Disclaimer: I’m writing this from the perspective of a professional author.
Disclaimer #2: I’m still not entirely sure what “professional” means in this context, but oh well.
As a general rule, I believe anyone asking you to write “for the exposure” should be shunned and shunned hard. Roughly half of my annual income comes from writing. I love being an author, but this is a job, and a significant part of how I make my living.
This came up several times in conversations at WindyCon. Mike Resnick talked about the importance of showing that you won’t be taken advantage of. Mike Williamson and I were chatting about some of his consultant jobs for TV, and he stressed how difficult it could be to get paid fairly for your work.
Writing is work, and I strongly believe that writers deserve to be paid for that work. And yet…
I can’t help thinking that if the Discovery Channel asked me to come in and write or consult for Mythbusters, I’d do it regardless of whether or not I got paid. Because it would be FREAKING AWESOME! Same thing about doing a guest episode of Phineas & Ferb, or doing script work for The Muppets. (Not that any of these things are likely to happen, but still…)
I don’t believe writers have to be paid for every single word they write. Heck, I wrote Baby Got Books for free, and that took several nights of poring through rhyming dictionaries and tweaking various lines. I did that for two reasons: 1) Because it was too much fun not to write, and 2) For the exposure.
Yeah, that’s right. I wrote for exposure. “Come and see the contradictions inherent in the blog post!” The thing is, I can expose myself effectively here, whereas the exposure I’d get from most “for the love” publications is pretty much zero. And by publishing it here, I retain all rights, meaning when someone contacted me about doing T-shirts, I was able to sign a contract for that.
I’ve written free (or very low-paying) pieces for friends, too. Not often, but there are people who, if they ask me for a story or an article, I’ll happily put something together for them. The majority of editors do not fall into this category, however.
So it’s not that I think you should never write for exposure, or that you always have to earn at least SFWA pro rates (5 cents/word) or better. But it’s important to value your work, and to recognize that you deserve to be paid. It’s important to not let others take advantage of you, no matter how eager you might be to get published.
I walked away from a novel deal a year or so back. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done as a writer. I wanted to write that book, and it would have been awesome. But the advance would have been about 1/4 of what I’m making for my other books, with a much more intense schedule for turning the thing in.
What about you? What terms are you willing to accept for your work? What projects would be so awesome you’d be willing to do it for no compensation? At what point does valuing your own work go too far and become arrogant or damaging?