Recently, the writing world is all a-flutter with the sudden (How could it be sudden?) revelation that Huffington Post apparently requires its writers to work for free. While I have no opinion on HuffPo in particular, this scenario does bring up the unpleasant truth that creative people are asked to, and agree to, work for free far too often.
Sure, I know it happens in other occupations too, but it’s particularly rampant in the arts. The contention is that because you love what you do that should be compensation enough.
But you’ll get exposure
The carrot that’s dangled in front of our noses is, “but it will be great exposure.” As a visual artist as well as a writer, I fell for that stinker many years ago, until I wised up and realized that my work was being used and the benefit to me was zero.
People gush over talent but forget that the artist or writer is not building a career on a gift that dropped from the sky onto her head. Years of training, practice, and sacrifice have gone into developing her art. Giving it away is career madness.
For creatives, who admittedly tend to be right-brained people, demanding money for art can be difficult. Part of the reason is that we all know that while people love art they don’t want to pay for it. The same folks who ask an artist or writer to work for free wouldn’t dream of asking a dentist or car mechanic to do the same.
The other issue is that silence about money in artistic fields leaves us all at a disadvantage because we don’t know how to value our work. It takes work, time, and gumption to become intelligent in these areas and to learn how to market your own work.
Small pond, many fish
With the advent of print on demand and digital publishing, the market has been flooded with written materials that in days gone by wouldn’t have made it onto a shelf. I’m a huge fan of indie publishing but a result I’ve noticed from this influx is price competition between authors. It’s no secret that when you compete on price the winners are the buying public, not the people who produce the product and sell it. But if you keep giving the milk away, no one is going to want to pay for it.
Don’t worry; I don’t need to eat
When others consume the creative person’s work without paying, it directly affects the economy of a family. My kids aren’t going to be happy when I try to feed them “exposure” for dinner. My mortgage company won’t accept “I did it for free because I love it” in payment either.
Just stop it
So what’s a writer, artist, or musician to do? Here are some suggestions:
This isn’t just about Huffington Post exploiting writers, it’s about all creatives giving our work away for free so we can be more than the plain girl/guy at the prom “hoping someone will like me.” I learned years ago as a visual artist that benefitting someone else and hoping for “exposure” was worthless and always resulted in a net loss in time, energy, and money for me.
If all creatives stopped “giving the milk away” and stopped competing with each other on price, we would all benefit. So value your work, your skills, your talent, your hours. Charge more, demand more, and laugh when someone suggests that you do it for free.
Value is measured in money. Value yourself.
People ooh and aah over talent, but the artist, writer, or musician is not building a career on talent. Years of training, practice, and sacrifice have gone into developing their art. Giving it away is career suicide.
Do visions of the sleazy used car salesman in a gaudy plaid jacket and polyester pants leap to mind when you think of marketing?
Most creatives dream of quitting the day job and going full-time. Oh, and making boatloads of money. Rather than toil away in obscurity, clinging to fragments of that far-off dream, perhaps it’s time to:
Where I share creative ideas, uplifting thoughts, and spread sweetness to make life pretty.