Don’t Get Paid by Being “Published”

Hey guys, today seems like a good day for another rant. In the past I spoke out against underqualified editors, if you are interested check out the post “Facebook Editors are Toxic.” Today I want to focus more on the industry itself. The crap I will be arguing against is how some “publishers” want to pay writers in exposure. While it might come in the form of, “this is something you can add to your resume,” or, “this will count as a publishing credit,” it is all the same thing, a scam.

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Unpaid Publishing is a Scam

Focusing on these so-called publishers, what they are doing can be illegal in the United States. Essentially, if they give you deadlines, demand rewrites, participate in meetings, etc. then they are treating you as an employee which requires them to pay a minimum wage. For a better example of this situation, check out this article written by Allison Green.

Even if the writing is deemed as volunteer work, this itself is morally wrong if it is at the request of a for-profit business. The publisher will financially benefit from the writing and content THAT THEY RECEIVED FOR FREE. This is the intellectual equivalent of a sweatshop. If you accept a position like this, you are contributing to the problem.

—The Intellectual Equivalent of a Sweatshop

Moving away from the publishers, new writers often want that external validation that their writing is, “good,” and are willing to accept some bullshit that, “it is good enough to be published, but not enough to get paid for it.” Don’t be naive. No one that matters will actually count unpaid work as “published” material. You can say whatever you want to make yourself feel better, but deep down you know that it is a little shady. Even a job that pays below the professional rate ($0.06/word per SFWA)  is better than being paid in exposure.

Writers Contribute to the Problem

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Finally, writers who accept this kind of work devalue the entire craft of writing. The reason why it is so hard to make a decent living through writing is because there are countless people who are willing to do it for virtually nothing. This inhibits skilled writers from making a living because everyone thinks that they can write, and if they can’t/don’t want to, they shouldn’t have to pay for it.

Please do not accept an unpaid writing gig simply so you can say that you are published. Writing isn’t like a job where you have to start at the bottom. In fact, you should always start with the best markets. Yes, you will get rejected, but sometimes you won’t. If you submit an awesome story to unpaid market simply because you are new, they will still accept that story but not pay you a dime. Even if a massive publisher would have accepted it, you are now screwed. If you own a publishing business that that does this to writers, please light yourself on fire. Rant over.

—There’s no, “published,” without being, “paid.”

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10 thoughts on “Don’t Get Paid by Being “Published”

  1. Great rant, hope it was fun for you! I think folks need to hear your thoughts about SELF-publishing here, because that’s an essential part of the choice formula that we face especially now. You can bet no one would be looking twice at a request to donate their writing if they had a competing offer from legacy publishing to pay them for the same words. So these “publishers” are taking advantage of writers who have been told no, maybe scores of times, and as you say they often doubt their own worth. Sheesh, this is like an abusive boyfriend essay… but where does the decision to publish yourself fit in?

    And a final nuance, what about the publisher who doesn’t pay, but offers to “get you noticed”, i.e. to market you? THAT I think is the real crux of the matter, what visibility and distribution can an offer like that hold? I’m skeptical, but I know that this is a job that needs doing, and so far I couldn’t boast too much about my own progress.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for reading. I did make a post about self-publishing a bit ago. I will include a link at the bottom of this comment, in case you are interested. I do think self-publishing is a viable alternative, because it is basically creating your own business and business owners usually take a bit before they can afford to pay themselves. I abosuletely love your comment about it being like an abusive boyfriend. You nailed it. Anyways, here is that link in case you want to read another post of mine: https://stevencapps.com/2016/10/17/why-ill-never-self-publish/

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  2. Hi Steven,
    I like your post, but I don’t agree. If you are into writing as a profession, then by all means don’t publish your work unpaid. But individuals like myself, who write for just the enjoyment, having our work published whether we are paid or not is an ego boost. You may be right, it may hurt those professional writers. However, I think there are more like me out there than the writer that do this for a living. Perhaps there might be a way to separate the two types.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you do have a point in regards to not everyone cares about being paid. In your opinion, do you think that publishers who base there business around getting free writing are doing something wrong, or do you think that it is acceptable as long as the writers are willing to work for free?

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      1. Good question, Steven. I would guess the majority of writers that do it for the pleasure or a hobby self-publish their work; I do. Although, if it wasn’t so expensive to edit my work, my proficiency would be better. I would also guess the cost of using a publisher has created an increase in self-publishing. In addition, with the proliferation of digital distribution, the number of individuals writing and self-publishing has multiplied. So in my humble opinion, it isn’t the publishers taking advantage of writers that created the problem. It is just the opposite. Did I answer your question?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice! You learn from some contests and freelance writing that you take a gig just to get paid the minimal amount. That’s the idea of a starving writer. But after awhile it does get insulting to a degree. However, my underpaid writing gigs have helped me to build a portfolio. Now I have the tools to take the next step and start treating freelancing as a real job and not just a hobby.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting! I think that there is a huge difference between underpaid and no pay. Even if the pay is so low it is insulting, at least the business accepts the fact that you deserve money for your work.

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