I received a question following my last post (“Common Sense“), which is tied to writers being paid for their work, and I’m still thinking about the question, and my answer, almost two weeks later.
Here’s the question:
You argue that writers shouldn’t work for free, but isn’t that exactly what they are doing when they spend time on social media? What about their blogs?
I see both as examples of writing as marketing, and no one is paying them.
Doesn’t that go against your point?
Here’s my answer:
On your question, I approach it as I do my yard.
If I mow/rake/weed/etc my own yard, I have to do the work, but I benefit in the future. In the beginning, my yard might be crap, but in a few years it could be a glorious masterpiece due to all the work put into it. I don’t get monetary payment up front, but I learn how to do things on my own, gain professional experience, and benefit from the hours of repeated actions, which help me trouble-shoot in the future, and make me more knowledgeable about the craft. When I sell my house, that yard becomes a selling point and thus has monetary worth.
If someone else maintains my yard, he goes home after doing the work, and doesn’t get any of the future benefits – but, he does get paid, and my neighbor might hire him because he likes the look of my lawn.
So if my site/book/etc is my lawn, I can choose to do the work myself or hire someone else – but in the end the site/book/etc is mine and I benefit from the growth (and possible future sale), which is a type of payment itself.
If I write for someone else’s site, however, there’s no ownership in the future, so I want payment now, kind of like the guy/crew maintaining yards. I can’t count on a neighbor hiring me. I need something that pays the bills.
So both models offer a form of payment — one more immediate than the other. As the person doing the work, I decide which form I’ll take. If I’m writing for “exposure,” I’d rather do it on my own terms instead of helping to drive traffic to people who have money to pay – Huff Post – and don’t.
Going back over the question and answer now, my issue with writing for free isn’t the giving away work for free part.
Long-time readers of this site know that Steve, Shawn, and I are advocates of giving away work as a good way to reach new audiences. HOWEVER, we set the terms for what is given away — and how it is given away — and base the giveaways within the Black Irish Books and Steven Pressfield platforms, neither of which popped up overnight. We’ve been at it on Steve’s site for almost ten years, and he had a static site long before that.
My biggest issue is giving away your opportunity to build your own platform.
When you look at a platform with large audiences, be careful of thinking a place on those platforms will fast-track your success. It won’t. To quote Seth Godin’s “How to Be Heard” post from earlier this week, “Convert six people before you try to convert sixty.”
Resist the temptation to jump to where millions of others are hanging out.
If you’re going to bust your ass, do it for yourself, not for a platform that will either 1) make its executives (and not you) rich off of a sale or 2) take your work down with it when it fails.
Do what grows you before you help grow someone else.