So, last week I read Katie’s (aka Fatty McCupcake’s) WTF Wednesday post where she lamented a lack of legitimate, paying, freelance writing gigs. And trust me, that struggle is real.
Jumping off of that, I was excited when I scrolled through my Twitter feed (instead of just going straight to my mentions) for the first time in about a month and saw a call for submission for a women-only anthology that specified “this is paid.” I’m feminine-of-center. I have women writer friends. What a fantastic opportunity!
Until I actually went to their submission page. There I learned three very important things:
- Submissions had to be original, previously unpublished true stories focused on their theme, between 1,000 and 8,000 words. Okay, not unreasonable.
- They charged a submission fee of between $4 and $6 depending on how close to the deadline you submit. Again, not unreasonable. It sounds like this is going to be a big anthology project, they seem like a smaller organization, and they did say that submission fees would go toward publishing costs and paying their contributors.
Which brings me to the third thing:
They are only paying $10 for submissions, plus a free copy of the book, a discount code for friends and family to buy the book, and “other swag.” Which, on the surface, doesn’t sound too bad. It’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but this seems like a smaller indie project, so you get what you get, yanno?
Except when you factor in the $4 (minimum) submission fee. Submitting already puts you out $4 (if you’re early), so getting that $10 nets the writer–you know, the person who’s work they will be profiting off for as long as the book is being sold–a whopping $6 in actual money, plus some free shit that, sorry, I can’t pay my bills with.
And, look, I get it. Smaller, independent publications struggle to make ends meet. They can’t afford to pay into the triple digits for submissions. But, to have the audacity to charge a submission fee and then only pay $10 in actual money for the piece they’ll be profiting off of, so the actual writer only makes SIX FUCKING DOLLARS? That’s bullshit. That won’t even buy me a frozen TV dinner.
Let me break something down for you:
It takes about 1-2 hours to write and edit a polished, publishable 1,000 word story, give or take. That’s at least one hour of work for less than an hour’s worth the federal minimum wage ($7.25), total. Not per hour spent writing and editing. TOTAL. For the whole damn piece. Even if it takes you five hours.
That’s un-fucking-acceptable. If you can’t afford to pay your contributors at least minimum wage for their work, then maybe you should rethink your project. Honestly, this is almost worse than expecting writers to “write for exposure.” At least that can be chalked up to idiots thinking that their project is so incredible that the writers will just be swimming in paid work after it comes out, or to idiot assholes who just don’t think writers are worth paying at all. To say, “We know writers trying to break into the industry should be paid, but we only think it’s worth $10 and some ‘swag,’ and only after they’ve paid us to consider them,” shows a real lack of valuing the work that goes into writing, while still knowing it has value.
It’s like tipping. Some assholes just don’t tip and that’s infuriating, but it’s way more insulting when some fool leaves a $2 tip on a $100 meal for their family of four with their screaming children.
“But Adie, they’re also giving you a free copy of the book, which probably costs $25! And a discount code for buying more books, and free merchandise. It’s a value of probably $100!”
First of all, let me throw that “discount code” bullshit out the window right the fuck now. Someone allowing my friends and family to give them slightly less money for the anthology I’m in is in no way compensating me for my work. It’s a marketing ploy to convince people who otherwise probably wouldn’t buy the book to buy their book and give them money. They’re just trying to drive up their own sales and appeal to customers they otherwise might not have reached without my contribution.
Second, giving contributors a free copy of the book they helped create is pretty par for the fucking course. To include it as part of the monetary compensation is ridiculous to me. Of course contributors should get a copy of the book they’re in! They aren’t going to be getting royalties or see any residual profits from future sales, and that book wouldn’t exist without their submissions, so getting a free copy is basically a given. It’s kind of similar to painters taking a picture of the original work they sell to put in their portfolios. If you bought a painting from someone, you wouldn’t consider that picture a part of their payment, would you? For writers, our bookshelves are our portfolios.
Third, like I said, I can’t pay my bills with swag. The value they place on the merchandise is irrelevant, because to me it’s worthless. I have enough useless crap cluttering my space. I would never buy any of their crap, so them giving it to me is in no way compensation to me.
And even if I did think it was valuable, there are very few jobs where compensation through barter is acceptable. Can you imagine if WalMart told its employees, “We’re only going to pay you $6 and hour, but we’re also going to give you a free t-shirt and coffee mug with every paycheck!” They’d be out of business, because no one would want to work there.
But this happens to writers, artists, and other creatives all the damn time. We’re expected to work for exposure. Our work is devalued. We’re supposed to accept our pay in peanuts because the company hoping to make money off of us apparently can’t afford to pay us.
It’s not okay. Independent writers work hard. We work countless hours on our content–be it blog posts, poetry, short stories, novels–and that work provides hours of entertainment to our readers. We deserve to have our work valued reasonably, especially by third-parties who want to sell it for their own profit.
I don’t have time for anyone who thinks that I should let them make a grand off of a piece I wrote that they only paid me a net of $6 for. I’d rather throw it up on Amazon myself for three bucks and have the option to continuously make money from it. It may take me a while to make more than a couple bucks (after Amazon takes their cut), but at least the possibility to eventually use the profit from it to buy myself dinner at someplace other than the McDonald’s Dollar Menu is there.
And here’s the thing. I’m happy to post my content for free. I really am. Because I’m posting it for free on my own terms. I blog because I value the connections I’ve made with all of you through doing so. The friendships I make through blogging are compensation enough for me to keep doing it.
I also like to think that if any of you were publishing a compilation and wanted me to contribute to it, you would be willing to monetarily compensate me (and other contributors) more than the cost of a box of Thin Mints. You know, because you’re not assholes.
I love you all.
Are you awesome? Do you like awesome things? Then stop by my shop to pick up a t-shirt or mug and let the world know about your unapologetically authentic awesomeness!
Like my content? Consider buying me a coffee. Less time worrying about paying my bills means more time creating content.
Note: I specifically didn’t post the name of the site doing the anthology, because I don’t want to call anyone out by name. If you’re actually interested in making $6 and some swag (and I get it; a potential $6 is still a potential $6) and want a link, hit me up on Twitter and I’ll DM it to you.