13 Ways of Looking at the Future, the Anyway Project and the Blogger’s Dilemma

admin April 25th, 2011

Three seemingly unrelated thoughts.  The first was reading a magazine profile of Andrew Sullivan, which observed that no more than a few thousand people in the US could be said to make a living as bloggers, mostly by writing on mainstream politics – ranting about Sarah Palin (one way or another) or mainstream popular culture.  I admit, I found myself wondering whether the disasters that we are facing – the real ones, not the Hollywood “outrunning the bomb” disasters could garner enough attention to actually support someone who focuses on those issues.  And I admit, I took it as a challenge – because I’m way cuter than Andrew Sullivan, plus I’m sick of Sarah Palin and I know you are too ;-) .

Second, I’m presently working hard on the Adapting in Place book, I’ve also found that I’ve written a lot in the last few years on how to view the world we’re entering into which doesn’t really fit in a book about the nuts and bolts of how to keep warm, keep fed, etc…  but that I think is just as central.  This larger project of imagining our future, looking at it and then figuring out how to make a life for ourself is something that needs to be gone at in a number of ways.  I keep looking at these essays, and seeing something that needs saying, but that I don’t have a place for.  That too became a challenge.

Finally, as a part of our “Anyway Project” analysis of our finances, I did something I’ve never done before – I ran the numbers on my work as a writer.  What came out of this was the realization that for the 7 years that I’ve been writing various permutations of blogs here, at blogspot, at Science blogs, as well as writing books and the occasional magazine article, my husband has essentially been subsidizing my writing and speaking habit.  I’m not sorry about it – but again, there is an emerging challenge here.  This one is a little more daunting than out-cuting Andrew Sullivan, however.

In a way, this has been a really good thing – I was able to write three (with a fourth forthcoming) books for a tiny little environmental publisher that uses recycled everything and offsets its carbon.  I’ve been able to write whatever I liked without feeling beholden to anyone – because, after all, I wasn’t making any money.  I could take the speaking gigs I really liked – little engagements that paid a few hundred bucks and barely covered the losses of my being away, rather than the corporate talks that I never liked doing anyway.  I could talk for free to churches and community organizations whenever I felt like it.  I was making a little bit of money, and I was having a blast.

The problem is that when I did the formal accounting, it turned out that I wasn’t making much money.  My book advances were all in the single digit thousands of dollars – mostly the low single digits, and I was spending hundreds of hours writing them.  The speaking engagements ended up costing us money in most cases, or at a minimum making us so little it wasn’t worth the time away from home and family.  Our family has been pretty comfortable living on a combined total income that most years comes in substantively below 50K, and thrift has never been our problem, but all the time spent at the computer was starting to have a negative outcome – I had less time to save money and cut the budget, so our expenses crept up, and the work wasn’t returning what it might have.   The thing is, I have no regrets – I like the little speaking gigs, I like the environmental publisher, I like writing what I want, when I want.

Over the years, I have actively resisted making more money a lot of the time – I’ve declined to run advertisements on this site.  I turned down a paid blogging gig for a site I found totally appalling and couldn’t respect.  I’ve turned down a lot of corporate speaking gigs or “energy and sustainability fairs” that were mostly vehicles for greenwash products.  I haven’t done product placement.  I’ve been grateful to be freed of the blogger’s dilemma – ie, the problem that a successful blog takes up more and more of your time, and then eventually, you find it takes up so much time it has to return money, which is harder.  Both Eric and I felt that this was a community service, time well spent and pleasurable for me, and compatible with our basic way of life.

Besides, while Eric was the primary breadwinner, in some ways this was true of his job as well – instead of getting tenure in his field like most of his colleagues, Eric had taken the opportunity to concentrate on science education, and to developing courses that introduce concepts like peak oil and collapse to his undergraduates through Environmental Physics and even a course on Space (wherein he points out that earth is a planet too…and that most of our imaginary exit strategies are just that…imaginary).  Most of the people he knows with Harvard Ph.ds and MIT BAs in Physics make three times or more his income – but Eric is happy teaching on the edge, with a large contingent of first generation students.  For a physicist who wants to concentrate on education, rather than bench science there are two choices – a pricey private college where most of his students would be more affluent, or no tenure and less money.  We chose the latter, and we’ve never regretted it – how many people get to be happy with all their work?

Unfortunately, over the last year or two things have changed.  Our property taxes spiked, and then spiked again as our rural school district tried to compensate for lost state and federal revenues and declining incomes.  Eric’s job as a non-tenured Professor of Physics seemed safe for a while, but we’ve just learned that while his department and Dean both want to re-hire him, voices from on high are suggesting that no job security can be offered to non-tenured faculty, and they are threatening cuts – and we both feel strongly that particularly with more kids joining our family, either of us need to be able to be the primary breadwinner.  While our farm income is growing, and my longer term goal is to build the farm up to be a larger portion of our income, most of the projects we want to do are slow growing – the medicinal woodland herbs take years to mature, the goat herd is growing slowly, but in the meantime, until we get to where we want to be, we’re retaining goats and buying stock, more than selling.  Some of the projects, like opening up the farm, require some major infrastructure work – and since I hate debt, that means making the money to do the work somehow upfront – by writing.

Which leaves me on the horns of a dilemma – because my work at present does not support us, we need a plan to make it do so.  Which leaves me with a few choices.  1. I could get a job.  I’m qualified enough – there are a number of ways that could happen. I could teach nonfiction writing, I could do a variation on my present work only professionally – perhaps focusing on food and agricultural policy, or I could a writing/blogging gig that would provide enough income for my family to make ends meet.  I turned down two in the last year, one the aforementioned at a place I’d rather not be associated with and another which I should have taken, but which seemed to preclude another, better opportunity that seemed definite and then sadly didn’t actually come into being (bird, hand, bird, bush, duh!)

2. I could take most of the speaking engagements I get, particularly the ones that pay the most.  The problem with this is that it is tough on my carbon budget, I still don’t love talking mostly to the rich, and most of all, it is hard on my family.  This one isn’t my first choice – I love doing speaking engagements, I’m good at them, but I don’t want to be away from home so often.   I’d like to be able to keep doing these without worrying too much about the money – but that requires some financial success some other way.

Or, 3. I could make a job.  That is, I could keep doing what I’m doing, only make it financially viable for us.  This could happen one of several ways, and my guess is that it would have to be several ways.  My teaching is the one thing that does make us some money, so that will be part of it. I’ve long wanted to bring more people to the farm and do on-farm classes, so I’m working on making that possible.  I could commercialize the website – either wholesale with lots of ads or, since the former makes me a little nauseous, with ads for things I actually think are worth having.  I could run more content and offer more material, perhaps some by subscription.  I could sell books through Amazon.  I could sell other things.  I could do more publishing for myself so that I got to keep more than a buck and change or so per book sold – possibly some fiction as well as my non-fiction.  I could raise the traffic of this site and awareness of peak oil by providing more basic content along with the other things, and use that audience growth to help subsidize my blogging habit.  I’m not sure how this will work with my principles, but if it were possible, this might be the best option.

One way or another, unfortunately, things have to change.  I think there’s a decent chance that Eric is going to lose his job, and our expenses are not going to be met by my present work model.  I’ll miss my present work model – at the same time, I think how rarely anyone has the luxury of treating their day to day work as an avocation, as a largely volunteer project.  It has been a lovely run, but I can’t say I’m ashamed of having to make a living – it is, after all, the norm.  I expect my financial situation, indeed, all of our financial situations, to change a number of times in the coming years.  Given the necessity, Eric and I will chop wood, pump gas at the convenience store, or do any other job necessary to feed our kids and keep our farm going.  But while I like chopping my own wood, I think I’m probably better off playing to my strengths and sticking with the writing – I do it better than pumping gas.

Whatever the trade offs actually end up being, they will come.  If I get a job that is not a writing job, what will happen is that I will write less.  If I get a writing job I will write more, but somewhere else. If I make a writing job here, I will write more – but the site will change.  I’m curious about what the rest of you think would be the best outcome?  I think my own preference would be do more work helping people reduce their impact and come to terms with the nitty gritty of this life here, but I would like to hear your thoughts.

This site has been somewhat neglected since my move to Science Blogs, which is a real pity since I like it better ;-) .  I am hopeful that perhaps I could begin to do all the things I’ve really wanted to do with this site – a barter board, more discussion, better community support.  I don’t know what’s possible, but if you’d asked me in 2004, when I started blogging what I could accomplish, I’d never have guessed as much as I have.   I feel like there are so many fun and interesting things that I haven’t been doing at my home site that just require a new energy.

One thing I am going to do is publish those essays that I’ve been thinking about for so long – I’m putting together a short book of essays called _13 Ways of Looking at the Future_ – riffing on Wallace Stevens’ famous poem “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” I will offer a range of perspectives on where we’re going and how to think about getting there.  Some of them may be essays you’ve seen, some will be new.  I’ve been debating how to offer them – I could sell them for a fixed price, enough to make a profit, but honestly, I want to make them as affordable as possible for my low income readers, while also being in the spirit of my new need to make a living.  So I’ve decided to do this – I will send a signed essay collection (the publication will be sometimes in June) for any donations to this site over $10 (plus $3 for US shipping and handling – email me at [email protected] with your address and email to find out about international shipping).  Donations can be made through paypal to [email protected] (I’ll put a button up just as soon as I figure out how to do it).  I’m not going to pester anyone, I won’t do fund drives, and if you don’t have $10 spare, don’t worry about it – in fact, I also promise to do a raffle for some free copies once they are published as well!  If you’d like to make a larger donation and want multiple copies, just email and let me know.

For me, this is an experiment – it might be successful, it might not.  What I really want to know is whether I can, in fact, join the comparatively limited number of people making a living as bloggers – even if I want to write on the edge of our coming collapse.  My heart won’t break if the answer is no, but I admit, it would be pretty neat if the answer was yes!

Sharon

40 Responses to “13 Ways of Looking at the Future, the Anyway Project and the Blogger’s Dilemma”

  1. The Mom says:

    I know you hate being on the computer, but it’s probably your best avenue at this point. You are such a fabulous writer and speaker (I have your books and have seen you speak), that turning that into a profitable website could be your ticket. There are so many great subscription sites out there now. They have some free content, with the really good, meaty content coming at a price. Since these sites also tend to advertise products that fit into the model, you could have quite a bit more income. Plus, this is one site that I’d happily pay for. At least you’ll have Eric home full time now!

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for the kind words – Eric isn’t definitely losing his job, btw – we just have reason to suspect it is coming after this year.

    Sharon

  3. Rita says:

    Perhaps you could get some advertisers for your website. I like the current look, but advertisers seems to be something that many people who are well known have to support themselves while blogging. (and I see your link on many blogs) You probably have documentation of visitors to your site that could help you show the kinds of access your blog would provide to different companies. You could contact companies whose products you already use, and then when you blog about the idea, mention the company whose product for this project you prefer.

  4. Yeah, I hear you, Sharon. Trying to monetize your blog while still keeping your values is a major lesson in frustration. I have found it’s just not worth the effort unless you have someone managing it for you. The majority of inquiries for ads on my blog are for things I’d never put up. Which means you have to look for opportunities yourself. Which also means that the time you spend marketing and selling advertising takes away from writing. I’ve given up seeing it as a money maker for me, just some spare change from time to time. Spare change that gets taxed.

    I had a real hard time looking at the loss of income when I took a 6 month sabbatical from work to write my book for the same environmental publisher :) I had a decent enough advance, but it was used for costs to do the research to write the book. But, what the cost was monetarily was a loss of income as a software developer that I’ll never make as a writer. Unless I start writing under the nom de plume of James Patterson.

    So, I decided that I still need to have my “day job” to pay the bills and for future financial security and lets me afford the time to write. My community service, as it were.

    I hope you have better luck figuring all this out. I would love to stay home to write and only write, but it’s a luxury few of us have.

  5. Matt says:

    To create a PayPal button, just go to the Merchant Services tab, look for a link that says “Donate” under the “Create Buttons” header, and just follow the instructions. It should produce HTML code you can copy-and-paste into your blog editing tool to put on the sidebar.

  6. admin says:

    Hey Deanna – Yeah, that may well turn out to be the case. I wouldn’t be surprised – a day job may actually be in my future, but because I’m a lazy slacker and we all benefit so much from my being home to run the farm, I’m trying not to have one ;-) .

    Sharon

  7. John Doe says:

    Anybody who could write this much about their anxieties over making money from their writing is, by default, somebody who is going to face serious, serious challenges when they actually try to start making money from their writing.

    yes, you’ve had some paid gigs offered to you. but those were offered to you when you were still in a mind space you were comfortable with, one that seems to be “I’m doing this for reasons other than money.” But once you are actually doing it for money in an explicit way where you’re tracking time in/money out, those opportunities probably won’t present themselves any longer. And it will be entirely because you have such huge psychological hangups about making money from your writing that you felt the need to write sooooo much about whether you should be making money or not.

    Stop depending on your husband to subsidize your hobby. That’s what is really going on here, even if this patently unsustainable arrangement as helped a lot of us your readers.

  8. Well, my circumstances are different – I’m sort of the primary breadwinner (in that I make more and am more stable, at least) and with my husband’s cancer, I can’t long-term rely on his earning ability.

    You’re in a much different position and have more options so take ‘em while you got ‘em!

  9. Abbie says:

    Sharon- Has Eric considered becoming a high school physics teacher? Physics teachers are few and far between, and I’m being pushed into my long-term goal of getting physics certified (I had planned to do so after my children are grown) and will be teaching next year. As an experienced professor with a focus on science education, Eric would be an ideal addition to most high schools!

    Food for thought.

  10. Abbie says:

    Oh, just wanted to add that Eric probably could get hired under what CT calls DSAP- Durational Shortage Area Permit- since it’s a shortage area, so he could start whenever instead of waiting to finish the strict coursework/paperwork that is certification. There may even be an alternate route to certification that eliminates course work/student teaching. Or he could just choose to go the private school route and forget about getting certified…

  11. admin says:

    John Doe, so basically, no one will offer me a job because they’ll psychically know I want one ;-) . Funny, I don’t think I’m that worried about that, or my “headspace” whatever that means.

    Sharon

  12. Anisa says:

    Wow! Three posts today – I can’t keep up!

    I was going to say that I don’t mind the ads on Deanna’s blog but she posted about the lack of money they actually make for her before I could do it. :(

    I love your blog and would happily donate the thirteen bucks to get the essays. I think that’s a great idea and I’ll be looking for your paypal button. ;)

    On your Science Blogs blog when you recently posted about marriage and all that you do when one partner is reluctant, I sent the post to my husband. He asked when we could go live by you. I told him where you were at (we’re all the way in Colorado) and he was sad. But I think if we planned a trip out your way, he’d happily pay for a class and a tour! Just this morning on your three-legged stool post I commented that I wished I could SEE what you do! These might be great tools for you. If you were local to us we’d be signing up for and sharing your classes!!

    Additionally I was just looking at another blog today (http://gnowfglins.com/) where the author charges a small monthly fee for an ongoing e-course that people can join in anytime. Looks appealing. I’ve only read a few of her posts so I wouldn’t be quick to fork over any dough to her yet. But I’ve been reading your blog for years and tried things you’ve suggested in the past. You are amazing and speak to people’s hearts. I’d totally buy into that if you offered – literally!

    Finally – I disagree with the above commenter “John Doe” – you won’t stop getting offers now that you do need/want to make money doing what you do. It just doesn’t work like that. :P You have and will continue to get a lot of opportunities. Now you are just in a place where you’ll pick the ones you want to take differently.

  13. Kevin says:

    Sharon, why publish on paper at all? Take your essays, your existing books if possible, and anything else long, and publish on the Kindle and other e-reader platforms. Sell those e-editions off your blogs which already have traffic. Publish the blog itself on the Kindle and charge for reading it that way. (There are Kindle reader programs for regular computers, so you can reach more than just Kindle owners).

  14. Claire says:

    Generally speaking I prefer this website to your other one, but I read both. If you can make some money off this site through more advertising, that’s fine by me. I don’t know that I’d pay a subscription fee, however; I’d rather buy a book than do that. I don’t want to have to use a computer, especially since I don’t know how long this one will be usable to access the web and the nearest library branch is about 3 miles away so not an everyday trip.

    If you need to make money, by writing here or elsewhere or by doing something else, do what you need to do, not that you need me to say that. If you only blog occasionally, I’ll read your articles as they come out. I’m waiting patiently for your next book and will buy that; might or might not buy the essays, I’m undecided on that. Mostly I hope you can keep on with your work on adapting in place in some form as it is really needed and valuable.

  15. dixiebelle says:

    Ad’s on blogs puts me off… esp. blogs that talk about reducing consumerism… even if the ad’s are deemed more ‘appropriate’ to that blog. However, I also know that in the real world, bills have to be paid, and if you put alot of effort into blogging, or people are gaining alot from your blog, a few well placed ad’s won’t hurt. I never thought there was much money to be made from blog advertising anyways??

    Anyways, good luck, hope it all works out for you & your family…

  16. admin says:

    Dixiebelle, that’s pretty much how I feel about it, which is why I’ve never done it ;-) .

    Sharon

  17. I’d subscribe to your blog! I pay CollapseNet $10 a month, although I’ve balked at Chris Martenson’s $30. Say ten percent of your readers would be willing to subscribe at $10/month, would that add up?

  18. Anisa says:

    I would be pretty sad if you charged for the blog in general. I think I could convince the hubs that I should pay for a e-course or something, but I doubt he’d love it if I started paying subscriptions to read blogs. :( I’d rather you post less frequently if the time is not a good use.

    As to the kindle or ebooks I think that’s a great option, but I do like that you have your books on actual paper too. If things go the way you’ve been preparing us for, we may not always have computer or internet access. I too prefer this blog to the Science blogs, but I read both. But I’ve wondered before why you don’t have your book links available to buy from on this blog as you do the other.

  19. russel1200 says:

    I think he may be underestimating the actual number. But most of the main ones also turn it into a hybrid. They either do T.V. appearances, or write books, or do something else to generate additional attention. They use the blog to generate interest.

    It does help to have some form of additional income though to support you. Most authors -obviously excluding the relatively small number of super stars – have some other sort of income. Many work as teaching professionals, some have retirement income, etc.

  20. Anna says:

    Advertising on a blog is a tricky subject. I chose to put Google ads on our blog, which means we get random ads that often match the content of what we’re writing about but are sometimes out of left field (or even things I disagree with.) What I like about google ads is that no one has to actually buy those products for you to get paid — if your readers click on an ad, you get anywhere from a cent to a couple of dollars. After a couple of years blogging, we’re now getting over $200 per month just from our blog ads, and every year seems to be double the previous. (Yes, that means the first year was chicken scratch and the second year was about $100 per month.) It’s not a huge amount, but since we’d be blogging anyway, it makes the time feel more productive. Our readers understand that having a few ads on the sidebar is the price for getting our undivided attention every day, and an extra $2,400 per year really comes in handy.

    I’m also starting to experiment with selling ebooks on Amazon. As an established author, you’re in a great place to do this — people will show up looking for the paper books you published, courtesy of your publisher’s advertising, and then will stumble upon your self published book. You can offer the ebooks for as low as 99 cents, which makes them very affordable for the common guy (and I’ve heard from one established author that you actually make _more_ money if you charge low prices rather than high prices.) You might feel more comfortable plugging ebooks on your blog than putting up ads, too. Keep in mind that 99 cent ebooks can be quite short — you could even put each of your essays up as individual ebooks.

    Of course, we make the majority of our money selling a physical product online, but our goal is to work our way up to making the majority of our income from these more passive options instead. If you’re in it for the long haul, I think both are quite feasible.

  21. Mandarina says:

    Dear Sharon,
    I’ve wondered for a long time why you didn’t appear to provide an option for people to “tip” you. While I know you want to reach a diverse audience, the reality is that many of us can pay, and many do pay for quality (info or even entertainment) when we see it. Moreover many of us are not in a position to make use of your other paid services (I can’t visit your farm or buy your seedlings, I live in Sydney).

    I’ll happily pay, and suspect it would enable me to “gift” subscriptions to people who may not otherwise click through a link I sent them. Probably _nothing_ has informed my sustainability thinking as much as you – and that’s from someone who works in the field.

    In case it helps in considering what might be possible, a subscription model that seems to work well (for both the blogger and the reader) is http://saveyourself.ca (the best health-realted info I have found anywhere on the web). Owner Paul (with whom I have no relationship other than as a fan of his site) appears to have given the model some careful consideration, discussed within it.

  22. T says:

    Have you considered pitching a reality show? “Who Wants to Be a Post-Apocalyptic Farmer” would no doubt be deeply entertaining. After all, the Back to the Future trilogy proves that the humor of falls into manure is timeless. ;)

    I know of various bloggers who offer e-courses not so different from your Adapting in Place class … e-book versions of short and long pieces they’ve written … short books of essays much like the one you are working on … so overall it sounds like you’re looking at some popular ideas.

    Would it be possible/effective for you to expand the number of people you teach classes to? I could certainly see potential for the hours spent to dollars earned ratio not to make it work – or the work of parenting and the farm not to allow this – but it seems like a natural outgrowth of your love of helping others adapt and the great need for help in that area. (Follow-up question: Is there perhaps a related class you could teach that would require less of your time and/or allow more flexibility to enroll scads of folks?)

    Wishing you the best in this scary time. I’m generally a lurker-reader but always appreciate your words.

  23. Brad K. says:

    Sharon,

    Kinda what Kevin said. Amazon.com – and likely others like Barnes and Noble – has a book selling program. You can choose to let them do the publishing and distribution, you can print and let them re-order as needed, or you can let them make the sale and let you fulfill the order. They can sell e-books, transforming formats for various platforms. Check them out for details.

    I would definitely sign up with Amazon.com Associates, and put up at least a search link on your web site. Even if it generates nickels, that is nickels you wouldn’t have had. I would suggest a books page, listing books you recommend and linking to the product page, with your associate ID, to let people buy the book. Something like this benefits those you want to help and does generate a few nickels.

    I have signed up for the free newsletter from Mike McGroarty at freeplants.com and backyardnursery.com. He sells a paid-access ‘system’, with barter board for people to offer and buy plants, seedlings, etc. for the landscape market. I keep thinking there needs to be a similar function for open pollinated seed and for other seed savers, with floral, vegetable, and herb interests. And perhaps adding a sideline of growing seedlings or small plants for landscaping at a commercial scale would be contrary to a CSA approach, and not serve a sustainable purpose – but it might help keep bread on the table, and build skills and facilities that could later be turned to vegetable and fruit tree services in harsher times.

    Is Wal-Mart near you hiring? The local store has lots of opening, and doesn’t care much whether you want to work part time or full time. And you don’t have to spout a company line, even in lawn and garden. Alternatively – have you approached any of the stores in your area about selling your produce? I recall the Nordeens in Pennsylvania in their Draft Horse Journal article, mentioning selling fresh, organic vegetables to local restaurants.

    There are the old-time options – in-home music lessons, healings, massages, clothes-mending (especially as the boys get skilled at mending clothes!), even laundry. Offering line-drying might be a draw for some customers!

    Didn’t you mention some time back of the need for a Kosher chicken slaughtering option? Could the facilities be fit onto a small trailer for a mobile operation?

    Just remember. In a survey of people that lived the longest, the majority slept at least seven hours, 20 minutes each night. Every night.

    Good luck.

  24. Roy says:

    I am an avid follower of your writing (bought a couple of your books and subscribe to the RSS feed from both blog postings). I am ready to buy a copy of your essays. Just put the Paypal button up on your website.

  25. Geomom says:

    What about offering a your services as a consultant? People could pay for your time to offer advice about adapting in their specific place, or anything else you’d feel comfortable advising people on.

  26. madison says:

    I think that you could actually do a lot of good work at those “energy and sustainability” fairs… I know I used to go to quite a few of them, enjoyed it, but they were “too soft” – you would have been that breath of fresh air, the one who “gets it” that changing your lightbulbs is NOT REALLY going to save the world. I think you’d be GREAT at it.

  27. Noelle says:

    Sharon,

    Up here, I’d say apply for a grant or three. I won’t go into details, because it generally makes people from the US want to hit me on the upside of the head for it, but we like to pay our artists a little bit.

    That said, I think your best choice is teaching. Nearly every author I work with has a teaching gig. An online writer-in-residence post might be nice as well. I’d put your essays up as an ebook. Ebooks work well for some things, and the people who read your blog will read them. Also, there isn’t any cost to print and ship the titles.

    But my main suggestion, for what it is worth, is to explore many facets of teaching. Mix them up. Teach writing non-fiction in the winter, herb propogation and the care and feeding of goats in spring and summer and what to do with more squash than you’ve ever seen before in fall.

    As for the fiction, the topic you are writing about is hot right now, so maybe consider an agent. They’ll get you the most money. And it’s always nice to be paid what the writing is really worth.

  28. Susan in NJ says:

    It might be a time suck and involve working with the rich or comparatively — but I too think that you could make money as consultant or offering “private lessons”/one on one phone consults.
    I like this website a lot more than Science Blogs but read both, and am happy to support your endeavors when I can.
    As someone who works with a lot of people who can’t pay, the occasional person who can pay can be a godsend — and support a lot of the other work until the ships come in.
    Have you made a business plan … specifically for your writing as opposed to your other business/farm? There are a lot of resources out there — as I learned last summer.

  29. Hamster says:

    Sharon,

    A very workable approach to making your own job is do several things which add up. My grandmother called the Mrs. MacGillicudy Principle, and Grandmother said, “Your best jobs with the best margin are the small jobs, even better small jobs where you can you can develop a steady clientele. The big jobs are too risky, or take too much time away from your Mrs. MacGillicudys, or have a small margin even with a large fee, so you’d have been better off spending the time on small jobs.”

    You might consider putting together some e-books of collected and edited essays focusing on a topic, or useful skill, or even fiction. Forty – hundred standard pages in length, press the button and download for $9.99. Put the button on your site and it makes you nickels for years. Sharon on zombies, laundry by hand, reorienting your family’s world view, whatever…

    I wouldn’t do anything that takes you away from home a lot. Speaking as a mama who did that for years (I had a professional gig that took me away for weeks at a time, just like strawberry picking but at a higher pay grade), it’s really, really tough, and tough on everybody, to keep things even somewhat together back at the ranch.

    Hang in there, Hamster

  30. Emily says:

    Regarding not liking “teaching the rich”: wow, I hear you. I have gone through this same dilemma: that theoretically, rich people have so many resources, why should they also get the benefit of my teaching as yet another resource? Not to mention the “those who can, teach, but then they can’t do because they’re teaching all the time” problem!

    When I started to think of it as do-it-yourself wealth redistribution, though, it got a lot more palatable. :) These are the folks who have the money to gets start-up funds into the pockets of small farmers. I see rich and moderately rich people as key to getting new local farming infrastructure up and running until such time as the price of oil makes local produce a viable option even for those who have to pinch every penny. If local food is available, it’s likely to be very competitively-priced…but if it’s not there, folks with less cash will be even more screwed.

    I still do a ton of low-cost or free teaching, and the paying gigs subsidize that – and I’m sure you would, too, if you started taking speaking gigs and running courses that brought in substantial cash.

    Best of luck!

  31. Sara in Alabama says:

    … rooting for you.

  32. Todd says:

    I send out an email Update about every week to a group of people with links to things I think are important with minimal “editorial” content unlike you. There is a long story behind how this came about that I won’t get into.

    In any case, it takes quite a bit of time that I’m willing to give it. But, were I to be in need of money or short of time, I wouldn’t do it.

    Give the “ego” a rest and back off. You were just plain “Sharon” before you started your blog/books and that’s your real reality.

    Todd

  33. admin says:

    Thanks everyone. Todd, last I checked, I don’t think the blog or books had much to do with it – I’m still just Sharon to everyone.

    Sharon (see)

  34. Rebecca says:

    Sharon,
    I think using Google Adsense and the Amazon Affiliate Program would bring in a fair amount of revenue, and you could choose which products to promote on the latter. (You might even earn some more money on your own books that way).

    Also, maybe you should consider self-publishing some of your future works through a site like Lulu. You would get more revenue and you have a big enough following to make it work. Plus, Lulu can get your books on Amazon and other sites without much of a hassle.

    Good luck!
    -Rebecca

  35. NicoleC says:

    I’m not rich, but I suspect many people reading this blog would put me in that category. I won’t apologize for hiring experts or consultants when appropriate. I certainly do my research *first,* online or with books, but hiring an expert can ultimately save me time, money, and sometimes property or personal injury.

    I’ve never hired a permaculture consultant because I would prefer my info without the dogma that seems to pervade all things labelled permaculture. (And I can’t afford it anyway.) But I think Sharon has a legitimate opportunity consulting on mini farming and homesteading, and she could limit her service area to her region to minimize travel and maximize what she already knows about her climate. Or, provide distance services online, one on one at a higher rate or via a subscription-based forum. It means more time in front of a computer, but working at home beats a McJob any day.

    I could see myself paying for a forum if it targeted my interests. I don’t think I’d subscribe to a blog unless there were a lot more content and I was interested in most of it, but I might make a donation.

  36. Naomi says:

    I too like this blog better than the ScienceBlog one – and I’d be happy to donate as and when I can. I get a lot of info and food for thought from you, so being able to give something back would be nice :)

    I don’t know what the answer will be for you – I like the idea of putting up ebooks, and running eclasses. There are a few people I know running regular online classes via webcam through a secure link that you only get access to once you’ve paid a class fee. Works for local AND international people. That could be a good option, although again, it would be the hours vs dollars vs family time puzzle.

    What about taking in interns/boarders, who pay a small amount of board, but also give you extra hands? Would doing this allow you to fast track some of your farm projects, which would in turn reduce your income requirements? They could stay for a couple of weeks, or perhaps a few months, or however long works for you. Kind of like WOOFers, but willing to put in to the kitty, yk?

    Things are tight here for us too – so we’re not only looking for ways to create a little more income, but how to manage things so we need less income as well.

    good luck!

  37. Sharon, I was reading through your blog today for the first time in a while, because I’m in the middle of _Depletion and Abundance_ and just valuing it so much. Ironically, I’m at your chapter on work and earning a living, and “reconnecting life with livelihood.” I’m another English PhD who would rather be a farmer. I’m in the contract teaching world, which I’m both grateful for and slightly resentful of, given the time and emotional demands. And my carpenter husband has earned the steady income for years while I finished school and have been in this uncertain work state. He would rather do something else, and I would love to make enough so that he could pursue his passions. We have both been down the false dream of “what do we want to BE” –equating that with career identities instead of recognizing that life is more complicated.

    So we’re looking to take your very wise advice and diversify. I hope to become a permanent instructor at my local University in the fall, though probably at half-time. I hope to start doing some paid writing–though like you (I suspect) the hardest part seems to be finding venues (magazines, etc) that actually would publish what I *want* to write, rather than my writing what will sell. But with your reputation, surely there’s a magazine or newspaper out there that would set you up with a column? A couple of regular or syndicated pieces a week/month can generate a decent reliable income.

    I’ll also be working this year to get a small CSA organized for next year. I might try the farmer’s market too, but I think the right CSA blend is more satisfying and a more stable income.

    And I will second (eighth?) the motion that you start monetizing your courses online. When the next book comes out, what about a paid work-along online course? You can still have a sliding scale or some scholarship spots.

    Just some thoughts! I’ll be watching, because this issue (money, income, expenses, etc), I think, is really at the crux of our dilemma right now as a society: how do we go back to the traditional life in the 21st century? If you really do figure out the answer, you’ll definitely be rich! :)

  38. Farms are awesome. Lots of work, lots of uncertainty, great food, not usually much money, and you have such a long to-do list you can almost always pick the thing you’d prefer to do today and still be doing one of the top ten useful things. :)

    I would like to just be a farmer, too. And a writer in the evenings. Would be awesome. Haven’t figured out how to make that work though, but it’s still worth thinking of. This one foot in each world thing is hard – someone still wants cash dollars and those are hard to come by doing the subsistence things that feed the family and the writing things that feed your soul and help the rest of us get on the right path.

    All I’ve got for you is good wishes (and a promise to send you yarn, if you ever run out).

    And, for what it’s worth, you’ll always be “Crazy Sharon” at my house. :) When I grow up, I wanna be crazy just like you.

  39. annMarie says:

    Another vote for an ebook! You need not do it through kindle or anyone–I’ve bought a number of self published PDFs from bloggers for $5-25.

    You could always do both of course. I’ve bought physical copies of your other books to help support you, but I’d rather just have a PDF, even for the same price.

    I can’t remember which blogger does it, and I’m sure there are actually many, but you can find some good folks sharing how they’ve self published PDFs to their readers (I’m thinking it might be at least Leo Babuta and NerdFitness now).

  40. Heather says:

    Sharon,
    I live half a world away, and I will never make it to an open farm day….I found your ‘stuff’ in 2007, and i have read nearly every post (on either blog, after you split) since then….and I bought all your books…what you have written has absolutely, fundamentally, literally changed my life. I read the first of your posts in a suburban home, with a ‘nice’ income through dh’s domestic cleaning franchise….today, we live off grid,on a shoestring, in the middle of nowhere, run a CSA that provides veg, pork, chicken, and opinions, to our clients. We suck on the carbon thing, because I can’t get my head around homeschooling, our local option is terrible, and right now the default option is to drive the kids back to the same school. Here, i get paid to stay home and take care of my children, but i understand that the world is different for different folks. In vernacular terms, we don’t have a pot to piss in (LOL)…would I pay for your blog? Hell Yeah! Would I pay for e-books on specific topics? Double Hell yeah (then i could keep spamming my nearest and dearest with links to your (hopefully free) blog writing!) As a resident in a ‘socialist’ country, I boggle at what the US based blogosphere consider normal and noteworthy, but after 5 yrs, I just write it off to ‘diff’rent strokes’. Seems like a host of difficult decisions are converging on you, and only you can ultimately tell what is right for you, but you have my best wishes, and pathetic financial support, however you go!
    Cheers,
    Heather

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