a lot of classes, go to conferences, pay for travel, food, etc. to keep our businesses going. I don’t mind offering a tip and trading work for equal benefit—barter. But I’m not willing to devalue what I do because someone else wants what I can do without paying for it.
A workman is due his wages, whether a writer or doctor or any other job.
I heard a serviceman once say, “Yes, sir, you can do this yourself if you know how. But it’s my know-how that you’re paying for.”
Love that answer!
Tamela Hancock Murray
Angie, I wonder if these same people would walk up to a dentist at a party, open their mouths, and say, “Hey, do you see any cavities?”
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Angela, I love your ending quote–What a great way to speak the truth without being offensive!
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Tamela, I teach for three colleges and money seems like a dirty word- like academics should somehow be “above” money. I think the Biblical expression that “a laborer is worthy of his hire” (Slight paraphrase there) is right on. While we should write because that is the work that the Lord has given us to do, we should not be embarrassed about getting paid for it.
Right on Tamela. God gives us the opportunity to EARN the resources He wants us to have to do Kingdom work. Some of the ascetic notions Christians espouse fly in the face of scripture. God works. Had to rest on the Sabbath after Creation. He has a plan for our lives and it includews productivity that earns our necessities.
Talking about money hits people in a sensitive spot. I stepped down from a well-paying job to pursue what I felt God was calling me to do – and that is to write. It was a tremendous step of faith to trust Him to meet my needs. Notice I didn’t say my wants, although He cares about those too. My faith is in Him. I knew writing wasn’t a get rich quick profession, nor was that my goal or reason to write, but I trust whatever I receive from being obedient, will be a blessing from God and will help offset whatever expenses I incur while continuing to learn better writing techniques, attend conferences, enter contests, pay membership fees, etc. Tithing is first and foremost. Whatever God allows monetarily, He will get the first fruits. Without Him, I would have no reason to write.
Barbara Tifft Blakey
I own a small business that markets a homeschool product. To do so we attend dozens of conventions across the US through my network of representatives. A number of years ago, one of my reps was independently wealthy. She loved homeschoolers and our product, but the money meant nothing to her, so she often gave away the materials or charged a significantly reduced price. That sounds wonderful, but she failed to take into account the ramifications of her actions. You see, when she moved to another area and resigned her position, the next rep was put in a difficult position as the customers expected the same discounts. She had to deal with a lot of grumbling and complaining. All the reps ended up being affected as customers themselves relocated and sought the discounts as well.
All of my reps serve homeschoolers because they love them and see what they do as ministry. Whether or not one accepts money for a service has nothing to do with whom they are serving. It is all a matter of heart. Using my reps as examples, if they see dollar signs when a mom enters their booth at a convention, then whether or not they make a sale, they are not honoring God. But if they see a woman that can benefit from something they know or have, and they provide it, they are serving God, again whether or not they make the sale.
When a writer gives away his or her work, it can make it more difficult for other writers. Now the public expects it. To accept pay does not make the author–or musician or artist or dancer or accountant or doctor less God-honoring. To refuse payment does not make anyone more God-honoring. The question is the motivation behind the actions. Where is the heart?
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Exactly! You articulated what I meant more clearly, directly, and succinctly than I did. Thank you!
All great points. There’s nothing wrong with making a living, even if you enjoy what you do. Thanks for this post, Tamela!