When the Red Room asked us to blog about writing for free it struck a chord. It's a topic that periodically rears its head on writers' lists. I'll get back to the lists in a minute.
I have earned my living as a writer for more years than I'd care to count. I started with celebrity profiles, added women's issues, travel writing, and pets. Back in the day (was it really that long ago?) payment was either on publication or on acceptance. The latter being preferred by writers. Being paid on acceptance is good for the publisher but nasty for the writer. It means that if the piece is accepted, the magazine or newspaper coulid hang onto it forever and if they didn't publish, you didn't see a penny. Not a farthing. Not a sou.
Think about this: in what other business does someone take the merchandise and not pay for it? The last time you wanted a new sofa did you go into a store and tell the salesman to send it over to your house and maybe you'd pay for it eventually if you liked it enough? I didn't think so.
Then, along came the internet and the advent of huge search engine aggregators making articles available. Many of us ran searches on our names and discovered that our articles were out on the 'net for anyone to read with no payment to us even though someone was making money from our work. I tracked one of them down when I discovered several of my newspaper travel articles online without my permission, with no payment to me. I had always sold only first rights. I was told that they had paid the newspaper for use of articles. Well, no one had contacted me about my work and they were in violation of my contract with the newspaper.
The internet started to explode. At first there were paying markets but then, more and more, people wanted something for nothing. Oh, magazines had tried that, too, wanting all rights. Every type of publisher does. That's business. But when you had enough experience you knew that there was one contract for the newbies who didn't know any better and another for those of us who weren't going to give up our rights. We needed to be able to rework and resell a story. Words are our stock in trade. We have bills to pay just like everyone else so why give our work away? Certainly the supermarket isn't giving us their food without money changing hands.
Those of you who read my blog posts with any sort of regularity know that I recently wrote two articles for Paw Nation in exchange for publicity for my newest book and a small donation to the charity of my choice. (The donation made by The Red Room.) Why did I do that? It's quite simple. It's barter. I cannot afford a book publicist although I dearly wish that I could, so I have to be pro-active and creative. When this opportunity presented itself I took it. I have given a webinar in exchange for a free ad for 2 of my books, including the new one. But the plain truth is that I cannot do this very often. I need to pay my bills. I need to pay for utilities, property taxes, food, medical insurance that's sky high and mandatory since I live in Massachusetts, gas for my car which is also sky high, car repairs, house and car insurance, etc. All of the responsilbiities that we have as adults.
There are writers who turn out an incredible number of articles, columns, blog posts, free of charge for various internet sites. Back to those writers' lists. When asked how anyone can continue to work for nothing, there is never a response. Some do it to get their "name" out there. But how much of that do you really need to do? How many of them are self-supporting? Or do they have spouses or partners who support them, thereby allowing them to write copious numbers of articles for free? Are they really writers or have they become dilettantes?
Yes, some will do it to start their career and have clips. Some just like the ego trip of seeing their name in print. But what does that do to the rest of us? Well, it certainly kills paying work for us. As the old saying goes: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for nothing. Other circumstances but the same general idea.
Years ago I remember asking someone why she wrote for free. She was a good writer. I had told her that we would either stand together on this issue or we would all fall apart. Her response: If I don't do it, someone else will.
I still have to pay my bills and I have to wonder what sort of life there is for writers in the future. Truthfully, this issue makes me slightly nauseous. If we don't value ourselves, who will value us?
Causes Darlene Arden Supports
The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies at the AKC Canine Health Foundation