I want to discuss an article I read a few weeks ago, in which actor Wil Wheaton writes about the indignity of compensating writers for their work with exposure over money. On the whole, I agree with him. Unless you have the good fortune of being related to someone who already has a platform – imagine being JK Rowling’s kid! – then you will be starting your career from the ground up, having little to no choice but to accept offers of free publicity, because you haven’t built enough of a name for yourself to guarantee media traffic with your name alone.
For many of us, myself included, free publicity in the form of a guest post on a well-known blog IS the payment. With luck, that “payment” will become monetary if the traffic leads back to my own site, where new readers eventually purchase my books. But writers have bills to pay like everyone else, and we can’t keep giving our work away for free forever. There’s just one teensy problem I have with Wheaton’s article.
Wil Wheaton can afford to complain about being paid in publicity over money. Because he’s Wil Wheaton (at least he acknowledges this). When he writes a book, all the Big Box stores are begging to sell it, because the stores know they’ll make enough in sales to compensate him (or rather, his publisher, which trickles royalties down to him). But if I want stores to sell my book, I have to approach them myself. And I have paid for the chance to have prominent shelf space for my books, because otherwise they’d never get noticed. I consider that a worthy sacrifice.
It’s not always a bad thing to be paid in exposure. The real question is when we stop accepting this form of payment and demand that we deserve more. It’s the same logic of a college graduate with several resume pages of unpaid internships that were accepted under the pretense of “earning experience” to impress future employers. At what point do you start turning them down? You don’t want to miss potential opportunities, but you also need to, you know, live.
The Huffington Post can damn well afford to pay guest writers. As Wheaton said, if you’re worthy of being published, you deserve to be paid, no matter how successful you are already. It’s not about making a rich person richer, but respecting the hard work of the artist.