To address a few things asked to me in e-mail, comments here and out on the Internets, about my previous entry on writing for free (and why I don’t):
1. I was asked if I’ve ever worked for free, and the answer is: No, not really. I started getting paid for writing while I was in college, took a job at newspaper, then went to AOL, and then went freelance for corporations and non-profits, then started writing books. Pretty much through all that time I got paid because I didn’t see the point in writing for other folks if they weren’t going to pay me, because this is what I did to make money. Not taking on work that didn’t pay me left me time to look for work that did pay me.
Now, you could probably argue that I was fortunate in that I never had to take on work that didn’t make me money, and I wouldn’t argue the point; I’ve always acknowledged that I’ve been very lucky in my career. However, luck has a lot to do with the particular choices we make and the circumstances that arise from those choices. I made the particular choice to get paid for my work, and not to do work for people who won’t pay me. One result of that is that in my career I’ve moved through circles of people in which it is understood that when people work, they get paid for it.
2. But what about charity and/or friends and/or [insert what you think is a good reason not to take money here]? Well, what about them? I’ll note that when I approach friends about doing work for me, I typically pay them for their time. I mean, you don’t think Paul & Storm or Jonathan Coulton wrote those songs for me for free, did you? No, I paid them. Do you think Jeff Zugale did that awesome Unicorn Pegasus Kitten painting out of the kindness of his own heart, or the writers of Clash of the Geeks did it for nothing? No, everyone was paid. Why do I pay them? Because when I do work, I like to get paid, so I assume my friends who are creative people like to get paid too.
As for charity, well, if it’s the actual charity group, the organization probably has a budget, and my work falls under that. If I do the work pro bono, then I get a nifty tax deduction, which counts as compensation for my time, but a charity would be foolish to assume that I should expect that to be the entirety of my compensation. Alternately there are times when I’ll decide to do something for a charitable reason without getting paid for it, but that’s me deciding to do it, not the organization asking me to; typically the organization is surprised when I show up with money for them because they didn’t know it was coming.
As for any other reason you might think of, look: When I want to write for fun, then I do it. But when people come to me — especially people I don’t know — looking for writing, they’re asking for work. The work might have the potential to be fun, or interesting, or morally edifying or whatever, but it’s still work, and the bright line for work is this: You want work? You have to pay. Because it’s my skill and talent and expertise and time you are asking for, and they are all worth something.
3. Over at Metafilter, where there’s a thread open on this topic, someone asks: “I dunno, couldn’t he just write a form letter and send it to people?” The response: What do you think that entry was? I wrote it to point people at. It serves other purposes too (as people on that thread have also noted), but one very big reason to write it is to point free-seekers at later, so I don’t have write all this crap again, or at least, not for a few more years.
But of course the other reason to do it this way is that I have a voice and an audience, a non-trivial portion of whom are writers and other creative people, and I think it’s useful for someone who’s had a reasonable amount of success in his chosen creative field to say this sort of stuff out loud. The sort of person who expects work for free, and/or preys on creative people by trying to convince them that working for free “is how it’s done” benefits when creative people are publicly silent about this sort of crap. So this is me saying to creators: Guys, in fact this is not how it’s done, and you deserve to be paid for your work. It’s also me saying to people who prey on creators: Fuck you. Pay me. Pay us.
4. Also, of course, some people think that way I said it wasn’t nice. Bah. It’s as nice as it should be. You want me to do work but you don’t want to pay me? What sort of response should you expect? A hug? Fuck you! Pay me!
5. That “Fuck you. Pay me.” icon above? Feel free to take it; right click on it and save it to your own computer. Use it, love it, send it to people who want you to work for free. No, I don’t expect you to pay me for it. But that’s because I did it for myself, for fun, and now I want to share it with you. That makes a difference, it does.