For five years I played treasurer at the Wisconsin Writers Association (WWA). The annual conference is their big event. Every year great minds gathered to share ideas writers could use to write better and promote their work. I always tried to snag a spot for a presentation on promotion for writers.
WWA is a small writers association. Only a small portion of the members are actually published, not including self-published books. I had tons of ideas for those few who did have a book in print and in bookstores. When it comes to promoting a small business — and writing is a small business (which can get really big for some) — I have a massive arsenal.
Three years ago I presented at the WWA annual conference in Wisconsin Rapids. My idea for writers was simple. Stop doing book signings at bookstores and focus on libraries. A gasp rose from the crowd. Sacrilege! I had to explain when you are at a bookstore you have thousands of competitors an arm’s length away. It is common for an author at a bookstore signing to have fewer than five people buy their book; many times they sell none!
Libraries are different. Your competitors are available for checkout, but a signed copy is available only with purchase. Libraries are hungry for authors willing to speak to their patrons. Not only will you sell books, you will also get paid for the speaking engagement in most cases. Libraries are the unsung heroes for people looking to supercharge their writing career.
I went into more detail at the conference than I will here. I will chase to the end. During the 50 minute presentation I outlined how an author can earn six figures annually working ten or fewer hours per week. I was soundly admonished. Authors disagreed vehemently that this would work. I stood my ground. As the presentation came to an end a man in the back of the room raised his hand and said, “I am with the Door County Library system and what Keith has said is 100% true. We can’t get authors to show up even when we pay them. And when authors work with us they sell books and get paid for that too. We also sell the author’s book at wholesale price to patrons so the author sells even more books and gets more royalties.” I rest my case.
My oldest daughter, Heather, was in the audience that day. She is also the only one who took notes and followed through.
Play all Day
Heather is not a normal kid; she is a lot like her dad. She does not want to run a business like I do, but she isn’t excited about working for the man. She struggled with her true dream: art. The kid is talented, for sure, but so are another couple million people, too. Heather wanted to attend art schools around the planet and I refused to pay her way. I told her she doesn’t want to produce the same art everyone else is producing. Be different if you want to survive with art.
My junior accountant spends every day buried in her art. She loves working with children and works as a substitute at a few of the local schools. The rest of her time is dedicated to art.
So how does she make money? I can tell you it isn’t from selling her art. Her best income comes from libraries. She remembered how I taught the group at the WWA conference and applied it to her art. She visits libraries and almost every library schedules her! She gets paid to run these programs. Sometimes she has a one-day only workshop; some libraries want several workshops; some libraries want holiday specials. That darn kid of mine is in high demand.
Heather’s biggest problem is scheduling. As more libraries want her services, the tighter her schedule gets. She works weekends for a few hours and evenings if a library wants an after school workshop.
The library will do most of the work filing the workshop, but she never counts on somebody else getting the job done. What I told my little accountant to do was send a press release to the local newspapers and drop off a flyer at the local churches. The outcome: Now some churches want her to do projects and workshops.
The Millionaire Artist
Everyone on the planet thinks they are a great artist. Many are! To stand out in such a crowd you need to be different, think different. I explained to Heather she will need to get out to the public if she wants to earn a living with her art. Too many artists want to work in a corner of their basement and sell on Etsy. Whatever.
Let me be clear, these workshops are not just for kids. She has workshops for people of all ages and periodically is offered gigs. I am encouraging her to publish a book on several of her art programs to sell at the libraries she has workshops at. My estimate is this one simple improvement would increase her bottom line over 30%.
To her dad’s consternation, she is a smart kid. What I mean by that is she figures as long as she doesn’t have a sweetie she may as well live at home. (Dad can’t pry her ass out with a crowbar.) She drives a beater car owned by dad and pays a small rent which also covers use of the car. (Dad does not believe in a free ride.)
With expenses low and a modest income all but assured, she has managed a nice nest egg by the ripe age of 22. Our rule for retirement is: when you have 25 times spending liquid you are working because you want to; you are technically retired. Well, when you spend almost nothing and invest the rest, time has a way of building the investment account to admirable levels.
What Do You Mean By Retired?
What would you do all day if money were not an issue? For Heather, she would work on her art all day and does. When you practice new ideas painting all afternoon you can hardly call that working for the man. When you do what you love all day long you never really work a job.
The best is taxes. Since Heather had a dad that might know a thing or two about the tax code, she pay almost nothing in taxes either. Remember, spenders pay more tax than savers. As a small business owner — art is small business — she can deduct miles to her gigs and all ordinary and necessary expenses. Her art books are now a deduction!
Heather plays all day doing what she likes doing and has hit retirement at the ripe age of 22. (She is actually 21 until January, but I don’t think anyone would believe what this kid has socked away at age 21.)
Having a retired 22 year old child leads to some interesting activities around the farm. Last summer when I cut some dead trees, I noticed Heather was right behind me with a little saw cutting half inch wafers from several branches. She was looking for the perfect piece of wood for her latest project. It looked funny watching this 90 pound girl with this little, itty, bitty saw cutting up a branch a half inch at a time. And people ask why the neighbors laugh. We have a strange household.
I love what I do. I dreamed of investing and taxes when I was in high school. (Okay, investing, but taxes came along for the ride.) Heather is now doing what she loves. Due to her frugal nature (and daddy’s awesome life lessons), Heather can live her dream. It is hard to say if she ever worked a day of her life. She did work in my office for a year and hated it so I fired her. During that year she saved around 80% of her income and hitched a free ride to work with dad. What is work to Heather is playtime for me. Another lesson people should learn.
Heather is happy; that is all that counts. She chooses her own schedule and gets paid for what she would do all day long anyway. The amount of time she spends in front of people is fewer than ten hours per week. She plays with her art the rest of the time. As a fun aside, she has decided to be an assistant at a local church’s Sunday School. She just loves working with people, especially kids, when teaching and art are involved.
I worried as Heather turned 18. She hated most jobs and avoided them like the plague. It bothered me as I tried to push her toward a traditional path for most young adults. She took a few college classes here and there that were applicable to what she wanted to do. Funny thing is she will probably teach advanced classes without a college degree because she is the one cutting new territory. I am no longer worried. She has found her bliss.
One Last Thing
Heather is a perfect example of how young people today can retire before they even start. We live in a different world. Ten hours of work a week is more than enough to cover living expenses, especially if you run your own business. Something as simple as visiting the library can generate a very comfortable living and all you do is play!
Then there is my youngest daughter racing to finish high school. I have no idea what she will do with her life. She loves computers and understands them more than I ever did. My guess is she will either write an app or hack the Pentagon. Or, she might write an app that hacks the Pentagon. I will love her even if she gets 30 years in the slammer for hacking the Pentagon. How many parents can say, “My kid did that!”
After I am done adjusting my collar with pride I will know deep down inside my junior accountant will never spend 30 years in the slammer. The Pentagon will hire her so they can figure out how she did it. She will have security clearance (god, help us all). China and Russia have been warned. Some crazy accountant over in Weesconsin trained his children way too well.
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Fantastic post, Keith, and now *I'm* wondering what opportunities abound at libraries...