“We can’t afford to pay, but it’ll be great exposure!”
This statement, from so many publishing outlets that aren’t offering payment in exchange for writing (but who want good writing anyway), is so cliché it’s become a joke among writers. Yet it’s not funny. Paying outlets for writers shouldn’t be rare or magical; they should be the norm. Here’s why.
- Writing is work.
Every writer, whether published or not, knows that writing takes effort. Writing is a skill that can be learned and taught, but like any skill, it takes practice and patience to master. The act of writing is mentally and often physically laborious. Add research, interviews, or reviewing materials for context? That’s more work.
Fiction and poetry are fun to read, but that doesn’t make them not hard work to write. Regardless of the genre, labor goes into its creation—and that labor deserves compensation.
- Publishers get value from publishing written work.
Why would publishers ask for written work to publish if that work was worthless?
Trick question—they wouldn’t. Whether the goal is to gain ad revenue through online page clicks or to release an on-paper literary anthology, publishers seek writers and their work because they want to make money. Writing has value, and publication outlets know it. Failing to share that value with the writer—say, by being a paying outlet for writers—isn’t just selfish, it’s disingenuous.
- “Exposure” is (a bit of) a sham.
“We can’t afford to pay.”
“We offer great exposure.”
Do these two statements seem to contradict one another? That’s because they do.
A website, journal, or press that truly cannot afford to pay its writers (or to offer a fair royalty agreement to them) might be a startup. It might be run on a shoestring. It might be an editor’s hobby or labor of love. All of those are noble, but none of them are likely to be big enough to offer the exposure your hard work deserves.
Is the outlet big enough to offer substantial exposure? Look up its financials in your favorite search engine. Chances are good it’s got the cash to be able to pay its writers—and that its profit margins are as large as they are because it’s making that money off its unpaid contributors’ backs.
Publishers’ goals and focuses are as vast and divergent as publishing houses themselves. That’s a good thing—it means there’s a place for every writer. When deciding where to publish, don’t sell yourself short: the best outlet for your work is (like AutPress) a paying outlet for writers.