I am not a resolutions-type of chick. My personality is too spontaneous, and I like the freedom to change my mind without beating myself up over it. However, I’ve learned a lot this past year, and have only one resolution to make that I plan to stick to: to not write for free.
That, my friends, is easier said than done of course. For a few reasons, one of them being that I am in a pool with many talented writers who will write entire articles, make videos, take amazing photos, and even produce mini-documentaries, all in exchange for the promise of “exposure” for companies who shamelessly go on the record promoting the fact that their publishing company has experienced record breaking profits mainly due to, they state with great pride, their ability to attract free, talented labor.
A lot has been said on this issue, and in some ways it has created a divide among our community of writers and bloggers, and I have struggled with ways to express my opinion without insulting the choices others have made for themselves.
However, I have to now write this post, because it has become evident that the choices many of my peers have made for themselves are affecting the one and only resolution I made for me.
It has been widely discussed how the Huffington Post doesn’t pay their writers, yet they come in droves. Because the Huff has a gazillion hits a day and writers, wanting and needing to be read and noticed, come to them counting on that as their ticket to success and notoriety, and hopefully, paid work.
I get it. I recently just signed a deal with an online magazine I never really read before, Babble.com, to be part of their new city venture, and am now the blogger for their New York site (UPDATE: I resigned and no longer write for them at any capacity). Now, people who write for the Huffington Post, for free, receive a lot of fanfare from their followers and readers, just as I have from mine regarding Babble. To many it’s a big deal, in some ways I have arrived. But have I?
The site is noted to reach over 4.1 million readers, growing monthly. This, in combination with an incredibly lovely staff, and a well-liked brand, at least among many in my community, led me to agree to writing for clicks. That’s right, clicks. I counted on the exposure. Except, my site doesn’t ever really get clicks back from my writings there, and when I promote my post, I am simply promoting it to the audience I already had to begin with. And, I have yet to make more than $12.00 a month. But this isn’t their fault. They did absolutely nothing wrong, they were completely clear, and they continue to be lovely, even showing an interest to help me get the word out on the blog more.
I, however, set a precedent. For now the writers in the cities that follow will be offered the same deal, and a whole slew of writers will agree, as I did, to give their best for little money in return. This is not to say that I could’ve changed anything. This is not to say that had I been more educated, more aware, less impressionable, that I would have gotten a counter offer that paid me per post, regardless of clicks, and that would have guaranteed me the true worth of my labor. But the fact that I didn’t, that I was the first one, and I said yes, no questions or push back for more, set the tone for the rest.
And this is what happens when we make choices for ourselves without thinking about the consequences our choices have on others.
The fact that the Huffington Post has managed to recruit so much talent (granted some of it is not, but a lot of it is), and has made a profit (especially by claiming that it has been able to do so by not paying their writers) has set off a trend that is now being embraced by another huge conglomerate, Forbes.com. Except Forbes is taking it to the next level. They are going to take the quality, free material, and further increase their profits by selling it to other publications, without giving a dime to the writer. What’s worse, writers are excited about the notion for further exposure.
Chances are that with the growing success of companies profiting from the free labor of writers, my chances of writing for profit are slimmer and slimmer.
Maybe, by resolving to not write for free I am not so much guaranteeing that I will actually receive paid opportunities to write, as much as I am guaranteeing to not continue to be a part of the problem. Of all the lessons I have learned this past year, I think this has been the greatest. Because I have come to accept and embrace, in the most humble way possible, that I am a really good writer.
Where I used to think that the validation of this was with the publishing of a piece in a major publication, or the receipt of a check for another, or the nod and mention from a well-known writer, I’ve come to learn that in actuality, the validation is in that feeling of pride when, alone in my room, I read back and can relive the moment in my mind. The validation has been in how I have touched my readers and moved a member of my community.
The validation is also in the professional relationships that have turned into incredible friendships, the unforgettable experiences people have offered me and my family, and the trust that many have put in me over and over again to share their stories with others in the most honest, fair way possible. I have done all of this, and not due to the writing I have done for free anywhere. Come to think of it, the only free writing that has actually led to some success has been the writing I do on this site.
So, I will not criticize those who for whatever reasons have made the choices that they have, I have been there and I understand. But I do ask that we think about how our choices are setting a precedent and affecting an entire community of writers, no matter how big or small we are. At the end of the day, we decide what our craft is worth, we have to decide what the value of the words we share with the world is. I like to think that my stories are priceless, which last I checked was not the same as free. Funny thing is, others know that too and are just hoping I won’t say so.
Babble.com Editors recently responded to this post with this email, which I am posting here, not to create drama or shed them in a negative light, but rather to make their point of view and voice heard as well. My intent with this post, as I mentioned to Babble was not to bash them, and I made every effort to point out that there was no wrongdoing on their part, and take full responsibility for my choices. Thank you to Babble for contacting me, my apologies that their opinion of my post has caused such distress. My apologies to any reader who felt mislead by anything I have said here. This post, as I wrote it, is not about them, it’s about something larger going on in the writing/blogging community. I am willing to face whatever the consequences are for the words written in this post.
FROM BABBLE EDITORS:
We recently came across your blog post on NYCityMama, and we’re a little upset by a few things. Obviously we would have rather had you talk to us about your misgivings before you opened it up to the public, that way we could have made it clear what you’d have to do to get your payment to increase from $12/month.
I think the crux of what you were saying was in these lines: “That’s right, clicks. I counted on the exposure. Except, my site doesn’t ever really get clicks back from my writings there, and when I promote my post, I am simply promoting it to the audience I already had to begin with.”
But what you don’t say is that it’s up to you to write them in such a way that people go to look at the rest of you stuff. We’re in the same boat w/ Yahoo Shine — we post articles on there for free, but we have to make it worth our while by providing content that makes people come back to Babble.
Also, you must have known from the get-go that simply promoting to one’s preexisting audience w/o growing a larger one wouldn’t make you much money. The point was to grow a larger and larger audience and get rewarded for each month of growth. Your piece doesn’t stress how the sky was the limit in terms of how much you could make but that the onus was on you to grow the traffic.
Our hope was that by growing + expanding your following each month as well as pushing your posts out via social media outlets (things we expect of of all of our bloggers), you’d gain more readers to both your Babble blog & your personal blog and make money doing it. Furthermore, we’re always happy to share our social media best practices with you and tips + tricks we use to increase traffic. Can you please reword your entry on your your blog asap? We take pride in our blogs, our blogger relations, and our business practices, and, while we appreciate your argument about writing for free and the effects it might have, this casts us in an unduly negative light.
Let me know if you want to discuss further.