Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Writing for Free

It is clear, folks, why I do not charge for the writing that appears on this blog: Most of it is krep. Well, if not krep, then easily-forgettable drivel or dribble, without long-lasting import (though I hope the novel excerpts that appear here in random form will some day be part of larger bodies of work for which people would be willing to pay me).

What’s not clear is why Matthew Yglesias at Slate.com feels a professional freelance journalist should write for free (I’m sure Mr. Yglesias gets paid for his efforts at Slate). Here’s his piece.

While I agree with Yglesias when he says there’s “way more content out there for people to read than ever before,” I have a hard time believing his “good” reasons to refuse to write for free:
  • You don’t like writing. 
  • You’d rather spend your time writing-for-free for a different platform (your own blog rather than the Atlantic) 
  • You have an offer to write for someone else for money instead. 
He argues, however, “if you do enjoy writing and you don’t have a money-making opportunity, you should definitely be writing for free.” 

Maybe that makes sense for Joe Schmoe, Internet Writer, but hardly for a writer like Thayer. Thayer is far from a hobbyist.

Yglesias’ reasoning is credulous, especially when you read Thayer’s replies to The Atlantic when they suggested he condense an article he’d written for their use – for free.

It’s clear the individual querying Thayer from The Atlantic isn’t familiar with Thayer’s work. I wasn’t either – but a few seconds spent googling him makes it clear he’s not just a hobbyist blogger out there, screaming for exposure and ready to go belly-up when The Atlantic comes calling. Maybe Yglesias didn’t spend a few minutes with Google either, and doesn’t recognize that Thayer isn’t just some basement blogger. 

Some have called Thayer’s replies to The Atlantic as insulting – especially the insinuation that the magazine could follow the sleazy practice of having an intern repurpose someone else’s work from the Internet for free or nearly free, a la Judith Griggs. I counter by saying Thayer merely points out the new reality of writing, especially for internet-based writers, reflecting The Atlantic’s paltry offer of no compensation aside from “exposure,” which we all know is great and fun and fancy and all, but, when it comes right down to it, doesn’t pay the bills that are due today. For a professional writer like Yglesias to suggest that Thayer – or any writer “lucky” enough to be recognized as a talent by The Atlantic – write for free makes me question whether he is sane. 

I’m thrilled for any exposure I get as a writer, but I also have a full-time job as a technical writer and a part-time job as an English teacher because it’s those enterprises that are paying the bills right now and likely will pay the bills until the day I croak, exposure be damned. But I control the exposure here. And if someone comes calling, suggesting I write something for them, you can be sure I’m going to ask what their “fees” are right up front. And if they say ha ha ha, no fees, well, I’ll just keep on typing. For myself. 

This goes along with my ripening resolve to forego the “free” ebook ethos when I publish one of my novels in ebook form within the next year or two. Exposure is great, folks, but there’s nothing wrong in asking people to pay for it.

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