ReWard: Writing for “Exposure?” We’re Still On That?

While culling through this morning’s batch of e-Mail, I came across not one but two — count ’em, TWO — “invitations” to write for someone or something. No payment was offered, of course, and the language of the e-Mails themselves suggested that none would be forthcoming. Indeed, perhaps that my even wondering about such things might be viewed as a crime against the purity of the written word, blah blah blah.

Yep, you guessed it: I’d been offered the chance to write “for the exposure.”

Setting aside my initial thought that I’d never heard of a) the people sending the e-Mail or b) the publishing endeavor they claimed to represent, I next reaction was, “Are you fucking kidding me? We’re still doing that?”

Of course we are.

A couple of years ago during my stint writing for the Novel Spaces blog, I wrote about the long debated “writing for exposure” chestnut. Rather than regurgitate the gist of that earlier column, I figured I’d just make a few updates and tweaks before regurgitating it in full right here! Read on:

If you’re a published writer of just about any sort, you’ve likely seen advertisements or even received an e-Mail from someone who’s “Looking for Writers!” It sounds awesome, right? Somebody might want to hire you to write for them. This is at least one form of attention and validation we writers crave, am I right?

Perhaps it’s a genre or non-fiction topic that really grabs you, or is otherwise right in your wheelhouse. You can already feel yourself conjuring ideas for a story or essay or news article. Maybe you’re ready to start typing, when you get to that one part of the ad or e-Mail that brings everything to a screeching halt:

“We can’t pay for content at this time, but you’ll get great exposure.”

Hear that? It’s the sound of air escaping your little balloon of hope.

Creatives of every stripe—writers, artists, musicians—have heard this line at least once. “Do it for the exposure.”

As the saying goes: “You can die from exposure.”

(This design created by artist “chelleshock” and is available on a variety of items from RedBubble)

Why is this so prevalent? How is it that so many people who seem to be in “business” to publish something in print or online can get away with it? Simple: Their approach works. There are writers, artists, musicians, and every other flavor of creative type you care to name who are so desperate to be read, seen, or heard that they’ll leap at any opportunity that presents itself. They’ll happily give of themselves for the “promise” of something down the road. The trouble is that most of these roads are usually dead ends.

Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t write for “exposure.” Don’t write for free.

Now, no sooner do I declare something like that than I’m ready to hit you with at least a couple of exceptions. There’s this blog, for example, from which I derive precisely zero income. Without a doubt, there are those among you who feel you’re still paying too much to be here.

Next, there are family members and a small circle of close friends who get the obvious “blood/marriage relative” or “we drink and do stupid shit together” 100% discount. Beyond that, I answer occasional requests to write something for a charitable endeavor, where any money made is donated to that cause.

With “crowdfunding” through sites like Kickstarter becoming more common, I’ve participated in one or two writing projects funded through such efforts where I might see a little money on the back end. Then there’s the thing where I just want to be a part of it because it seems just so damned fun. In all of these cases, the requests come from friends I trust; and who are on a very short list of people for whom I’d do anything, no questions asked.

“Are there any other exceptions?” you might ask. That’s something every writer or other creative type will have to decide for themselves. For me, it usually involves my owing somebody money or a blood debt, or perhaps they have photographic proof that I’m having a torrid affair with Shania Twain or Carla Gugino, but that’s it.

Everybody else? Get out your checkbook.

Now, the rate of payment is open to discussion, of course. You can’t expect a small or independent press to be able to front you the sort of advances one might see from a traditional publishing house, but whenever I hear someone say, “Well, we just weren’t able to budget for writers,” this sets off a red flag for me. It’s not that they couldn’t fit writers into their budget; it’s that they consciously opted not to do so, and why? Remember that paragraph I have up above, which starts with “Why is this so prevalent?” Boom. There you go.

The idea that a publication can “budget” for everything except the people who provide the very content that gives them a reason for being is laughable. Indeed, the notion that they’re happy to make money from your work, but don’t see a need to pay you for your services, is insulting. To make matters worse, some of these outfits have the audacity to request or even demand you sign over all rights as part of doing business with them. All rights to your work, for free.

For those of you who pull that sort of shit and happen to be reading this: Your business model sucks unwashed baboon ass. Do better.

The simple rule for writers: If they’re making money, you should be making money. The amount is negotiable, but you should demand your fair slice of what you’re helping them earn.

Okay, now come on: Everyone has stories about this sort of thing. What are yours?


Lay it on me.

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