Monday 28 October 2013

Don't be a rhinovirus

I don't usually do this - write a post that just directs you to go and read something else - but I'll make an exception for this one because anyone who writes

"My field of expertise is complaining, not answers. I know there’s no point in demanding that businesspeople pay artists for their work, any more than there is in politely asking stink bugs or rhinoviruses to quit it already. It’s their job to be rapacious and shameless."

deserves it. Tim Kreider, writing in the New York Times on why writers should (almost) always refuse to write for free. With the added bonus of a template 'No' email you can use to turn down such 'offers of exposure' as the offending people consider them. (Not as shouty as the Harlan Ellison video.)


  1. Thank you for the link to the NYT ~ well worth reading, inc. the comments. And the template Tim's provided is excellent. ;-)
    Personally, I never write for free, bar blogging (and that's really for me, anyway). Never volunteer unless you're getting paid for it, I say.
    I Xeroxed my first-ever cheque, and framed it.
    If we don't value our own work, no one else will.

  2. But even the author admitted that he *almost* never wrote for free. He had me with him with the bit about social work students right up till he said that the young woman who asked him was pretty. That was rather too flippant for me.

    There are a few charity anthologies out there, created to raise money for, say, tsunami or earthquake relief. People willingly contribute to those. It's when someone who wouldn't dream of asking a plumber or a doctor for a freebie asks a writer or artist that I see red. (And that said, I do know of one doctor who works in the poorer suburbs of Melbourne and, in the days before free treatment for pensioners and unemployed here, sometimes took payment in kind...)

  3. I agree, Sue - but we are all free to choose which charities we support and not the time spent writing a story for an anthology should be recognised as what it is - a gift of several hundred pounds. I would be very careful choosinga charity to give several hundred pounds to, and so while I would write for a cause I whole-heartedly support, I wouldn't necessarily agree to write for free for a cause I feel is good, but... Tsunami relief - yes. Some random dog charity - no. Yet the response if you refuse to do something for charity is generally that you are a mean, uncaring person. The refusal to write for free for a charity often has to be phrased far more carefully than the refusal to write for money for a publisher - which is insane!

  4. Yes, these anthologies tend to turn up after some disaster, when people want to do something and some like to do it with their pens instead of volunteering to sit on a switchboard while people phone in their donations. I've done that, and every year I rattle a tin for the Royal Chidren's Hospital all day Good Friday. This, too, is a gift of several hundred pounds or dollars. You do what you can in the way you can, wouldn't you agree? :)

  5. I do agree - but I feel it's important that we get to choose the causes we support. I'm sure you feel strongly about the Children's Hospital and are happy to give to that cause. What I don't like is when someone - usually someone attached to some very minor cause, in the global view - tries to make you feel bad for refusing, without (I presume) really thinking through what they are asking you to do. If the 'good cause' is just to provide a tiny literary festival, or to raise funds for sports equipment for a single school, the request is way out of proportion of what I would be willing to give such a cause, so I don't want to be made to feel mean for refusing! It would be nice if there could be more graciousness on the part of the people asking. But the real bugbear is not ungracious charities but commercial ventures asking for free writing, promising 'exposure' as though it were worth as much as money (or, indeed, worth anything....)

  6. Definitely agree with you about the "exposure". I haven't had that sort of request. If someone with money wants me to do something that will make them more money, they can pay for it. I did, many years ago, write for fanzines. There wasn't money involved, but you got a contributor's copy. And some fanzine editors would ask for a story without offering even that! I refused. Even now, there are ripoff companies tht run schools competitions and then offer the young winners a discounted copy of the book! Discounted, not free and certainly no payment. I warn the kids away from them.

    But there's a culture of entitlement since the Internet, the idea that everything should b free. - music, books, films. I found one of my books offered for free download only recently!

    As you say, we should be able to choose our own charities. I wouldn't turn dwn the local state primary school, especially one like the school where I work, where the principal has to get into overalls and do repairs because we have no money to pay someone. But that's me choosing my charity. ;-)

  7. Damn, and I've just offered my publisher a free prequel to my series...

  8. That's slightly different, Katherine, as the idea is that it will increase sales of the series - so you will get something back for it. I wouldn't rule that out. That's not just random exposure, it's driving people towards something you will definitely earn from. Good luck with it!