Monday, 14 December 2009
Play for Pay?
Last week I read about a professional writer expressing his anger at pay rates offered by a small press internet venture. Mike Stone posted about it on his live journal and invited comments. He received a pretty mixed bag.
This isn’t the first time I’ve read and had a good think about the subject and I doubt it’ll be the last. To most it’s pretty cut and dry, but I’m still not completely sure of my own stance on the subject.
The first piece of writing I ever sold was to a Canadian magazine in 2004. The Adventures of Jack and Jill was a short nursery rhyme about cider-drinking, gun-toting psychos and it earned me two US dollars and a contributor copy of Champagne Shivers. I still have the cash and I intend to spend it in New York some day. Can’t see it buying me anything more than a chocolate bar, though.
Luckily, in the last six years I’ve improved my writing and been cannier in the majority of my dealings. I’ve received funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Screen for my writing and a couple of pieces sold kicked back more than five pence a word, which seems to be a professional rate minimum by most definitions. Does that make me a pro writer yet? Nope, because it’s nowhere near enough to feed even one of my kids, never mind my whole family.
So I work a full time job to pay the bills. And I appreciate the fact that I’m lucky enough to have a decent and safe job, even though my ultimate goal is to write for a living. At the minute, writing is something that makes my life more interesting. It’s fun for me (well, most of the time, it can be frustrating too but you can have a slump on the golf course too, can’t you?), and sometimes all I want to do is finish a piece of writing and see that it gets a decent home.
Nothing But Time, a short story I set in Maghaberry Prison, appeared on Pulp Pusher last month. It’s not a paying venue but it does have a decent following as far as I can gather. And with folk like Keith Rawson and Alan Griffiths published there, I’m keeping good company. Plus it’s run by a terrific full time writer by the name of Tony Black. So what did I get for Nothing But Time?
To be honest, I don’t think so. A couple of people left nice comments on my blog and on Facebook when I posted a link to it, but they’re people who’ve read my stuff in the past and (I hope) will read more in the future. To the best of my knowledge, the story didn’t reach any new readers. But I liked writing that piece. Enjoyed editing it. Really got a kick out of the fact that Tony Black liked it enough to include it on his website. That’s a pretty decent return in my book.
I don’t plan to make a habit out of giving away short stories, though. If I’ve let one go for free lately, I probably liked the publication or the editor behind it. What I won’t do in the future is give away reviews, articles or short stories to publications that could afford to pay me. I’ll not fill a slot in a magazine or a newspaper without a decent kickback.
That’s where I stand with the payment issue I guess. Like an accountant might do a tax return for a mate and expect nothing in return except a pint, I’ll continue to give away the odd short story for free to people I like. If that bugs you, dry your eyes. I will, however, work harder to negotiate payment for articles and the like that make it into any publication that can afford to pay. As for novels... well, that’s my agent’s job. I’m not going to worry about that here.
My ultimate point in the writing of this? Hell, yeah, writers should be paid. But not all writers are good enough to be paid right away. So the places that don’t pay and offer only ‘exposure’ or a very small payment have their place. They build a writer’s confidence and give them something to show their family and friends. But unless they aim a little bit higher with every other thing they write, they’re probably going nowhere. In which case, all the writers who want to be paid could probably chill out a little. It kind of thins out the competition in a tight market, doesn’t it?
I have one question (in three parts) about an area that I think is a little grey. Please do weigh in if you have an opinion. What about blogging? That’s writing for free, isn’t it? Why is that okay?
Mike Stone's Live Journal
Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland Screen
Nothing But Time