Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Marketing and the Working Writer

Michael Sedano

People who write for a living write for a living. That’s not a tautology but economics. There are infinite pro bono marketing opportunities available, precious few where there’s income. A writer’s livelihood depends on being paid for their work, whether by selling a book or a workshop.

It’s a crying shame pedo over a non-refundable seat ruined some of the enjoyment for working writer Ana Castillo, and her local anfitrión. Even though there’s silver lining for others observing this, nonetheless there’s a shadow over the recent La Bloga-sponsored Ana Castillo Face Your Fears writers workshop.

I shouldn’t take it personally that a workshop registrant stiffed Castillo, but it happened under my roof and my mother raised me to be a better host than that. For the working writer, holding fee-based workshops makes a necessary contribution to one’s livelihood, small one considering the wear-and-tear of travel.

Limited seating by design caps the income from a given workshop. The writer’s break-even point swings wildly when one registrant doesn’t pay the workshop fee. When the upfront gamble doesn’t return 106%, the writer can put that money in the bank at 5% and save the hassle of travel and random pedo.

Castillo’s workshop plan specifies payment in advance, via Pay Pal transaction. The workshopper understands that enrollment comes with a no refunds stipulation.

Despite this, one aggrieved no-show demanded a refund. One can only guess at the justification. It’s Castillo’s fault the person has an emergency, so Castillo should pay for it. There’s the purely selfish: $135 is a lot of money, worth more than a person's word. More charitable excuses might be conjectured.

No one needs values when Pay Pal’s on the job. Pay Pal gives people an easy out. Beef the charge and Pay Pal fines the working writer. The reneging workshopper walks away with money, less Pay Pal’s non-refundable service charges. The working writer is out the budgeted income, puro loss and hard feelings.

It is what it is, but imagine this workshopper getting stuck in traffic and missing a thousand-dollar performance of Hamilton. Think the impresario will refund the ticket? Pay Pal won’t. You paid for that seat and no one else could sit in it.

Ana Castillo shared the details of this particular experience on her Facebook page. She points to the economics, the hard realities, a writer accounts in marketing one's work:

The small size allows each to work one on one with me. An email explaining this policy explains that it is non-refundable and non-transferable. In addition to securing the venue, my travel expenses, both air and ground, lodging, meals, time way from home, and the service provided are all my own. Therefore, if a person cancels, especially last minute, I am not only out of pocket but someone who might have wanted to be in the workshop was unable.

I was bummed by the sour note because, on La Bloga’s behalf, I welcomed the workshop into my home, so this travesty happened under my roof. Casa Sedano, the home of a pair of English majors, has welcomed diverse literary functions over the years, but never a writers workshop. I wanted this to be perfect for the writers and Ana Castillo.

Beautiful people showed up. They charged the atmosphere with high energy and creative fervor. They talked writing, literature, the writing life, art.

I set out light snacks then got to sit with Eddie Rodriguez, Castillo’s husband, a fellow Army Veteran, and share books and arts platica. The workshop at Casa Sedano was near-perfect.

I almost pulled off a perfect workshop last year. I’d arranged a funding commitment from a benefactor whose gift would cover a budget that would have flown a writer to Pasadena, put her up at a good place, paid an honorarium equivalent to 15 tuitions, and awarded 15 tuition-free scholarships to young area writers.

The event would be a proto-Floricanto, or small scale analog of the National Latino Writers Conference. Make the first one happen then challenge myself to go annual.

That idea fizzled over tax-deductible issues and institutional mordidas. If I could have pulled off the full-ride workshop event, that would have eliminated money, the source of pedo at the Casa Sedano workshop. Cal State-Wherever foundations rake off 15% to come under their tax-deductible umbrella. Dining room workshops cut out the institution and its mordida. But the tax-deductibility, aye, ahi ‘sta un detalle.

Writers know that holding workshops can be sweet gigs that develop a readership while replenishing one’s marketing budget. Presenting workshops fulfills multiple responsibilities to the community—giving back, nurturing new voices, growing--and while doing good with an expectation of reward is folly, doing good should not be rewarded with pain nor pedo.

Businesses plan for no-shows, refunds, and “free freight” by charging everyone more. (In a really slick move, companies “chargeback” money that went into collections last year as a way to reduce the commission earned by a new salesperson.)  When there are no refunds, business calls that coming in under budget and the overcharge goes straight to the bottom line.

Emulating corporate deontic logic of “you must make more money,” a writer would have to overcharge every seat in order to build a buffer against a no-show.

Writers aren’t mercenary like businesses. Artists don’t pull that crap on other artists. Chicanas don’t pull that crap on other Chicanas. Yes, they do. People do all sorts of crap to others when money is on the line and the only penalty, thanks to Pay Pal, is to the writer. The sin vergüenza gets all defiant and says she got most of her money back y que.

$20 At the Door--No Pay Pal--Benefits Writers Workshop In San Antonio 

Friday, July 27, 7-9pm, Sandra Cisneros will read from selected works in a fundraiser for the Macondo Writers Workshop. Author John Phillip Santos will introduce her at the event.

See Macondo's website (link here) for more. or the event's Facebook page.

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