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Working For Exposure

Like most working writers I’ve met, I’m not too excited about the idea of writing for exposure…

…he wrote, on his blog, which pays a total of nothing.

Let me try that again. I’m not too excited about the idea of writing for other people for exposure. If you want me to write something — if you want me to work for you — it seems reasonable to expect to be paid.

There are exceptions, of course. I’ve written free content for projects I believe in, for friends and people I like, and for the pure fun of it. But if all you’re offering is exposure, I get plenty of that here on the blog. And to be blunt, my time is valuable, and I only have a limited amount. Writing for you takes time that could otherwise go to other projects, or to hanging out with my family, or even to raking up the leaves and sticks in the back yard.

I’m pretty comfortable at this point with the idea that as a writer, I deserve to be paid. (Though I still struggle with interviews sometimes, depending on where the interview is supposed to appear and how much time will be involved.)

ETA: My apologies. That parenthetical was unclear. I wouldn’t dream of charging for a newspaper or TV or radio interview. On the other hand, if you’re asking me to answer 30 questions for a small, personal blog? At that point, it can start to feel more like I’m writing content for your site, which tips more toward the “pay me” side of things.

Peggy Carter - I Know My Value, by Oh, Man! Homan! Design

Art by Alyssa of Oh, Man! Homan!

But what about non-writing stuff? I’m sometimes asked to speak at schools, or to present at libraries, or do talk about writing at a workshop. What about a half-hour Skype chat with a book club? Or speaking at the local NaNoWriMo kickoff event?

Often these invitations come with the understanding that I’ll be able to sell books. And I do love it when people buy my stuff. But the royalties from those sales almost certainly won’t cover the cost in time and travel.

On the other hand, I love libraries. I love talking to students about this stuff. I believe in paying it forward and helping new writers.

So what’s fair? In general, it depends on a number of things.

  • What kind of budget does the group in question have? I look at an all-volunteer thing like NaNoWriMo differently than I’d look at a dues-charging writing organization, for example.
  • How much time will be involved in the talk/presentation, including planning, travel, and the event itself.
  • How much open time do I have on my schedule?
  • How much fun will I have doing the event?
  • Do I know the people involved?

I still have a hard time saying no. Some of it is probably a midwestern thing. A lot of it likely comes from being a struggling writer and having so many editors say no to me, to the point where I was desperate for any sort of opportunity.

It’s harder still to say, “Maybe. How much will you pay me?”

But as writers, I believe we have a right to ask to be paid for our work, and that’s not limited just to writing. Some places have a budget for speakers, and are happy to pay. Sometimes they offer up front, which is nice, and much less awkward.

But regardless, it’s okay to ask. It’s okay to say, “This is what my time is worth.” Some people might not be willing to pay what you want, and that’s okay too. This is business, and as long you’re not a jerk about it, there shouldn’t be any hard feelings.

It’s also okay to make exceptions. My daughter’s fourth grade teacher was a wonderful person, and I ended up doing presentations to her class for several years in a row, because I liked her and I had a lot of fun. (Plus, they did things like make me cakes.) But there’s a distinction between doing something for free because you want to, and doing it because you feel uncomfortable saying no or asking to be paid.

Your knowledge and experience and time are all valuable. So are mine.

(As you may have guessed, I wrote this as much for myself as for the rest of you…)

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
blairmacg
Mar. 30th, 2016 06:51 pm (UTC)
I've run into this both as a writer and as a wellness practitioner. For the latter, some groups were shocked that I'd charge for an hours-long workshop because the local hospital would send a speaker "for free." I found polite ways to point out the speaker from the hospital was indeed being paid... by the hospital. :)

I'd often be approached with the same line as a wellness speaker as a writer: You'll get clients/readers!

No, not really. Usually not enough to equal a professional speaker fee, anyway. :) But you must be willing to say no, and understanding the reality-based interplay between the value of "exposure" and one's time is critical to that willingness. That doesn't mean one shouldn't volunteer, but does mean one should do it with clear vision.
kshandra
Mar. 30th, 2016 09:03 pm (UTC)
I almost hate to call you out on this, but I'm a little saddened to see that lovely piece of fanart used with no credit. Peggy knows her value; you know yours; I hope the artist knows theirs, as well. (A reverse image search only took me back as far as Pinterest, which is notorious for not crediting appropriately - if that's where you found it, and thus why you were unable give an attribution, acknowledging that seems fair.)
jimhines
Mar. 30th, 2016 09:14 pm (UTC)
Agreed. Updated with the artist info.
kshandra
Mar. 31st, 2016 01:53 am (UTC)
Thank you!
starcat_jewel
Mar. 30th, 2016 11:35 pm (UTC)
IMVOO, "exposure" is never a reason to do stuff for free. There are reasons to do stuff for free. I'm kind of a sucker for anything having to do with schools, and I think of it as "investing in the future". Connections are another possible reason, or doing a favor for a friend. But "exposure", as far as I'm concerned, is another way to spell "horseshit".

You have to figure out where your own boundaries are, and then make them stick.
deborahblakehps
Mar. 31st, 2016 02:37 am (UTC)
Seriously? They're not going to pay the artist of the new award? WTF?

I agree. My time and energy are my greatest limitations right now, and if I'm going to give up either or both of them, there needs to be some kind of compensation (you know, like cleaning the litter box = cats don't poop on the floor). Sometimes that doesn't have to be money, but if so, I need to either be invested in whatever I'm doing (like speaking to kids) or get something else concrete out of it.

jimhines
Mar. 31st, 2016 12:41 pm (UTC)
I hadn't even heard about the WFC award thing when I wrote this, but yeah.
aulus_poliutos
Mar. 31st, 2016 03:11 pm (UTC)
Free editor services is another popular one. If I mention I do that for a living, I often get something like, "oh, but you can edit this thing I wrote, can't you? I mean, it's not much work and you do it all the time." *sigh*

Sylvia Mcivers
Apr. 7th, 2016 01:07 am (UTC)
I remember being entirely astonished upon finding out that Huffington Post does not pay its writers. Because "exposure."

Without writers, what do they have??? I am fairly certain that the management do not accept "exposure" as payment.
strannik01
Apr. 9th, 2016 12:10 am (UTC)
I agree with your overall point, but there's one part that made me do a double-take.

I’m pretty comfortable at this point with the idea that as a writer, I deserve to be paid. (Though I still struggle with interviews sometimes, depending on where the interview is supposed to appear and how much time will be involved.)

I'm not sure I understand it. I am a newspaper reporter IRL, and paying subjects for interviews is one of the big no-nos... Or were you trying to say something else?

Edited at 2016-04-09 12:11 am (UTC)
jimhines
Apr. 9th, 2016 12:35 am (UTC)
Yeah, that part was unclear. Mostly I was thinking of folks who have a blog and want to send a list of 20 questions for me to answer, which generally ends up being a fair amount of work for me, without much in the way of payoff. Does that make sense? I wouldn't ask to be paid for an interview with a newspaper or TV show or radio show or anything like that. On the other hand, if you're basically asking me to write content and help you get hits for your blog...

I should probably try to clarify that in the post.
strannik01
Apr. 9th, 2016 06:05 am (UTC)
Mostly I was thinking of folks who have a blog and want to send a list of 20 questions for me to answer, which generally ends up being a fair amount of work for me, without much in the way of payoff. Does that make sense?

I guess - especially since the blog is kind of gray area, one that I never really had to deal with, either as a journalist or as a blogger. And thinking about it, I'm not entirely sure what would be the right think to do, as far as asking for payment.

Anyway... Thank you for the clarification.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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