Ain’t Nobody Got Time To Work For Free!
On the About page of my website, I list all the publications for which I have written. Included in that list are Thought Catalog, Elephant Journal, and MindBodyGreen—all relatively well-known online publications. They have an arsenal of contributing writers who inspire millions of readers daily. We pitch, we write, we edit, and we promote those articles all over our social media accounts. And we do so for free. We do so because that’s “just what you’re supposed to do.” You have to get exposure, and that’s the way. Or so we’re told.
Almost every time I’ve had a piece published, no matter how much people love it, the online publication never promotes it on their Instagram or Facebook pages. Instead, they tack them onto their massive websites and they get lost in no man’s land of the internet.
I am a member of a Facebook group for Thought Catalog, where an editor posts topics and headlines for members to claim and write. I used to engage in it. I used to send the editor in charge many of my poems, many of my articles, until one day I realized there is basically no way to make money from them. They only pay a few writers and “that’s very competitive,”she emailed back. “We’re very picky.” They’re using my and other writers’ creative work to build their audience, to make money through advertising and subscriptions and book sales.
I can advertise these magazines published my work, but if I’m not gaining exposure and subscribers nor making money, is it truly valuable? In fact, even when my article (the one about pornography) was shared over 26 times, I saw no increase in engagement on any of my platforms: website, Instagram, Facebook. I was working for free. And I believe in being paid for your time and expertise. (Unless of course you’re donating your time or receiving credit for college like my interns—those are entirely different scenarios.)
To be able to do more of what you love, you must make money doing it.
A few months ago, a woman found me on a Facebook group and energetically called to rave about my work and invite me to be a speaker for an event this Fall. She was so enthused, so inspired, so wanted to include me, because my work is “everything.” Then, toward the end of our 30-minute conversation, she squeezes in the most important detail that I’d have to pay just shy of $5,000 to speak. $5,000! And I’m the one speaking. “But you get coaching and wardrobe styling and photographs,” she explained. She was a sales rep, and I was her target.
Pitching publications can be a full-time job. It takes a ton of time to cater articles to specific magazines. To follow up with editors who either ignore your emails or whose spam folders get ahold of them. You’re doing all this work with the hope it will turn into more. And often times, even when you get published, it means almost nothing. Even if readers love your work.
When Jennifer Lawrence wrote an essay about the Hollywood gender pay gap, I remember thinking, I’d just like to get paid! Forget equal, just show me any money!
In August 2017 a woman from the O Magazine reached out on Instagram, asking to use one of my photos for an article they were running about solo travel. Of course I said, “Absolutely!” because it’s Oprah and I know millions of people see that content. But of course they weren’t paying to use my content. To them, they were throwing me a bone, doing me a favor.
Months ago, I seriously contemplated hiring a PR agent to get me onto shows and into top magazines. I was considering shelling out $6,000 a month (I know, it made my stomach hurt just thinking about it!) in hopes she’d get me the type of exposure needed to really grow a blog and speaking career. You’ve got to pay to play as they say. One of the agents I considered was full of shit. She promised a cover article in Huffington Post and an on-air television interview. Those promises, in reality, was a podcast interview with limited downloads, an article submitted to the Huffington Post which never happened, and an interview with a TV news anchor on her Facebook page, not on television which never happened. The PR chick screened my calls, she rarely replied to my emails, and then she blocked me…after I called her out on being full of shit and lying.
I get it. The more exposure the better. But at what point do these larger publications stop taking advantage of and have to start paying artists for their work? They wouldn’t have grown and have followers if they didn’t have an arsenal of writers submitting content constantly. So it only seems fair to pay accordingly. All this non-paid bullshit needs to end. I’m not a college intern any longer looking for experience. I’m very experienced. I’m not interested in using my original work to build your following and add website content to make you a ton of money as a result. I’m interested in building my dream, as we all should be.
Navigating the world of entrepreneurship, figuring out how to make your art become your career reality—it’s a tough thing. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes believing that you are worthy. Because you are.
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