When you are someone whose passion lies in the written word, there’s nothing quite like seeing your writing published. It’s the small thrill to see your name next to your words on a big website or maybe even in actual print. It’s a kind of validation; someone read your words and saw the value in putting them in front of a bigger audience than you have access to on your own.
Pitching to editors is nerve-wracking in itself, because what if they say no? What if this person, who may be swamped with submissions or who may just be having a terrible day, says no? Are you a crap writer?
Not necessarily. Whatever you pitched just didn’t fit what they were looking for, for whatever reason. So, you keep at it. You submit more pitches, send out more articles and hope for the best. A few rejections can lead to a very bruised ego. So when a big news and opinion website accepts your pitch, the feeling is one of relief (I’m not a shithouse writer after all!) mixed with happiness and pride (I’m getting published, yo!). The fact that your hours of work in crafting your piece will go completely financially unrewarded is okay, right? Because you’ll be paid in that most enigmatic of currency: Exposure.
Enigmatic, because it’s not at all tangible, can’t be spent once you’ve received it, seems to have no benefit yet people are still willing to work for it. Some will say that you should think of all the traffic your blog will subsequently receive (and you might see heaps of traffic but for many, it’s more like a handful of page views) and all the new followers you will gain on social media (again, many find that figure is few to none) but all those views and new readers are in no way guaranteed. When you write a piece and give it away for free to some big website, they score all the resultant traffic. They get all that great reach and engagement by sharing your work via their social media channels.
You get the thrill of seeing your work, your name, up on their website. That is pretty great, I know. However, that is often all you’ll get. Some people will tell you that it’s kind of a rite of passage; that you should work for free for a while to ‘get your name out there’ or something along those lines. That’s wrong. Do wait staff spend time working tables for free, to prove that they are good at their jobs? Do receptionists work the switchboard for free to show that they are capable of doing so? Or think of all the small businesses online these days; people selling handmade goods, for example. Should they give those goods away for free for a time before they can charge for the cost of their labour and material? Of course not.
Our own websites and blogs are how we get our names out there. Writers don’t just hit publish and hope for the best. We spend time promoting our own work, engaging with our readers and trying to build an audience. It’s hard work- but it pays off in the resultant website traffic, social media followers and the building of our own online communities that are (hopefully) formed by people who are interested in what we have to say.
If you really want your work on these big sites that don’t pay, why not compromise by only allowing them to syndicate or republish selected content? That way, the initial traffic is yours. You can even submit your link to Google as soon as you hit publish to ensure your page is indexed first, before you offer it up anywhere else for republishing.
If you are a writer, please, have a think about what I’m asking here.
I’m asking you to stop writing for free.
I can’t prevent you from doing it and you might be wondering who the hell I think I am to even ask– it’s none of my business, right? But let me put it to you this way: Every single time you give your original writing away for free to these big sites, you are allowing them to devalue your work. They are telling you it’s good enough to flesh out their site, good enough to drive their traffic and good enough to engage their audience on social media (keep in mind, some of these sites have thousands, even millions, of fans on Facebook alone) but that it is not good enough for them to buy it from you for even a token fee.
When you go along with this practice with your work, you become complicit in a system that then expects it of everyone. Maybe you’re thinking that it’s okay for you, because writing is your hobby and you don’t need to be paid. Or maybe you have some other reason justifying why you are happy to work for no pay. It might be entirely legit, too. And that is great for you, but it isn’t the case for everyone. We don’t live in a vacuum- our actions almost always impact on other people. If I refuse to give content away for nothing on my own, big websites don’t care. Why would they? For every one of me, there are dozens more willing to give away the fruits of their labours for free.
However, if everyone decided to stop writing for free, the expectation that we should would have no choice but to vanish. As it should. Am I dreaming? Maybe. Only one way to find out.
#FYBF @ With Some Grace.