April 06, 2005

Writing For Payment Or For Art's Sake By Lynette Rees | printable version

"For free or not for free - that is the question?"

Whenever the 'P' word -- PAYMENT -- gets a mention, writers are frequently up in arms. There appear to be two camps of thought: those that think we should all write for free, 'because it is our art', and those who want to get paid what they are worth as a writer. Of course, you yourself, might fall somewhere in between where you prefer to get paid, but will write for free for good causes or if it is to promote yourself.

Recently, I queried a new national magazine and submitted three articles for the editor to peruse. She was looking for columnists as well as article writers. Within the hour an e-mail arrived in my mail box, [the fastest response I have ever had from an editor], to say that she loved one of my articles and wanted to publish it in the following month's debut issue of the magazine.

Warning bells started to ring at her swift response. After all, most of my magazine queries have taken days, weeks or even months for replies. And as any serious writer knows, magazines work months, not days, ahead of time. Not only did she want to publish my article, she wanted to work with me for a further four editions of the magazine.

Sounds fantastic, right? Not so right. The snag was she didn't intend to pay me a single, solitary cent for my time, effort and expertise. It was a case of, 'We'll see how it goes and if we can pay you sometime in the future, then we will!" Well stuff that for a game of soldiers, which is almost what I told her, but not quite. Instead, I told her I thought that writers deserved to be paid and sent her a few helpful links so she could read up on why writers deserve payment. Cheeky, on my behalf, I know, but I was spitting feathers at the time. I didn't need the clippings that bad.

Now, all this is well and good, but when I pointed this out to one of my Yahoo writers' groups, apart from having a cyber pat on the back from some of my contemporaries, I was flamed off list for daring to suggest writers should be paid.

We're back to that art thing. I shouldn't be surprised. I recently attended a writers' workshop. One of the exercises was to write a poem or story in a short space of time. A writer sitting next to me, who I vaguely knew, came up with a fantastic poem off the top of her head. I said, "You are so talented. Have you been published anywhere?"

"No, certainly not!" she replied as if I had said something I shouldn't.

Then I made the mistake of using the 'P' word. "You know, you could get published and PAID for poems like that."

You'd think I'd hit her in the face with a wet fish. When she had got over the initial shock, she replied, "I couldn't possibly take money for something I love."

I just don't get it, but then again neither did she. Are some writers so precious about their words that they feel it is degrading to sell them? When I told her about some of my own publications, I got the distinct impression she thought I was some sort of writing floozie spreading it around a bit, and horror of horror -- for money, too!

You'll know you're being ripped off when:


  1. You're writing for free for a magazine that runs paid advertisements or that sells a subscription, products and/or services.
  2. You've brought your expertise (teaching, counseling, nursing, computing skills, etc.) into the article and you're still not offered payment.
  3. Everyone else at the magazine is being paid. This includes the Internet provider, phone company, electric comopany, photographers, models, and editorial staff, right on down to the cleaners. Why should everybody else get paid and not you?
  4. The magazine says they are giving you plenty of exposure, so why do you need to get paid?
  5. Or, as one high profile website put it a couple of years ago when they suddenly stopped paying writers, 'If you were learning to play golf you'd have to pay fees, so why should you expect to get paid for something you love doing?'

You're not being ripped off when:

  1. Your writing will help a charity or good cause close to your heart.
  2. It will help further your career as a writer by advertising a product or service you're selling.

By the way, the editor of the new national magazine recently contacted me to say they would now be paying writers. Whether this was as a direct response to my cheeky e-mail, I don't know, but it couldn't have hurt, could it?

Lynette Rees is from South Wales and has had many articles published online and in print publications. Her previous publications include: Writers' Forum, Vibrant Life, Writing for Dollars and Write Success. Her debut novel, 'It Happened One Summer' is due for release at Wings Press Inc., in May 2006. See her website here: http://silverlady00.tripod.com/

 




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