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What Authors Need to Know About Bartering for Services

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Some self-publishing authors choose to barter for services like editing and cover design rather than pay for them outright.

Some self-publishing authors choose to barter for services like editing and cover design rather than pay for them outright.

A good author friend of mine suggested that authors who need book design or editing consider bartering with pros in these areas, especially if finances are a concern. In theory, that’s an awesome idea. Unfortunately, in reality, it can often be a nightmare. So, let’s talk about when and how bartering works in writing and self-publishing.

Buy What You Can't DIY

An author friend posted a video where she said that she doesn’t always hire editors and other services for her books because she has the skills to do these things herself. Another author friend is a skilled digital artist and does her own book covers. While that might sound like hubris, I do the same thing when it comes to self-publishing my books. Why do we do this in spite of the common knowledge being that you should hire these services out?

I personally have years of writing, editing, and advertising experience. Though I’m aware of the “doctors shouldn’t be their own patients” problem, I’m also keenly aware of my skills and the pitfalls of being too close to your own work, so I have employed a number of tactics to avoid the problems of self-editing. I also have no emotional attachment to any of my work. If I think it’s junk, so I’m willing to admit it and make it right or dump it.

You need to be honest about the skills that you have, then buy what you can’t effectively DIY (do it yourself). This honest assessment of the skills you have and what you truly need is the basis for bartering opportunities.

How long have you had or used this skill? Or how long has it been since you’ve used it? If this book is your first book, and you haven’t developed these skills, you might want help (I got help with my first book). If it’s been years since you’ve practiced this skill, it may also be a good idea to get help from people who are active in the field and market now.

If you don’t currently have the skill, how steep is the learning curve to acquire it? Editing, book formatting, cover design, and marketing are skills that develop over time—sometimes lots of time. And if it isn’t something that’s a good fit with your circumstances or inborn talents, it's often best to let it go and hire a pro.

Issues With Recruiting Barter Partners

What often happens is that whoever is conveniently in one’s social circle becomes a potential barter partner. The know, like, and trust factors are high. So, even someone with skills that only kind of resemble those needed might be approached for a possible barter arrangement. Sometimes, colleagues feel obligated to accept barters so as not to make the requester feel bad for asking.

The piece of the barter arrangement that those seeking services too often forget is the exchange. What are you offering? Does the other person even want what you’re offering? This is where I’ve had the most trouble. I don’t want to be cornered into offering services in exchange for consulting or other services I don’t need or want, but that’s what’s happened for me. I always felt that I was giving more than I was getting.

Other barter pitches ask for services in exchange for exposure, promising that if the service provider does this job, it will bring a lot of attention and business their way. That rarely happens, and the partner providing the service loses valuable time and effort.

The Other Cost of Bartering

Did you know that barters can have income tax implications? They do—it's never zero cost. Consult your CPA and your country's tax authority about how to report barters on your tax returns.

When Bartering Goes Bad

A networking friend of mine started a new consulting practice, and they were trying to keep costs down by bartering for their logo design. It took months for the logo to be delivered. She ran the designs by me, and I told her I didn’t think any of them worked. That was her own assessment, too, but she needed an outside opinion. She also wanted to know how to handle the situation since she still didn’t have a usable logo, didn’t want to ask the barter partner to do any more work for her, and would likely have to invest hard dollars in hiring a designer.

In looking at the situation from the outside, I wasn’t really sure what the designer stood to gain from the barter. In my observation of freelance professionals, work that doesn’t bring in cash doesn’t warrant immediate attention. Managing barter partners is challenging and has the potential to sour relationships.

This is why a written contract detailing all the particulars of the barter is essential. That includes deadlines, deliverables, and exit procedures. When a barter goes bad, how can it be terminated equitably for all parties?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 23, 2021:

Hi Bill! Thanks for reading. Totally agree it has to be a win for all, or it's a win for none. And, yes, a contract or written agreement saves a lot of heartache. Thanks for reading and chiming in! Have a great week!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 22, 2021:

Great info Heidi. To me bartering should be a win-win for both parties. But as you pointed out I think it is often a win-lose where one party may get what they need/want while the other party doesn’t. A contract is a great idea for anyone going down this road.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 22, 2021:

Hello, Niks! Glad you found it helpful. Good luck with your eBook!

Niks from India on August 17, 2021:

Valuable info about bartering. Enjoyed reading. It will help me with my first e-book.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 17, 2021:

Hi John! Indeed, a more anonymous bartering program is a much better approach. But as we agree, in the case of authors, I just don't see it being successful for either party. Glad you had the sense to turn that one deal down. :) I could see that going nowhere.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments! Have a great day!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 10, 2021:

Heidi, I used to belong to a bartering community called LETS where people bartered goods and services and collected and paid with points. That worked well because you didn’t have to directly barter with the person you were receiving something from. You used points earned from each transaction that you could use to buy a service or item you needed from someone else.

I can’t see bartering working as well in regard to authors, book design, editing etc…because I do feel that in most cases (as you stated) one party gets what they need but the other may not. I have had one person approach me saying if I wrote them and article for free they would give me great reviews, share it and give me exposure. Of course I turned that down.

Thank you for this article.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 10, 2021:

Flourish, that's an aspect of bartering that many forget. Ooooh, actually, I should put a note about that in the article. Thanks to you and Dora for catching that! I'm just so annoyed at how much management and nonsense these arrangements cause I overlooked adding that.

Thanks for your perspective, as always! Hope you're staying cool in spite of the heat wave which seems to be everywhere!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 10, 2021:

Linda, I wouldn't have thought of it either if I hadn't been approached by authors wanting to do it. :) Thanks for reading and hope the heat wave hasn't been too bad where you are!

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 09, 2021:

I'm with Dora. I also wonder about IRS implications since bartering transactions are taxable even if no money changed hands. I'd rather just pay outright for the service I wanted and just use my preferred service provider.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 06, 2021:

I've never thought about a writer using bartering before. Thank you for sharing your extensive knowledge in another educational and useful article, Heidi.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 06, 2021:

Dora, I couldn't have said it better myself! I will always pay to get what I want. There really is no such thing as something for nothing. Thanks for that perspective and have a lovely weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 06, 2021:

Pamela, you're so right! A contract, even if no money changes hands like in a barter agreement, is like a pre-nuptial for when things go awry. Glad you found it informative. Thanks for reading and chiming in and have a lovely weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 06, 2021:

Peggy, agreed, when everybody is on the same page in a barter agreement, it's fabulous. But so often barters go bad, and everybody loses. Thanks so much for chiming in and have a lovely weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 06, 2021:

Bill, I'm also in the once-bitten-twice-shy camp when it comes to bartering... though sadly, I think it I was bit more than once. Never, ever, am I doing it again. So sayeth me, too. Thanks as always for chiming in and have a lovely weekend!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 06, 2021:

Thank you, Heidi for this piece of advice which to me seems reasonable and wise. Better pay for what you want than take for free what you don't want.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 06, 2021:

A written contract always makes sense, Heidi. This is a very interesting article with a great deal of good information.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 06, 2021:

Bartering can be a wonderful way to get things accomplished as long as it goes well for each party involved. Your last question is a good one to consider.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 06, 2021:

Look at me, on time! I'm proud of myself, thank you very much. lol

I had one barter go bad. I haven't done it since, and I won't. It's just not worth the bad taste in my mouth, and all the Listerine in the world isn't going to wash that taste away.

So sayeth Bill Holland!

Have yourself a magnificent weekend, my friend.

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