Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A writer's response to "Slaves of the Internet--Unite"

Recently an article appeared in the New York Times online that raised an issue related to how a writer can make a living. Luckily, because I am retired (after a fashion) and because I have carved out my own niche (in a manner of speaking), I am not part of that group that relies on writing for others to support myself--woe be it to those who are in that spot. 

The author visits Williamsburg, VA
"Slaves of the Internet--Unite" raises an issue that most every writer faces: being asked to write an article (or play) for no pay. Author Tim Krieder states that in the week previous, he had received "three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money." When's the last time you asked your doctor or attorney--or for that matter a plumber, baby-sitter, or hairdresser--to work for free?

Some of the reasons that this is asked of authors and other artists are suggested in Krieder's article or in the 600+ responses to his column: everyone thinks they can write (so there's nothing special about those who actually do); artists are expected to suffer for their art (and wouldn't want to cheapen/prostitute themselves by taking money); and this is the Internet age and information should be free.

We are supposed to be "grateful for the opportunity of exposure." As in such phrases as, "Well, I can't afford to pay you, but you would get some good exposure." I think most artists/actors/musicians/writers starting out accept the notion that it will be hard going for a while--and that may be "romantic" when you are in your twenties. However, once beyond those early years, most writers need to more than a place to publish--they need actual money (what a concept!) for their hours of research and writing. There were costs involved in going to school, workshops and conferences in order to fine-tune their skills. But how can we keep exceptional artists going when there is always a new set of recruits coming up who will work for "exposure?"  

I have to admit that I have often bought into the "exposure" concept. In fact, I have even sought out places where I offered to write for no pay, or low pay. I continue to look for places to give author presentations--often accepting the fact that there will be no re-numeration. In fact, it is widely preached that authors need to establish a platform, and to get their name out there by offering to write on other people's blogs, etc. 

So, I responded to Krieder's article on our Bay Area Travel Writers' (BATW) forum as follows, "Excellent piece and food for thought; I wish I had all of the answers. I also agree with Diane [LeBow] that we often get non-monetary rewards in the form of press trips, etc. I go back and forth on this--I often write for a pittance ( and give talks for free, but keeping my name out there sells books that do make $$ [not a living, however!]."

Will exceptional writers disappear? I hope not--there's such great pleasure in finding an author whose beautiful prose bears re-reading and letting us savor those moments. Clearly, the level of writing that appears in print and online varies enormously in terms of quality. Unfortunately, there are many readers and consumers who don't know, or don't care, what quality is--they are happy with quantity. The buzzword is "content."

It's easy to say that writers have to move with the times, but writing is not like manufacturing buggy whips--it's not obsolete. Writing that can inform (not just rehash and regurgitate), raise our consciousness, and move us is essential in our cluttered world--how do we keep deep thinkers and wordsmiths alive?

Short of writers uniting--which I don't think will happen any time soon, what's the answer?  

Happy trails,
Susan "backpack45"  Alcorn



jules older said...

"I often write for a pittance ( and give talks for free, but keeping my name out there sells books that do make $$ [not a living, however!]."

There may be a connection between writing for a pittance and not making a living.

backpack45 said...

I agree, Jules, and I understand how hard it is for established writers to work around this. For me, writing is an integral part of my life and I write about what I enjoy, and know. I read once that money, sex, health, and controversy are the topics that sell. Unfortunately, backpacking is a harder sell.