When we first got this farm, I really struggled because I now owned 15 acres of beautiful Virginia countryside AND a 200+-year-old farmhouse AND goats AND chickens AND dogs AND cats. It felt like abundance, and in my life – largely through some misguided teachings from the faith of which I am a part – I felt like abundance was not something I was supposed to have. I was supposed to be poor because if I wasn’t, I was being selfish.
I was operating out of what people in the Christian church often call “the poverty mindset.” I wanted to act like money didn’t matter, that the lack of money was what was important. I wanted to pretend like the way God operates is by handing us things in little packages that don’t require us to work for them and that having money was a sign of my greed.
I know better, but I don’t always act better. That’s true for my writing life, too, and I know it’s true for many other writers, too.
Recently, I have had writers say all of the following to me:
- I don’t really care about money.
- I don’t really want more readers.
- I think marketing my work is self-centered.
- I don’t write my books to sell them.
I cringed at every utterance because, well, I’ve said all those things myself. But here’s the truth:
Money matters. It doesn’t have to be our top priority, it probably shouldn’t be our primary focus in anything, and we need to be ethical about how we acquire money. But it does matter.
Let me see if I can give you an example from my very real life. Right now, I am working on a book called Plantation Jesus for a publisher. I did get a small advance, glory be, but that advance just came yesterday, when I finished almost all the work on the book. That meant I had to take time away from other work to finish it. That was hard, and it meant a lean early part of September for Philip and I. . . so lean that we have $25 to make it about a week.*
Or consider the book Love Letters to Writers that I’m going to publish on November 14. I need $400 for a cover design, at least $300 for an editor, $125 for an ISBN, plus other miscellaneous funds to pay for graphics, templates, etc. That’s at least $1,000 just to get the book into the world. (That’s a low budget for a self-published book, by the way.)
These books wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t make money from what I do. If I didn’t charge a fair and reasonable amount to edit, if I didn’t sell copies of my books, if I didn’t have Patreon supporters, and if my husband didn’t have a full-time job with a salary and benefits, none of this would be possible. I need money to be able to live into my calling as a writer.
(And don’t even get me started on the cost of feeding and caring for all the critters on this place.)
Here’s the thing – I believe that what I do as a writer (and as a farmer) is important. I believe that the Christian church needs the book on racism that Plantation Jesus is. I believe that writers need the encouragement and commiseration I’m going to give in Love Letters. I believe that because I feel the pull to write them in the truest part of my heart, and I believe that because people have told me that my Steele Secrets books and The Slaves Have Names have mattered to them. I also believe people really love fresh turnips.
So, my dear beloved writers, please stop believing you need to be a starving artist. Please stop acting as if money is evil (it’s the “love of money” from Scripture, remember). Please stop giving up your healthy goals and dreams for book sales and income to support yourself.
We don’t believe that Toni Morrison or Kevin Kwon shouldn’t make a living at what they do. We don’t believe that A.S. Byatt should be destitute as she writes her next novel or that Margaret Atwood should live on packets of cheap ramen while she pens her next post-apocalyptic masterpiece. If we don’t believe that for writers we admire and love, why in the world would we believe it for ourselves.
I want people to read my words, and I want people to buy them. And with all my heart, I want that for you, too.
So what do you think? Can we put aside this poverty mindset and, instead, focus on doing good work with our words and being confident when we sell our efforts? Let me know what you think in the comments. This is an important thing, and I’d love to know your thoughts.
*By the way, in case it needs to be said, I know how very privileged I am economically. I don’t take that for granted at all, and I try in every way I can to share what I have. Always.