It is no secret that it’s difficult to make up stories and get paid for it. (<<This eloquent sentence brought to you by one of the lucky few, thus proving the unfairness of the world). As I mentioned in my previous post, writing is not simply a hobby of underachievers. It is my job and I am forced (and continually amazed) to recognize its inherent value.
That being said, I have given my writing away for free many times. Every time I have been published in a literary magazine (links in my About page) I have done so for the privilege of contributor’s copies. I am not criticizing these small presses; they are doing important work and legitimately cannot afford to always pay contributors, but I do worry about a society (our own) that doesn’t value artistic work.
Taylor Swift is in the news for penning an open letter to Apple in which she criticizes them for not paying royalty fees to artists during the free trial phase for customers of their new service. (How this is legal is way beyond me.) Obviously, Swift is not going to be financially damaged by this decision. But she makes a good point in her letter: “This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success.”
Writers should be worried about this as much as musicians. The internet, which has done wonderful things for artists, like providing supportive communities like WordPress, has also created a culture of free content. Journalism was hit the hardest, but fiction has been affected as well. Amazon has created a business model that has worked for many young authors, while simultaneously saturating the market and driving book prices down down down.
As a book reader, this is exciting, but as a writer it is horrifying. What is a writer in this day and age to do? It is an unfortunate situation. The traditional publishing industry is as difficult as ever to break into, and the Amazon model forces the author the devalue his or her work in order to be noticed. I don’t pretend to have the answers, because I have no idea. I won’t criticize you for giving your book away for free, but I also understand the argument that says it’s ultimately harmful to authors.
I consider my own route (ghostwriting) to be a solid middle ground, but I won’t pretend there aren’t issues there as well. What do you guys think? Let me know in comments below or on Twitter @shutupcabbage. As always, happy writing.