A friend sent me this cartoon a few weeks ago and it made me laugh, but it burned a little bit too. Exposure is the E-word of the writing world.
“We pay in exposure” is an all too familiar phrase that’s always heartbreaking to hear. It’s heartbreaking because you’ve put a ton of time into writing a book or story, working on your craft, and building your skill set, just to hear someone tell you that’s all great, but I’m not paying for it. It puts the writer in a tricky and awkward bargaining position. On one hand there’s a publishing credit up for grabs and on the other there’s obscurity. A fight breaks out in your mind. Yes, there could be a paying opportunity around the corner and maybe I should wait for it, but it doesn’t seem to be in sight at the moment, and this offer is, so should I give this one up and hope it leads to something…although it burns to give my work away…urrgghh… You see the writer’s plight.
Yes, I gave stories to magazines and websites in the early years. The credit was worth more than the cash…well, that was my thinking/delusion. When I look back on everything, it’s hard to tell whether the exposure argument got me anywhere or not. I know it cost me a few times. I gave a couple of stories away that ended up being wanted by some very high profile anthologies which I lost out on because I’d given up first rights when I gave the stories away for exposure. Note to budding writers: you lose your first rights when you give a story away for exposure and that can be expensive in the long run.
I think the issue with the exposure argument is that the writer is giving away something tangible (i.e.: the story/book) for something intangible (i.e.: exposure). And that’s where the heartache and soul searching occurs. You’ve put blood, sweat and tears into something and someone is effectively saying it’s worthless. Now, I will say no one that ever asked me to give them a story did it to rip me off. They were honest and well-meaning people who didn’t have a way of monetizing their endeavor themselves.
A point came where I said to myself, exposure isn’t enough. Validity and legitimacy in what I write comes with a paycheck. I took the adage, “People don’t value anything they don’t pay for,” to heart. It became my hard and fast rule when I went full time as a writer. It might seem mercenary of me, but it has to be that way. I can’t afford to give things away now because the bills don’t get paid otherwise. Ask yourself, would you do your job if the employer didn’t pay?
There are exceptions to the rule, such as charity related events, bookstore signings, etc.
The thing I have to keep ever mindful of is–a day away from the computer is a day away from completing a book, so I have to be compensated for that. And you know what? Taking this hard line didn’t hurt me. Yes, I lost some opportunities, but I gained new ones.
At the end of the day, I can’t say I won’t give something away for exposure purposes but it will be a calculated risk that I can live with (and without bitching after the fact) and not a flight of fancy. Storytelling is a serious business as well as a creative pursuit.