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    Publishing: Tight Shot, my first novel, was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Its sequel, Hot Shot, was roundly ignored by everyone, but was a far better book. I'm also a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

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« Rolling Stone rolls with the punches | Main | Write for free!: Huffington Post Chicago débuts »

August 13, 2008

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Texas Triffid Ranch

Sadly, I'm not surprised, and that attitude sums up why I played it smart and quit writing at the beginning of the decade. The grand balance with so many "groovy publications", and I've worked for a ridiculous number of them in my time (anyone remember the weekly PDXS or the monthly Anodyne in the mid-Nineties?) is to make sure that the editors and assistants get paid while convincing the people who actually produce the content to get paid in pennies if at all. The publication only goes under if those who realize that they're never going to see a return on their contributions aren't replaced with wannabes willing to do anything to get published. At that point, the only way to convince the writers to return to the publication is to offer a fair rate and pay it promptly, and most editors of this sort would rather shut down than have to do that. (You may note that while the Film Threat Web site is going strong, the print magazine hasn't been seen since 1997. This is deliberate, because the publisher would have to pay both for contributions and repay the money he owes for selling subscriptions back in '97.)

Otherwise, while I understand your aversion to working for free, I know better than to try to convince others that they're getting reamed. You'll hear nothing but screams that remarkably sound like abused housewives who swear that their husbands really love them, and many will still defend working for free or for sub-minimum wage even as they're losing money. It's the same battle cry I've heard over and over from one side of the US to the other: "Everyone else might be getting ripped off, but I know that this is going to be my big break! I can feel it! I'm not going to abandon it when I'm this close to hitting it big!" I've seen the same thing at all levels of publishing, from publishers who figure that the newspaper advertising market will rebound any day now to indie bookstore operators who cry about "the decline of civilization" if patrons aren't willing to deal with the operators' passive-aggressive sales tactics, and it won't stop so long as denial is the main currency in all aspects of publishing. Personally, I have more hope that the New York Yankees will cruise through the Superbowl this year.

Alan Cordle

I think less of anyone writing for free.

Lizzy Caston

You know, the Huffington business model is pretty reflective of certain segments of the work world in general right now. When I first got out of grad school for urban planning I was pretty shocked at the "intern ghetto" out there. Some interns had been working at well funded public agencies and even well funded non-profits for close to two years without benefits or a living wage doing the same exact work as salaried staff, even taking over for departing staff. Non-profits are especially notorious for not paying (and yes I understand money is tight for certain non-profits, but come on). In fact, I even did a study with another grad student on whether or not Portland community development housing non-profits were creating their own low-income housing constituents by not paying living wages to their workers, construction workers, etc. As you can imagine, the report was not warmly received in the non-profit community.

I also remember the Baffler (might have even been Tom Frank ) writing a great essay in the 1990s "Interns Built the Pyramids" on how interns pretty much drive the machine of advertising and other "creative fields." I learned pretty early on the difference between and intern and a consultant was a business license, a few projects under your belt and a hundred bucks an hour. Guess which route I chose?

I took your advice on this early on as well Kevin when I started this writing game about two years ago. The only time I write for free now is on my own blogs, in love letters or pro-bono for charity. Sure, sometimes I have to hold out longer for jobs and I hardly ever write for Portland publications anymore (who are notorious cheap-ass mo-fos), but I seem to be getting more and better paying gigs because of it (or despite the "lack of a wider audience" - who knows?).

It's also like the $10,000 tuition for the "certificate in online journalism" pamphlet I recently received from a semi-well known New England based university. Sure, I could use a grammar refresher, but $10,000 bucks to learn to write on the internet? No thanks. I can get journalism books from the library for free, join a professional journalism organization for a few hundred bucks in order to get some peer mentoring, and build a WordPress blog for just about nada.

At this point I write because I love it. But then again, I also have a day job.


Texas Triffid Ranch

Lizzy, I can only imagine how well-received the nonprofit community made your report. I've watched the same behavior over and over, with interns borrowing money from parents for years because they know, one day, that they'll be appreciated for their hard work and be rewarded for it. That's about the time the nonprofit shuts down: there's nothing more depressing than reading the resume of a nonprofit intern who's been working for free (or for drastically below a living wage) for a decade because "I'm doing important work." Yep, important enough that his/her boss was able to afford a new car while the boss's lackeys were forced to take advantage of food banks in order to eat.

As for working for free for publications, an old friend of mine has a long-running history with the underground press, both in writing and in art, and he'd been putting out material for a plethora of magazines for a decade when I first met him in 1989. He finally got out of publishing a few years back, when he had yet another zine wannabe who wanted him to do a four-color cover for free, and when he asked about payment, was told "Well, you need to pay your dues first." At that point, he realized that he'd been paying his dues for nearly thirty years, told the zine wannabe to find someone else willing to bust his ass for "that big break", and quit to get his master's degree. He's never been so happy.

metroknow

Yesterday there was an ad on Craigslist here in Portland for a new online only, well-funded magazine focused on urban life. I was excited to reply, until I saw that they're doing the same. I'm not sure which is worse - offering a couple of nickels for a great piece, or just showing the cheapness up front and saying you'll be working for nil. . .?

Kevin

I'm up to my ass in stories right now - PAYING stories - but I'll put in a call to the guy tomorrow if I can.

Gregory

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