This week I am going to look at something that has been on my radar for a very long time. This topic is something I have heard about with regards to companies like Huffington Post that pay their writers in ‘exposure’ as opposed to actual money. However, in recent months I have been thinking of this topic in regards to other companies that make their living off writers whilst giving nothing back to those who are actually attracting traffic to their sites. After all, without content creators, there would be nothing to bring in the readers. Only makes sense to actually compensate these writers for their content, right? Well, if only things were that simple and logical.
The companies that I am going to look at (whilst naming no names) are the free publishing platforms. This is quite a tricky area, for writers are not hired to put content up – they do so of their own volition – and often their content is a first draft. So, why should they be paid for what is not a finished product? I must say, I do somewhat agree with this premise. But then there are those companies that do allow writers to make a living – quite a hefty one at that, for those at the top – whilst their work is unfinished, unedited, and unpublished. I believe that there should be certain standards when it comes to craft, and those standards should be reflected in the pay – after all, most work environments operate this way, so why not in the publishing industry too? I do not believe there should be the capacity for an unpublished author with an unpolished, unpublished book to make more money that a published writer who has had a whole team of people work on their book to ensure it shines. That’s just bonkers to me, but maybe that’s just my opinion.
With the increase in the capacity to put our work out there (and make a quick buck off it if we’re ‘lucky’), I fear the impact this may have on our writing. I know from experience how putting our work out there, directly into the hands of our readers, can impact writing style and even where you want to go with the story. The readers being directly in front of you sets a whole other level of expectations, a level where they feel they own some part of your work and can directly impact the story – and boy will they try to do so! This is not to say that having our audience so close to us is entirely a bad thing. I think there are many positives to being able to directly contact your favourite writers. But, when the expectations for a polished, perfect first draft start rolling in. And when there is little room to grow your own story in the rewrites without others impacting your thought process – even if you know for sure that you’re going in the right direction, there will many little voices of doubt to accompany your own, telling you to stick to your first draft (which is always a bad idea). This is when what seemed like a great idea to get feedback, to get your work out there, starts to turn sour.
One must write for their audience – true. But genuine creative freedom can only be achieved when you write for yourself above all else. This is not to say that you are writing for your own end – as in not taking into account that you must cater to your target audience and be mindful of genre and the expectations that come with these things. But, when you begin writing to reach people, to gain exposure and readers, you begin to discount yourself. You are the most important person in this writing process – YOU as the writer. Always write for yourself. Always write the story you want to tell, the way you want to tell it.
Exposure is the biggest blocker here – when one begins writing for exposure alone, not only do they sell themselves short (after all, our content should be worth more than free – so long as it is polished and finished) but they then begin to cater to those who read it. I have found that on these free publishing sites, readers only want more. The whole set up of the sites are to give readers books in instalments. However, most stories are not intended to be told in such a way. Of course the readers want to keep reading, to find out what happens next – that is the sign of a good book, after all. So, we are only setting ourselves up for a fall, as well as our readers, if we are only giving them these chunks at a time. Readers are accustomed to being able to read a book in their own time, at their own pace, simply because they have the whole product in their hands to read as they wish to. Even when it comes to a series, they know they have to wait for the next one because there is a procedure in place, a one they know well. Of course this published writer can’t give us the sequel right away! And yet, the attitude on these free publishing sites is just more, more, more! And I get it, I do. But when expectations for writers who are not putting out their finished, polished material become higher than those of published writers? That’s a bit of a problem in my eyes. Especially when all the writer is getting in return is ‘exposure’.
Back to my earlier point – I do not believe that these writers should be paid for what is not high-quality work that has been edited etc. But I feel that these free publishing sites are a) setting up the expectation that such work can result in income, b) using such content to push their own agendas and generate their own income without thought for those who are putting out the content that is bringing in the traffic to their sites, and c) are creating toxic environments for writers and readers alike. At least, that is my experience of it.
Perhaps these sites have their place, and each to their own. But my own personal experiences of such sites have been so negative that perhaps I am jaded towards this topic. The more this free agenda is pushed, the worse off writers will be – for this goes beyond just free publishing sites, as I said at the beginning with Huffington Post being a prime culprit of this. But, likewise, the agenda of getting paid for any old work is just as toxic and damaging to the image of writers.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Let me know what you think in the comments!