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.
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…)
Noel Lynne Figart
March 30, 2016 @ 2:22 pm
You know, I’ve thought a lot about social media and its expectations on the modern writer of fiction. While it’s often delightful to interact with people who have written stuff I’ve enjoyed (or for that matter discover stuff from a blog, as I did with your work), I do often think that the expectation of a celebrity style personna that the average writer seems to need to maintain as part of marketing their work has GOT to be something of a burden.
OTOH, I do free stuff in my field, too, and to be honest, it has generated clients. Not why I did it, mind. I believed in the project, but still, it’d be a lie to say I didn’t wind up profiting. But no-one has the gall to say I have to teach them how to use a computer application or manage a project or even do tech writing “for exposure.”
Nor should any artist have to. Yes, your time is worth lots. You can tell a great story. I can’t. You have a skill that, yes, you should decide how it is used!
March 30, 2016 @ 2:24 pm
As a librarian, who is often upset that “hiring folks” was not part of my Masters curriculum, I totally appreciate people who say “I will do X for Y amount.” I’m a little uncomfortable trying to guess fees, so anyone who will outright give me a price or even a ballpark number makes me happy.
March 30, 2016 @ 2:36 pm
Ha! I’m extra grateful to have had you on the show! It’s always something I feel nervous about: asking people to do something work-adjacent for free. The show is an hour, and I know that has a real monetary value. For now, not getting paid myself makes it easier to ask people to participate for free. But sometimes I think about trying to monetize the podcast/radio show, and then I hit weird, existential ethical questions like, “Am I a journalist or not when I’m interviewing somebody for the show?” If I am, I can’t pay them. But if I’m not–then what’s the harm? And it’s not like I’m getting three sources and refusing to let a single statement go unchallenged…
Jim C. Hines
March 30, 2016 @ 2:50 pm
Karen – the show was a lot of fun 🙂 And it wasn’t something I had to work to prepare for, which is a bonus.
I was thinking more about written interviews, where there might be a lot of questions and writing on my end, and then where does that end up? Is it on a news or industry site that gets a lot of attention? Is it someone’s personal blog? I remember one individual who, based on conversations with other writers, just wanted to interview Big Names because it would bring him attention, if that makes sense?
Like I said, it’s an area where I’m still struggling a bit to find the right choices for me.
March 30, 2016 @ 2:59 pm
The one exception I’d add to doing school visits for free is when you’re just starting out and working to create a network of schools who might want to invite you for a paid school visit, doing a gratis visit to show them your stuff. If you’ve never done a school visit before and are working to create a program schools will value, saying, “I’ll come for no honorarium if you commit to buying X number of books (say, 300),” is a useful tool in your arsenal–but only if you also feel like this school visit will parlay into more visits in the future for which you will get paid.
And even then, I’d only suggest that if the school really has no budget. I’ve heard (I horror stories of authors being told, “Because we didn’t pay you, now we can afford $10,000 for the juggler we want to bring in.” (That was in a recent blog post I read, but I can’t remember who posted it.) So, do they have no budget, or do they only have no budget for YOU? Your time is worth as much as a juggler–and you’ll teach the kids more.
March 30, 2016 @ 2:59 pm
Oops, not sure where the “(I” came from, sorry.
March 30, 2016 @ 3:28 pm
Librarian and writer here. I try to ask flat out. We are doing X and were wondering how much you would charge a small town library for y
When I am trying to call in friendship chips I say can you do this for me as a favor? Nobody got time to work for free. I am not even a well known writer and I can’t afford to do anything for free anymore. I better be paid in fun or friendship tokens or in the fluff of knowing I’m doing good in the world, like with animal fostering and rescue promoting.
March 30, 2016 @ 5:15 pm
Thanks for this. One of my policies is “If you taught my kid, you get a free author visit.”
Exposure | Karavansara
March 30, 2016 @ 6:01 pm
[…] Working For Exposure […]
Jim C. Hines
March 30, 2016 @ 7:10 pm
Okay, first off — for anyone reading this, I want y’all to know that yes, I know how to juggle. And I’ll be happy to do it for half that price!
I know school visits are a whole other world for writers who to YA/MG books. I’m hoping to learn more about that if we can sell my MG manuscript. But right now, if a school committed to buying 300 books, I’d happily get on board for that.
Jim C. Hines
March 30, 2016 @ 7:11 pm
For the record, I would be willing to be compensated in fluffy animal pettings!
Jim C. Hines
March 30, 2016 @ 7:11 pm
I like this policy.
March 30, 2016 @ 7:45 pm
That’s a high number, but I’ve seen it happen, especially in school districts with limited funds, but who might be able to get a grant for a one book/one school program, or a program to send every child home with a book, that kind of thing. It comes with the added benefit of the kids being prepared for your visit.
March 31, 2016 @ 10:47 am
That is a good policy, I like it.
March 31, 2016 @ 10:50 am
Exposure is a weird thing. I struggled a bit with it when I did the last book as a CC-licensed serial, but it was exposure for me, not for someone else. (I also think Cory Doctrow had some good points when he was at ICON a few years back.)
But, I’ve done a *lot* of things gratis for exposure and I really haven’t gotten much out of it until, years later, someone mentions that they loved what I wrote but they just didn’t feel a need to respond. Giving thanks, opinions, or review is one way of “paying” for those things that were given gratis/exposure.
April 4, 2016 @ 8:11 pm
I write a blog partly for exposure, which has worked pretty well as far as getting me teaching gigs. Most notably, it’s taken me to nine cities in Russia and to Kiev, Ukraine. I’ve now managed to monetize it via Patreon, which feels like the best of both worlds. That in turn has made me even more reluctant to teach for exposure, since I can genuinely make more money by staying home at my keyboard.