I’ve Written This Thing…

work-for-free

(warning: rant)

Imagine:

You call a plumber a friend has recommended. You say to the plumber: I have this pipe thing. Could you come look at it?

The plumber comes and looks at it. They say, “Yeah, that needs to be fixed. It will cost about a billion dollars.”

And you say, “Oh. I didn’t want to pay for it. I just wanted you to take a look at it, give me your opinion, and then get so excited about it, you wanted to do it for free.”

The plumber stares at you blankly. They may, or may not, burn down your house.

This situation (sans the burning down part) happens to people in the creative industry more than I can say. Artists get told it’s good for their portfolio, writers get told it’s good exposure. It’s happened to me a few times from an editorial aspect just this week, in fact. Hence, the rant.

Them: “I’ve written this novel/book/poetry anthology/memoir and I’d love you to take a look at it and help me get it published.”

Me: “Happy to. My rates are on my website.”

Silence.

Why are creative projects so under-valued? Do you know what it takes to go through an eighty-thousand word manuscript, line by line, to make sure everything is correct? To look at character, plot and romance arcs to make certain there are no gaps? To be aware that thing an author mentioned on page seven never gets followed up? Let me tell you, it takes intense concentration and an absolute love of words.

Hearing someone say, “I think I’ll become an editor. I mean, I can read and I majored in English. That’s all you need, right? Anyone can do it,” (that same logic is often applied to being a writer) makes me want to tear my hair out.

You don’t assume you can become a carpenter because you know how to hold a hammer. You don’t try to fly a plane because you’ve set foot in one. You don’t try to perform heart surgery because you have a heart.

Writing, and editing, are skills. Just as you’d have to learn about wood to make furniture, you’d have to learn the rules, the nuances, the rhythm and beauty of words in order to write, or edit, a novel (to do so well, anyway). It takes time, patience, and a desire to be better at what you do with every novel you write and/or edit. I’ve been writing for the majority of my life, and I’ve now been an editor for a decade. I’m still learning every day. With every new story I write, with each new book I work on with an author, I learn something new. I work my ass off to help authors create the best book they can, and I love what I do. I hope that as I learn, I can pass that knowledge on, and they become better authors for it. It’s a craft, and just like any craft, it takes work and passion. While it’s true, yes, I might take a project at a lower rate because I believe in the project and I know the person doesn’t have much money, I’ve learned that people value what they pay for. Give your work, your talent, your sweat, away for free, and I can guarantee you they won’t appreciate it as much as if you had charged them for it. Does that sound jaded and capitalist? Perhaps. But, sadly, I believe it to be true.

So the next time you have this novel/poetry/manuscript/memoir/cookbook you’ve finished, please: don’t pass it under a bathroom stall because you know I’m dying to read it, and you simply have to give it to me right this instant, even though you’re certainly not going to actually hire me to do anything with it.

End rant.

Q: What are your feelings about paying for creative industry work?

 

 

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10 thoughts on “I’ve Written This Thing…

  1. Pingback: I’ve Written This Thing… | The Musings of a Lesbian Writer

  2. I recognise that casual, throw away line of ‘I think I’ll become a…’ I get it a lot in my line of work too. We each learn our art through years of hard graft and if we make it look effortless it is because of the practice and experience that has been gained along the way. I wholeheartedly believe that creative work should receive a decent renumeration. We pay other specialists to do things that we can’t do ourselves so why should it be any different?

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  3. I love it. You rant anytime you want, and I’ll pay attention. Great blog. I’ve had to endure comments from relatives like, “If you don’t finish it, it doesn’t matter.” They were referring to my work in progress which I’m contracted to finish on a certain date. For me as an author, it’s the frustration of not being taken seriously. I love your comment, “Anyone can do it,” because that is exactly the mentality of so many people.
    So, thanks for the rant, and thanks for being who you are. I have much to learn, and you have much to teach.

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  4. I absolutely agree with you that people value what they pay for. Either with money or barter. The value we humans place on “things” seems solidly tied to what we have to give for it.
    When we hear that “nothing is free,” it seems to translate into it, therefore it’s valueless.
    Creative industry work is an invaluable service, and those who are willing to share their knowledge and talent deserve to be compensated for it.

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  5. I absolutely agree that if “we” want to be considered as “real” as other professions, then it is definitely necessary to compensate creatives for their creations/help/advice/etc. This is something I am struggling with as I slowly create my life coach business… asking people for money for “just listening” to them. But, it is so much more than that. However, it’s not exactly something that society as a whole has bought into yet.

    Thanks for giving me another perspective and another chance to reflect on how important it is to see the professionalism in what I do! xoxo

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  6. “Oh, so you’re a doctor… You wanna look at my bunion? Oh, and I’ve got this little pain in my side… Is it true if you eat after 9pm the fat goes right to your belly?”

    “Oh, so your a gardener (a botanist, a biology major, a farmer)… Is this a weed? Is this edible? How can I get rid of my crabgrass?”

    Happens with everyone. But editors jobs take more than a glance and a ten minute chat. (Not to belittle those doctors, gardeners, botanists, farmers, or biology majors out there. I know you have important, time consuming jobs, that required education, expertise, and time).

    I think if you are dealing with novice writers, who write as a hobby and dream of being published like they dream of winning the lottery, they simply don’t know any better. They don’t think of editing as difficult. THEY don’t think anything is wrong with their novel. You’ll simply speed read it in a couple of hours and say: “Excellent. Fix this comma splice and send it off.”
    Plus if they see you as a friend, it can get sticky. Hey I dug ditches all over my friend’s yard one summer. That’s what friends do, right?

    I think serious writers know better than to expect editors (content, copy, line) and proofreaders to work for free.

    Being the snarky smart-ass that I am… What did you major in? Hmmm…?

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  7. This was awesome, haha. But so true. Others often underestimate the amount of work required on BOTH sides of the page, writing and editing. Fortunately (and unfortunately), I’m absolutely broke, so as of now I still have to do the vast majority of the work myself.

    Self-publishing is a wonderful, spiritually fulfilling pain in my ass.

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