Pay What You Owe

by Jarold Imes
Urban Book Source
April 2006

“That’s yo’ ass Santa!” Riley yelled as he chased Santa Claus down a busy urban mall. For years, Riley has demanded that Santa grant him a few, somewhat unreasonable requests for Christmas and this year is no different. When Santa refuses to comply he decides to get up with Santa and make him pay.

Sometimes, waiting on a good thing or a dream to come true can make you as impatient as a bad ass eight year old who thinks he’s deserving of the new Play Station 3. For years, you do your best to be good: avoid being naughty and caught being nice; going to sleep when you are supposed to; paying dues, tithes, offerings, even pledging your future income for a dream, a simple fantasy and year after year it doesn’t come true.

Well, last night I dreamed that my hard work in the field was going to lead me to freedom. I was going to share in the profits of the cotton, tobacco, corn, sugar and tea that I raised on the master’s farm. Yet, when it was time to cut the chicken, the master got the legs, wings, thighs, back and the breast. Hell, he even took the feet and the neck. And what did he leave me in return for all my hard work? Some gizzards and a heart to go with some rice and three day old bread. Ain’t that some…

When people hear that I have written a book, I’m always asked two questions: “Is your book in Borders?” and “Can I get a free copy?” Yes my book is Borders and if they don’t have it in stock, they’ll order it… now the free copy I got to think about that. Most self-published authors and small presses send books to book clubs, magazines, radio stations, other authors and certain hard core dedicated readers that are going to give honest opinions and hopefully generate a buzz. The lucky ones are granted interviews via radio, print (or online) or television. The sales will come and either one or two things will happen: a major publisher will offer a modest four or five figure, two to three book deal or the entrepreneurial bug will really kick in and the author will be reaching out bringing others to print.

For a good number of dedicated authors, this will happen by the time they are ready to publish their second or third novel. But what happens to those who don’t generate success the first time, or the second time, or the third time, or the fourth time? Should they give up and quit? Well, sad to say that some do quit after their books don’t reach the sales or they don’t obtain the acclaim they desire. Some authors were simply ahead of their time. Can you image having your book about four friends fed up with men come out in 1984 only to have a smart, sassy, no nonsense sista from Detroit gain success from it five years later? How about knowing that your book was grimier than The Coldest Winter Ever but because of some mix up at the printer or because your publisher was too scared to get down, you were a day late and a dollar short of success and to add insult to injury when the book does come out, you are accused of being a copycat? Very few authors can tell this story.

A number of authors stories sound like this. They released their first book, their dream. Financed it with their savings, student loan (okay, that was me but still) or they cashed out their IRAs/401(k)s or they talked everyone and their mama into giving them $25 to $50 to support their dream. They hire an editor (or get their best friend to do it); get a photographer; collect printing quotes and within a few months or even a year, the book is in print. The book comes out and for some reason the book doesn’t do as expected.

But that is not the end of the drama. Some authors do exceedingly well in sales but do not get the profits they deserve. They fall victim to paying too much for printing, editing, marketing, cover design/graphics only to find out that someone else could have done it cheaper and provided better quality. The frustration builds up and even some of the best in the industry are ready to call it quits. The passion and the art that is supposed to be about love has become more about business than one is willing to give up. There are times when even the personal business that is supposed to be intimate and sacred becomes a hotbed for gossips and scandals used by those who used to be cool with you in an effort to destroy you.

That’s real.

Alicia Keys said in her popular radio announcement that her overnight success was seven years in the making. Seven years. Then as I went back and watched the Kings of Comedy to learn that on average, it took those greats about ten years each to achieve the level of fame where they really took off. Think of all the hamburgers and fries and business cards and fliers and traveling and time one has to spend in order to pursue their dreams. The cost it takes on your relationships and everything around you can be taxing. But you got to follow your dream right? 50 Cent said to “get rich or die trying.” I’m trying to make a living, you feel me?

Sometimes the price we pay is not in putting the project together but in who we deal with. We are so into doing whatever it takes to get out there and live our dreams that we over look simple things that tend to be right in front of us. A man could have a name that would imply that he was suspicious, distrustful, crafty, sly, hypocritical, acting with unnecessary exaggeration; so plain for Webster to see yet we would still do business with him on the hope and whim that he or she could lead us to prosperity. We ignore the warning signs that should have been there all along. Then when he lives up to his name we get hurt and surprised that he would do this to us. Why should we be, he told us what his name was.

We should have known better.

But in the process of getting out there, we have to decide what price it is that we are willing to pay for our fame. What does having an Essence Bestselling Book or a Grammy really cost? Are we willing to pay the cost? We may love the art but every piece has its price and it is going to be on us to name ours. Like you, I’m tired of paying dues too, but if I don’t pay my dues then who’s going to know I’m out here? The years of paying and praying have added up and when it still doesn’t seem like it’s enough. And when that last little bit of energy that is left in us who are still in the struggle to earn our own fan base and the respect of our peers and to make a living off of what we love there is only one small request…

Please read my book. You could be the one that decides my debt is paid in full.

Jarold Imes is a contributing writer for The Urban Book Source and author of Hold on Be Strong; he is the creator of online soap opera: Hold on Be Strong (, send emails

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