Writing for free

Danny McG

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Interesting article Jo.
It is happening in other areas, a mate of mine has been a semi-pro musician for some years. He and his group do weddings, birthdays etc and local music festivals.
He is fed up of promoters contacting him for mini festivals etc and expecting his band for free "we will give you publicity".
They are so busy anyway at weekends that they now all book the same holidays from their respective employers just to get a break from it all.

My daughters friend has a degree in photography and is now self employed, she often gets asked about weddings and gives them her rates - " but you're only 23, you should be glad of the publicity and just charge us your expenses"

A common thing nowadays to expect summat for nowt
 

goldhawk

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He should have named the company. Just bcause someone does good work doesn't mean they shouldn't be called out when they do wrong.

Only work for free if:
  1. It's a charity.
  2. You get to place an ad for your paying work. This is the exposure they're talking about. No ad; no work.
 

Jo Zebedee

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He should have named the company. Just bcause someone does good work doesn't mean they shouldn't be called out when they do wrong.

Only work for free if:
  1. It's a charity.
  2. You get to place an ad for your paying work. This is the exposure they're talking about. No ad; no work.
The Irish writing scene is tiny and what he describes is not unusual so to name that one journal (or whatever) would have been very unfair, I think
 

Montero

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Incidentally on working free for a charity - trying to remember which singer it was - but comment in an autobiography or biography about the vast number of free charity concert requests they got, far more than could be done, and how very indignant the requester on the other end of the phone often got when told "No".
"But its for charity!"

I think the guy definitely has a point and has put it across well, especially about everyone except the writers expecting to get paid....... it is a good way of putting it.
 

hej

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A common thing nowadays to expect summat for nowt

Hear, hear!

I respect the author's point but have a different conclusion about writing for free.

I can't resist adding, in dialect, 'shy bairns get nowt.' Sure, you must toot your horn to market yourself, but how you do so is where I disagree with these, uh, mendicants.

I am busy pursuing or at least considering exposure (alongside my writing). So, 'being far too busy to offer for free' is the truth. Moreover, I would need to know the workings of any charity to which I contributed, particularly if I did not know its management well. I mean reviewing their balance statement, income statement, statement of cash flow -- along with their business plan. Naturally, I would need to meet the executives too. Though such rigor is a lot of work, I consider it necessary to be sure that the charity is both ethical -- and responsibly run. I've noticed that certain charities are not -- having executives among their chief beneficiaries.

Too, I do not want to release the preponderance of my promotional material from my control. If I post to my own site, then I can take the writing down. I can not be certain that I will be able to do so if I am trusting someone else -- even with a contract (which can be ignored at least until I muster a serious legal challenge).

I see snippets of my work as similar to, say, comic strips from newspapers (the paper kind). People rarely keep them, and hence we see a market for collections of old cartoons. Similarly, while it is possible to copy and save a story from, say, a blog, I think doing so is unlikely. I am comfortable in knowing that, should I consider, say, an online novella worthy of becoming a book, I can have it published without worry of it being elsewhere on the web.

My positions do have some wiggle room, but their essence should be clear.

Please, let me know if I come across as overly skeptical -- or naive. I prefer to stand corrected -- than to maintain silly opinions.
 

Steve Harrison

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I agree generally with the writer's comments about working for free, but I think his hopes for a united front against the forces of evil (people who don't want to pay) by writers is wishful thinking in the extreme. There's also a terrific Harlan Ellison video on YouTube (Pay the Writer) that makes the point a great deal more forcefully. It's worth a look!

But I do think the argument comparing writing to other professions is misleading. Most writers are amateurs and a good number of those writers are as good as published professional writers. And they are trying to get ahead any way they can. Writing for free is often the only way to get into print and gain perceived exposure, so it's not going to stop. A well written piece is a well written piece, regardless of the source, and market forces favour free services over paid, especially if there is no difference in quality.

You would expect your plumber or electrician or lawyer to have professional qualifications before paying for his or her services, but writing can come from anyone and all you need to do is read the finished work to see if it is acceptable. For example, I flunked English at high school, yet I taught myself creative writing and eventually sold a novel to a traditional publisher. If I turned up at a house with a bag of plumbing tools and no qualifications, I'm not sure I would get the same reception.

The sad fact is that the creative art pool (writing, acting, painting etc) has a huge number of very talented and capable people who can produce highly professional work and are desperate to be seen. Many will take a punt on a free job leading to paid work or at least another line on their resume.
 

Jo Zebedee

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I think - to be very clear - the point was that professional writers should not write for free as it devalues the baseline for all writers, especially those who are most vulnerable. This was a plea to them, not emerging, in the hope that by them - who already have value - not shoring up publications a more balanced model emerged for all.
 

hej

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I agree generally with the writer's comments about working for free, but I think his hopes for a united front against the forces of evil (people who don't want to pay) by writers is wishful thinking in the extreme.
...
The sad fact is that the creative art pool (writing, acting, painting etc) has a huge number of very talented and capable people who can produce highly professional work and are desperate to be seen. Many will take a punt on a free job leading to paid work or at least another line on their resume.

Yeah. He is trying to hold back the wind.

Agreed! I find the challenge daunting, but! I will persevere.
 

goldhawk

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Yeah. He is trying to hold back the wind.

Agreed! I find the challenge daunting, but! I will persevere.

If you think you can't change a situation, you're correct. Of course, that has nothing to do with the situation and everything to do with your thinking.
 

Steve Harrison

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I think - to be very clear - the point was that professional writers should not write for free as it devalues the baseline for all writers, especially those who are most vulnerable. This was a plea to them, not emerging, in the hope that by them - who already have value - not shoring up publications a more balanced model emerged for all.

Unfortunately, this issue exists because the distinction between professional and amateurs writers is blurred, so you can't isolate one from the other.
 

tinkerdan

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This is one of those things that needs more perspective in order to understand any underlying problems.

For instance: is the entire distribution chain doing this for free. If so then the author's contribution is a paltry amount when compared to what everyone else is putting into this charity. (Unless he gets paid 100,000 upfront before royalties.) Having the entire proceeds from wholesale price go into the charity would be ideal and most likely worth considering.

If the only one putting in free work is the author then it goes the other way and the amount to charity is paltry and probably not worth anyone's efforts. Not to mention that if the author wanted to contribute his part he could just sign over the check to a charity of his choice and maybe offer his remaining royalties to their charity.

Still: without some background to who is contributing what, this argument thins out quite a bit.
 

Hoverdasher

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I get it grabbing opportunity for exposure, yet I stand by the cogent argument/call to action in this article. Look. Scott Adams wrote an amazing story, God's Debris, and it's posted as a free e-book. Yeah, he got exposure--it was a huge hit, yet I bet my Jeep others besides Scott have profited from his intellectual idea. I think sticking it out for "the big ones" even if we go to our graves having never seen them published is better. Now, this does not mean free submissions of our shorter works are contributing to problem, which is about getting exposure when u r like me, and haven't been published. But were I to master the craft and get something put out there--accepted, I too, would decline free work submissions, unless it was a reputable fundraiser for hurting people, college English major grants... That sort of thing. It is no longer merely un published artists who are starving due to all this. People who write for a living are starving, too. It's like teaching-- over 75 percent of my time invested in my classroom is pro bono apart from my consent. As for, God's Debris? That makes me sad. I like Scott Adams, and think he should benefit from his work. But, mistakes get made, and sometimes consequences are sad for artists.
 
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Jo Zebedee

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I have stuff up for free - but sometimes I was paid for it (@dgjones Kraxon mag is great for that), or I chose not to (I donated a short to an antho to raise money for a writer friend's family after they passed away suddenly) or it's a loss leader (so the old prologue to Inish Carraig is free with links to the book), and I am considering a permafree Abendau's Heir.

But what Oisin is describing is different - and common in Ireland, particularly for poetry, where the journal only takes free submissions (and the journal may be funded to operate, by the way, by an Arts Council although not always) in order to operate. They use exposure as the currency - where, perhaps, there is a strong argument that commercial viability should be a criterion for success too.
 

Hoverdasher

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I have stuff up for free - but sometimes I was paid for it (@dgjones Kraxon mag is great for that), or I chose not to (I donated a short to an antho to raise money for a writer friend's family after they passed away suddenly) or it's a loss leader (so the old prologue to Inish Carraig is free with links to the book), and I am considering a permafree Abendau's Heir.

But what Oisin is describing is different - and common in Ireland, particularly for poetry, where the journal only takes free submissions (and the journal may be funded to operate, by the way, by an Arts Council although not always) in order to operate. They use exposure as the currency - where, perhaps, there is a strong argument that commercial viability should be a criterion for success too.

My heart is in Ireland. I'm in America--my great-great grandparents immigrated to America long ago, so I am told. I'm Irish both in heart and genetics. This saddens me to hear--it feels like I'm reading about exploitation. I suppose commercial viability could be a criterion for individual artist's success, yet I fear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was onto something when he stated his belief that, "...capitalism is a pernicious evil..." It seems like it always puts up opportunity for exploiting people, which makes me sad.

Anyway--great post. I'm sorry if I didn't fully grasp the article, it's just that I'm in a learning phase, currently. Ugh.

H.
 

Jo Zebedee

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My heart is in Ireland. I'm in America--my great-great grandparents immigrated to America long ago, so I am told. I'm Irish both in heart and genetics. This saddens me to hear--it feels like I'm reading about exploitation. I suppose commercial viability could be a criterion for individual artist's success, yet I fear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was onto something when he stated his belief that, "...capitalism is a pernicious evil..." It seems like it always puts up opportunity for exploiting people, which makes me sad.

Anyway--great post. I'm sorry if I didn't fully grasp the article, it's just that I'm in a learning phase, currently. Ugh.

H.

I'm probably less Irish than you ;)

Actually the Arts Council both North and South are great. They funded me to write my last book, they fund loads of writers and projects and without them our culture would be poorer. But, as with all writing environments, there will he challenges. In this case, with a poetry-heavy writing, it can be challenging to support the number of writers - and it's mostly very fair and well above most other writing environments. :)
 

mistri

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This is an interesting topic for me because I was talking to a writer recently who is having loads of 'sales' while I'm in a period of having lots of rejections. They are largely submitting to no-payment sites, and I always send each story I have to the highest paying market first and work my way down. They may well be a better writer of course, but I also think the SFF markets are very competitive at the top end. But in the meantime, they're getting their name out there - because exposure is at least a little useful - and I'm getting nothing except learning how to deal with rejection :D.

I do understand that it's very hard to make money running a fiction mag/site of any sort, but I think I probably will keep going. Decent fiction is worth something, damn it!
 

Hoverdasher

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This is an interesting topic for me because I was talking to a writer recently who is having loads of 'sales' while I'm in a period of having lots of rejections. They are largely submitting to no-payment sites, and I always send each story I have to the highest paying market first and work my way down. They may well be a better writer of course, but I also think the SFF markets are very competitive at the top end. But in the meantime, they're getting their name out there - because exposure is at least a little useful - and I'm getting nothing except learning how to deal with rejection :D.

I do understand that it's very hard to make money running a fiction mag/site of any sort, but I think I probably will keep going. Decent fiction is worth something, damn it!

I couldn't agree with you more. I haven't checked--have you any excerpts up on the critique board? I would love to look at your work.

I am learning that it is not you (or me) who are, how should I say it? Well, I, too, am submitting and receiving rejections all while my poster of Albert Einstein stares at me with his brilliantly annoying quote about insanity (doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results). We are not the ones who are inadequate in our craft. It is the market (capitalism may actually be a pernicious evil, as Dr. King believed, and wrote that it likely was/is) that is creating ceilings or barriers that prohibit the entry of new authors--as they KNOW they will continue to MAKE MONEY if they keep doing what has made them money in the past--keep publishing the same authors over and again, giving the rest of us little chance. And, this is only one facet of this issue.

You. Mistri. Are an artist--perhaps, as the starving artist that I currently am, perhaps, not. I am moved by your courage--I am inspired by your pluck and tenacity. And, yes: "decent fiction is worth something, damn it!" I, for one, believe in you. You strike me as someone who is going to penetrate the evils of that pernicious evil King wrote about. And, your art--for its sake, period--will bring others inspiration. So, all that to say: don't give up, and don't let me give up, either...dammit!!

Hoverdasher.
 

Parson

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I do understand that it's very hard to make money running a fiction mag/site of any sort, but I think I probably will keep going. Decent fiction is worth something

I agree, but the question is what is it worth? and in what form does the payment come? Going the traditional publishing route is comparable to betting on horses. You can handicap the race. You can hedge your bets. But you cannot doubt that a good share of luck goes into picking a winner, let alone picking an exacta. This is the quandary faced by both authors and publishers. New authors are hoping for someone to take a flyer on a good looking pony, while established authors point out the safety in going with the battle tested, tried and true. The publisher chooses based on the amount of risk s/he can take in the hopes of winning regularly and of hitting an exacta or two.

The next analogy I'd like to make is a musical one. Here in the States classical music is a niche market. There are a very few musicians who are able to make a substantial living out of their music. There are many who are able to cobble together a living out of subsidized venues, lessons, and perhaps a day job and/or a supportive spouse or patron. Many more classical musicians just play for the joy of making beautiful music. An author needs to realize that this is the hard truth. Like a classical musician they may be able through circumstances of skill and luck come out at the top but the huge majority will have to find another way.

We are living in the era of "another way" for authors. Many authors have turned to self-publishing and with a combination of electronic books and print on demand so they have been able to make some money. But very, very, few will make enough to even pay a decent wage for their time. It's a little like fishing. If you fish you will likely have a few fish to eat, but if you count the cost and don't add the enjoyment of the fishing you'd almost certainly be ever so much smarter to go to the fish market.

In summary: A author should write because s/he has stories that must come out. That in itself has to be sufficient reward. Writing for any other reason will certainly be an exercise is self flagellation; even if it is handsomely rewarded.
 

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