Money: the five letter word we need to reclaim

First published: Mslexia

My last blog as editor of the September issue of Mslexia, so I think I should tell you why I chose what I did for the issue. Value is the theme because it is something I have been forced to think about a lot this year.

I began it surveying the wreckage of my marriage after I discovered my husband was having an affair. There is nothing like adultery to make you feel worthless – or aware you need money to survive the carnage.

In January as my life went into free-fall, and despite being the snottiest weeper you could have at your kitchen table, women – some of whom I knew only through social media – rallied together and caught me.

Many were authors, quite a few Mslexia readers. All true friends, who have turned a bruising year into one of miracles.

When one of those friends, Debbie Taylor, asked me to edit the autumn issue of Mslexia, I wanted to celebrate the sisterhood we have supporting us. I wanted to acknowledge how through the pages of this magazine authors whose success is stellar offer a helping hand to those just starting out.

I wanted also to remind us of the generosity of spirit and action that exists in the community of women writers.

So how do we put a price on that? Indeed should we?

Oh, money: it isn’t the root of all evil – it’s the root of maximum embarrassment when asking to be paid. Too often professional writers are made to feel as if they’d joined Isis such is the scorn poured upon us when asking for a fee.

‘It’s great marketing ’ is the most common response from organisers of literary festivals who’d make the Pope feel guilty for turning them down.

To be fair they do have a point. It is great marketing, just not for the writer. I’ve yet to see a festival or media outlet that doesn’t benefit more than the author from their presence on the platform.

Organisations get away with such cheap tricks because most of us – especially women – have been brought up to feel grubby about money. It’s another way to make us ‘know our place’.

Last week over lunch with a friend who heads the HR department in a multinational, I was told that women demand far less than men when it comes to pay rises. No matter how good they are at their job, they wait for a bonus, rather than demand one. ‘They really undervalue themselves,’ he said.

It’s the same with writers: too often we take the ticket when offered a guilt trip and feel sleazy inside for mentioning money. We love our job: we are rich in ‘cultural capital’. That should be sufficient.

Bollocks! Cultural capital doesn’t pay bills.

This – and yes, I admit it the need to feel less embarrassed about my own finances – is why I jumped at the chance to get Vanessa Ugatti to write a piece about the magic formula for negotiating payment for our work. We need to know our value and not be afraid of stating it.

Say that again: ‘I need to know my value and not be afraid of stating it.’ Copy that down and stick it over the mirrors in your bathroom, your bedroom, your hallway. Stick it in your purse so it tumbles out every time you go to pay for the shopping. Repeat it every morning and before you go to bed.

Of course friends know our value, even if we don’t. I was thinking about this when I read Roz Warren’s pitch about how to show a writer you are their true friend. How could I resist a pitch that said: support their career; buy their book; spread the word about their work; write fabulous reviews on Good Reads and Amazon; and use your creativity to have fun?

I loved the impish delight Roz’s friends took in guerrilla marketing. It really is a great way to show that you love an author – whether you have met them or not.

This has been a bruising time to live through. In fact it has been the most frightening 12 months of my life. I thought I had lost everything, including friends from whom I had become increasingly isolated from thanks to a dysfunctional home life.

But, I hadn’t. They were all around me: women of such fabulousness and power.

Someone said, if you want to know your value, don’t look at what you do, look at the people you attract. I don’t mean lovers and partners. I mean the women who come into our lives. For me that includes the community that makes up Mslexia: staff, readers, contributors.

I have really enjoyed editing this issue, and am grateful that you have let me into your lives with it. I hope it provides you with a wealth of support, because we are of valuable, very valuable, not just in what we do, but in who we are. And who are we? Why, women who write, of course.

Here’s to the sisterhood

Danuta Kean

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