Life in the arts is great. We may have to work a side job at the same time, but we get to do what we love, build a community, and contribute something important to the world. You never know what your song, novel, poem, painting, drawing, dance, or play might mean to someone else or inspire in another person. But it can get frustrating, downright infuriating, or…at times…just plain weird. Artists seem particularly prone to getting some weird or otherwise plain sketchy job offers.
A Man of His Many Words
Years before I narrowed my career focus down to writing novels and writing about the arts with some possible music on the side if I ever manage to practice again, I was tossing around pairing “novelist” with a few other careers, one of which was working as a general nonfiction writer. I offered articles and other pieces to clients, much as I do now, but my focus was much broader. That’s a nice way of saying I was willing to write almost anything anyone would pay me for, with the only limits being the law and basic human decency.
With that not so focused and well planned out goal in mind, I began posting all over writing boards and Facebook groups, looking for work. My first offer was a great one. A local man wanted me to ghost write his book, as he had a lot of ideas, but wasn’t much of a writer.
Tears nearly filled my eyes. I made it. Published ghost writers can charge $80,000 to $150,000 to write a book. I was not even self-published as a novelist yet, so I needed to start with the lower range that begins around $20,000, but I had a graduate degree in writing and had published in newspapers, magazines, and on a radio station’s web page for years. I decided to go with a little higher than the absolute lowest rate, and charge $30,000. I had my work and my income set for the year. It was even going to be a great year, money-wise. I’m used to living on the minimum, so I was even going to have spending money this year. I couldn’t wait to start.
My first day was scheduled to take place at a local coffeehouse. I hated the idea of having to spend money I hadn’t been paid yet, but I did not have an office, and we were talking about meeting a stranger. I knew this guy’s stepdaughter as a friend of a friend and had briefly spoken to his girlfriend a time or two, but had never even seen my new client offline. I figured paying ten dollars for a couple of coffee drinks in order to hold our first planning meeting was smarter than showing up at some strange man’s house alone.
I arrived early, purchased a plain brewed coffee, and selected a table large enough to examine any notes, photographs, or other materials my client might bring me. My own notebooks, pens, and laptop were ready. I sipped my coffee amid my neatly arranged supplies. No client. I checked my Facebook to see if he had messaged me about something that might be keeping him. No client. I waited in the coffeehouse for an hour before finally walking home and messaging him to remind him that he had agreed to attend our first planning meeting that afternoon, but had not shown up.
Now, most people would apologize in this situation. He had been friendly enough during the chat in which we agreed to the first meeting, so I fully expected him to say something along the lines of “I’m sorry” and “Can we reschedule?” even if it was accompanied by a rather transparent excuse.
Man of His Many Words said, “I got busy doing things around the house and I forgot.”
Okay. He wasn’t the first odd or difficult client I had, and he certainly would not be the last. People in the town where I used to live tend to pride themselves on refusing to acknowledge the world outside their tiny town until they want something from it, and that often extends to social norms like basic respect for other people and manners. I silently forgave both the brush off and the rude behavior, and offered to re-schedule the meeting. He hemmed and hawed but agreed to let me know when he could meet again.
Now, it was naive of me to get all excited just because somebody online said they’d hire me for a year-long full-time project, but I am not a naive person in general. I knew I didn’t have a ghost writing project anymore. This guy changed his mind about hiring a ghost writer, and rather than contacting me to cancel the job, he let me go to a meeting he had no intention of attending. This might seem like extreme rudeness to people here in Utica, but in the town where I used to live, it was just the way it was if you were not in the “right” clique. And I never was. You had to be related to one of the so-called “old families” who lived there for about fifty years to be treated with even basic dignity, and I not only moved there with completely unconnected parents as a teenager, I was originally from their most-hated area of the country, the East coast. All I could do was move on.
There were other things I could do for work. I could keep posting in local groups. I could create an ad for the local paper. The radio station that had been my client for many years was long gone, but there were still print news sources around. I could even offer tutoring, both in person around town, and online via my Yahoo Messenger account.
People who chatted with me as friends were notified that the account would be changed to a professional one, and announcements were made that I now offered online tutoring.
I didn’t expect anyone to contact me right away. It was going to take a while before anyone decided to hire me to tutor them over someone less qualified simply because he was born there and his cousin had the right last name.
But someone did reach out to me. It was the Man of His Many Words, the ghosting ghostwriting client. He still wanted me to work with him on his book. At this point, I wasn’t sure if this guy had one of those special local connections that made him feel entitled to a ghost writer, no matter how he behaved, or if he just caught on that I didn’t, and realized it was okay by local standards to treat me that way. Either way, I was tired of him, and told him that if he wanted me to work for him, he would need to pay me.
“I don’t have that kind of money,” he replied. “I added you on here so you could help me out, bit by bit.”
Sure. And I can’t afford to go to a salon and get my hair cut, so I’m going to stop by the hairdresser’s house every day so she can trim off a little at a time for free until it looks the way I want.
The client was quickly blocked at on messenger. When I went to block him on Facebook, I was treated to the last status message of his I would ever read. Someone he had begun a business deal with in his own business failed to show up for a scheduled meeting or show up with something my former client had agreed to purchase.
“If you’re not a man of your word, then what are you!” my former client online roared. What are you, indeed…Man of His Many Words. What are you indeed.