Photo via Flickr Creative Commons, doug88888

Today’s big news in the writing world is the Crikey bloggers’ open letter about non-payment of The Daily Review writers. The issue first got attention when Andrew Stafford published a piece with mUmBRELLA explaining why he had turned down an offer to write for The Daily Review – in short, it’s because they wouldn’t pay him, even though they can afford to. This morning three writers who blog for Crikey (Bethanie Blanchard, Byron Bache and Laurence Barber) published an open letter calling for freelancers to take the same stand that Stafford did, and refuse to write for The Daily Review for free. The publication can afford to pay its other staff, the letter states, but allows no budget (that’s $0) to commission work from writers.

My first published piece didn’t pay. Neither did the second one, or the third. To be honest, it’s only recently, almost four years after that initial publication, that I’ve actually started to think about payment for my work as an issue. The first few times I got paid, I felt very lucky – people wanted to publish my work and pay me for it?! Too many good things at once! Sometimes I still get that feeling.

Now that it is something that I think about, I feel like I’ve got a fairly considered view on it, though as I grow as a writer, my personal ‘policy’ on it is constantly refined. It’s a difficult issue, and one with so many nuances. I’ll attempt to tease some of it out here, acknowledging that there’s a lot to be said, and this is only my tiny contribution to a very long and ongoing larger discussion.

I agree with what the Crikey writers have done. I admire it. It takes a lot of guts to stand for something, especially when that involves standing up to people who employ you. There’s something at risk for these writers in telling the world that they think something is wrong here, and I can’t applaud that enough.

There’s been a heap of responses all over the internet today, and they’re fantastic too. This conversation is vibrant and impassioned, and we can all only hope that it’s the push that this argument needs to be paid some heed – by CEOs and chairs and boards and the people who create budgets.

Elmo Keep makes a great argument here. She simplifies what’s going on, and in doing so makes it sound ridiculous. Because it is:

“… working for free on behalf of someone else, in order to grow that person’s business. And you will not see a cent.”

For the case in point, this is spot-on. People are being asked to donate their significant skills to a for-profit business, and this is why it’s unbelievable. It’s kind of easy to look at the evidence and the argument and call it ridiculous.

What’s hard is the practice of saying no. For already-established writers with firm footholds, it’s relatively easy to refuse work without pay. For writers who are new to the game and desperate for publication, sometimes money isn’t a consideration. Getting work out trumps getting paid for it.

I’m okay with emerging writers working for varying levels of payment, provided it’s fair. I’ve written before about some of the many exceptions to getting paid in money, and things that I’ve done without pay that I’m comfortable to have done in order to learn and get experience under my belt. Often payment has been in forms that aren’t monetary – editorial patience and attention, learning opportunities. With each publication, I have taken the time to consider and weigh it up – if I’m not being paid in dollars, what am I being paid in? There’s always been something, even if it’s just the good feeling of helping a friend get their new publication off the ground.

That’s not the issue at hand here, though. The problem is with publications who have sufficient money behind them to pay their writers, but elect not to.

‘Fairness’ as a rule applies to everyone: whether it’s a zine or a major national or international website. Can you afford to pay your writers? Then do it.

The demand for there to be a blanket rate of payment across the industry is probably impractical. Smaller and younger publications can’t afford to pay their writers hundreds of dollars for work. What’s fair is to pay writers what can be afforded.

I’m proud to say that over at Writers Bloc, we pay our writers. It’s often a really small amount. It could be as little as $15 (this is what we pay for a review). We’re transparent about this. When I started this job, founding editor Geoff and I did a bit of talking about the issue and agreed that it’s important to tell writers that their work is worth money. They deserve to be financially rewarded for the time, heart, and skill that goes into their writing. I have to tip my hat here to Daniel Young (founding editor of Tincture Journal), who has made it clear that this model works. This is what we can afford to do, and so we do it.

I’m posting these thoughts because I support what the Crikey bloggers and Andrew Stafford have done to draw attention to this issue. I’m posting these thoughts because I want to call for fairness, too.

There are so many good, kind, and fair people in this industry. Be one of them.