Recently I came across this blog post which posits the theory that anyone who requests to publish your work “for exposure” (i.e. without paying you) is an evil, manipulative, scum-sucking bottom feeder (I’m paraphrasing – but the phrase “bottom feeder” is mentioned here).
This is not the first time I’ve heard this opinion – Harlan Ellison springs to mind (warning – contains coarse language). And yes, I agree that in an ideal world, writers and other creative professionals would be paid for their efforts in sufficient quantities to at least guarantee a certain minimum standard of living.
But should this be a hard and fast rule? Should you, as a writer, never EVER make your work available to anyone, anywhere, for free? Off the top of my head, I can think of several reasons why you might want to “work for exposure”, as follows:
1. You need the ego boost that comes with being published by somebody else.
Many, if not most, of us writers are an insecure bunch, especially when we’re at the beginning of our careers. It’s hard to be objective of our own work, and it’s easy to consider ourselves unworthy. Whether we’re getting paid for it or not, if a publisher says, “I like this well enough to associate myself with this story and to spend time and money in publishing it,” then it can let you know that you’re on the right track, and can be just the encouragement you need to keep writing and keep submitting material.
2. You want some publishing credits on your CV.
Again, in an ideal world, all stories submitted to a publisher would be judged solely on their merits and not on the track record of the writer; a first-time-published writer would be given equal consideration alongside a seasoned veteran. Many publishers work on this principle already.
And many don’t.
If the submission guidelines ask you to submit a cover letter containing a bio and/or a list of your most recent publication credits, then you can bet they’ll be judging you on that bio or list before they’ve even looked at your story. Having something, even a list of “for the love” publications, on your list of credits will give you an “in” and will show that you have a certain level of dedication and professionalism.
3. You want to help out a friend.
You might have seen this analogy before – you wouldn’t ask an electrician to rewire your house, or a mechanic to fix your car, or a hairdresser to cut your hair in exchange solely for some word of mouth advertising, would you? So why would you ask a writer to provide his or her services for free?
Extending that analogy, if I had a friend who was a mechanic, I might ask her to take a look at my car and neither party would expect an exchange of payment, because that’s what friends do. Somewhere along the line I would probably return the favour in some way, and I would definitely recommend her to other friends (unless she’s a shit mechanic, in which case, I probably wouldn’t have asked her to work on my car in the first place), because that’s also is what friends do.
If you’re involved in the wider writing community, you will make friends and acquaintances. Some of those friends and acquaintances will start up publishing ventures. An e-zine, perhaps, or a POD magazine, or a folly of an anthology with a very specific and non-commercial theme. Maybe they’ll make a little money off it; more likely, they won’t, and will be funding the entire thing from their own limited financial resources. Most likely they’re doing it for the love of reading and writing and want to share the love. They might invite you to contribute a story or two for free to help them get their venture off the ground, or just to be a part in the love-sharing.
Harlan Ellison would advise you to “just say no” (or words to that effect). And I say – may you never become so mercenary that money becomes your primary or sole motivator for doing anything. Support your friend – it’s the right thing to do.
4. It’s for charity
I shouldn’t need to explain this one. If I do, chances are you stopped reading anyway at #3.Giving away free samples is part of your overall marketing strategy.
This point is worthy of a whole ‘nother series of posts, and has already been covered by many successful indie authors, such as Scott Nicholson, who use freebies wisely and well. If this works for you and you know what you’re doing, then who is Harlan Ellison to tell you you’re wrong?
5. Money just isn’t that important to you
“Most people, I’ve come to discover, have at best a grudging tolerance for their jobs. Those are the lucky ones, too. Many others would sooner gargle razor blades than go to work. That’s when the rationale kicks in: If you love what you’re doing you can’t be working, right?”
Which kind of proves my point. Most people hate their jobs because they’re only doing it for the money. If you work for a reason other than money, that is when your work becomes joyful and not merely an exercise in tonsil-shredding.
Maybe you’re independently wealthy. Maybe you’re financially supported by a parent, partner or spouse. Maybe you have a day job –which I sincerely hope you love – AND you write. Maybe you’re a starving artist in a garret, but you get more joy out of seeing your creations read than you do out of eating. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, then do what makes you happy.
(One small caveat – just because I’ve espoused the joys of free fiction in this blog post, doesn’t mean I’m going to give away my own. I’m well past #1 and #2, am unconvinced that #5 is right for me right now, and although I have a supportive spouse and a joyful day job, I’m still quite partial to money. If you fall under #3 or #4, feel free to ask me and I’ll seriously consider it.)