• On Writing For Free

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in The Submission Process     Comments 2 comments


    Today we want to get you fine folks talking about an issue we receive a ton of questions about: writing for free.

    Last week I went to a panel at Kickstarter HQ titled “How to Pay Your Writers,” in which editors/publishers from BOMB, Guernica and Unidentified Funny Objects discussed when and how much they pay their writers, how they raise funds, and whether or not they get paid themselves. You can read my piece about the discussion at Publishing Perspectives.

    Of particular note was a comment made by Lisa Lucas, publisher at Guernica, who talked about angry contributors who complain to her about writing for free: “Writers actually need to check it a little because so many of these editors are making nothing. At what point is editing not art? The identification [of quality work], the nurturing—you would never tell a midwife that she should work for free because you’re the person giving birth.”

    The implication was that most, if not all, of Guernica’s editorial staff works for free, and that the magazine’s contributors fail to appreciate this fact. “We’re all exploited here,” Lucas said.

    I’ve been on both sides of this … this … what, divide? (Is there a divide between writers and editors? Probably not, at least in general. Most editors are also writers. Many writers are also editors.)

    Anywho. As a writer I’ve worked for free and I’ve worked for pay. I’ve also worked as an editor at a handful of publications. All but one of those positions were unpaid, and the one that was paid is the only one that pays its writers.

    As you’d imagine, I much prefer to be paid for the words I write, I much prefer to be paid for the words I edit, and I much, much prefer to be able to pay writers for their words. Although writing for exposure or prestige isn’t meaningless, as Ryan Chapman of BOMB said at the event, “You can’t eat prestige for dinner.”

    [Tweet “”As you’d imagine, I much prefer to be paid for the words I write.””]

    Discussion Questions

    In the comments below, share with us your stories of writing for free, or respond to any of the following questions:

    1. Have you ever written (for publication) for free? What prompted you to do this?

    2. Have you worked for free as a staff member at a publication? What prompted you to do this?

    3. If yes to nos. 1 and/or 2, do you/did you consider yourself exploited? What did that experience or those experiences teach you?

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    I read the piece at Publishing Perspectives. Good work, David. I’ve been paid for work and given work away. In both cases I knew exactly what I was doing. My choice. If I wanted to hold out–and I’ve seen writers do this–and only place work with journals that pay, I could certainly do just that, but it would take longer to publish what I’d like to publish right now. I also know some paying journals look down on journals that don’t pay their writers. One in particular didn’t want me to mention my lesser credits in my bio. Hmph! So,… Read more »

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