Should Writers Be Paid For Everything?

I received a question following my last post (“Common Sense“), which is tied to writers being paid for their work, and I’m still thinking about the question, and my answer, almost two weeks later.

Here’s the question:

You argue that writers shouldn’t work for free, but isn’t that exactly what they are doing when they spend time on social media? What about their blogs?

I see both as examples of writing as marketing, and no one is paying them.

Doesn’t that go against your point?

Here’s my answer:

On your question, I approach it as I do my yard.

If I mow/rake/weed/etc my own yard, I have to do the work, but I benefit in the future. In the beginning, my yard might be crap, but in a few years it could be a glorious masterpiece due to all the work put into it. I don’t get monetary payment up front, but I learn how to do things on my own, gain professional experience, and benefit from the hours of repeated actions, which help me trouble-shoot in the future, and make me more knowledgeable about the craft. When I sell my house, that yard becomes a selling point and thus has monetary worth.

If someone else maintains my yard, he goes home after doing the work, and doesn’t get any of the future benefits – but, he does get paid, and my neighbor might hire him because he likes the look of my lawn.

So if my site/book/etc is my lawn, I can choose to do the work myself or hire someone else – but in the end the site/book/etc is mine and I benefit from the growth (and possible future sale), which is a type of payment itself.

If I write for someone else’s site, however, there’s no ownership in the future, so I want payment now, kind of like the guy/crew maintaining yards. I can’t count on a neighbor hiring me. I need something that pays the bills.

So both models offer a form of payment — one more immediate than the other. As the person doing the work, I decide which form I’ll take. If I’m writing for “exposure,” I’d rather do it on my own terms instead of helping to drive traffic to people who have money to pay – Huff Post – and don’t.

Going back over the question and answer now, my issue with writing for free isn’t the giving away work for free part.

Long-time readers of this site know that Steve, Shawn, and I are advocates of giving away work as a good way to reach new audiences. HOWEVER, we set the terms for what is given away — and how it is given away — and base the giveaways within the Black Irish Books and Steven Pressfield platforms, neither of which popped up overnight. We’ve been at it on Steve’s site for almost ten years, and he had a static site long before that.

My biggest issue is giving away your opportunity to build your own platform.

When you look at a platform with large audiences, be careful of thinking a place on those platforms will fast-track your success. It won’t. To quote Seth Godin’s “How to Be Heard” post from earlier this week, “Convert six people before you try to convert sixty.”

Resist the temptation  to jump to where millions of others are hanging out.

If you’re going to bust your ass, do it for yourself, not for a platform that will either 1) make its executives (and not you) rich off of a sale or 2) take your work down with it when it fails.

Do what grows you before you help grow someone else.

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10 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on January 20, 2017 at 3:16 am

    Bravo Callie! This one’s a keeper – thanks!

  2. Scott Attenborough on January 20, 2017 at 6:50 am

    Fabulous insight Callie. Thank you very much.

  3. Joel D Canfield on January 21, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Here’s what I scream with foam-flecked lips and crazed eyes to anyone who’ll listen: Stop sharecropping and tend your own fields!

    I’ll write free for myself all day long and twice on Sunday because, y’know, what you said.

    Write free for Bob’s Publicist and Lawn Mower Repair? Nuh uh.

    (Music is another matter. I would pay you a dollar if you’d let me drive

    • Joel D Canfield on January 21, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      (fat fingers strike again)

      . . . 100 miles to your house to play my music, because I’ll get more out of that than any money could ever give me.)

  4. Mark Mayerson on January 22, 2017 at 6:16 am

    I teach animation. If you substitute the word ‘artist’ for ‘writer,’ it is every bit as relevant. I forwarded this to our entire student body. Thanks.

  5. Stacy on January 23, 2017 at 6:04 am

    This is such a great distillation of the issue of writing–or doing any kind of artwork–for free. Sometimes we DO need to do things for free, but we have to decide whether there will be a trade-off and what kind we want.

  6. gwen abitz on January 24, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    Makes so much sense, Callie – Thank You…and holds true when retired.
    I’m taking a (not for free;but fair) PAINT WHAT YOU WANT TO PAINT “group art class” here in Sun City Hilton Head’s Art Club taught by a “retired art instructor” who now lives here. I use acrylic paints; her medium and the 3 others in the class medium is watercolor. I asked her what would she charge for private lessons. Her answer was, “I would have to charge too much.”

  7. Lin Bentley Keeling on January 25, 2017 at 9:59 am

    This is the best crystallization I have read of the situation artists find themselves in. Can’t tell you how many charities have contacted me to ‘donate’ one of my pieces for an auction, or create one, “would you paint a cactus, coyote, lizard…” When this happens, I think about the speech at the beginning of a flight–put the mask on yourself before you try to put it on someone else. As artists, we have to keep our creative energies fired for our own work, which is our cause. Anything that doesn’t keep that fire stoked needs careful consideration.

  8. Alma on January 30, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    This makes so much sense. I am in the process of making that decision. I want to create my own website and I have a few ideas, but am always hesitant. This article has just confirmed that it is the best route to go for me. Thank you Steven.

  9. […] Oettinger asks the question many writers should ask Should Writers Be Paid For Everything? Here is the question – “You argue that writers shouldn’t work for free, but isn’t […]

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