I posted an article on my Facebook wall that caused a minor stir. The article entitled “Wil Wheaton and Why I Won’t Write for Huffington Post Anymore” was posted by a writer no longer willing to write for the exposure. He had been sending his articles to the Huffington Post without pay. He made the rational decision that if they wanted his content to help them make money, they should pay him. He’s right.
Here’s my original comment posted with the article, “I write my blogs for free when they’re on my sites but if someone wants my work, I quote Harlan Ellison, “Pay the writer.” I have been approached several times for submitting pieces for free to sites and magazines that are for-profit. I decline every time because writing for exposure rarely works out in favor of the artist regardless of their particular art. Bottom line, exposure doesn’t pay the bills. This is a very important article that echoes my sentiment very clearly. Other writers need to pay attention.”
Here’s the deal: I make media including writing. I have made money from my work. I learned a long time ago that if someone was going to make a profit from my efforts I was going to be sharing in that profit.
Let’s break down the business of writing so I can make myself clearer. For many people, when you say writer the first thing that pops into their head is books. However, that is the smallest portion of the business. Book authors often do all of their work for free because most of what they do is unsolicited. They have an idea and run with it. It’s their responsibility to for what happens with that work. Most authors never see publication. Books are a high risk business with high potential costs and risky sales. There’ s a reason I am so grateful for the people I know who have been published. It’s a wonderful gift and an encouragement for anyone working on their own book.
Writing a book is a real act of faith. I have several that are in various stages of completion ranging from collections of notes to large sections written and everything in between. I have faith that what I have spent all this time on is worthwhile and will be picked up by a publisher. This is essentially free work until that point. It’s up to the author to market the idea to publishers and agents and sell it to them. If you’re writing a book and that’s all your interested in doing, go for it. The rest of this may apply to you anyway.
Most of the business of writing is not in books but in smaller projects. It’s in articles, website content, reviews, scripts, ad copy, and the like. These are the projects the article refers to not books. This is also where you find the most organizations happy to use your work to make a profit while paying the author nothing more than the privilege of writing for them for the exposure and experience.
I started writing professionally almost twenty years ago. In the early days, I did a lot of this kind of work “for the exposure” that I now regret. In truth, I gained nothing from these agreements. The exposure gained me no further work. It all came to a head a little over ten years ago when I was approached to help start a publication. Although it was a profit venture, the owners wouldn’t pay for content. Without content, there wouldn’t be a magazine to sell all those ads, about 70% or more of the space within the pages. That made me angry enough to take a hard look at things.
I have discovered that there’s a lot of publications, both online and print, that won’t pay the writers (or photographers, videographers, voice artists, etc) for their contribution. They only offer exposure as the payment is exposure and experience. Neither of those things pay the bills. I have a real problem with publishers and editors that make their living from the work of other people without paying the content providers. A workman is worth his hire. I think I read that somewhere.
Ten years ago, I made a decision to only write for free for those who will actually appreciate it. I will write to further the Kingdom, to produce my personal projects, or support someone I believe in enough to spend the time on. I have spent a lot of money and time over the years learning media production and writing. Those skills are worth something. Since then, I have done a lot of free work for ministries including scripts, ads, and other small projects. However, I haven’t done any of that or other assignments for free for any for-profit venture.
Does it make me less spiritual because I expect to be paid for my work? Not in the slightest. Why are my efforts as a media producer and writer different from my efforts on my day job? I won’t work for them for free so why are the skills I’ve worked to hard to gain worth less?
Do I need to do work for free to build my platform/brand? Absolutely. I write four blogs of my own including this one, create my own sites, and work my tail off on social media for which I make nothing up front. The key is that they are mine to produce. No one is profiting from my work except me unless they hire me.
I approach my writing as both a business and an art. Even is my books never see the light of day beyond my hard drive, I will still eat and make money from my efforts.
The bottom line, if you’re making a profit from an artist/writer, pay them. Their skills and talents are not their for your disposal without compensation. If you’re an artist of any stripe and are good at what you do, your skills are worth something. Only give them away by your choosing not the policies and choices of others.