bITS 'N CHUNKS
Okay, so when you decide to venture out into writing and you get into business for yourself and you read any kind of self-help guides, one of the big glaring neon type things any decent person will tell you is
DON'T WORK FOR FREE
*followed by a list of people rationalizing why you should work for free so you can get exposhah.
Now, exposure is good. For me, since writing is not my primary job at the moment, there are definitely times when I don't mind getting published for free. Makes my resume look good and chances are I'll come away with some new friends and/or connections. I'm not mad at small 'zines and publishers for not paying a token amount most of the time because. Not getting paid does not mean I half-ass it either, but the thing is
No one told me when or how to not work for free. I think it's supposed to be innate but it's…not.
It hasn't happened to me yet, fortunately, but it really sucks when the beast exposhah takes advantage of young authors who don’t know when to price themselves (all the time) versus when it's okay to drop a little somethin' somethin'. I can't do "making friends and influencing people" all the time, but there are people out there who will treat you like you're brand new every time.
I kind of got it together eventually, but at first I never really did due diligence on figuring out when I should be paid and what an industry standard was, for example. I thought I would get my novel published for a sum and get royalties. Then when I scoffed at novel writing, I thought I'd get a few short stories going and lead people into my real work whenever I was ready for The Novel or a short story collection. That's kind of how it works in Fanficland! Then I thought I'll just publish myself. I was…naïve.
I finally figured it out in the artist alley of a convention one October. When you go to the big conventions with the big artists, you see them charging a hefty penny for sketches. That sounds wild, but we really do pay that much for a Hawkgirl portrait. Meanwhile, you go to the small conventions with the small (sometimes schmedium) artists and see prints for $15, $20. Something ludicrously low. The same work, same skill level, same art, but at a 200% markdown. I was chopping it up with an artist, commiserating about fanboys who will come and try to haggle a $10 necklace to ash. And here I am with an intricate print created by hand at a low, low price just to keep them at bay.
"Yeah," the artist mutters. "They hate that."
They being the big names. The ones charging accurately, maybe overcharging, but a fair sight better. It clicked. Oh, to need to charge MORE but you can't for fear of driving away business. How do you get to the point to what you deserve?
Strictly business. Inwardly, I was resisting bringing business into something I love. I couldn't separate the practicality of earning a living doing what I enjoy versus demanding people pay me for something I'm shaky about. Then, why am I here? Why am I dragging the market down by hiding against the shadows and hissing, "hey, whatever you want, I can do that for free."
I knew I should probably get like $10 at some point, but how? It wasn't really until I looked into serious publishing and saw the rates that I was just like wow! Those publishers that were paying were big deals and had high standards and even higher rejection rates. I got a little intimidated. I got a lot intimidated. Then there was the period I just wasn't writing anything in particular…
So by the time my Rolling Stone piece came about, it was the perfect mix of an Internet meme hitting peak fever, someone I deeply respect passing an opportunity to me, and I hope to goodness actual skill. You might call that luck plus preparation or whatever they say in those self-help manuals. But the truth is, I had very minimal control over that. Was that years of "exposure" finally turning into something or just a fluke? Once I was done being excited, I realized I had to…focus.
I was doing silly isht for exposure that only works for some people, not necessarily me. I admit I'm a little confrontational on social media (I still am) so I'm either losing friends or gaining them, but will they continue to support my work or are they just here for some quick tea? Hmm.
What I decided was, free work was okay but I gotta limit it to a few people that I enjoy working with and have worked with in the past and really promote myself. But that whole exposure thing has to come from me, me myself. I post stuff for free on this very blog all the time and you guys see it. Thank you! But before this site I had to wonder who was really seeing it. Friends, family, sure, but a lot of internet strangers? People who would actually seek me out even though my stuff was scattered all over? I needed something way more cohesive than what I was doing. You know, like an actual resume. Ahh, so that's why everyone has a personal site with a theme and shit.
Those samples have led me to some pretty good work but I realized I had to stop doing the If You Build It… game to myself and not only build it, but pass out fliers and shove people into The Construct. I had to be less scared. I had to gain that thing called confidence and self-actualization. I had to treat it like a business. I treat myself like a business. I resisted it for so long but I finally came home to it, and to be honest I'm a lot happier for it.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...