22 December 2017

Money for Nothing

by Thomas Pluck

Anonymous said...
Money, money money. If you don't enjoy writing for its own sake or to entertain others, then you'd be better off pumping gas in your spare time. Stop thinking of it as a profession and insulting pubs that don't pay enough. Most of them do it out of love and lose money every month, so those that pay anything at all should be commended. Whether a publication pays nothing or several hundred dollars, it is still just a token and won't pay your bills. 
That comment was left (anonymously, of course) on my last post about crime fiction markets compared to SF/F and Lit genres that have a more robust selection of venues that pay. Now, I was not insulting non-paying markets. I briefly ran Flash Fiction Friday, which you could count as a non-paying market of a sort. Some of my first publications were at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, and Beat to a Pulp. They still publish great content. But let's talk about this. Other genres have has this conversation. If you want to limit your artists to those who don't need to get paid for it, it changes the art you'll get. I only know a few writers without day jobs, partners or family who support them, or retirees. I'm a writer with a day job. It allows me to write whatever I want because getting paid for it doesn't matter. I also love my day job, but I wouldn't do it for the love of it, if they suddenly said the well was dry. I'd find an employer who respected me enough to pay me for my work.

And there's that. I love Robert Parker's admonishment about writer's block-- "there's no such thing as plumber's block" -- and there's something to be said about art being work. We don't like calling art work, but all the bullshit--and that's what it is--about suffering for art and not getting paid came from the patronage system before it, where artists weren't truly free to do what they wanted. If they insulted the patron, the money got cut off. The artists who were free to starve on their moral high ground, but no one told them to do it. Unlike today.

I've heard the "write for the love of the art" argument from thieves who don't want to pay for e-books before, but not someone who sounds like an editor. I did not insult the editors I interviewed, whether they paid for work or not.  If you felt snubbed or targeted, it wasn't intentional. If you want to "do it for the love" that's fine, but don't tell other people to do it. I didn't say "don't submit to non-paying markets."

"Stop thinking of it as a profession." Speak for yourself. Everyone wants someone else to work for free. Not everyone can afford to. Go tell your mechanic to work for the love and tell me where you find the wrench.

The counter argument to this is well, I need my car but I don't need books. Apparently we do. Stories are important, or we would have done away with them, don't you think?


  1. One of the negative things about the internet is that it has conditioned many readers to think stories should be free.

  2. As writers, we sometimes get laser-focused on our own art, but the apprenticeship we serve writing for non-paying publications is similar across all the arts. Though there are no other writers in my family, my grand-step-father was a nature photographer, my mother and my mother-in-law were painters, one of my sons and my father-in-law craft furniture, another son is an actor, and one daughter-in-law is a photographer. And I work with many musicians. Some of these people treat their art as a hobby. Others hope to (and strive to) turn their art into a full- or part-time career. And all of them, at some point, have worked for free.

    We all deserve to be paid for our efforts, but if we don't "love" what we do, we will burn out quickly.

    My fiction has appeared, and continues to appear, in publications all across the pay spectrum, from non- and low-paying to the top-end mystery publications to the better-paying markets beyond.

    Why? Because I love what I do.

    But loving what I do doesn't limit me. I still enjoy cashing checks and paying bills, and so I treat my writing as more than an art. It's a business and it's my profession.

    Merry Christmas, Thomas, and thanks for your thought-provoking posts.

  3. God knows I've never run into a grocery store that will take a story for food, or a doctor who'll accept poetry and plays for surgery. Yes, it's a lot easier to keep at it if we love what we do, and we'll be a heck of a lot happier. But you can't be happy forever without any money - even Bob Cratchit got paid something. And he got a raise in the end.

  4. Thomas, I do indeed miss the 1990s, when I was paid $750-1000 a short story in the big mags, many of which do not carry short stories anymore. If I'm truthful, I'll admit it's why I've switched to writing novels primarily.

    I tell my students the best reason to write is because you love it, and because (like me) you must, or be unhappy. And that if you want to make a living writing, you are probably going to have to write exactly what publishers and the current market want you to write, and not what you yourself want to write.

    There is another reason to write - and it's to meet and be friends with all the wonderful people who also write. That's the best part of this whole game.

  5. Thomas, well said. Your article pretty well covered the situation.

    In the past, I've written for biker magazines, women's magazines, elementary school children's newspapers, mystery magazines, AHMM, anthologies, various small press and e-collections. Some paid complimentary copies, some nominal payments, some pro payments and some were for charity. Now I'm pretty much mercenary, except for good charity anthologies. Lately, I've been thinking about trying my luck with sci-fi magazines to go with my mystery series stories. But mostly, I enjoy the reactions received from telling a good story.

  6. Excellent post Thomas.

    Yes, you have to love writing to keep at it, especially when you're papering the third bedroom with your rejection letters, but at some point, you have to feed the cat and pay the rent.

    People who say writing should be free are saying it has no value. I can't believe they read or have ever been read to as a child. I wonder if they have happy children, too.

    I've met a few editors and they all love writers and writing. Many wish they could pay more, and I understand this because publishing has always been a money pit. At the same time, there are magazines and editors that could treat writers with more respect and respond more quickly, even with a rejection...or respond at all instead of letting you figure out your story wasn't chosen when the magazine or anthology or whatever appear without you in it.

    That said, this year I published more short stories than I ever have in a single year before. This is also the first year since 2014 that I am in the red for my writing.

    But I'm still sending stuff out. Another novel will appear next month, and I'm almost through another first draft.

  7. It's true, if we only wrote for money we'd be miserable indeed. There are a lot of benefits, and having readers respond to a story is one of them, whether you are paid or not. You may never make a living writing short stories alone, but you don't pump gas for free, either.

  8. The only writing-related thing I do for free is that I'm secretary of our block club. I won't submit to non-paying markets any more. This is probably because at my last regular job, content administrator of an online newspaper, the "owner" suddenly stopped paying any of us & let people continue working until we drifted away. Mistakenly thinking he was an honest businessman at heart, after a few weeks I turned him in to the N.Y. Department of Labor, but they wouldn't pay me unless they collected from him. That's my story & I'm sticking to it.

  9. Conversation between many folk musicians and perspective clients.

    "There's no pay but you will get lots of exposure."

    "People die of exposure every year."

  10. Great comments. Nice posting and so true. Tried to post earlier but had a proving I'm no a robot problem.


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