What do you say?”
He looked at me blankly, holding my shirt. He obviously didn’t get it. I tried again.
“See, you’re a dry cleaner, and I need my shirt dry cleaned. You clean my shirt, I’ll wear it and tell everybody what a great job you did. You get to practice doing your thing, and I get a clean shirt. Everybody wins.”
“But you don’t pay me?”
I couldn’t believe this guy! He wanted me to pay him? Didn’t he understand?
“Well, of course I don’t pay you. I mean, I’m helping you out here, doing YOU a favour. I ought to be asking for a cut of your future profits, because, honestly, people are going to flock to you, and it’ll be because of me and my shirt.”
It was ten minutes later that he and his brother threw me bodily from the shop. Some people have no vision.
I was going to leave it there and hope everyone understood, but then I remembered that this is the world where Mitt Romney might end up President and folks think evolution is a trick of Satan etc etc. So here it is:
When you first start out as a writer, people want you to work for free. They tell you (if they talk to you at all) that it’s a chance for you to build your portfolio, to show your work, to get noticed. Or they’re like those wonderful people on Craigslist who say
“I have a great idear for a movie and i no its better than anything because ive seen all the movies and this is better. You write it for me and we’ll split the money fifty fifty.”
I made that one up, but it’s based on at least twenty genuine ones I’ve seen. And that’s the kind of offers you’ll get. “Just do the writing part and I’ll let you have some of the money.” Because, you know, the writing bit isn’t that hard, the important bit is the idea. And the money will just fall from the sky when you’re done…..
I appreciate that writing is not the only trade where people look for freebies. I would bet that every Doctor can tell you about parties where they’ve been subtly (and not so subtly) sounded out for free medical advice. But the difference there is that no one expects the Doctor to believe it’s helping HIM. Trainee doctors have to do crappy medical jobs and work ludicrous hours for which they are not paid ENOUGH, but they are paid. For some reason, probably because so many of us are untrained, writers are expected to “put in the time” for free before they can charge people.
Maybe I’m wrong. maybe the same is true of Graphic Designers. I do know at least one comic artist who is producing pages and pages of work for free in the hopes of honing his skills to the point where he can be paid for his work (www.davinderbrar.com , if you have some money to spend).
The point of this rant is not self-pity, but rather a message to writers. If your work is good, value it. That’s hard if you’re writing to earn because you have no other means of support, but in that situation you SHOULD be getting the right price for your work. Finding the market that will pay what your work is worth is hard, horribly, horribly hard, but giving it away for nothing is not the answer. It gets you a reputation for free work, not good work, and that can’t be a good thing.
The good news is that if you stick with writing, people will eventually stop trying to get you to work for free. I think the average length of time is seventy five years for men and eighty three for women, but it’s rising all the time……