I have no idea whether JK Rowling is a billionaire, I really only know two things about her: she has earned a lot of money – and she earned it. That sounds like one thing but I look at her body of work, I look at the years and the effort and the joy she brought to millions of people, she earned whatever money she has.
But she does get knocked for having apparently gone so very effortlessly from being impoverished to being (is this a word?) poverished. Whatever the opposite of impoverished is. That narks me. I can be sure as onions that she did not go into writing Harry Potter with the idea that it would make her lots of money and thereby feed her kid. Did she dream of it? I hope so: it’s tremendous to achieve one’s dreams. But she wrote that, she did all that gigantic amount of work on top of keeping her family going. I imagine she wrote because she had to. Not in the financial or economic sense but in the artistic one.
I imagine it because I’m a writer too. This is how it is and this is what we do. This is what we do regardless of the results. So long as we can still eat and breathe, we write.
This is the bit where I twist all this into being some kind of life lesson. Actually, I started writing a life lesson and just went off on one about Rowling and how she should be admired more than I think she is. But what started this thought off in me today was this:
One of the most uncomfortable questions customers/clients can throw you is, “how long did it take you to make that?” It’s specific and straight forward enough that not answering or changing the subject would be noticed or come off as rude. It also entirely undermines your work down to just the actual labor part: completely removing the prep, materials, process, and finishing which probably take the most time and energy.
How Long Did that Take you to Make? – 99U
The website 99U was leading in to a story its writers had found on Fine Art Views which grabbed me even more:
Now, right or wrong, here’s what your customers will do. They’ll take the selling price (let’s pick a dollar amount out of thin air – $600) and divide it by the time the artist said it takes to make (three hours). They’ll come up with an hourly rate of $200 an hour.
You may tell people that doesn’t include the cost of acquiring your materials, or prepping, or finishing (frames, framing supplies) or the time schlepping your work to and from shows and exhibitions. It doesn’t include the time and money you spent on educating yourself, nor the time you spent and energy perfecting your craft. It probably doesn’t include the time and energy you spend on applying to shows, marketing, doing paperwork, or cleaning your studio. And if you have gallery representation, you’re actually only netting half that amount.
Nope, they won’t hear that. They may nod their head, but they’re still thinking, “$200 an hour…that’s $400,000 a year!!”
Questions You Don’t Have to Answer – Luanne Udell, Fine Art Views (27 November 2011)
I’m asked how long Doctor Who radio dramas take me, I’m asked that quite a bit. And when I answer, that’s the kind of reckoning you can see going on in the asker’s head. I expect you can see it going on in mine when I ask it about things too.
But you notice the difference in the article names. The 99U one is just the question whereas the Fine Art Views one I lopped off half. The full title of that piece is “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer: How Long Did that Take you to Make?”. But I lopped it for space, because I knew I’d be telling you it in full here, and also because I want to focus on the bit I left. You don’t have to answer the question.
Yes, you do.
No, you don’t.
If you answer it you get into that cycle and nobody’s happy. Not you who spent your life creating something, not the asker who thinks you spent twenty minutes and have no idea what a real job is like, you bastard.
If you don’t answer it, the asker goes straight to the you bastard bit.
But what Udell is saying is that you don’t have to answer it that way. You don’t have to really recognise the question, you just need to respond to it:
Now, ‘not answering’ doesn’t mean you stand in stony silence. It simply means you can start talking about your work, and engaging them, without actually tallying up all the steps it takes to make your work.
I love it. I’m having that.
How long does it take to write a Doctor Who radio drama? I’m so pleased you asked. Take a seat, let’s get the kettle on, I’ve got so much to tell you.