I Need To Be #Winning Like Charlie Sheen: An Agent Intervention

She loves me. I know she does. But my agent hasn’t a problem embarrassing the crap out of me, especially when it comes to the cash money, dollar bills, y’all. Be clear: Victoria Sanders doesn’t play. Let me explain:

A few weekends back, Victoria made a rare trek to Georgia to support and attend A Mysterious Evening, a silent auction and cocktail reception organized by celebrated crime fiction writer extraordinaire Karin Slaughter to raise funds for our local library. I figured I’d invite Vic over for dinner since: A.) Though we’ve been great friends and business partners through 15 book deals, she’s never been to my house and; B.) I’ve bragged forever about my legendary 11-cheese macaroni and cheese and it was high time I made some for her to try. Victoria happily agreed to have an intimate dinner with a small group of my close friends and me, including my sister-in-law/BFF Angelou, our partner in crime, Akilah of Execumama.com, and their respective families.

By all accounts, it was supposed to be a good time.

But then, in the middle of fresh, handmade mojitoes, my world famous mac & cheese, Nick’s grilled salmon, chicken and ribs, and a piping hot pan of homemade peach cobbler, Vic got my friends and family into a circle and proceeded to call a financial intervention on me. First, she acknowledged my gangsta with the words, recounting my career: New York Times best selling author of 19 books, including the best selling book of 2009 Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, with Steve Harvey, and two NAACP Image Award-winning tomes; longtime columnist for Parenting magazine; founder and editor of the critically-acclaimed, award-winning site, MyBrownBaby.com; contributing writer for Essence magazine; blogger and brand representative for several companies, including Unilever’s Don’t Fret the Sweat and Dove. Then, she heaped on the praise, calling me an amazing talent and a generally smart chick.

And after that, it was all downhill dis. “I’m calling this intervention on behalf of your children,” she said.” Because if you don’t get your act together and stop working for free or next to nothing, your kids will end up going to college here.” Then she got all dramatic and pulled from a bag t-shirts emblazoned with the name of a really random college that I wouldn’t send my kids to on a dare. Suffice to say, it was not Yale.

“Of course,” she said, “if you listen to your agent and start trusting me to get you the deals you deserve not just with books, but with all of your projects, then your daughters will get more of this.” And she got all dramatic again and presented my daughters with the most beautiful Tiffany heart charm necklaces they ever did see. I’m talking The Pretty Blue Bags, y’all. “And they’ll go to Yale,” she added.

Seriously, Dr. Drew has nothing on my agent. Nothing.

Mind you, for years, my agent has been extolling the virtues of being paid your worth a message that I’ve happily repeated over and over again to my freelance writer and blog friends, particularly as more traditional media, reeling from the effects of a surplus of fast, free information on the internet, and multimillion-dollar corporations, capitalizing off brand loyalty and the promise of HuffPo-styled link currency, demand we freelancers do way more for way less. Working for pennies, or worse, products and link love doesn’t keep the house warm in the winter, doesn’t put food in your babies’ bellies or clothes on their backs and doesn’t pay school tuition or extracurricular activity fees. Link love is not a form of payment accepted by the mortgage company, and spending five hours writing, taking pictures, designing your posts and begging your Twitter and FaceBook friends to read them for the privilege of giving away a $25 basket of face wash is, in my Bernie Mac voice, some bull.

Simply put: working for free is for suckers.

At least that’s what I tell my blog friends and folk who want to make a living off the written word.

But this is my confession: Sometimes, I don’t follow my own advice. I accept writing gigs that don’t pay nearly what a New York Times bestselling author with two decades in the business is worth. I make generous alliances with corporations that recognize the value and influence of MyBrownBaby, but cry broke when I suggest they pay what I think it’s worth to introduce their brands on my site, one of the largest on the web written by and for black moms and dads and parents of children of color. And I spend a whole lot of time writing and editing for my site and lending my name and talent to others, knowing full well that for every unpaid word I pen for MyBrownBaby, for every free speaking engagement I accept, for every dollar I spend running to conferences to give away my expertise, I’m losing double the cash I could have made writing a book.

In other words, I’ve been a big time sucker. And Victoria was right for calling me out.

Now, I don’t normally write about such things; there are plenty other bloggers who write eloquently about the relationship between blogger/writer and PR rep/brands. And, of course, I do recognize the value of influence, networking and blogging for the greater good. But really, like the love between Nina and Darius in love jones, it’s become urgent like a m#th*f^ck@ for me to speak to this. Because my writers need to eat. My designer needs a check for her services. And I’m underpaid right now. Which just won’t work if the babies are going to Yale. I gotta save up for the tuition. Nothing personal.

So please know that from here on out, if you need Denene’s skills, you’re going to have to negotiate with and talk contracts to Victoria, whom, I assure you, is gonna need you to bring your checkbook. I may be the sucker, but Victoria has Tiger Blood and Adonis DNA. Oh, and she stay #winning.


{Flicker credit: StephenDePolo for Creative Commons}

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Yay for you for because you NEED to be paid!! You are too good of a writer, too smart and too well-known not to be..even in the world of new media!! Work.it!

  2. Great iost, and a very important post, I am a performer,writer and facilitate workshops. My other half is better at the money negotiation side of things than me, so he now deals with it and has no problem telling people no or asking for more money! Everyone needs to be paid, glad someone is protecting your financial worth.

  3. Your agent sounds like a wise woman. I think its hard for us to think about the money but like you said link love don’t pay no bills, as I am learning now that I am hosting my own site, just running a blog can cost money. So stay winning and get paid!

  4. LOL!! I think that sometimes writers just want to write. It’s in our blood, and we don’t think about the money the way we should.

  5. Hey there is nothing wrong with getting paid for your efforts.

  6. Love this! It speaks to all of us who are putting ourselves “on sale” as Suze Orman puts it. Command what the market will bear.

  7. Your agent sounds like my husband! At the Disney conference, Chris Brogan was talking about “mortgage math” – how he calculates business deals based on how many months of his mortgage they will pay. So, you can just start doing “Yale math”! 🙂


  9. While I’m not in the same line of business as you are, you spoke to me! We all need to make sure that we don’t under value ourselves, no matter the occupation.

  10. You’ve told me the same before; that I need to stop working for free. I’m listening but it’s been slow going. I saw someone we both know be told she should not be paid what she was asking because a ‘bigger blogger’ was doing the same thing and not being paid what she was asking! Still, I’m trying. I’ve turned things down lately and will continue to do so. I like your agent. I think we could all use someone like that in our corner!

  11. Hahahaaa! That is TOO funny, she came well equipped to call you out with the tees and the Tiffany’s! I think Mel is talking about me… the incident straight pissed me OFF. And the only reason that blogger is bigger is because they do giveaways all.of.the.time and take every opportunity to write about things they know will get a rise outta people. I guess I gotta step my game up and C.R.U.S.H. that’s all. Work on me and worry about others later. When you do big things like write books, write for big brands REGULARLY, make TV appearances.. shoot stats don’t even matter. I gotta do somethin’… gotta work on my writing first.

  12. Um… but you still gon’ help me right? 😉

  13. Love this post and your agent is made of gold!

  14. You ARE pretty gangsta with the words. It’s a fact. And you SHOULD be paid what you deserve for it. The second we settle for less than we deserve, we get even less than what we’ve settled for. Go get what you deserve lady. Yale would be happy to have your girls.

  15. I had to get someone to book our speaking gigs for similar reasons and she handles her business. One of the best choices I’ve made surrounding our business period.

  16. Victoria made her point like nobody’s business, and it not only reached Denene, it bounced around the room to rest of the crew, and landed on listening ears.

    I may not a bazillion accolades, but TRUST…what I have is valuable, and the freebie thing is so over!

    Oh, and that Mac-n-cheese? Yummerific!!

  17. Dear Denene,
    I’ve never met you in person and enjoy reading your blog.
    On behalf of everyone who blogs and writes – THANK YOU.
    Adding this to my Pinterest Board – Best Blogging Advice Around – http://pinterest.com/mommytalkshow/best-blogging-advice-around/

  18. To play devil’s advocate, scratch that…the term “gotta pay your dues” comes to mind for some bloggers (even myself at times) when it comes to getting paid to write.

    For most bloggers, the question is “when do you know it’s time to start demanding the dough?”

    I think accepting those free products (damn the link love) in exchange for 200-500 words is what most bloggers view as “paying dues”. What is not as evident is at what point can you “cross over” into forwarding brands a media kit/pricing sheet and letting them decide the next steps?

    Is it traffic/stats? Is it (in your case) best-selling author cred? Most bloggers want to know where’s that proverbial line in the sand?

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby


      A blogger should always get paid for his/her work, no matter how grand or tiny. If you are just starting out, charge, “I’m just starting out prices.” You don’t open a restaurant and then let everyone eat for free. You don’t open a clothing store then give away the jeans and shirts. You build your brand and you build it well, then you open the doors and let the customers in.

      When I first started, to test my hand at giveaways, I purchased giveaway items on my own and did my giveaways, creating a solid record of my ability to draw attention to products. Then I used those as representations of my work for the sponsors that eventually came. The only time I actually wrote free sponsored posts or did free giveaways was if it was a personal friend of mine (mostly authors giving away books about/for/by people of color, my target audience). As my audience grew, my rates grew.

      You know what happens when you work for free for a company, and then you hit them with the, “I know I did that one for free, but this one is going to cost you?” The company say, “no thanks” and moves on to the next blogger who will write for free. You never win giving away your talent, your space, your time and the audience that you built.

  19. PREACH! I’ve heard your speak at Blogher and I follow this blog religiously. Thank you for this post. It fits right in line with my goals this year. 🙂

  20. Seriously, I love you. No really I do.

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love this post! Still relevant 2 years later! I wish we (as a blogger whole) could adopt this method, therefore there wouldn’t be the “next” blogger a PR professional could go to for the free free. Instead, their next thought would be which blogger is giving us the best bang for our buck. I also enjoyed your response to Terrance’s question! Solid.

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