There are writers who enjoy selling their work, and there are writers who do not. I do not mean there are writers who do not enjoy having their work bought; I mean there are writers who dislike the act of selling their work. Emily Dickinson is perhaps the patron saint of such writers. She described selling poetry as “auctioning the soul.” I can sympathize with Dickinson, but lately, when I think of selling work, a certain word comes to mind again and again: value. It’s a word that gets used a lot in commerce. “How much is something worth?” we ask. “Well,” we answer, “what’s its value?” When a writer decides it is time to sell her work, I believe she should focus on its value, though not in monetary terms. She needn’t, as Dickinson bemoaned, auction her soul.
To understand the value of your work you must love that work as both a writer and a reader. For instance, in my reading life I have been inspired by other writers’ work. I have also been entertained, amused, excited, scared, thrilled, informed, and outraged. Yet what I value most is the experience of being inspired by something I have read. I have measured in my heart the distance between where I was before I was inspired and where I was after. To deny the value of the distance I traveled would be like denying I love my wife and children.
And so I write essays and stories that seek to inspire the reader. I also wish to entertain the reader, and amuse the reader, and inform the reader—but mostly I want to inspire the reader. If I feel I have been successful in this, then I know why someone would buy it. Someone would buy it for the same reason I would buy it. When I offer my work for sale, I am not asking anyone to assign a value to me. I am really not a part of the equation. Instead, I am looking for readers and editors who value this experience as much as I do. In this way, if I am honest, selling my work is not an auction but an invitation to party I would be delighted to attend.
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