Why I Started Charging For Advice (& why its good for both of us)

I like giving advice to people, for many reasons. It’s rewarding to help people, and thinking through things in order to teach someone else often sharpens the insights in my own. Plus, I know what it’s like to feel lost and alone and desperately want someone with experience to give you some guidance. I specifically remember how hard this was as a new writer starting out in 2001. The informational world is VERY different now than it was then; the word ‘blog’ didn’t even exist, and if you wanted to be a writer, there was no guide or help other than “find an agent and pray.” That sucked.

Because I remember how shitty that was, I try to help people who come to me with sincere, intelligent questions about anything I know about, so they don’t have to go through what I went through. That’s not a problem. The problem is that those people are not the majority. Most people ask me really stupid questions, but way worse than that, a lot of people seem to ask serious questions, and then are an energy draining disaster to deal with. This is the pattern:

Someone asks for advice. They seem sincere (and not crazy). I give them advice. If the advice is not what they want to hear, they argue with me. Or even worse, they are ungrateful and unappreciative, and seem to think that they are entitled to as much of my time as they want.

I know this trap, and I can usually see it coming, so I avoid it most of the time…but because I genuinely like to help people understand things, I still fall into it sometimes, and it drives me nuts. The only thing I have in my life that I can’t replace is time, and when people steal it from me, it really pisses me off.

The problem is, the stupider the person, the less they value good advice, and in fact, the less they even recognize good advice when you give it to them. It’s very frustrating, and the only solution I could find was to not give anyone advice. This helped no one, not even me.

I tried to solve this problem by taking the best email questions, and using them as inspiration for blog posts. Some of my best posts came out of this, like Why You Should NOT Go To Law School, How To Deal With Cops, What You Need To Know About Life, But Haven’t Been Taught, and How I Disrupted Publishing And You Can Too, etc.

There is a problem with this too. Though I like giving advice on things I know about, I don’t like writing things for my blog unless I really take the time to do something fantastic. Of course that (stupid) perfectionism leaves me doing very few blog posts (while having an Evernote file of “Working Blog Posts” that is 280 entries long). That’s does no one any good. Should I just write more and not spend so much time getting things just right? Yes. Will I make that shift today? No, probably not.

I could charge for advice, but something about that has always turned me off. But that wasn’t even working, because my aversion to charging for advice basically sets me up to only give it to people who can catch me in the right time and right place and right frame of mind, and if that happens to be an ungrateful idiot, then its a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Over the past week, I’ve had two exchanges with people who came to me for publishing advice that finally broke my unwillingness to open myself up to anyone by charging for this advice. One was on the phone, so I can’t accurately recount it, but one was over email and is printed below (we’ll get to that in a second). Both were so frustrating and pissed me off so much, I decided I had to try something else. The fact is, I LIKE giving people advice, especially if they are in a position where I can help them. Helping people is great, and if I have to charge to do it in a way that works for me and other people, then so be it.

I’m going to test out using Clarity.fm. It’s a simple, easy to use platform that lets people pay to get personal, specific, directed advice from me. Or just to talk, if that’s what you want. Or people can pitch me to hire them. Or girls can ask me out (but I have a girlfriend now, so I’m going to say no, FYI).

This is a test, I don’t know if I’m going to keep doing this, but I think could be a good thing, for several reasons:

1. It will incentivize me to engage more people who want advice (which helps them and me),

2. It will weed out the idiots from the people who can really use my help,

3. If the idiots still want to talk, at least they aren’t wasting my time anymore.

4. I think this will actually end up making me give more free advice to people, because it will cause me to write more advice pieces. At the very least, I could see myself using these calls as jumping off points for posts.

What Topics Should You Ask Me For Advice On?
I’ll talk to you about anything, but here is a list of things I am good at, as evidenced by lots of success in that field:

Book publishing
Book Marketing
Almost any other kind of marketing
Understanding and evaluating your problems, either in relationships or business (not so much my own, but definitely other peoples)

Why Am I Charging $300 An Hour?
It’s funny, some people may be looking at that price thinking it’s really high; but everyone who has any experience in any sort of business or consulting is shocked at how low it is, especially the people who are paying WAY more than this for my services right now.

I am doing this as a test, so I want it low enough to get a few calls, but not so low that it won’t deter the idiots who want to waste my time. I do not guarantee that I’ll keep the price here. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that it’s going to increase. I will promise it’s never going lower. I don’t want to do any more than 1 of these calls a week, and if I get more requests than that, I will raise the price until I’m not doing more than one a week.

If you want to do a call, schedule one here.

ED NOTE: I raised my price already, after 5 people booked calls the first day.

You Can Get A Free Call
Because I actually LIKE giving advice, I don’t want to limit this to only people who have lots of money. Some of the most rewarding advice I’ve ever given has gone to people who are dirt poor. I can give free calls through Clarity.fm, so I’ll talk to people I think will benefit from it, will be rewarding for me in some way, and most importantly, won’t waste my time. But that’s a high bar to hurdle. Email me and convince me that the call will be either interesting or rewarding for me in some way–ie offer me something that I want (besides money) in exchange for my time–and I may take you up on it: [email protected]



POST SCRIPT: The Exchange That Started This
Here’s the exchange that pissed me off so bad I decided to use Clarify.fm. Feel free to skip this part, it might be boring. Presented with no direct comment, but I think once you read it you’ll draw the conclusions that are obvious to everyone but this dude.


The Beginning Question:


I read your Huffington Post article a while back, and am now reading it again in preparation of completing my book.  I have read all yours (my close friend wanted your personal opinion on having sex with a girl with herpes, and the chances of contraction while wearing a condom, and i’m sure he’d appreciate the wisdom) and am a non-fiction writer myself.  Recently graduated from Columbia College Chicago, currently writing a memoir, blah blah, we’re writers.

Anyways, my day job is at an ad agency downtown Chicago and so as much as I am a writer, I have a mind for business and can see, despite my young age of 23, that the publishing world is fucked.  Being a writer, usually leaves you fucked.  It’s difficult to make it extremely profitable, and so your idea of being the author who is also a publishing house is intriguing.

At this point, I hope i’ve garnished your interest enough to warrant this bomb: this will be my first book.  I know that you said this theory only works with established authors, and I 100% agree with you.  However, I have an idea, and figured you were a resource to tap regarding the execution.

What if a first time author, like myself, paired your publishing house idea with a kickstarter program?  A kickstarter program would essentially be a tool to measure sales before the book is actually printed, and if the campaign is successful and you have say 50,000 copies pledged, then wouldn’t it be fail-safe to implement your idea and cover all the costs yourself?  This way, you keep more of the royalties, as you said, but in a sense, they’re guaranteed, because people have paid you before the book is actually produced, thus, at the very least, your book gets on the shelf in a professional manner and you’ve broken even.  Anything after that is profit.

I would really like to pursue this idea, or at least continue to think it through, seeing as i’m not really all that interested in finishing this book (or any future book), a project that i’ve been working on for 2+ years, only to get royally butt-fucked by the publishing industry.  If you’ve made it this far through the e-mail and are willing to spare a couple minutes, I would love the opportunity to learn.


My response: 

1. There is, at best, only one under-25 year old a generation who can write a memoir anyone else will care about. You probably aren’t it. You should probably try writing something else, something that other people want to read. Do the memoir later, when you have something to say.

2. You say you’re writer? Wheres the proof? Not where is your writing–where is your audience? You’re not a writer until people are voluntarily reading your stuff. And you aren’t an author until people are PAYING to read it.

3. Your idea is good. So good that about 100 people have had it before, and there are several sites trying to be “the Kickstarter of books.” The problem: Why do you think you’re going to get anyone to give you money for your book UPFRONT!! You don’t have an audience right now. Who’s putting the money in?

His Two replies, in succession:

I appreciate the response.  I should clarify.

I am that 25 year old (23, actually).  My memoir is about playing World of Warcraft for 4 years in high school, not knowing I was allergic to wheat, spending every moment of every day on the toilet shitting my brains out, then fracturing my spine playing hockey, growing up in one of the wealthiest suburbs in America, and deciding that if I wasn’t going to make it in life doing anything else, then I was going to make it playing video games.

3 years later (17 years old) and I was one of the best World of Warcraft players in the world.  I had a blog that was, at the time, the most popular Mage-strategy-entertainment blog on the Internet which yielded 10,000+ readers a day.

I am not writing a memoir about how hard it was having an alcoholic father, and i’m not writing a memoir about how my high school experience was so sad.  I’m writing a memoir to gamers, for gamers, that know what it’s like to spend their formative years inside a digital world, having your personality and demeanor and beliefs sculpted by voices that ring through the headset over your ears.  I am writing about the biggest video game in the history of online video games, and how a kid that couldn’t find his way through the real world, became a celebrity in this digital one.

Let me know if that’s an audience, because my name will ring bells, and I still am connected with the top-tier players that currently speak on behalf of the 12 million people that play this game.

Oh, I forgot.  I’m a rap-head, producer, and vocalist, and am going to be the first author to pair a concept album with my book, for free, telling the story in a different format, poetically, through music and a completely different style of writing, so if you’re on the train and don’t want to read, well that’s fine, you can listen.

I want to change the game.  Hence why I’m eager to learn.


My response. At this point I know the tar baby has sucked me in, but I can’t stop:

First off, that is a TERRIBLE idea. It’s been done a ton of times–ever heard of Bob Dylan–and its basically never worked. Artistic mediums are extremely hard to master. Mastering multiple ones is not twice as hard, it’s exponentially harder. Again, only single digits per generation can do this.

And most importantly: If you want to change the game–WHY ARE YOU NOT ALREADY DOING IT? Where is your writing? Dude, you ignored the most important part of my email: Where is your audience, in ANY medium? All you did was tell me how great your story is. No one cares about all of that bullshit. It’s just a bunch of ideas. Everyone has ideas. Potential = NOTHING. Actual is all that matters.

Come back to me when you have done something with this idea. When you have a blog, or a song, or something that has some traction. You’re trying to learn about the business of publishing–you have NOTHING TO SELL RIGHT NOW. Here’s the only advice you need:

Go prove that this idea has merit by writing a bunch of it and seeing if it resonates with and engages an audience. Only then should even think about anything else.

His response:

Then, I suppose, you ignored the most important part of my e-mail.

“Go prove that this idea has merit by writing a bunch of it and seeing if it resonates with and engages an audience. Only then should even think about anything else.”

I did, for 2 years, and got an overwhelming response.  I was also much younger and much shittier writer.  I know what I am producing has an audience.

If you want to discourage me for not taking the same road you took (having a blog where people clearly wanted that specific content, and then that blog organically turning into a book, and then a book deal), then so be it.  There are multiple roads to the same end-goal.  But from a business perspective, I want to learn about the industry, learn about how your publishing company came into being, what the numbers were, where funds went, so that I can educate myself and make a decision that best suits my personal path.

*Note: The same person telling me I can’t do it because it’s never been done before, is the person that did exactly that.  (Fratire)

I know you read, I went through your reading list, I know your education and I know you’re a smart person.  Treat me like a nobody-writer, and to you, that’s exactly who i’ll be.  Or you can see me for who I actually am, and realize that I am one of those people that works until there is no more work to be done, always with the intention of learning and pushing the envelope.  I am a writer, I am a musician, and i’m a bodybuilder. I will master all 3 fields, and I will make each project entirely brilliant in itself.

I reached out to you so that I could learn and work through questions.  If you would like to help and be that mentor, then I would be honored and appreciative.  If not, i’ll find another person and another way.


My final response: 

You aren’t listening at all. I am not saying you can’t do this. I am saying it’s a hard path (that you’re making harder on yourself by trying to do tons of things instead of one thing). Yes, I took a version of that path, and I made it. Maybe you can too–god knows if I can do it, so can other people, and you could very well be one of those.

I AM saying that you won’t make it thinking the way you’re currently thinking. Your entire approach is wrong, and I’m pointing out to you precisely what is wrong with it–and you’re arguing with me about it.

I’m going to recap, and then go back to writing things that people pay to read:

1. You aren’t a writer until you sit down, write your thoughts and ideas down, put them out into the world somehow (blog, tumblr, book, whatever), and people voluntarily read them. That’s how you know you’re doing something that has merit and people value–because they use it to make their lives better.

2. Once you have a small audience, you keep working to build it. How do you build it? Write things that they want to read, things that are engaging, compelling, that bring value to their lives.

3. Nothing you’ve done in the past matters when someone reads your stuff now. Having written some daily content blog about WOW strategy is great–any experience is good practice–but not remotely close to the same thing you are talking about doing, and totally irrelevant to a reader. I developed a huge audience for my fratire writing. That doesn’t mean any of them will read my start-up and investing blog. New topic = must earn a new audience. No one is going to read new material I write just because I wrote something good a long time ago. All that success has earned me is the conditional opportunity to prove myself again. THAT’S ALL SUCCESS DOES, NOTHING MORE.

4. Ideas = nothing. Great ideas = nothing. The Best Fucking Idea Ever = NOTHING. Everyone has ideas. All that matters is execution, ESPECIALLY in art. Execute first (“execution” in writing defined as writing material that gathers an audience) only then can you worry about everything else.

5. Knowing the business behind publishing is completely irrelevant until you have all of this down pat (unless you want to be a PUBLISHER, instead of an AUTHOR). It’s just a distraction and a way to avoid doing the actual hard work of writing things people want to read.

6. Go back and read #1. Don’t assume #1 is easy. It’s the hardest part, and the only thing that really matters.

I just gave you a graduate level education on writing, in one email, for free. Now its up to you to use it. Good luck.