cause when the lightning flashes sweet electricity

(311 - Come Original)

I really shouldn't be talking about working for free.



I came across a comment somewhere that read something along the lines of (I'm being a bit vague to protect the person): "Hey, so, I'm broke, but I want to build my presence, but you'll get exposure. Also, I'm not going to pay you but I expect you to adhere to strict deadlines."

To quote Childish Gambino: "Fuck you, pay me."

If you're broke, well, cool. Say that. Say I'm broke, and I'm not going to be able to pay you. If you tell me that, I'm 100x more likely to help you because you're being completely honest. When you add the "well, you get exposure!" then you're insulting me. 

Wil Wheaton wrote a piece not too long ago.Okay, a bit ago. 2015? Here.

Can you pay a plumber in exposure? No. 

(Insert butt-crack reference here)

So why should someone pay you in that?

Fair warning, I'm not talking about working for literary mags or submitting your poems. A lot of that work is unpaid. And I'm okay with that. Just like I'm completely okay with not paying literary magazines submission fees.

But freelance work? Oh boy, you better charge. 

In this LitReactor article, there's one particular phrase I like: If you settle for nothing, you make nothing the standard.

Let's turn our attention to what's been going on with the world of journalism overt the last several years. There's been a shift from paying journalists a fair wage to...well, not doing that. From a business and completely amoral standpoint, it makes sense: If I'm a big newspaper, why am I spending $35,000 on one journalist (plus whatever his insurance cost) who's bound to an 8-hour work schedule when I can spend that much money for five or six freelancers.

Taking it a step further, why even spend THAT when I can just tell the freelancers they get to see their bylines on a site that gets god-knows-how-many clicks a day. Boom, I just saved the paper $35,000. 

Then you add the whole "well, I'll pay you but you have to have a certain output" theme that encourages people to cut corners in the name of journalistic integrity.  I remembered really believing in the whole "better to be best than first" and that's not the case anymore. Why bother, when you can add a A previous version of this article stated that... at the bottom? 

I can say a lot more on that but what I'm trying to get at is that this deluge of work-for-free individuals who'll settle for a byline are part of that problem.

When you settle for nothing, you make nothing the standard.

Don't contribute to the problem, not for the pennies they're going to give you, not for the exposure. Yeah, I get it, seeing a byline is amazing, and if you have streaks of vanity you're going to get that rush. But that rush stays in your head and won't feed you; nor will anyone offer you a job or fall all over themselves when you tell them you've written for the Breitffington Post. 

I came across this article while I was prepping for this one...unsurprisingly from HuffPo.

Right off the bat, we’re running into issues and I’m not going to edit the quotes, just leaving them as they were from the article:

“For starters, this was a blog; not a published journalism piece. It was a blog that he felt passionately enough about to post for free on his own site and then, by his own admission, submitted to Medium; again with no anticipation of compensation. And while I didn’t research it myself, I’m guessing he also posted it to his Twitter and Facebook accounts. And he didn’t seem morally compromised by his fans sharing it without offering him payment. Why was the Huffington Post asking so offensive?”

What I’m reading here is “how dare he want to be compensated” ?

Just because you can do something for free doesn’t mean you have to. I don’t get paid for this blog. I don’t get paid for writing. When someone wants me to write, that’s another matter entirely. That’s not to say I’m some sort of mercenary when it comes to money. I just like the freedom to choose when or where to charge. If one of my mentors or friends asks me to write a piece for them, sure, I’d love to. If it’s someone else, well, who are they? Can they afford to toss in a few bucks my way? If so, I’m much less picky about charging.

“The other thing that bothered me is that Wil Wheaton is famous. He was on Star Trek: The Next Generation, starred in the films, Stand by Me and Toy Soldiers, and actually has a recurring role as himself on The Big Bang Theory. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but as he stated on his blog, “I’m very lucky to not need exposure or “reach” or anything like that, at least not right now and not this way. I’m also very lucky to be able to walk away from things like this because I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

He’s right. He is very lucky that he doesn’t need the exposure. Unfortunately he has a legion of followers who just translated that idea into, “exposure equals selling out.” Which unless you are Wil Wheaton is not the case at all!”

I’m really not the person to defend celebrities but just because doesn’t mean they’re entitled to not getting compensated for their labor. Here’s the thing, whether your net worth is $0.50 cents or $500,000 (which is what Wil Wheaton’s net worth is, according to Google), you’re STILL ENTITLED TO GETTING PAID FOR YOUR WORK. And it’s not like it’s automatically going to be that. They’ll have charity appearances, or sometimes celebrities will say, well, you know what, I really feel like showing up randomly at this place for free!

“Exposure and advertising are the same thing. It just depends on how you look at it. I knew going in that there was no financial compensation but I thought I would be insane not jump at the opportunity to have my work seen on a platform like this. And it has paid off in spades.”

Let the record show this blogger apparently believes the plural of anecdote is data.

“Because of it, I’ve connected with and helped people around the world, not to mention been paid very well for other writing jobs and even speaking publicly. And being a blogger for the Huffington Post has certainly not hurt my reputation.”

No one’s arguing wanting to get compensated hurts your reputation, what people like me argue is not wanting to work for free.  

“And it’s not just the blogging aspect that has me fired up. I’m actually considered pretty successful here in Nashville as a photographer and filmmaker. I’ve worked with Dolly Parton, Grace Slick, Billy Joel, Barry Gibb, Paul Shaffer, Buddy Guy, Loretta Lynn, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame... and I could go on and on. I know that sounds like I’m namedropping or just flat out lucky, but I’m not and I’m not lucky. I worked my tail off. I hustled like nobody’s business for over a decade. And I shot anything, for anyone willing to ask me for years. No matter what the paycheck or lack thereof. Still do a lot of the time.”

I wonder if she was really willing to shoot “anything, for anyone willing to ask”. She’s right that hustle and hard work pays off, but you are allowed to be judicious.

“I was, however, lucky enough to have spent seven years as the Director of Marketing and PR for a large scale event firm before I moved to Nashville, so I absolutely understood the value of all that “exposure.” “

I wholeheartedly believe she got that position by working her ass off, but let’s also keep in mind that she started her writing and speaking career as an offshoot of an already-successful artistic career. Would she have penned this article 20 years ago when she was burning the midnight oil as a photographer? Would she pen this article if she was just starting her career today and having to compete in the era of social media when the most random phone camera shot can go viral?

“10. Exposure is Everything! ~ There’s an old saying in the artistic community, “You can die from exposure” I hate that line. I hate it because you can also wither and die from lack of it. Just like life, find a healthy balance of not whoring yourself out but accepting opportunities that will give you reasonable exposure. It’s no different than sending out press releases or buying advertising space or hiring an agent or manager. You’re paying for exposure. One way or another exposure is going to cost you something. How the hell is anyone supposed to find you if they don’t know you exist? We are not all Wil Wheaton’s.”

Yeah, you’re right, sometimes getting exposure’s going to cost you. In my case, it has cost me sleep and the wear-and-tear of gas money. And a lot of time. But I’ve done it out of love and I’ve done it with the backing of multiple jobs that have allowed me the liberty of doing things for exposure. That’s a position of privilege.

“9. Branding is a Good Thing ~ If people are asking you to donate a good or service in trade for exposure, whether that be in person, your name on a flyer, or a written piece that could be seen by millions, you are a brand. And while you might not get a phone call from that one thing you do for trade, the people who attended or viewed it saw you or your name. And the next time they see it they might remember it and if not, by the third time, they will. And the more places you have your name the better the chance of that happening.

That’s called branding. And that person may never call you for anything but the next time someone asks for the name of a, “fill in the blank here___________” they might just mention that they’ve seen your name a lot.”

100,000 bloggers write for HuffPo, for instance. You’re telling me there’s 100,000 brands? Now, of course, there’s some wiggle room in the literary world where we’re AUTHOR-BRAND, rather than just brand.

And it's kind of rude to assume that the writers don't want to get paid, by the way.

“8. Credibility is Important ~ Doing the right kind of trade agreements or “for exposure” gigs or donations of your time or work to the right kind of organizations will give you credibility. If you are affiliated with reputable companies that people know, they feel they can trust you as a professional. It’s one thing to have and offer something of real value but it’s entirely different to try and convince other people of that. Credibility among your peers and their affiliates can set you apart and possibly alter the choice in your favor for a first time client.”

It’s now common knowledge that many sites do follow the example of “hey, we just take this random off the street” and that means that you’re adding an unnecessary line to your resume that’ll make future employers just roll their eyes.

“7. Networking Rules ~ Anytime you get approached by someone or you reach out to someone you’ve just made a connection. You might not know it or need it at the time but that person might be the missing thread somewhere down the line. The more people you can affiliate yourself with the better. The more people you know the better. There is another old saying, “It’s who you know.” And let me tell you bothers and sisters, that is the truth. I would say of my overall business, 80% percent is referral. And I promise you this, the ones I donated my services to are sometimes the first to recommend me and have absolutely led to some of my most lucrative shoots.”

But that’s not a guarantee, and the writer is operating under the assumption it is. People would be just as likely to go, “Hey, I heard you were looking to hire X person to do Y thing, let me save you a few dollars. I have Z person, she’ll do it for free.”

Could it pay off? Sure.

Could it also lead to a few dozen hours with nothing to show for it? Absolutely.

The bigger the person wanting to hire you is, the more likely they are to be able to pay, and the less excuses they have to avoid doing so.

“6. R& R Baby; Resume and References ~ Every time you work with or for someone, whether you are paid or not you just added a reference to your rolodex and resume. No one ever needs to know what your financial arrangements are with anyone. But the larger your clientele list, the more in demand you become for clients with real budgets. That’s just psychology and math and stuff.”

This also applies when wanting to occasionally get paid.

“5. Taxes Suck ~ Don’t taxes suck? Totally. I suppose one of the financial upsides to working for free is the tax write off. Either in donation if you can get the receipt or in hard costs, which in this day and age includes stuff like hard drive space. If you’re an independent contractor, every penny helps.”

Every. Penny. Helps.

Exactly. So what’s the problem?

To quote Chuck Wendig: "Pay the fucking writers."

“4. You Get to be the Hero ~ Yeah sure. Most of the offers aren’t of any dire nature and sometimes they are just a pain in the ass. But sometimes you get to be a part of something really special. Sometimes you get to affiliate with groups or organizations that you believe in and get to use your talent to help them. Sometimes you meet people that change your life. Sometimes you get to help other people change theirs. And sometimes you just get to do cool stuff that no one else gets to do. Adventure awaits with every yes. This I promise!”

And none of this stops just from wanting to occasionally get paid. ANECDOTE: I had the opportunity to do that when I was a freelancer. I was paid for every article I wrote, and because I was paid, my editor told me that she respected me and my work. So if she would have asked me to write something for free down the line, I would have said yes. If Texas Children's Hospital, just down the road from me, gives me a call tomorrow morning and asks me to write something for free for them, I'd do it, but it is and remains MY choice.

“3. Practice Makes Perfect ~ I don’t care who you are or what you do, you can be getting better at it. What better way to push yourself and try new ideas or step outside your comfort zone than with a client who sort of has to give you that freedom? And even if you don’t get to stretch your wings and it’s just the same old thing, every time you do it, you get better. And there is no place to get better than in front of a live audience.”

Or, start a blog. Make blog entries. Update. Update again. Learn. Explore. Grow your own brand. 

“2. You get to choose ~ Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should take every offer, and you definitely should not get taken advantage of. I’m not talking about giving it away for free or being manipulated or any of that bad shit that definitely happens. But am I on crazy pills here or is a website that has millions of viewers asking to repost something you’ve written and already put out there for free not the worst thing that can happen to an artist? You’re a smart bunch, you’ve made it 1500 words into this sucker. You know bullshit from a possibility. Say yes when it’s right and “hell no” whenever you want too!”

This really serves to underscore my point.

“1. Because You Love It ~ The one thing in the thousands of comments on Wil’s blog that seemed to recur was that most of his biggest supporters were artists; of all kinds. And I understand. Lawd have mercy, child, I understand! We as artist are under appreciated, undervalued, overlooked, pillaged, humiliated, embarrassed, taken advantage of and even scorned by some. Choosing the artists life is not an easy one. I don’t know about you, but I do what I do because I love it. It is what my soul calls me to do. That sounds so corny and cliché but its true. I love every single shoot I do. No matter how big or small or what effect it has on my bank account. Maybe that’s naive, but I look at it this way. Every time I fire a frame I was just given the opportunity to be my most authentic self. I was just given the chance to do the thing that make me the happiest. Some of my most powerful reactions, most beautiful shots, most career defining moments paid zero cash dollars. That is why I do it. If I was in it for the dough, I would go back to marketing and PR.”

Emphasis mine.

If the author of this piece truly believes artists of all shape and form are underappreciated, undervalued, overlooked, pillaged?, humiliated, embarrassed, and taken advantage of, then she should be right there with Wheaton’s side of things.

I do what I do for love, too, but the thing is, I love having the choice. I love valuing my work. I don’t even think my work’s worth thousands of dollars, but I think it’s definitely worth compensation for my time.