Philip Pullman resigns in protest over lack of pay for authors. Journos respond with this and that while creatives like me know the real score. And while it’s acceptable to pay a plumber £90 for five minutes work (speaking from recent experience), it appears that paying a creative anything for their work is just not on. As a writer I’ve been paid for my work but this more than outweighed by the number of times I haven’t. So what do you do? Continue to work for free, or dig in and demand your fair share of the good old hard cash?
One of the things I decided for this year was to only work on projects where there was some sort of payment in return. Obviously such projects (as it seems right now) are going to be in short supply so I might have to redefine what ‘payment’ means.
One example is Blind Poetics. We applied for funding from those nice people at Creative Scotland so we could pay performers expenses and a fee, only to be told that ‘the money would be better spent elsewhere’. So we pay performers via donations from the audience. We state very clearly that we’re asking for donations and why we’re asking for donations. And it works rather well; we’ve collected anything from £30 to upwards of £90, but the main thing is that the performers get paid for their time and work.
What about being paid as a writer? I decided to go down the independent publisher route after a couple of meetings with a ‘proper publisher’ who promised to pay me, in return for what they termed ‘three projects consisting of two novels and a short story collection’, a grand total of £0. No advance, no royalties, nothing. The money, they said, would be ‘re-invested in me as a writer’. Whatever that means. So how does being independent (as far as online monsters like Amazon will let me) match up? I’ve only been selling my books for a few months, and I’m not a big hitter in the sell shitloads category. Plus I’ve realised that to make some sort of decent living out of independent publishing I’ve got to bide my time and accept that I’ll be eating scraps from the thin end of the Long Tail. What I can do, as I’ve previously written, is to try to raise my profile as a writer and earn some cash by entering competitions. And I’ll consider publications that offer something in return such as free subscriptions. At the very least I’ll think about what’s in it for me, and how I can profit from undertaking any amount of work.
There’s one scenario I won’t consider: organisers (whether it’s an event, gig, publication, etc) who are clearly in it to make money for themselves and refuse to pay performers, contributors, writers, etc. I know who you are…
And: I’m not a misanthropic hard arse. I’ll still do stuff for free, if the intentions are good.