Commentary

Oct 29, 2009

Buying time: Liz Sinclair on asking for money to write her book

I was very curious when I heard about Liz Sinclair's project

I was very curious when I heard about Liz Sinclair‘s project ‘Help Me Write My Book’. Like many writers, Liz has to work to support herself, and of course, work takes time away from what she’s really wanting to do – write that book. My first reaction, honestly, was something along the lines of ‘why does she think she has the right to ask for cash from other people?’ But through email contact, I found that this is something Liz has obviously thought through. I thought some others may have had the same initial reaction as me, so with Liz’s permission, I’m reprinting an edited version of her emails. Do drop me a line in the comments and tell us what you think.

LizLiz says:

One of the reasons I took a year off from work/Melbourne life to come and volunteer in Bali in the first place was to have more time in my life for my writing. Bali is much cheaper to live in, and that was a factor in my decision to come here. My risk seems, in the end, to have been successful as I’m now much-more published and have gained a much higher profile for my writing. I think writers owe it to their talents to think creatively about how to find more time to write.

I don’t mind you asking about how I can ask people for their money. Trust me, the same question has crossed my mind many times. Who am I, etc.? But isn’t this just extension of even being a writer? Who are we to put our words out there? And yes, I did just go out there and ask for it, and most people won’t ask for what they want. I find most writers and artists dreadful at believing in and promoting themselves and asking for what they need or want. I have felt very guilty, at times, when I read stories about kids needing surgery or people losing their homes, but dreams are vital and important too, and I work actively in my other life to help poor families in Indonesia.

I had been asking people for money for two years as a grant writer, so it seemed a short step to asking for myself. There are precious few grants that let you take time off to write your opus, and still pay the rent; they’re highly competitive and often go to established writers. It’s just as crucial for society to support the arts as to alleviate poverty.

Also, I help other writers every chance I get – refer to a publisher, network, talk about their book, etc. I firmly believe that a ‘rising tide lifts all boats.’ A number of newly-established and as-yet unpublished writers have given me money for November. I will help them out, in turn. I am in an unusual situation. Through my networking, and by helping other writers, I have direct access to editors at Random House, Harper Collins and Anvil Press (PI), as well as Insight Publications in Melbourne. So networking, and supporting other writers, works to help ourselves.

I’ve had a number of people tell me that I’m sort of living their dream, and inspiring them. Most of the contributions have come from friends and family, and more than half of the contributions have been over the $10 I asked for, with several at $50, $70 or $100. It will be interesting to see if any of my donors get motivated in their own life and follow through on their own projects. Already, I’ve had one friend decide to make more time to write by sending her eldest to school early. I love inspiring others!

As for fund raising, I’ve raised about $1200, and there’s still promised payments to come in. I’ve got enough to take off November, and part of December. I asked for more than I needed, expecting to be short of my goal.

Since I started my fund raising, I’ve noticed a number of other writers out there also asking for money to support them during November to write a book, but none seemed to have used social networks, or gotten ‘ballsy’ about asking, like I did. But I have to say, I worked in business and retail for many years, so some of these skills have rubbed off on my writing. I think every writer should take a marketing course or read marketing books, ie Guerilla Marketing for Writers.

A friend told me about several bands (Radiohead, Meridian, Porcupine Tree) that raise money from their fans for a new album. The bands then give donors a special edition, signed CD. He suggested I give people something back in exchange for their money, hence the offer to give people who donate a copy of my book once it’s published.

I got the attention of the book editor at The Huffington Post, who’s asked me if I want to blog about raising money to take time off to write my book, then blog the actual writing of it. If this comes about it will hopefully help to get publishers interested.

But now I’m finding an interesting thing: now that I have to write the book draft, I’m getting incredibly nervous. Part of the reason I set it up this way was to force myself to sit down and do it. I can’t back out now, or I’ll lose face and disappoint people. I wonder if one reason we don’t ‘make the time’ or ‘find the time’ in busy lives to write our great works is because of fear, not a lack of time. Theodore Sturgeon wrote his short stories in 15 minutes every morning when he was starting out and working as a steelworker all day.

You can follow Liz on Twitter, to see how it all pans out.

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