Friday, September 6, 2013

Professional Rule Number One: Never Work For Free

It was Sir Walter Scott who first coined the term freelance, taking the two obvious words and cementing them together to form a new term. When it was put together, ostensibly for Ivanhoe in the 1820s, the term was meant to refer to a Middle Ages mercenary. It wasn't until the 1860s that the term was used to refer to writers, and specifically to journalists who wrote on a piece-by-piece basis rather than being on staff for a given paper.

Freelancers, much like their military counterparts, haven't always had the best reputations among the populace. They work cheap, they're often used in place of regular professionals, and they tend to have at least a few different paymasters at a time. They don't always belong to professional organizations, they don't always do the best work, and many times they're downright unscrupulous. But here's something you can all learn from the brothers and sisters of the gilded lance... we get paid.

I want one that says "Shakespeare Gotta Get Paid, Son."
There's this strange delusion among the professional world that artists are some second-class group of pseudo-professionals that act a lot like indentured servants who will work for the privilege of working. What's worse is that this delusion is catching, and that many creative persons are willing to accept the lie that they should be flattered just to have their blood, sweat, and tears featured in an ad campaign at all.
The Golden Rule
The first and foremost rule of being a creative professional of any stripe is that you have to be professional. Professionals get paid, period. This isn't just good advice either; it's a mantra, a code, and a creed. If you don't believe your work is worth something, then what does that say about you? Chances are that it doesn't say anything good.
Barter, Trade, and Goodwill
Before at least a few folks reading this start getting up-in-arms about the quality of art being measured with the yardstick of commerce, let me be the first to say that there's more forms of payment than just money. There's the credit that comes with having a story or novel published by a major company, for instance. There's the connections to be made by working with certain editors, and the goodwill that comes from offering a piece of work as a last-minute help to someone that needs a pitch-hitter. There's even the satisfaction of knowing something you wrote went to help out a good cause for those who write, paint, or illustrate for a charity. There's nothing wrong with any of that. It's only when someone hands over days, weeks, and months of effort in the form of a completed work, and then feels grateful when someone else makes money off of it that something is wrong.
But What About Exposure?
I will be the first to say that few things bring me closer to doing serious bodily harm to another human being than someone saying I will be paid in exposure. "Exposure" often translates to "you're getting nothing slacker, just be glad we're giving you page space or throwing your print on the cover". That attitude has become so common that many people just breaking into the creative field accept it as paying their dues, and will go for years allowing themselves to be exploited before turning a profit.
With that said, exposure is an acceptable payment if the publication in question is likely to get exposed. In my experience most places that offer exposure as payment are small presses which can't actually afford to pay their authors an up-front cost for stories, or they're events that are looking for a way to cut costs while still getting all the creative bells and whistles on signs, banners, etc. It all comes down to what you, as the creative professional, are all right with.
Look at the project from a marketing perspective. If you were asked to design a mascot for a local gaming convention which wasn't likely to get more than a few hundred attendees, that's a few hundred people who will see your art. Maybe they'll want to buy some, or maybe they won't. Maybe you get a free badge to go to the convention, or you make allies of the organizers who need you to create something to suck in the public. For some artists, particularly those who are new to the game and who don't have much of a list of achievements, that might be a worthwhile endeavor. For someone who has been a professional artist for several years, or decades, who has a long list of clients that are willing to offer more benefit for time well-spent, a free project like that isn't an effective use of time or resources.
Is This What I'm Worth?
Not all that glitters is gold, which is something creative types know better than most. However, for those who aren't creative professionals the work that we do is often seen as one part magic and two parts frivolity. The common perceptions that art is a luxury rather than a necessity, and worse that art is easy, leads many people to expect gratitude and thanks just for handing out praise. We can all agree that performing surgery on a heart is no small feat, but why is creating something that makes that heart skip a beat considered so much easier?
As always, thanks for stopping in and reading. If you're interested in my professional doings stop in at my Facebook author page, or if you're an instant gratification sort of person my Tumblr is always looking for a few good fans. For those looking for my professional credits, Amazon is a good place to look. Lastly, for people who want to line the pockets of The Literary Mercenary please tell your friends, tell your family, put me up on your Facebook feed, and keep checking back every week for new updates. Oh, and lastly, remember that this page runs on Google AdSense. It keeps the gears greased, and the snark flowing.

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