Being paid to write is always an interesting challenge; there is an assumption from some quarters that writers will write for “the exposure”, and that should always be enough. It’s a lovely sentiment, isn’t it? The creative johnnies can scrape by on fresh air and dust in order to expose their art to the wider world. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s ask surgeons and cab drivers to work for nothing as well; see how they react when you make the suggestion. Just let me be there when you break the news to them, albeit from a safe distance and protected by some kind of shield.
Writing is a career like any other; it can also just be a hobby. No surgeon could really just chop people up for the fun of it; well, they could, but not in the way I’m thinking. I’m certainly not calling surgeons serial killers, and I’m absolutely not comparing surgeons to writers, except in the sense that they are professionals in their respective fields – surgeons will most definitely have letters after their name, and writers don’t have to; many will, but it’s not compulsory, but I hope you will appreciate the point that I am trying to make. People deserve to be paid for their professions.
Writing is work (and hard work at that). And hard work deserves fair pay. I would hope that no-one could argue with that principle. So why is writing sometimes de-valued to the point of employers thinking it acceptable to use “exposure” as the payment?
Let me pause there and add in a point of order, as it were; there are occasions when contributing to a kickstarter / start-up when giving some small amount of content for nothing could be useful to both sides; I’ve done it / currently do it, and it’s mutually beneficial. It introduces me to a wider audience than I could hope for by myself, and it provides content to community-focused organisations that genuinely couldn’t afford anything more than decency and a good relationship. That I have no issues with whatsoever, and rather welcome it. Here, in the rest of the article, I’ll be talking about the kind of writer-publisher relationship where the publisher can afford to pay – or, rather more succinctly, should be able to pay.
But of course, asking for fair pay is something that we can shy from. British propriety apparently teaches us we shouldn’t talk about money, which makes it harder to advocate for what writers deserve. Part of the problem is the societal belief that:
- writing is fun (well, that’s true, if you’re doing it right)
- writing is easy (it can be at times)
- writing is a “soft” or “throwaway” skill (that’s utter nonsense)
- writing is a dying art (look at the shelves in any bookshop or on Amazon; you’ll see how wrong that is)
- writing takes no particular cultivation of talent (in the same way that surgeons don’t need to cultivate theirs)
- there is no difference between amateur and professional writing (have you SEEN some of the dross out there?)
- everyone took English class in high school and therefore knows how to write well (no, no, no)
All of these assumptions – true or not – hurt the writing community, because they de-value not only the work that we do, but the amount of time, dedication, and practice we spend honing our craft and learning how to be a writer.
I take the view that everyone can write, to a lesser or greater degree; not everyone is a naturally confident writer, but anyone can work hard at writing – and if you want to write, you must work hard at it – and become half-way decent at the craft. You might not be the next Charles Dickens, but why would you want to? Yes, he was a great writer, but he shouldn’t be an exemplar for the entire craft; your genre, my genre, Dickens’ genre should all be considered on their merits. If it’s good writing, it deserves to be paid by those who can afford it. It takes time, dedication, and practice to become a good writer. And that’s why you must – must – write every day, in whatever context, and why you must also read every day with a writer’s eye. Think about how people writer, why they have used that word instead of this word, and how their use of language makes you feel.
Being paid as a writer is something you are entitled to demand as someone who has worked in the craft to improve your skills and your quality. Understand that you are entitled to be paid for your expertise; don’t be afraid to contribute for free to publications that deserve it, but don’t be afraid to ask – no, don’t be afraid to demand – payment when the alternative is being fleeced and taken for granted. Do not tolerate that, and allow yourself to see yourself as a success.