A Little More Re: Writing For Free

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.

205 thoughts on “A Little More Re: Writing For Free

  1. More than a little disappointing that a very successful and intelligent author resorts to responding like an Adderall drugged 15 year old.
    I’ll continue to enjoy his books, guess I’ll pass on the diatribes.

  2. That icon could also be the sales pitch for a slightly English-challenged prostitute. Just sayin’. (Not that I disagree with your work ethic in the slightest. I’m an accountant – and if you think I’d do accounting without getting paid for it, yeah… Fuck you. Pay me.)

  3. As a professional writer who has too often allowed himself to be wheedled into doing work for free, I just wanted to say thanks for putting this out there. I will definitely think of it the next time somebody wants me to “do them a solid” in the name of “exposure.”

  4. “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.”

    No. I don’t think I’ll be needing that work of art any time soon.

    But let me tell you something, John, I completely agree with your rant about people wanting services for free. I lived as a professional musician for many years, and I got asked to play for free all the damn time. Party at a friend’s house? Sure, I’ll bring over a guitar. Death of a loved one? You bet I’ll be there with my pipes to play them into the world. Someone’s kid is in a school musical, and you need a clarinet? For nothing? No sir or ma’am. It doesn’t work that way.

  5. I heart you.

    (And I heart Goodfellas–I have the “Eff you. Pay Me” audio clip on a mix I made when I was negotiating a new salary. It was followed by Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” and Journey’s “Be Good to Yourself.” Very inspirational, if I do say so myself.)

  6. Chris Kapeghian:

    “More than a little disappointing that a very successful and intelligent author resorts to responding like an Adderall drugged 15 year old.”

    No it’s not. What you’re saying is that even an adderall-drugged 15-year-old realizes that you should pay people for their work. That being the case, what’s the excuse of the people who want work for free? That they’re twelve?

  7. Scott @9:58: It’s not just “exposure.” There’s the “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday” syndrome. If I had a buck for every time someone came to me and said, “hey, we’re just getting off the ground, and we’ll pay you when the money starts to come in,” I’d have more cash than I would if I’d have taken all of those jobs. Either the money doesn’t come in as they expect, or the money does come in but it’s used to pay for everything under the sun except the poor folks providing the content.

    If you want to start up a business, find a way to capitalize it and pay your employees and contractors. “Exposure” doesn’t pay the bills.

  8. It takes some great big over-entitled brass balls to come into someone’s personal space, even though it’s out there for the entire world to see, and call them names. Kudos to you, Mr. Scalzi, for being as awesome as you are.

    For those of you who expect authors, musicians, and visual artists to do free work and are all ass-chapped because Scalzi just read your beads, do you think that actors who do commercials for charities or go on talk shows do it for free? If you do, you’re completely delusional. Every time Sarah McLachlan rips your heart out during a beaten-puppy commercial, she’s not doing it just out of the goodness of her heart. She may believe in the cause, but make no mistake, she’s getting paid for it.

    Would you expect your accountant to do anything for free? Do you think cops or firefighters don’t get paid? Hell, I’m a professional administrative assistant, and I don’t do admin work for free for anyone. Would you do your job for free?

  9. I wonder what your thoughts are about people like Scott Sigler or Jonathan Coulton who do make some form of their work available for free as a way to entice new customers. I got interested in both of them via free downloads, and now I buy everything they release. Also, I may have a “friend” who acquired a Scalzi audiobook via bittorrent, and liked it so much he was sure to buy Redshirts on Audible.com when it was released.

  10. Chris Kluwe got a lot of attention for a nasty letter he wrote (over at Deadspin) to a politician who suggested that professional athletes shouldn’t express an opinion on gay marriage. A lot of people said that while they agreed with his point, he could have expressed it in a nicer manner. His response was no one, especially at Deadspin, would have paid attention if he were nicer. He also later put up a family friendly version on a blog over at a St. Paul newspaper site.

    Sometimes if you want someone to pay attention, you just have to say, “Fuck.”

  11. Thank you. I may point people to your post, too. I’m not a best-selling author, but I do write marketing and advertising materials, and it does provide for my family. It’s astonishing how often I got this request — usually to help a fledgling entrepreneur launch his/her business.

    One corollary that does bear mentioning: Beware potential employers who ask you to write something as a “test”. I got scammed this way several times before I got wise. If they can’t identify your ability from your existing portfolio, it’s probably* a trick to get free labor/content. And that’s also one of those dirty little secrets that gets buried until a couple of writers** start talking and realize how many times it’s happened to them.

    I know of one company that created textbooks by “testing” pools of writers for ostensible full-time positions (each one was assigned a different chapter, then an editor assembled and polished the final product — if I hadn’t known and talked to a couple of the other candidates, I’d have never figured it out).

    *Yes, there are sometimes exceptions. Just go into it with your eyes open, is all I’m saying.
    **I know programmers who’ve gotten conned like this, too.

  12. Sounds great Scalzi. Can you put this into a couple powerpoint slides and send it over to me for use in my meeting by 3pm. Thanks.

    (Sarcasm for the humor impaired)

  13. “…resorts to responding like an Adderall-drugged 15 year old.”

    So what you’re saying is, even a hyperactive teenager knows when they should get paid for their work? Or are you saying that only someone on drugs deserves to be paid for their work? Those are the two most charitable conclusions I can draw, the third being that you think it’s somehow humorous to compare Scalzi to a drugged teenager.

    Not cool, sir, not cool at all. I had the misfortune to come of age right about the time the powers that be in the US decided it was perfectly legal for psych hospitals to advertise on TV. Cue a sudden glut of TV commercials, the sales pitch essentially boiling down to “Do you have a sullen teenager at home? Send them to our inpatient facility and we’ll fix them right up!” My parents were too busy wallowing in marital woes and self-pity to listen to anything I had to say, so they decided to pay a shrink to listen to me instead. The only thing that saved me from becoming an inpatient at one of those facilities is that my parents frankly admitted they couldn’t afford it. Many of today’s “Adderall-drugged 15 year olds” got that way for much the same reason. Why don’t you take your pathetic attempt at “humor” and try it somewhere else–say, the playground?

  14. This is why I get distressed when I see writers talking about how they’ll work their way up to getting a story in prestigious magazine by starting with having stories accepted by the magazines that don’t pay anything. At all.

    It…it doesn’t work that way. No one is impressed by a writing credit of “Someone with absolutely no budget decided my story was the best they could get.” Even if it was a very good story, and how would anyone know? Places that want work for free usually aren’t so great at doing promotion, or getting quality stuff to promote in the first place, so it’s much worse exposure than just selling your writing to a paying market in the first place.

  15. “Wah wah tone troll herp derp rude waaaah.”

    Holy crap, people, do you think John (and others) go right to the nuclear option, and never try the polite route even once in their lives?

    This topic requires foul language and fierce rhetoric because the polite version doesn’t work. If you don’t know that, then you’re not someone who often gets asked to do for free what usually pays your bills.

  16. Boy, this brings back lots of repressed rage. For a town where there’s so much money (Washington, D.C., where I live), you think people would get the message that people are supposed to get paid for working. But try getting a job without spending a year on an unpaid internship first around here.

    Maybe it’s different for artists than for professionals, but the insistence on free labor as a prerequisite to (the possibility of) paid employment later infuriates me.

  17. “I made the particular choice to get paid for my work”

    That phrase made me laugh. You are very privileged to have had that choice every step of the way. Congratulations.

  18. Yes. As a professional freelance writer, I agree. And one of the comments that often gives me shivers is, “We’re a start-up and can’t afford to pay you.” Hey, asshole, that’s your problem, not mine.

  19. ‘but a charity would be foolish to assume that I should expect that to be the entirety of my compensation’

    And thus, a little insight into the entire world of ‘non-profit’ is revealed.

    Lots of people don’t realize that most (if not all) ‘charity’ work they see is not done simply from a sense of charity, but also a sense of getting a paycheck, combined with a tax break. (Though that is not exactly a secret to most people familiar enough with how money influences the tax system to ensure that those with the most money get to do with it what they want).

    But I do dispute that this merely ‘free time’ writing – a former AOL employee who is aware that this site is ‘ranked one of the top ten book sites and top 100 entertainment sites on the entire Web by Technorati (at this moment, number five and sixty four, respectively)’ knows that this ‘free time writing’ is, just like charity work, part of the entire package generating a revenue stream.

    I assume that everyone else is equally aware of this, of course. But it is always a surprise how many people think charity work is done from the goodness of someone’s heart.

  20. Krish:

    As noted, I make no bones about my luck and my privilege.

    That said, there always are and always have been paying markets for work, and whatever one’s background, provided one can write, there is opportunity to be paid. Now, part of that choice may be that you decide to work at another job to support yourself while you work toward being paid for your writing. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with a day job.

    MasterThief:

    Unpaid internships are another huge gripe of mine.

  21. Minor point: When I first saw “Fuck you. pay me.”, I thought of a profession that’s a bit older than writing …

  22. @ Mark S. Can you put this into a couple powerpoint slides and send it over to me for use in my meeting by 3pm.

    Damn it, that’s what I was going to say! (Or rather, “Thanks, John! Could you first change the font and the background color? It’ll be perfect for me then.” :-))

    I’ve recently come across a number of posts about spec work in design (here, for example), which has many of the same issues John raises. And in my own area, working as a researcher, I sometimes get irritated by enthusiasm for making “grand challenges” more common, in which a prize is offered for solving some problem. It’s great when problems are solved, but it’s not as if the cost of doing the work has gone away; it’s just been shifted elsewhere, and in aggregate that cost might be much higher than it would otherwise be.

  23. On a similar note, I remember with frustration going to job fairs while at school and seeing them packed with volunteer opportunities. While I do volunteer with a community museum these days, back then when I was looking at a distressingly small food budget, it was insulting.

    (Also similarly: the museum I volunteer with has a budget somewhere between inadequate and nonexistent. I’m happy to help them out with special event programming when their daily visitor count increases by at least 7-10 times normal. I recently saw a larger, nationally funded museum asking for a technical writer to volunteer and draft some operating documentation for them. When a coworker pointed that “opportunity” out to me, my thought was similar to the graphic at the top of this page.)

  24. Use the icon, for free? Wow, thank you! You’re such a sweetheart.
    Re: taking on work that doesn’t pay, I used to get offered massage therapy subcontractor jobs that barely paid enough for me to break even, after expenses. When I quit taking those jobs, it was pretty scary to turn down work, and felt weird, but by the end of the year I had worked MORE than before, and at a better rate, for people who gave me more respect. So much for taking every job.

  25. I’d like to post something cogent regarding people who are upset at the use of profanity on a blog, but I’m too bewildered by it. I mean, really? Do these people watch TV or go to movies? Or read adult books?

    If the Daily Show can do it, Scalzi can do it. If Southpark can do it, Scalzi can do it.

  26. @pete While I do volunteer with a community museum these days, back then when I was looking at a distressingly small food budget, it was insulting.

    Indeed. And to expand upon this, this is the reason that one must be careful with volunteering in general. It’s important to take care that one is not taking paid work away from someone else who needs it.

  27. Incredibly good advice for any freelancer of any type. Far too many people ask for free work. It’s always “something quick” or “it work will get you exposure” or it will have some wonderful magical reward just over the horizon (see “options”).

    If you are a freelancer, you have to trust in the value of your own work. If not, it’s just a very painful and aggravating hobby. This requires a fair amount of self-esteem gained over time. Most freelancers start out either doing free work or incredibly under priced work. It’s a guaranteed doorway to anguish and suffering.

    A free or $50 an hour client will happily waste your time. You didn’t value it highly, why should they. However a $125 per hour client does not hold pointless 3 hour meetings, because a 3 hour meeting costs them $375. A meeting better have value for them, because it’s sure as hell going to have value for me. Meetings are part of the clients day and they are typically getting paid for that time, so should you.

    Another key benefit is that when you are being paid a respectful amount for your services, you tend to do the work in a respectful fashion. This produces a better end product than the rush job you did to get the free or underpaying client out of your hair. A fair payment for services is better for both the client and the freelancer.

    For me, these are lessons learned over the long term. As John Scalzi has noted, he has been lucky. When you start out with a job as a writer, you get used to being paid for your work, you decide you like it, and you decide your work is worthy of pay. In my case, a certain amount of self inflicted suffering was required. Please learn from my bruises.

    If you are a freelancer of any kind, get into the habit of valuing your work appropriately and get to it quickly. Your life will be better for it, and you will end up with better, happier clients.

    I would also second Jeff Hentosz’s recommendation of Mike Moneiro’s “Fuck You. Pay Me” video made in yesterday’s thread (http://vimeo.com/22053820). I would also highly recommend the indieconf conference for freelancers (http://indieconf.com). It’s strictly a freelancer oriented conference for dealing with these types of questions (not a tech conference). Their website comes off a bit gimmicky/markety, but having been to the conference 3 years in a row, I have to say it’s been incredibly valuable.

  28. Mercenary’s Rules:
    1 Either the money’s up front, or we’re not.
    2 When the money runs out, so do we.
    3 Pay us, on time and in full, or we’ll take what we think are sufficient punitive damages out of your hide.
    4 My men are my capital. Without them, I’m not in business. Don’t expect me to waste my capital for your benefit.

  29. @–E, 10:29am wrote
    “Holy crap, people, do you think John (and others) go right to the nuclear option, and never try the polite route even once in their lives?”

    In fact, the polite route already exists in the Administrivia section of this very blog. “Availability for Interviews, Appearances and Writing Work” seems very polite IMO.

    About the only time I’d expect John to write something for me for free is if I bring one of his books to a signing and then I expect at most a signature and maybe a short sentence or two. But that’s a situation where John _chooses_ to write for free. [And chooses to tell some stories, and if you're lucky play the ukelele.]

  30. To everyone who already noted the ongoing scam of “we can’t pay right now, but we can pay when we’re profitable,” thank you. I’d also like to add that I’ve fallen for that myself, and I’m absolutely amazed at the number of shit-ticks who then go out of their way to make absolutely sure that they never become profitable. And why shouldn’t they? If they did, then they’d actually have to follow through on their promises. In the meantime, they’ll get plenty of maroons who buy the “give away your work for free, and you’ll make money in the long run” lie (and let’s face it: it’s a lie), figuring that working for free will lead to something. It leads to something, all right: it leads to more parasites begging you to work for free because “you did it for those guys…!”

    I wish I were wrong about this, but I was in the business long enough to see the ongoing trend. Out of all of the genre publications for which I worked back in 1997, only one is still around in its original form, and it’s still as profitable as it was when it launched back then. That is, not at all. Out of the others, most are dead, some went online (where they still don’t pay), and some disappeared in the middle of the night after years of promises of “We’re going to do right by our contributors.” An old friend used to do lots of art for many of the same magazines, and he dropped out of the genre for much the same reason: as he related, he was told over and over “You need to pay your dues” when he asked for payment, and he then asked “I’ve been doing this for over twenty years. At what point do I stop paying dues and get a return on all this work?”

  31. “Fuck you. Pay me.” says it perfectly. To be more polite would be less honest, less clear, less perfect. You want me to do stuff that benefits you – for free? Seriously? Fuck you. Pay me.

  32. As someone who has worked as a creative professional, I have been offered the “opportunity” to work for free more times than I care to recall. What Scalzi has recognized is that this attitude has as its core a contempt for creative work and those who engage in it. And it deserves to be met with an equal level of contempt. You cannot combat this attitude with courtesy.
    My friends are the last people who would expect freebies. Even in college we’d exchange work, a litho for a photo, a painting for jewelry. My family on the other hand… People only value what they pay for in some way.

  33. It’s 1995. With my shiny new Psych degree in hand, I go looking for work in a small town. To my delight, I immediately get an interview at a nonprofit human services agency. The job involves working with developmentally disabled children and adults.

    During the interview, I am asked if I would be willing to, in addition to paid work, volunteer to take one of the clients out for biweekly excursions. My heart sinking, I say “Yes”. I got the job, and only wound up having to do one volunteer stint. But it was a nasty trick to pull on a young, inexperienced worker, and I still resent it.

  34. This one really hits home for me, as a college student trying to find a paid internship for the summer and trying to get myself known as a good writer and reporter in the process. It’s also something of a motivator, since I really would like to work freelance, but have always been told (usually by people who can afford to take such positions) that unpaid positions have their own value for experience and exposure. And I could buy that there is a little value to those things, but it’s not enough to convince me that it’s enough to justify working and writing for nothing-to-token payment. It’s why I picked one of the sideline publications on my campus as opposed to the main ones. They may be less than mainstream, but they pay, and as long my work is the best that I can make it, that’ll stand out regardless of which college publication I choose to publish it in.

    And yet, all that said- I’m still going to be taking an unpaid internship in the spring, while I’m doing my schoolwork. I’m really happy to have to have gotten the position, but I’m sort of regarding it as an extension of the classes I’ll be taking that quarter, a part of the school experience as opposed to something where I’m looking for it to support myself monetarily. I’ll still be picking and choosing my internships more carefully in the future, and though I wish I could have found an option with a salary, I’ll just chalk it up to experience and put my energy on finding summer work.

    So tl:dr: thanks for these posts; they really lent some perspective that I’ll try to learn from in future.

  35. I expect payment for pretty much everything I do up to and including favors for friends and family. You want a ride to or from the airport, you’d better give me some gas money. You have a project that needs an extra set of hands, you’d better provide food/drink during, and some beer afterwards. If it is something I have professional training to do, I expect to be paid cash. And you can expect that sometimes I’ll say “No” even if I’m not busy and (almost)no matter how much you offer to pay me for my help.

    The people who are taken advantage of in life are often complicit in their own abuse. If you work for free, and if you never say “No” to working for free, you devalue yourself in the eyes of others. People begin to expect and even demand that you do what they want, because they don’t respect you… and they don’t respect you because you don’t respect yourself enough to not set your own terms.

  36. I gotta say I have problems with the “Adderall drugged 15 year old”. I think it was meant to imply that a kid with ADHD has no control over a potty mouth but the thing is, I have ADHD and I can tell you Adderall gives you more control. So it’s pretty bad logic or horribly misinformed. And second, sometimes the people/companies that try to get labor for free are just goddamn asshat poopy dinks and need to be hit over the head with clear, concise profanity so they know that no means no.

  37. Well, it would seem to me that you’ve been hit up with this ‘request’ one too many times, eh? To be honest, it’s surprising but then not that surprising. I wonder what the average age was for all those who made these requests. Sounds like something ultimately driven by entitlement, a quality that seems to crop up a lot nowadays. It gives birth to things like ‘better to apologize than ask for permission’. Yeah, fuck ‘em.

  38. @Rachel Creager Ireland

    Those not-quite-break-even jobs are a horrible temptation. I went through the same thing as a young illustrator. The first time I turned down a job, it was terrifying. It got less so as my network of clients grew and I became little more stable, but every few months, a new temptation pops up (a friend’s cash-strapped start-up needs storyboards for an investor meeting, a non-profit that I sort-of support wants a political cartoon to accompany an article, and so on, each one a new and tantalizing surprise).

    Because I am an agreeable, adventurous person who likes to have a full working schedule (usually a outlook for a full-time freelancer, but one that has bitten me on the ass more than once), I finally had to outsource my decision making for these things. I don’t have a significant other, but I do have some intelligent, supportive and business savvy family members who are willing to listen to job descriptions, ask pointed questions and smack me upside the head when I try to take on an ill-advised project. In the last 10 years, I think they’ve saved me at least 2 lifetimes of grief.

  39. As much as I love “The Mallet of Loving Correction,” is it too late to change the title of the new collection to “Fuck You. Pay Me?” Or would that come off as too tasteless? Perhaps the title of the next next collection.

  40. So you’ve never written an endorsement for a book jacket or if you did, you were always paid?

    I don’t really know the answer to that. I’ve assumed that money didn’t change hands but maybe I was naive. Maybe I need to look those with more of a critical eye.

  41. I am a programmer and from time to time I have had to do contracting work. This is glorified temp work. I was on a project at Booz Allen and the contract company didn’t pay me(for 2 months). Did not get a dime. I complained to my manager. Then the contract company threatened to sue me for complaining and told me if I quit they would sue me. Luckily the Booz Allen CEO lives around here. Made a google map from my house to his house. Told my manager if I was not paid immediately, I would stop by and talk to him about this. Got fired for it. Also got paid. So I came out ahead. Got a new job in a week. The economy was good back then.

    I know of one woman who was owed $30,000 as an IT contract at Northrop Grumman. Her managers went to her contract company and demanded she get paid. They threatened to fire her and enforce her non-compete clause (these are enforceable if they sue you and you can’t afford to defend yourself). She got paid eventually.

    I also had one contract end and then afterward the vendor wanted me to ‘help them out’ which meant work for free. They got mad and said ‘if you won’t atleast help us out we won’t bring you back’. I blew them off. This is not uncommon in temp work. Lots of small mom and pop contract companies that do 1099s and don’t pay. The non-competes are nasty cause they can keep you from switching to a vendor that pays. There is also alot of issues with an hourly contractor forced to work 60-70 hours/week for 40 hours paid. Verizon and Booz Allen are known for that.

    For those of you who say don’t take the job. If you need a job and the little contract companies are your only choice what are you going to do? Worst problem is that if you take a 1099 and don’t get paid you are not elligible for unemployment because you were technically self employed. I have done straight corp to corp work and had it work out, but its often hit and miss.

  42. I’m split on this…
    On one hand, I recognize that one can’t give away one’s professional work willy-nilly. You gotta eat and one should expect compensation for one’s time.

    On the other hand, society is improved by people also giving their efforts freely, i.e. charity. One shouldn’t be compelled to perform any act of charity, and there should be no expectation of charity from anyone. However, I won’t go ballistic if someone *asks* for my charity. I spend a sizable chunk of my time in volunteer positions with no fiscal compensation but I can also say ‘no’ when I don’t want to participate. Yes, I do get hit on for additional work because I’m a known volunteer but it doesn’t bend my nose out of shape for being asked. It’s actually a complement. I’d suggest taking it as a good thing rather than responding as if being hit upon by grifters.

    Nancy Reagan was wrong with her ‘Just say no!’ campaign. It should have been, ‘No thank you.’

  43. I write knitting patterns and I’m well acquainted with people thinking that loving to do something should somehow mean I will do it for free. I don’t know when it got into people’s heads that enjoying your work was compensation for work. Why should someone who hates their job be paid better than a person who loves their job? Do you reward the heart surgeon who despises every moment he is doing his job or the the heart surgeon who cannot wait to do her next surgery and spends all her time thinking about and learning more about her field?

    And anyone who argues that you “have” to work for free for some reason, is generally wrong unless they are talking about a legitimate internship where someone is getting real world experience from a company that is well known and influential in the field. (Even then, come on, you can pay someone minimum wage to do work for you.) Regardless, my experience has been that undervaluing or devaluing your work only makes people think your work has no value. They expect you to keep doing the work and consider you belligerent if you stop. Doing free work never turned into something better for me. It was lots of unappreciated free labor that benefited the other person who felt they were doing me a favor. There are a whole lot of fuck yous I have for all of that.

  44. @JDF at 11:26: If the volunteer role was doing the same work as your paid role, they were in violation of Wage & Hour laws, at least in the US. An organization can’t require an employee to do the same work in an unpaid role that they do in their paid role. It has to be a significantly different role within the organization.

    My employer takes that very seriously. If you’re a nurse, you can’t volunteer to do patient transport; you have to volunteer to information desk duty or the snack bar. Likewise, if you’re a dietary worker, you can’t work in the snack bar, but you can work at the information desk or as a transporter. It’s a pretty significant fine by the US-DoL for an employer to get caught requiring someone to work the same job unpaid that they already getting paid for. (AskAManager.org is great for little tidbits like this.)

  45. Well, I guess I feel a little better about my use of profanity in the last thread. Sometimes it’s just the only way to make the point exactly how you want it made.

  46. Masterthief:
    But try getting a job without spending a year on an unpaid internship first around here. Maybe it’s different for artists than for professionals, but the insistence on free labor as a prerequisite to (the possibility of) paid employment later infuriates me.

    Unpaid internships are a good way of filtering out specific socio-economic levels (or “classes”, if you will). Generally speaking, the kind of person who can do a full-time job for any meaningful length of time without getting paid either has money of their own or has family members who can foot the bill for them.

  47. At the risk of incurring The Mallet of Loving Correction, I’m going to note the similarity between the (fully justified and appropriately expressed) opinions in these last couple of posts and the position of others who suggest that the government collects far more in taxes than is prudent. Money is the result of work. Whether we are talking about someone asking for free work up front, or someone siphoning off part of the result off the back end, the net result is the same. The value of that work is being undervalued.

    The dismissive attitude of the creative class towards those making the latter argument is ironic.

    Hope this doesn’t push things too far afield.

    Regards,
    Dann

  48. Mmm…the last time I checked, you can’t actually take a deduction for doing pro bono work. You can deduct expenses you incur in the process of doing it, or you can get paid for it and then turn around and donate your payment, but you can’t take a deduction for your time or the fact that you *could* have gotten paid for the work you did.

    Sorry if I’m being overly picky, but it’s an issue a lot of people get confused over. (And given that I’ve posted something about this, I have probably made a mistake and will now be corrected myself.)

  49. I’m a bit surprised and offended that this is even an issue. That is, that people would have the gall to ask. How naive is that?

  50. OK, I must be missing something here.

    What is the moral difference between the Salvation Army asking you to donate money versus the Salvation Army asking you to write something for free? Why are solicitaions for money generally seen as acceptable but the request for free labor from a writer worthy of the creation of a special level of hell?

    I’ve gotten emails from political organizations asking me to contribute money and asking me to volunteer my time making calls, going door-to-door, and so on. Is it acceptable for them to ask for money, but requests for free door-to-door labor are unacceptable and should be responded to with “fuck you, pay me”?

    Or is it not free labor in general, but something specific about free-writer-labor that is the issue?

    Milgram did an interesting experiment about charity of sorts. The interesting bit was how traumatic it was for some of the psychology grad students to ask for charity. Giving and taking charity seems to hook into something deeply emotional within our brain.

  51. @BethC at 12:01 P.M.: This was in Canada. I’m sure we had similar laws in place at the time, but I don’t know them. As I said, I was just out of university, overjoyed to get an interview for a job in my chosen field in such a small town, and too scared to complain.

    Not surpisingly,this organization was poorly managed and a generally unpleasant place to work. I stayed there for just under two years, and am now in a completely different profession.

  52. I’m still trying to figure out how to not give a free education to people who ask how I do my job. A while ago someone in a different part of the very large university I work for contacted me. They wanted to know how to find a printer and designer and all that legwork of being a book production manager.

    In general I was fine with telling them how it’s done and recommending a designer who also can handle the production side (more $ for her, less hassle for my correspondent). But I couldn’t help feeling that I was giving away knowledge that I had to accumulate the hard way.

    It was a professional courtesy to give them the lesson/explanation/knowledge, but it took some time out of my workday. Sure I got paid by our mutual employer, but I have deadlines to meet for my own job. I’m still trying to figure out how to handle that sort of thing.

  53. “We love your work, but we’re a new startup and we can’t pay you right now” No. (However, if I know you and your team, and I trust you and your team, and I think you’re smart enough to be successful, I might ask for a stock grant in lieu of cash. But usually not.)

    “We’ll defer your pay until we close our next round of financing or are profitable”. No.

    “This is great experience with a rock-star team. You’ll make a great name for yourself.” No.

    “It’s great exposure for you.” No.

    “We’ll just use your music|writing|art|code under “fair use”. Paying you is a courtesy, not a requirement” No. And you will be hearing from my attorney sometime soon, preferably after he has finished sharpening his teeth.

    “No one pays for music|art|writing anymore. You should be flattered we’ve asked you.” No.

    “We can pay you, but we can only afford 40% of your rate.” No

    “We can’t pay you, and we can’t give you stock, and we need total commitment because our team works all weekend. But our product is awesome, and we’re going to be huge.” No.

    If you work for free, you’ll never get paid.

  54. Greg: Re soliciting donations of money v. donations of work:

    In one regard, there’s no difference. I had to work to get the money. Time and money are, in that respect, fungible.

    In another, there’s a huge difference. “Would you give me some money, in an amount of your discretionary selection?” is not the same question as “Would you give me a certain thing which is the product of your professional ability, for free, for me to do things of my discretionary selection with?” Which is usually how these things go. I’m an attorney: nobody ever says to me, “Could I have some unspecific legal advice of your discretionary choosing?” They always have a specific question in mind. Lawyers in my field bill at $300-1000 $/hr. Call it $500 for a “simple” question. Would you argue that somebody saying “I think you should give me $500, right now, and if you don’t, you’re being unreasonable and greedy” is a reasonable thing to do? Because that’s exactly the same thing as saying, “I think you should give me some specific legal advice, and if you don’t you’re being unreasonable and greedy.” (And never mind me getting sued for malpractice if the advice doesn’t work out, which they most certainly can do even if they didn’t pay for it.)

  55. Yes, when I gave up “spec work” for big publishing houses, I earned a great deal more money with “real work”. Ending my participation in the work-for-free business was one of the best professional decisions I’ve ever made. I have eight published books. Look there for samples of my work!
    Note to big publishing houses: pay your translators a living wage and their deadlines will not slip! Because they do have to eat in the meanwhile and might have to take another job to do so.

  56. Greg@12:16:

    The Salvation Army and other charities are known quantities. The askee knows who is asking. They know that the charity is a nonprofit, and that people frequently give them money to help keep them running. However, see FourD’s comment at 12:10 regarding the difference on the tax deductiblity of cash gifts vs time/labor gifts.

    When a company, organization, or individual is basically saying, “Do this work so that I can potentially make money off it, but I can’t pay you,” they’re not a charity. They’re a mooch.

  57. Working for pay or for free is a transaction in the marketplace. You are free to participate or not. You are free to be taken advantage of or not. Taxes, on the other hand, are involved in society, not the marketplace. Taxes are levied because there is some common good which can be accomplished by society through the offices of the government. You can argue if you like about the levels of that involvement and debate what those funds go towards and have a lovely time with the decision process of who gets to make the decisions, but arguing that taxes are in the same league as work income is just plain silly, not ironic.

    Despite some levels of hyperbole, taxes do not threaten to leave you with zero income. But there are those in “business” who would have you work for zero income all the time, if you let them. Our host, John, is simply saying NO to the latter.

    Apologies to our host if this is a derail to his original topic.

    Dr. Phil

  58. @ rb – Indeed. And to expand upon this, this is the reason that one must be careful with volunteering in general. It’s important to take care that one is not taking paid work away from someone else who needs it.

    Exactly! After giving up on university-sponsored “job fairs” I was fortunate to find work in a restaurant where I soon had the great ‘pleasure’ of seeing my hours whittled away at by a “stage” (pronounced the French way) who was in effect an unpaid intern. Despite being a lovely young woman, everyone else in the kitchen developed a degree of antagonism towards her due to her unpaid status and the way everyone seemed to get less hours when she was around.

    Now, I have to get working on a response to a call for proposals from a non-profit who understands the principles at play and has a budget for the kind of work I do!

  59. I get more “will you make me” requests than “will you write” right now. My response to both is the similar. “You buy the supplies and pay me for my time” if the request involves hand crafting something that’s not a personal gift from me. (People I like just get told to pay for the materials, and to expect it when I get around to doing it.) “$20 an hour, plus expenses” if it’s anything else. So far, I’ve had 0% follow through by cheapskates.

  60. The “not everyone has the luxury of being able to demand pay for their work” nonsense is nonsense. I got paid $25 a page to do a simple three-page HTML/CSS website when I was in my teens. Even back then there were plenty of people who could have done it, and would have happily done so for “exposure.”

    The only thing that set me apart was that I charged for it. The client got a lovely, if simple, site for her book that looked the same in every browser. I got $75 for an hour of work.

  61. @Dr. Phil,

    I fully appreciate the difference between a “donation” and taxes. In deference to our esteemed host, I’m going to leave it at that.

    Regards,
    Dann

  62. #Rob Wynne

    I suppose if someone wants you to write a nicer, more polite version of that post, they could, I dunno, pay you to do so.

    Similarly if anyone wants a cruder, more vituperative version of that post.

  63. I could not agree more, a variation on it for me is… “Fuck you… make your own money and take care of yourself”

  64. Marc: Would you argue that somebody saying “I think you should give me $500, right now, and if you don’t, you’re being unreasonable and greedy” is a reasonable thing to do? Because that’s exactly the same thing as saying, “I think you should give me some specific legal advice, and if you don’t you’re being unreasonable and greedy.”

    Is it the $500? I get solicitations that say something like “please check one of the following to indicate your donation: $10, $25, $50, $100, $500, $1000, Other”, Should I tell them to fuck off if they ask for more than $100? I’ve donated a large chunk of money now and then to organizations. It’s been a while since I’ve done it, but I don’t get pissed when I get a solicitation. I just say “no thank you”.

    As for the “if you don’t donate, you’re unreasonable and greedy”, well, that’s not what’s in John’s original headline. The original headline says:

    A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free
    Because apparently it’s that time again. 1. No. 2. Seriously, are you fucking kidding me?

    There’s nothing in that headline or the first of many points that says the problem is “if you call me greedy for not donating free writing to you, then fuck you”. The problem in the headline is simply asking for free labor. It isn’t until point 8 where it gets into name calling John for refusing to donate free labor. Given the headline and point 8, I assume the issue is embodied in the headline. If the issue is really in point 8 of the original post, then I realy think the original post ought to be rewritten so that point 8 (or some variant thereof) is the headline, and points 1 through 7 might want to be reorganized into the form of a backstory.

    -E-: However, see FourD’s comment at 12:10 regarding the difference on the tax deductiblity of cash gifts vs time/labor gifts.

    So what? Political contributions are not tax deductible. But no one is going to call their favorite political campaign a bunch of assholes deserving a good “Fuck Off” because they asked for a monetary donation that cannot be leveraged into a tax deduction for you.

    Saying “labor can’t be deducted, therefore asking for free-labor is evil” is nonsense.

  65. Doing free work never turned into something better for me.”

    It’s worked for me in high school. I got a job because they liked the work I did. I also advised an engineer to take a position in an academic lab when he wanted transition to an area that required more biochemical expertise. He was between jobs at the time and I told him this was the best way of getting his foot in the door. Within a month he levered his computer skills into a paid position in the center and learned the requisite biology to transfer into his new profession. Within two years he was sought after in the field and is doing quite well. Lacking experience, it would’ve been much harder for him to have broken into the field if he hadn’t set up the opportunity for showing where he could be valuable and demonstrated that he was very committed to learning more.

  66. Hi John, you rail against Ayn Rand, but on this topic you’re espousing views like Dagny Taggart. It’s not fair to less gifted writers that you don’t give away your services for free.

  67. Ken:

    “Hi John, you rail against Ayn Rand, but on this topic you’re espousing views like Dagny Taggart. ”

    I’m also espousing views like Karl Marx! Look! I’m railing against those who want to alienate me from the fruits of my labor!

    So, yeah, Ken. Basic economic theory is basic.

  68. It’s not fair to less gifted writers that you don’t give away your services for free.

    I fail to parse that sentence.

  69. hypothetical situation: say Sam gets Sick. Sick Sam is a writer who (surprise surprise) doesn’t have health insurance. Frank is a friend of Sam. Friend Frank is also a writer. Friend Frank decides to start a fund raiser for Sam’s medical bills. Friend Frank writes a short story and sells it online and all the money goes into a medical fund for Sick Sam. Then Sick Sam’s illness gets *really* bad and the bills get really bad. So Friend Frank decides to do another fund raiser, but this time Frank decides to ask a bunch of other writers if they will write a short story and have all the sales go to Sick Sam. Friend Frank sends emails out to a bunch of writers that he and Sam know. But maybe that doesn’t get enough to make a paperback. So Frank expands the list of writers he contacts. Some of these people may have been people that Frank or Sam only met in passing at a Convention or something, or maybe not even that much. Maybe they don’t know Frank or Sam at all.

    At what point does Frank cross the line and deserve a “fuck off! pay me!” response?

    When he sends the email to the first person, a good mutual friend of Frank and Sam?
    When he sends the email to an acquaintence of Sam?
    When he sends the email to a writer neither he nor Sam know personally in any way?

  70. Is there a specific place you are going with this, Greg, and if so can you do it more briefly, without highly specific (and irritatingly alliterative) hypotheticals? Otherwise, it looks like you’re gearing up for another session of Arguing to Argue.

  71. The nicer, more polite version I’ve used for years I’ll give away free:

    “Fuck NO. Pay me.”

    Software designer and computer programer for years. Yes, the straight up companies will ask, even after they’ve fired you. And they’ll play all of the “we’re going to pay you, just not yet” games, too. There was a time when there was loyalty up and down, but it’s in the ICU with chivalry and privacy.

    If the money starts arriving late … you should have already been networking the next suppliers. Don’t depend on a single supplier.

  72. Greg @ 1:22, it kind of seems as if you’ve picked up on part of one of the points in the original post–#2–and run with it as if it were the whole situation. Okay, fair enough. My response to your particular comment here is: there isn’t really any difference between a charity asking for labor and a charity asking for cash . . . providing they ask in exactly the same way and with exactly the same expectations. The problem is (anecdotal experience speaking here, which–I know, I know, it proves nothing, but I can’t help it): they don’t do that. The cash, everyone knows the value of–says how much, right there on the check. The labor far too often is assumed to be essentially valueless and the requests and requirements for such work usually make that clear to the person being asked for free labor. In some situations, and if possible, I would prefer to offer a charity cash to pay someone to do the free labor they are asking me for, rather than to do that labor myself; the problem with that is, even if they get the donation to pay for the work, they often don’t want to spend the donation on that labor–because they don’t think the labor is really worth paying for. As a very wise writer once told me, speaking of school and library visits: “Always charge something. If you don’t, they won’t value what you have to offer–and they won’t ask you back.” Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but so it goes. (Again, purely in my experience, and FWIW.)

  73. Greg @ 1:55: Oh, you’re talking personal charity here, not organizational! Okay, in that case, it’s up to Frank to set things up so that people can both trust his judgment and his ability to get the money directly to Sam–and to offer the writers the option of doing anything they want. Were I Frank, I’d offer to pay the writers and then give Sam the profits from the book itself–my labor, as it were. That’s maybe borderline, but anything else is “going over the line,” as you put it. Frank is certainly free to do whatever he wants to help his sick friend; asking other people (who don’t know Sam) to pitch in with free labor–under the assumption that of course he’ll get enough volunteers to make a difference–is pushing it. In my opinion, at least.

  74. When I first started editing, I let people buy books in recompense for my work. Then I became busy and started charging for my services, but if people don’t have that, I still let them buy me books. But I don’t work for free, either. I’ve been told, “Hey, check out this publisher, check out that publisher, they’re looking for editors” but what they really want is someone to do the work for the privilege of reading the book first. Nah, sorry. Do you have any idea how much work editing is? Just because I’m quick at it doesn’t mean I’m not putting out effort. Thanks for this, on behalf of all of us out here trying to make a living.

  75. Scalzi: Is there a specific place you are going with this, Greg

    Well, my first question on this thread was a hypothetical about the Salvation Army: What is the moral difference between the Salvation Army asking you to donate money versus the Salvation Army asking you to write something for free? But I never saw it addressed.

    Mary: there isn’t really any difference between a charity asking for labor and a charity asking for cash . . . providing they ask in exactly the same way and with exactly the same expectations.

    There is no way anyone can measure what the “expectations” are and whether they are the “same”. It’s purely subjective. Even looking at charities administrative overhead will give an objective percentage number, but what percentage is “too much” is still a subjective thing.

    Mary: Oh, you’re talking personal charity here, not organizational

    Well, that was one example. Another was the Salvation Army asking for money and asking for free labor. Another example I mentioned was political campaigns asking for money and asking for free labor to knock on doors and make calls.

    That’s the thing, there are a LOT of possibilities where I can imagine someone asking someone to donate labor for free, and I can’t see how the response should be a blanket “Fuck you. Pay me.” Asking for free labor doesn’t have to automatically be fraud. Political campaigns ask for free labor all the time. You know you’re not getting paid for it. You know it won’t get you “exposure” working on a phone bank. You’re doing it because you want to.

    I don’t see anything about writing that makes it a special snowflake compared to knocking on doors and making phone calls type labor. One thing this does tie in with is the whole market out there that preys on people struggling to get published. The self-publishing companies that charge thousands of dollars and deliver nothing are soemthing to warn new writers about. And if a commercial business tries to wrap up its request for free labor in the same self-publishing bullshit, then that’s borderline fraud as well.

    And if the guy pitches a request for free labor and you say no, and then the guy gets all bullshit about it and starts calling you names or starts with some passive-aggressive bullshit, then, yeah, that’s a problem I’ve seen too.

    But I’ve donated my physical labor to small local charities. Lifting boxes and shlepping crap around. And I didn’t get paid for it. And it wasn’t pitched to me as anything other than free labor. And I thought it was perfectly acceptable of them to ask. And there were times when I said no, and they were perfectly fine with that response too. And since I don’t see a real difference between labor (writing) and labor (shlepping boxes), I don’t see an inherent problem with someone asking for free writing.

    If they try to pitch it as something its not, then thats a problem. If they try to guilt-trip, brow-beat, or passive-aggressive you into doing free labor, then that’s a problem. But I don’t see a problem with asking for free labor in a straight up, honest, and straightforward way.

  76. This post just became incredibly timely for me.

    I’m finishing up a graduate degree and planning to move from freelance work to full-time work at a consultancy. One of the consultancies where I applied sent me a letter today saying that they will look more favorably on my application if I participate in an online community that they created to address social issues, like poverty, accessible health care and human rights.

    I’m all for addressing social issues. In fact, I would prefer to work at a company that focuses on things like health care, poverty and civil rights. So I was a little bit excited at the chance to contribute to this online community…until I visited it for the first time. The discussions are great, and it looks like some of them could lead to useful solutions in the real world. But it also looks like everything that the community develops will be owned by the consultancy. Even where nothing is developed, all that lively and creative discussion is being used to build the consultancy’s image as a socially-minded, problem-solving business.

    To me, this looks a lot like “working for free now, in hopes of finding paying work later”. It’s structurally different than the “free exposure” job offers I get as an illustrator, but the underlying concept feels the same. Am I right? Or am I seeing a problem where one doesn’t exist?

    I’m hoping that I’m overreacting. This consultancy is among the most highly regarded companies in my new industry, and working with them would be great for my bank account and my ego. But my freelancer sense is tingling, and I’m having a hard time ignoring it.

  77. Many comments are concerned with writing for charity. We could parse that all day. What really hacks writers off is a magazine that pays a printer, pays a shipper, pays an editor, expects to sell said magazine for money, and then asks the writer to write for free. That’s were the sentiment for FYPM gets started.

  78. I ran into this constantly in my remodeling business. The same person who lives in a $350,000 house wants a discount on my services. They wouldn’t take less than a living wage, so why should I pay my subcontractors less than a living wage? They act like they are doing you a favor by hiring you, and you can afford to “give back.” Idea people have this problem all the time, ’cause why should they be paid for something that they only thought up? That shouldn’t cost much. Interior designers, web designers, etc. are all victims of this scam. too.

  79. Okay, Greg, I get your point–and no, just a straight-up request for free labor from a charity (including the Salvation Army) might not merit an obscene response. But it remains at the descretion of the person being asked, and I kind of think that John covered this in point #2. See: 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. (He goes on to say that “typically” the organization hasn’t asked in the first place, so maybe that’s where your question comes from–but “typically” isn’t “universally,” I don’t think. Is it? Anyway–)

    Again, speaking from experience, when the charity won’t stop asking, and/or asks while apparently or overtly expressing the assumption that I might as well give them my labor because, after all, what else is it worth? then it merits the obscene dismissal. The response remains, invariably, my choice, based on my observations and understanding of the situation . . .

    So, um, what are we discussing?

  80. “Maybe it’s different for artists than for professionals,”

    In my field (electrical engineering), if someone showed up on campus offering unpaid internships to students they’d be laughed out of the room… and then next year the company would be barred from campus. The interns where I work get as much as full-time employee with equivalent education. Then again, our interns don’t fetch coffee.

  81. While I broadly agree with the principle, and tend to get angry when people expect me to fix their computers, just because I’m a professional, I would like to point out that if I and everyone else completely adopted this approach, I wouldn’t have the very nice system I’m using right now, and have been using for over a decade. I’d be forced to buy some locked-down, sealed, no-user-servicable-parts system like Windows or Mac.

    Open Source in general works because in the software industry, a lot of us are willing to share the work to make something better for all of us. Many hands make light work, and I have and will continue to work for free for open-source projects, because the reward for doing so is so high, even though it’s not monetary. There’s a synergy effect at play; I contribute a little, and so do many others, and we all reap the total benefits.

    So what does this have to do with writers? Well, a lot of open-source projects could really benefit from some competent writing. Of course, if you don’t use any open-source software, you may not care, but if you do, then a small contribution of sweat-of-your-brow can really benefit the project, and, in turn, help encourage others to use it, who may, in turn, be able to contribute in other ways. Synergy at work.

    For example, I see that John is running WordPress (open source software), which is probably running on top of the Apache web server (also open source). I’m not sure, but there’s good odds that underneath the Apache server is Linux (again open source).

    Just something to think about. :)

  82. Sign Ahead: The discussions are great, and it looks like some of them could lead to useful solutions in the real world. But it also looks like everything that the community develops will be owned by the consultancy.

    They should have all contributions put under a good open source license. Wikipedia uses GNU, a strong copyleft license.

    Even where nothing is developed, all that lively and creative discussion is being used to build the consultancy’s image as a socially-minded, problem-solving business

    Speaking of open source, I’m having flashbacks to the first attempts at open source licensing.

    Back in the day, people would write software and give it away for free as “shareware”. You could get the code for free, but you couldn’t modify it. It was basically a loss-leader (free sample) to try and hook you into paying for the full version of the software. Nowadays, ust about every app for you phone is free with the possibility to upgrade for small money. But no one thinks to call it “shareware” because you’re not really sharing. Free samples isn’t sharing. You have to be able to modify the code and distribute that.

    Open source also had to deal with people who wanted their license to let others use their software, but have specific usage restrictions. For example, you might be able to copy, modify, distribute, and use the work, so long as you weren’t part of the apartheid government of south africa, or using it in support of building military weapons. This may have had good intentions, but it made licenses completely incompatible unless they had the exact same restrictions. So a lot of usage restrictions got dropped from the licenses.

    Lastly, back in the day, people wanted to have free software only be used for free and prohibit people from making money off of it. And this too, became a severe restriction as soon as you tried to scale it. Some poeple were extremely upset that RedHat was making money off LInux. Others were extremely happy. Nowadays, a license has to allow commercial use to be considered an “open source” license.

    Having donated quite a lot of free labor (specifically, free coding i.e. free writing) to open source projects over the years, maybe I’ve become desensitized to the idea of asking people to contribute free labor to a project. if you’re interested, you say yes. If you’re not, you say no. End of story.

  83. Greg:
    Well, my first question on this thread was a hypothetical about the Salvation Army… But I never saw it addressed.

    John (in the post) said,

    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.

    –E (@ 12:32 pm) said,

    The Salvation Army and other charities are known quantities. The askee knows who is asking. They know that the charity is a nonprofit, and that people frequently give them money to help keep them running.

    So, it was addressed.

    As for political campaigns, the difference is between asking someone to do warm-body grunt work, and asking someone to run the campaign. Also, I can tell you from personal experience that political campaigns do pay their warm-bodies for grunt work (such as putting up campaign signs around town) if they need it done and can’t find any suckers volunteers.

  84. I do computer support in a library. It’s amazing how many people want me to fix their computers and/or do their research for them. I’ll fix your computer if you are my Mom. Doing your research? Well, stop by tomorrow and I”ll get you started.

  85. Contributing to open source is not working for free. Your compensation is the software with which you can build a for-profit business, and which has a greater scope and quality than you, most likely, would have been able to execute yourself.

    There are also the feelings of pride, satisfaction, contribution and so on that could be considered compensation (they are for me), but YMMV here.

    And, might we agree that being asked to work for free is distinctly different than being asked to contribute to a charity? It’s a huge stretch to imagine that John was including charitable contributions under the FYPM umbrella (especially if one has read the original post)

  86. RE: Chris Kapeghian says: “…Adderall drugged 15 year old.”

    Chris – Fuck you, You’re an asshat.

    -Sincerely, all of us who have been or are being helped by adderall.

    PS I used coarse language and a somewhat blunt delivery long before I ever started taking adderall. Perhaps you meant to denigrate all 15yr olds with ADHD who are not receiving treatment? If that’s the case then Fuck you, you’re still an asshat.

  87. This is amusingly applicable to being a stripper. There are always customers who come into a club and respond to questions like, “So, are you interested in a lap dance?” with something to the effect of, “Well, no. I really like you, I’d love to just take you out somewhere, you know? I’d get you a nice steak dinner, and we’d talk, and….”

    Them saying no isn’t the problem; in this scenario I did the asking. Lots of guys just say no, but this particular breed seems to be saying, “No, I feel like paying you cheapens things, I just really want to go on a date with you.” And it’s like… do you not understand that this is what I sell? That exact feeling? And some of the customers are new, and they really just don’t get that strippers are a kind sex worker, and romance is a kind a sex. But some of the customers who say this are assholes, and they get pissed at you when you tell them no, as if you were lying to them. As if you were just pretending to be pretty and friendly to get money, like it’s your job, and you don’t really like them at all. And I get so sick of dealing with the anger of that type.

    That, I think, is the stripper equivalent of the feeling that inspired Mr. Scalzi’s post. You get tired, as a writer, of trying to figure out if the person asking is just naive, or if they’re going to fly off the handle and tell you this is how things work and you’ll never make any money, etc etc. And when you’re big, like Mr. Scalzi, you get asked these things a lot. He’s allowed to have limits.

    PS I do have a genuine professional affection for the good customers. I like good conversation, and feeling sexy, and going home and paying my bills with money people gave me because they appreciated my ability to talk and be sexy. I don’t pretend to like people, but this is probably not the kind of being-liked that customer type number two wants.

  88. Three things about the charity angles some people are getting hung up on.

    #1. Many of us, including our host, have family, friends, and people we know in various contexts who have more of a claim on our attention than the public at large. I can easily imagine John saying “sure” to a request for help from, say, Mary Robinette Kowal when he wouldn’t to the same request from, say, me. Because, y’know, friendship matters.

    #2. This overlaps with #1. There are times when we hear of people with a need and volunteer to help. This doesn’t trigger FY,PM issues because it’s our choice. Often we may hear of a need in a general way and decide on a suitable contribution and offer it up on our own, and this is doubly not FY,PM territory because nobody was begging at all, let alone begging from us in particular.

    #3. Darned few rules actually apply in every conceivable case without need for any exception or modification of any kind. It’s childish to expect them to. (Pause here to note the witty implicit assertion about at least one moral philosopher named earlier in the thread.) What we can get, though, is solid good guidelines that apply reliably, and make it easy for us to spot the handful of cases where we may decide to make an exception. (Or we may look it over, and then decide “nope, the rule’s good here, too”. Even feeling like it needs consideration can be pretty significant if you drew the rule well in the first place.) It wouldn’t be hypocritical of John to decide that he wanted to donate some writing to a particular person and situation that drew his supportive interest. It’s just that makes it easy for himself to cut through the overwhelming majority of possible cases and get on with more interesting things, like the work that makes him an attractive target in the first place.

  89. Xtifr: Very good points…. From what I read at the metafilter link it seems the phrase may have originated from the movie Good Fellas.

  90. I have to wonder if Ms. Frasca actually knows who John is, since “this level” is “actually published author with several successful books and a very good living most of us probably envy.”

    Also, echoing “Nick from the O.C.” above: Who are these people who revert to fake 1950s standards whenever they see a “curse” word?

  91. It’s also worth noting here that open source coding, Creative Commons-licensed publishing of the sort more and more people in my field (roleplaying games) are doing, and the like are business ventures, too. Some people do it because they can for the love of it; others do it because they love it and also because they’ve identified ways to make money at it. For the people doing it for money, the discussion sounds…a lot like John’s writing here at Whatever about the business of publishing, really, balancing enthusiasm, possibilities, likelihoods, concerns about contingencies, the whole deal. Giving stuff away can make good business sense. But it has to actually make good business sense for people to do it in a sustainable way as part of their overall business plan. Wishing isn’t enough.

  92. I suspect that those of us who are constantly asked to do things for free have a more specialized skill set (dare I say useful?) than those whose skills are more abstract. My wife is a psychologist and is very skilled in counseling and relationships. I used to work in remodeling and now in computers. No one ever asks my wife for free help but I get requests all the time.

    I’m curious how the people commenting would break down by skill type. Are your skills in demand? Are they skills that produce a finite/physical result? If not are you in a profession that regularly requires it’s members to give their time away for free? (Social Workers and teachers, to name a couple.)

    John – Could you keep track of everyone’s responses then, you know, sort of clean it up and show us the breakdown in a new blog post? I’m sure it will increase the traffic to your site.

  93. Doc: So, it was addressed.

    good grief. No it wasn’t. My question was very simple:

    What is the moral difference between the Salvation Army asking you to donate money versus the Salvation Army asking you to write something for free? Why are solicitaions for money generally seen as acceptable but the request for free labor from a writer worthy of the creation of a special level of hell?

    Scalzi talked about charities, and appears to say he expects to get paid, even by charities. He’ll take a tax deduction for his labor, but a charity would be foolish to assume that I should expect that to be the entirety of my compensation.

    My question was what’s the difference between donating money to a charity versus donating writing time to the very same charity? Why is it that the act of writing must be paid for, even by a charity, but money earned from writing could be donated to the very same charity with no strings?

    As someone who has shlepped boxes for charity, written open source stuff for free, donated money to charities, and a number of other permutations of charity/labor/money/free, I don’t see writing as a special snowflake.

    Why is labor-writing-for-charity supposed to be held differently than all other forms of labor-for-charity and money-for-charity?

  94. Donna Frasca:

    “No one will pay you while you’re on this level. Sorry.”

    There is irony in this comment arriving nearly simultaneously with four checks containing royalties and payments from Germany, Norway, China and for my audiobooks.

    Ms. Frasca, you should really do at least a bare minimum of checking before you say something like this. As you did not, you’ve made it clear you haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.

  95. Greg, not speaking for anyone else here, but I certainly wasn’t under the impression that writing is a “special snowflake” and different from other kinds of labor. Labor is labor. I think the issue is: am I being asked to perform for free acts that I would otherwise receive payment for? At least, that’s how I read the OP, and most of the comments since then, for that matter.

  96. @Greg

    As a student, I worked on some great open-source design projects. So I was glad to see that the site does use a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. But it’s tacked onto some lengthy terms of use that seem to disregard most of the license. It may be completely above-board, but to me it feels hinky.

    My unease probably comes from the quid-pro-quo inherent in their letter: “work on our open-source project and you might get a job with us”. Is this a standard business practice in the corporate world? Because it sounds like the kind of “on-spec” scam that freelancers dread.

  97. That One Girl @4:01 pm: Sadly, you don’t have to be “big” in order to be inundated with requests to work for free.

    Ink and Page @3:32 pm: Hey, I get the same thing in my own freelance business. Hey, I’m frugal. I get that. But getting the most bang for your buck and not wanting to pay what the job costs your supplier are two different things.

  98. In general, I don’t “give away” my code-writing skill. I’ve done some open-source coding (under a different name so people — including management and lawyers — won’t bother me about it) but almost always it’s of the swatting- a- bug- that- bugged- me nature, so while the public benefits, I’ve mostly done it for myself.

    A group asks if I’ll come and plant trees one Saturday afternoon. Yup. They asked if I’d design them a sound system for their new auditorium. I sent them a bid for the job, they didn’t reply — and months later asked if I’d fix the system they’d spent far too much on. FNPM. Person from the group whined about this, I asked him if he’d do an appendectomy for free. “That’s different!”, he said, and no, it’s not.

    Adderall and Ritalin can help those with ADHD make better lives for themselves and their families. Those taking the drugs to get high … some people really are dopes. Those bugging those who are getting better using stimulants need to seriously be glad they don’t have the problem.

  99. From Donna Frasca’s website:

    “So I hope you enjoy this blog and feel free to contact me if you need a Color Consultation for your home, either in person or virtually.

    Please keep in mind that there are design fees for all Professional color advice. If you can’t find the answers to your questions on this blog, I will be more than happy to help you and I do have PayPal options for your convenience.”

    I just put a short story up on my blog; then again, no one will pay me for my writing at the moment. Yet. (And John, am I remembering correctly that this is how “Android’s Dream” got published? Not that that lightning-strike scenario really works as a strategy, nor is it precisely what you’re talking about here– but didn’t that show up on your blog before anyone paid you for it?)

  100. John,

    I read Donna Frasca’s comment as a quote rather than a comment on the post: ie this is the justification offered to those starting out in a particular field for the fact that they should expect to work for free?

  101. People who are upset that John was rude, I don’t understand. You know what is implied when someone says Work for free? That his time is only worth what is paid for it and they think his work isn’t worth anything. It’s basically an insult. And to someone whose identity is tied into being a good writer, that’s a freaking big insult. It’s entirely understandable that he was upset.
    Beyond that if he was just polite, they would never get the point that asking a professional writer to give away their work is insulting.

  102. ::cackling myself silly:: You’re so cute when you get your curs all up in your mudgeon. I’ll just send all those folks who think I have nothing better to do than give interviews all the time your way, shall I? Interviews I have to type *myself.*

    Gosh, I just can’t understand why you might’ve been eating the Irritabix while contemplating this issue.

    Stay yourself, Scalzi. It’s a dirty job, but you’re the only one who can do it. ::ambles off, chortling::

  103. Greg – l think you’re missing a point here. There’s “contacting somebody out of the blue” vs. “I work with this charity all the time.” Personally, I donate a lot of time to Rotary. Heck, I’m President-elect of my club (again)! But if, say, the Lions Club called and asked me to fix their PCs (that’s my day job) I’d say no. If the Lions Club wants their computers fixed, they can either find a member to do it or pass the hat and pay the bill. Simply put, I have no obligation, implied or otherwise, to help them out. They’re not bad people (actually, they also do good work) it’s just not my problem.

    I also suspect that you’re misunderstanding a volume issue. I’d be willing to bet that somebody of John’s stature gets at least 2 or 3 please work for free requests per day. Simply put, if you come up in the top page or two of a Google search in a nation of 300 million people, even a very small number of clueless people leads to a lot of requests.

  104. There’s a joke in the sysadmin business – even more specialized than general IT: “Friends and family rate”, which is 150-200% of your consulting rate. It’s only a joke in the “ha ha only serious” vein – with the people who have been burned by it once too often and now actually do it.

    Greg, the main difference is Mary Frances’ “The labor far too often is assumed to be essentially valueless and the requests and requirements for such work usually make that clear to the person being asked for free labor.” The people asking don’t know what they’re asking for, and the way they ask makes that clear (or they do know how much it usually costs, and can’t believe the work is worth that rate, so overask in the same way; the way they ask makes *that* clear as well). Basically, they ask for a donation of the work that I’d be paid about $400 for (and my company would charge multiples of that) implying it’s about the same as a $50 donation. “Because it’s not like it’s *work*, you’re not actually *doing anything*, are you, just (writing|typing|playing around and clicking a few buttons)?”

    Like the $1000 sweater. I have certainly asked for, and received, “crafted things” from people who can do that, and haven’t paid full price – but they’re friends of mine, I’ve given them the odd thing, too, it’s “general requirements only” (so they get to do the fun creative stuff); and I know that I get it when I get it. And I always at least pay for the materials and whatever shipping is needed (usually they’re local, so I don’t have that; but I pay for the lunch on the way to get the materials, and any other meetings required). And if they aren’t happy with those terms, “no” means “no problem. So when’s our next lunch?”

    The other large problem, especially with sysadmin stuff (and from what I’ve heard, writing), is the “rate: $50/hour. $75 if you watch. $100 if you help” joke that’s been a staple of auto shops for years.

    Also, it’s “easy” for charities to give out tax donations; harder to give out cash. If you make it easy, they’ll treat you as if you *are* in fact working for free. So I can easily see John accepting $200 and tax receipt for $800 for a $1000 project (numbers coming ad fundamentum meum) where he wouldn’t accept a receipt for $1000 and no cash.

  105. Greg: Good grief, yes it was. You asked about the moral difference. The moral difference is that a reputable charity, like any other reputable business, knows the value of what it asks for, be it cash money, simple labor, skilled labor, or the creative output of a professional writer. They would know not insult a professional creator by asking for their work without an offer of fair compensation. And their operational model would reflect that, and include it as part of their overhead.

    Money is something you already have, likely from some other labor and output. But labor and output aren’t things one just has. The must be produced, and that will require the expenditure of resources and time. So while money and labor are exchangeable, they are not equivalent.

    And writing isn’t a special snowflake. (And could you possibly be more condescending?) Writing is John’s profession. It’s how he makes his living. And he makes his living because he’s good at it. And he’s good at it because he’s worked very hard for a very long time to become good at it. Me, I’m a professional science educator. I get $40/hour to tutor at home, the few times I’ve agreed to do so, and would be insulted if someone asked me to help their kid with their Chemistry homework for free.

    Schleping boxes is not the same thing as offering up the services and resources of your moving company. But, you know, if I had to schlep boxes for a living, then someone asked me to schlep even more boxes, but this time for free? Fuck you. Pay me.

    I really don’t think John, nor anyone else here, is suggesting that people not do charity work. If doing so makes you feel you’ve done the right thing, go for it. I think John is telling people (writers in particular) not to do “charity” work; i.e. free labor and output for anyone who doesn’t appreciate the value of that labor and output. A reputable charity wouldn’t do that. And if they would, fuck ‘em.

  106. Getting asked for free work seems to happen to freelancers of all professions, not just artists. Personally, I blame the protestant work ethic. Tell people often enough that work is good for the soul, and they start to think you should be grateful they’re not asking you to pay them for giving you work.

  107. Pro artist here (and thanks John for the mention in the OP!), with one angle of perspective on this:

    In some creative disciplines (art of many kinds, esp. comics and some areas of video games), saying “fuck you, pay me” – even politely – is all too often ineffective (especially lately), because there’s a huge pool of people trying to get work in that business. When the potential employer *coughexploitercough* knows that they can just flip through 300 web portfolios and DeviantArts and get someone to do the art for free or cheap, quoting a professional rate to them just makes them give you a pass. Usually that’s how it should be – it’s how you weed out folks you never want to work for – but it’s gotten to the point that even “name” clients are doing this. (*coughe.g.GoogleDoodlescough* )

    On the one hand the group of people who understand that paying professionals their going rate is a plus for everyone is tiny compared to the vast array of “unfinanced entrepreneurs” (as the great Mark Evanier calls them). On the other hand, the pool of talented creatives who are relatively inexperienced and unaware as to the value of their abilities is also vast compared to the group of working professionals who know their job and know what they’re worth.

    So on the side of the payers and the pros, it gets more and more insular and hard for anyone who’s not already well into that group to move up to there – and the payers are under pressure from the bean counters to keep the art cheap. Those bean counters hear about how some other productions got “good enough” art for $(pro rate x .25) and wonder why Art Director X is paying full rate.

    The net result is that for the past 30 years or so, art rates as a dollar figure ($Y for Common Art Service Z) have stayed almost exactly the same. I.E., artists who made $Y per week in 1980 are making the same $Y per week in 2012. Googling tells me that because of inflation, in 1980 $1 was worth about $2.80 of today’s dollars… which means we’ve taken roughly a 2/3 pay cut.

    And now there’s more direct downward pressure on rates – clients all over are simply saying, “well, we can only afford this much. Take it or leave it.” A lot of us have to take it. We’ve got bills to pay.

    Not fun. The fix would be to get the vast majority of artists to say “Fuck you, pay me”, but people have been trying to make that happen for decades with little success.

  108. And for me, it’s a case of “you want me to work for free? Fortunately a professional writer with much better social skills than I have has already written a brilliant response to this situation”. Plus a link.

    Thank you Mr Scalzi, you are credit to humanity.

  109. It seems to me that you are already not getting paid to write here on your blog as I did not have to pay a cover charge to read your sanctimonious drivel. Perhaps a new economic model should be launched: you should pay the public to read your tripe. With that said Mr Scalzi.

    Fuck You.
    Pay Me.

  110. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Flying-Spaghetti-Monster Bless the internet! I’ve also borrowed several of your books from the library.

  111. “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Flying-Spaghetti-Monster Bless the internet! I’ve also borrowed several of your books from the library.”

    Oh the world is full of lemmings who latch onto someone they consider a celeb and will do anything for them whether they want it or not. I am pretty sure a empty book could be published with some famous author’s name on it and there would be a legion of fans who would buy it. I think here there has been a couple of times in which our very own comments are pulled from the website, stuffed into a book, published and sold. Now that I think about it, we all should be saying “Fuck You. Pay Me.” ;-)

  112. Speaking as a professional content creator: Thanks for putting it into words, Mr. Scalzi.

    Also, Mr. Zugale: Love your work, I’m a big fan. And yes, for some reason visual artists do take it hard up the wrong’un; just because we love doing it doesn’t stop it being work. It’s sad that more people don’t realise the moment they accept a pittance for their art, that becomes The Going Rate for said artwork. Hell, I’m REALLY excited because the VFX place I’m at pays…. drumroll… OVERTIME! Yes, I’m excited because I’m actually at a shop that follows the written workplace laws, rather than gouging their entire workforce. Which says a lot about the industry.

  113. Pope Cleophis I:

    “It seems to me that you are already not getting paid to write here on your blog as I did not have to pay a cover charge to read your sanctimonious drivel.”

    Pope Cleophis, who clearly did not read the previous entry, in which my writing here was addressed, thus proving he is something of an ignorant boor. And yet apparently, despite his protestations, not only did he take the time to read this, he took the time to comment! Which means he belongs in the category of person who would say “This food is terrible! And the portions so small!” i.e., an idiot.

  114. I think it’s fun when John taunts the tauntable. I think it’s incredible people come on his blog and try to tell him what to do. Do they not know their hate mail will be graded?

  115. Lost in Thought:

    At this point, whenever someone truly dipshitastic pops into a thread here, I assume they’re popping over from that feculent man-bath of a site hosted by Vox Day, as the boy lately seems to have developed a bit of a mancrush on me and foams madly regarding anything I write here. Indeed, he’s written about me twice today, as ego searches inform me. I hope he sorts out his feelings in a way that lets him still imagine himself as an Alpha, which is dearly important to him, despite the fact he’s clearly monkey dancing to whatever tune I set. I think he’s adorable, in his slow-witted, moony-eyed way. I do wish his craptoads would stay over at his stink-pit, however. They make a mess of the place here.

  116. In regards to blogging… I have a friend who writes content for a second party blog. She gets paid for her work. Not a lot, but she does get paid. As Scalzi is the owner/operator of Whatever, he is basically paying himself to advertise himself. This is part of his success. Cult of personality creates a name brand, which in turn makes him more money. I discovered Scalzi by various of his fans chortling over and linking to his posts. I only started checking out his books after I’d read his blog for a bit. Because I enjoyed his blogging, I figured it was a good bet I’d like his novels. I was right.

    As for SlartiBartFast… Libraries don’t exist for the benefit of the author. They are paid for by the public for the benefit of the public (at least in my country of residence) so (to misquote Bujold) Access To Information Will Not Be Abridged.

    Also? No one is forcing someone to visit Whatever with a “read this blog or die” threat. If they are, I suggest the someone dial 911 and ask for help.

  117. Seriously? VD wrote about this? Twice? And you didn’t even mention Xtianity or racism or liberalism or women or any of his favorite things to be desperately, stupidly, but oh-so-confidently wrong about!

  118. Hi, John. I’m writing because breaking into professional writing is a changing process these days. I fully support your expectation to be paid for your writing every time, and theoretically for every writer to be paid by those who want to publish our work. Is the latter a realistic prospect? Not.

    I’m a member of Romance Writers of America and of my local chapter, Midwest Fiction Writers. My critique partners include a Golden Heart winner who ‘sold’ her first book to Avon Impulse, who released it this spring. Avon is a Big Name publisher, but their digital line, Impulse does not pay an advance. I have not heard of any digital line (at least in the romance genre) that pays an advance. It’s all royalties on sales.

    The digital publishing world is offering a vast array of new stories and new authors all expected to do their own promotion and all struggling for notice among the rest. Authors will spend their own money to participate in blog tours and produce video trailer ads and print advertising for their books.

    Big houses like Avon and Harlequin are publishing digital lines in part because there are that many well-written stories available to them — many more than they have the budgets to pay advances on and to produce in print. Readers do buy them, and writers do make money from them, but not up front, and many not as much as they might get through the traditional model of an advance – if they were able to get one of the limited number of slots for a print version.

    What I’m suggesting is that there’s some justification for my taking a loss-leader approach with some of my writing in order to raise the profile of my work in general and for new releases. For instance, after having some of my short stories published in small markets (for pay!) I put together a collection of short stories (‘Three Wishes’) that I published independently.

    When I later sold a book (‘Sweet Mercy’ – a tale of superhero romance) that was released last week through a small digital press, I offered a free download version of my short story collection through the Kindle Select program, a special edition including a sneak preview of ‘Sweet Mercy.’ Over 3,300 copies were downloaded for free, putting the sneak preview into the hands of that many readers. And, incidentally, boosting the actual sales of the book for the following week.

    Is it ideal, giving away so many free copies of one book to increase interest in another? Maybe not, but I can think of it as giving back for all the library books I’ve read, and it beats spending money I don’t have on advertising.

  119. Doc RocketScience:

    I don’t know whether he wrote about this twice; when he shows up in my searches or logs don’t bother to click over (life is too short) so I only know what shows up in the search listing. Typically even that little is enough to inspire an eyeroll, however.

  120. Name of my death metal band! Thanks for mentioning the Unicorn Pegasus Kitten I didn’t know about it before definitely something I want and will donate Thanks John. And Greg seriously snowflakes not nice dude!

  121. I will acknowledge that I did some unpaid work for a local music magazine a long time ago, but it was because the editor was a dear friend and I figured it was at least decent practice for how to write things to somebody else’s specifications. Once I had that, I landed a slot with another magazine that actually paid cash money and I saw no need to write any more for the place that didn’t pay.

    These days, if I have the urge to write for free, I’ve got a lovely collection of blogs to post on.

  122. Doc RocketScience

    VD really cannot cope with a successful guy pointing at him and laughing; it completely screws his world view. And neither he nor his acolytes are capable of even bog standard reading comprehension; remember their conviction that our host is a rapist?

    Add to that his extremely small fan base and it’s not exactly a huge surprise that he’s desperately hoping for some traffic to his site by name checking Scalzi…

  123. Laramie Sasseville:

    “Avon is a Big Name publisher, but their digital line, Impulse does not pay an advance.”

    Fuck that. I wouldn’t touch that with a twenty foot pole, and I think it’s appalling that Avon would do such a thing, and if RWA isn’t banging a drum warning their writers away from that, they’re doing it wrong.

    And no, I don’t think just because things are digital and changing is in any way here or there to that. Avon sees commercial potential in the book? Good. Pay the writer. Pay them up front. Just has always been done. Avon’s got the fucking money. Anything sort of paying the writer up front is just a publisher’s excuse for screwing the writer.

    Note that this is materially different than an author choosing to self-publish her work, which may or may not be a valid choice, depending on circumstances.

    But, no. If Avon or any publisher came to me cold and said: “We’ll publish you, we just won’t give you any money until afterward” my response would be simple: Fuck you. Pay me. If the story is good enough to sell to Avon without an advance, it’s good enough to sell to a publisher that will offer an advance.

  124. The funny thing is I’m suddenly remembering the whole Cook’s Source scandal – come on, you all know the one, John helped popularize and spread it.

    When Cook’s Source basically argued that they didn’t have to pay Monica because hey, they gave her exposure and Monica should have been happy that they just didn’t steal her article and wipe her name off of it, the internet went almost insane and basically destroyed a magazine.

    But when John points out that he should, you know, get paid for his work – he’s seen as unreasonable.

    Me? I say pay the man for his time and his energy and what his does – and stop kvetching!

  125. Thank you very much for the lovely icon. I am sure I will get a great deal of use out of it. Congrats on the royalty cheques, and keep up the good and hopefully lucrative work.

  126. I seldom get asked to write for free, but I get asked all the time (and so do most of the writers I know) to speak at my own expense and to teach for free. It became such a common thing in my in-box that I wrote up a bullet-point list which I automatically send to anyone who asks me to speak but who does NOT specify any of their parameters in the invitation. In such cases, I used to waste time in exchanges of 4-8 emails to get the facts from them; now I don’t bother, I just give them MY facts.

    I’m happy to do panel discussions, chat-withs, interviews, i.e. anything that only requires me to show up on time, as long as all my expenses are covered. So, for example, if it’s a con, my travel and hotel room expenses must be covered, as well as the con fee. This is because I choose not to spend my money (i.e. on hotel room, transportation, etc.) to spend a weekend doing scheduled speaking at a con or writers’ event rather than staying home to write (which is how I pay my bills) and/or living my personal life (and cons and writing workshops aren’t among my own personal hobbies or leisure pastimes or social life). If a commitee or programmer feels that my participation isn’t worth -their- spending budget on my expenses, or if they simply haven’t -got- the budget to cover my expenses, I can understand either position and don’t take offense; just as I expect a committee or a program chair to understand -my- position and not take offense. (The stumbling block, I find, is that since writing events, cons, and workshops are typically run by unpaid volunteers and attended by people for whom this IS a hobby and leisure pastime, my position is -not- always understood.)

    I’m also quite willing to discuss doing a prepared workshop or teaching, but I don’t do this for free. It requires advance preparation, which is time out of my own life, I am therefore NOT writing or living my personal life; and when I show up to do it, it’s a lot more demanding and tiring them just chatting on a panel discussion. So, if asked to do something like this, I require a speaking fee, as well as all my expenses. If dealing with a commitee whose budget doesn’t stretch that far, I suggest they consider just asking me to do something (see above) for which I do NOT require a fee, since it doesn’t interfere with my schedule at home nor involve as much work for me on site.

    I thought this through so thoroughly after realizing I had spent FAR too much of my time, for example, giving 2-hour and 4-hour seminars for which I had prepped a whole day in advance (rather than writing or spending time on my neglected private life), as well as spending 4 hours of roundtrip driving time on the day I gave the workshop… for which day, my fiscal result was that I’d actually SPENT $15 out of pocket for the whole schmeer, based on the commute costing me $50 in gas less the $35 fee the committee had offered to pay me. In other instances, a committee would contact me, say they’d heard I was a good speaker, they would love to have me at their event, they’d like 2 workshops and a luncheon speech, etc., etc… And after four days of discussing details, I’d remember to ask about compensation–and they would immediately cease all communication and I’d never hear from them again. Another committee wrote to me 8 times in one year (I assume this was a confused mistake rather than a deliberate attempt to annoy me), always with the unstated assumption (which led to email exchanges longer than I wanted to have) that I would fly to the West Coast (from Ohio) at my own expense to spend my weekend chatting on panels at their con. A local group asked me to give a 6-hour, all-day seminar and then got ANGRY when I asked what fee they were offering; in their view, spending my entire day teaching their group to write would be such “good publicity” for me that I had no business expecting compensation.

    And so on and so forth.

    Over time, I eventually realized I needed a policy, I needed to write it down in clear bullet points, and I needed to immediately give it to anyone who invited me to speak and who did NOT include in their invitation, up front, exactly what they expected AND what they were offering me in exchange.

  127. Laramie — you are mischaracterizing what an advance is. Although we call it a “sale,” you don’t sell your book to the publisher. The publisher is neither your customer nor your employer and does not actually pay you anything for your work. Instead, the publisher is your business partner and you contract with that publisher partner to grant them the license rights to produce a form of your work and sell it in conjunction with you. Your part of the partnership is labor in producing the written form of the work, revisions and fine tuning of said work, and marketing and promotion efforts. The publisher’s part of the partnership is production of the written work, including editing and fine tuning, distribution, accounting, marketing and promotion. In return for you partnering up with them and granting them licensing rights, you get an agreed upon portion of every sale of the work — a royalty. That royalty is not paid to you by the publisher but by vendors who give it to the publisher who is responsible for making sure you get your portion of the sales.

    If the publisher is large enough to be able to float balances, then they may give the author in exchange for the license rights an advance of estimated royalties. Your portion of sales is then deducted against that advance, which is also your portion of the sales, not payment from the publisher partner. If the publisher estimated wrong and your portion of the sales does not equal the advance, the publisher deducts it from the publisher’s share of sales from the book, essentially giving you additional royalties on the book because of their accounting misstep. An advance is nice as it provides income for an author before the book is actually sold, but advance or no advance, the publisher isn’t paying you. Digital sales are as yet difficult to estimate, so even large publishers are taking the easy route and not doing advances for digital only publications, imprints working on lower production budgets. So like any entrepreneur, whether you get an advance against royalties or not, you are not working for free but instead preparing your product for sale in the marketplace, which you may then sell by yourself or through contracting with a publishing partner to help sell it. So an author is not giving a publisher his time for free just because the publisher can’t advance him his portion of projected sales. It’s not the same thing.

  128. Oops, looks like I crossposted with Scalzi. An author is entirely entitled to not partner up with a publisher that can’t or won’t float an advance against royalties. I think Avon should not be trying to wiggle out of advances on digital only, but it’s been all too common that category romance authors get offered a very set deal for partnership license.

  129. Chris Kapeghian says: “[...] an Adderall drugged 15 year old.”

    Lovely. I disagree with a neurotypical adult, therefore I will verbally attack him by comparing him to a neuroatypical youth. I will further imply that said youth’s problem is that they’re being treated. Instead of, I suppose, Just Getting Over It. None of this could possibly be objectionable to anyone in the audience who actually has AD(H)D or did as a child.

    Or without the sarcasm: What a vile little nugget of casual ableism.

  130. Rembrant

    Wow! Now there’s a completely unexpected link bridging my life; I have written pieces for Anorak for free.

    The relevant point here is that Paul Sorene, who owns Anorak, told me I should start up my own site because it would make money for me; I’m good on things like financial markets and that is a gift which keeps on giving because there are, and will always be, people who want to know about money.

    I think Paul and John would get on well together…

  131. Just so you know, Scalzi, I linked your first post to my FB page (since you, or Disqus, saw fit to give me the option), because I happen to agree with you.

    Tamora Pierce (the woman writing above as “scrivener212″) and I first met when we were working for a radio drama company in New York City – and we did a lot of freebies as both actors, writers and audio production people for “our portfolio/resume”, to “hone our skills” or any of the various other reasons people give themselves for doing things for nothing. The best thing I can say either of us got out of the experience was each other, and a couple of friends we’re close to to this day – in exchange, Tammy wasted about six years of her life writing stuff for no pay and damned little recognition, which meant her SONG OF THE LIONESS series took about eight years to get written rather than the four it would have otherwise taken!

    There are occasions when I will do a trade with somebody – I’ve acted, done voice-over or crewed for some low-budget videos and movies, and usually gotten something like a crew trade on my own projects or postproduction suite time in return. I think that’s a fair deal, because we’re both getting something out of it.

    But otherwise? Yeah – Fuck You, Pay Me.

  132. To some extent, people who want to do particular sorts of work are in part working for free – that is, they are underpaid and know it, and nonetheless will only feel fulfilled doing that sort of work.

    One example: Since the 1970s, alternative weeklies (a term that may soon sadly be antiquated if it isn’t already) attracted writers, editors, and production artists. Whether independent or part of chains, they didn’t pay very much, but it was possible to get by. Settling for years of low-paid alt-weekly work 15 or 20 years ago was what made at least one present-day distinguished journalism career possible (that is, there’s one I personally know of and I’m sure there are others).

  133. Thanks, John & Kat. I’m interested in John’s take on what Kat said, but I get it.

    I’m also interested in the loss-leader marketing aspect of the issue, which no one addressed. I suspect someone will say it’s not pertinent to my role as a writer, but to the role of marketer for my own work that’s become part of the digital publishing world for many authors these days.

  134. Gottacook:

    If you’re getting paid, you’re not working for free. You might be getting underpaid, but “underpaid” and “unpaid” are not equivalent.

  135. I’m really glad you wrote these pieces.
    I read your first post on the subject this morning before I went in to present my critique of the final projects for my drawing class, and it actually clarified some things that I’ve been working to address.

    I’ve been talking to my students for a while about the fact that any worthy endeavor requires a concentration of time and effort, or training and practice. For the non-art majors in my class, I’ve used analogies related to other fields, whether they are editorial writing, accounting, or nutritional science and health. I work to explain that in any given field, there is a body of practice and experience that one needs to develop. At the end of the day, the ultimate emphasis is that this is WORK. This is long term effort, invested in order to build specific skills.

    This, at least for some students, is a real eye opener. I demand a lot of work in my classes. My take is that there is a great deal of learning that has to happen from years of hands-on practice. When one is looking at a skilled writer, artist or performer, that facility is the result of long training.

    One of the most toxic phrases that came out of the nineties, (at least in my estimation) is the insidious phrase “Content Provider”. I absolutely loathe that term. It’s a cute little catchphrase by which the owners of game companies, web sites, multimedia businesses and other Dot-Conomy types concluded that anyone who draws, writes, or creates the actual material that folks click through to view or read is just an undifferentiated herd animal that provides a needed resource in great quantity. It reduces the creative process to an on-demand Xerox machine that spits out pictures and articles. Unsurprisingly, we now see that web sites that had been major new sources of culture have now effectively lost all of their comic artists and most of their columnists. A good example is Salon, who now seems content to strip mine their “Open Salon” bloggers in order to drum up provocative personal confessional stories in order to pad out their column listings, or copy and paste articles from other “partnered” web sites. I compare where they were ten years ago, and the change is striking. This is what happens when your business model becomes one in which bottom feeding is more important than quality control, and you conclude that you can only afford to compensate some of your writers and creators appropriately.

    If I met my dentist in the grocery store and asked if he could take a look at my gums, his response would be that I should make an appointment with his office. He too is a man who spent years, and no small resources to be able to do what he does as well as he does. I would not provide an illustration to hang in his office for free, hoping that this might somehow bring clients from his waiting room, any more than he should straighten my teeth for free with the idea that one of my students might be impressed by my straight and winning smile and ask for a reference…

  136. Nick from the O.C. and Michael Johnston, I’m one of those people in that I dislike and generally avoid foul language. No, I don’t watch TV or go see movies, such language is not used in my house or by my family, and I’ve left at least one online community after they changed their standards to allow profanity (well, more accurately, disabled their rather humorous autocensor). It wasn’t a matter of instant principle (they did this ergo I’m outta here right now) but that I found after some time that I was no longer comfortable reading there. I don’t really know why I don’t have the same reaction here, but it might be a matter of quantity; I don’t read much in the way of other sites or blogs with profanity either. Yeah, my online horizons are limited, and I’m OK with that.

    That said, I am not one of the people objecting to John’s language, in this entry or anything else of his I’ve read. It is entirely my choice to read here (as I have been for several years) and if it bothers me enough I can close this browser tab.

    Just saying… I think some or most of the people objecting to the language are objecting more to something they think is benign being rejected so emphatically, rather than the form that emphasis takes. Because it takes a really special kind of sheltering profound level of naivete unique worldview to expect an author best known for his works which do not shy away from profanity (I mean, he’s not primarily writing for the toddler age group) to refrain from its use on any particular topic about which he has strong feelings; therefore, I conclude that that’s really not the issue.

  137. Mary: I think the issue is: am I being asked to perform for free acts that I would otherwise receive payment for?

    Doc: But, you know, if I had to schlep boxes for a living, then someone asked me to schlep even more boxes, but this time for free? Fuck you. Pay me.

    Bob Geldof called some of the biggest names in music to put together “Band Aid” and “Feed the World”. They were some of the most successful professional musicians in the industry, and as far as I know, they all did it for free. He even twisted the arm of the government to drop the VAT tax on the record.

    If the Bob-Geldof-Writer-Equivalent approached any professional writer and asked them to do a charity-novel-equivalent of “Feed the World”, I will grant you that it is perfectly within the right of any writer to say “Fuck you! Pay me!” But I wouldn’t say that any and all Bob-Geldof-Writer-Equivalents must be universally out of line just for asking.

    writing isn’t a special snowflake. (And could you possibly be more condescending?) Writing is John’s profession.

    So what? Geldof violated no moral absolute asking George Michael to donate his professional labor. You’re trying to fabricate a moral absolute that isn’t there. What this is, is a personal choice. I’ve donated my professional labor for free. It was my choice.

    If someone came up with an idea that might raise money for charity and asked you to donate your professional labor to the charity, you have every right to tell him to “fuck off. pay me.” but you have that right because it is a personal choice to say yes or no. The guy violated NO moral principle by asking you to donate your professional labor.

    And I think that’s were I was getting wrapped around the axles here. This thread and the thread before it are presented in terms of it being absolutely wrong to ask anyone to donate their professional labor, but there is no such absolute. It’s your personal choice to say “yes” or “no”.

  138. Dammit John, your blog posts are always entertaining and thought provoking but could you aim for a lesser class of commenter so I could just ignore them? Your posts I can read quickly, all these amazing comments are chewing up my day! :-)

  139. Just want to pop back and say thanks! to MarkHB. Most appreciated. And yes, you’re lucky to be getting OT… VFX artists need to try to get some kind of collective together to fight for proper pay. However, don’t get me started on the Hollywood artist unions… *shudder*

  140. Bob-Geldof-Writer-Equivalent knows the value of what he’s asking for. He knows who to ask (meaning I doubt Geldof just pulled out his Rolodex and started dialing). And he knows how to frame the request in such a way as to not be a blithe insult. This is the distinction you’re not cluing into. The other distinction you’re not getting: asking for labor for charity is rather different from asking for labor for free.

    You’re trying to fabricate a moral absolute

    Well, I guess that answers my question. The only thing here that resembles a moral absolute (where ever the hell you’re getting that from) is the idea that a person’s professional skills have value, and if you’re going to ask for those skills, you really ought to respect that value, and structure your request accordingly. And if you don’t, you deserve to get told to fuck off.

    I mean FFS, do you really think the gorram Salvation Army sends people like Scalzi the kind of requests he was talking about in the first post? And if they did, do you think that because they’re a charity that they are the special snowflake, somehow exempt from the basic moral obligation of respecting the person providing what they clearly value? ‘Cause, no. No they’re not. Doing good by one group does not give you carte blanche to (attempt to) exploit another. How’s that for a moral fucking absolute?

    Y’know, I’m pretty sure the only reason John put that paragraph about charities into the post was to avoid this whole stupid tangent conversation. That paragraph read very clearly to me to be saying that charity operates on its own set of principles, related but not identical, and a well run charity knows to pay professionals. Everyone already knows it’s ok to donate to charity; they might not know that, if you have something unique to offer, it’s ok to ask for something in return.

  141. Greg, there is a difference between being asked to donate your time/money/labor to a charity and being asked to donate it to a profitable (or would-be profitable) organization that doesn’t see fit to allow you to share in the profits they intend to make in part due to your time/money/labor. In that case, I think “Fuck you. Pay me.” is a very appropriate responses.

    Now, when it comes to charitable requests, there are way too many worthy causes out there for any single person to respond in the affirmative to every request. We all have to pick and choose which requests we accept and which we decline. I have donated my time and money to lots of volunteer organizations and there are always at least some paid staff involved in any endeavor. The difference is usually that volunteers are doing a job that is not their normal professional position. They are warm bodies doing grunt work. Any job that requires professional level skills usually is associated with a professional level paycheck. At least in any legitimate charity I’ve seen.

    If a skilled professional decides to volunteer his skills to a charitable endeavor he approves of, well good on him. If a charity organizer demands that donation, well not so good on him and he shouldn’t be surprised when his demand is met with a “Fuck you. Pay me.”

    Anyone who has read this blog for more than a month has seen lots of examples of Scalzi donating his writing talents and using his bully pulpit to promote some cause or another that he feels is worthy. Being willing to volunteer for a task of your chosoing is a tad different than being willing to be conscripted by any random stranger for a task of their choosing.

  142. Laramie: “I’m also interested in the loss-leader marketing aspect of the issue, which no one addressed. I suspect someone will say it’s not pertinent to my role as a writer, but to the role of marketer for my own work that’s become part of the digital publishing world for many authors these days.”

    The loss leader idea came from other industries and was pushed by vendors like Amazon, which, for instance, has let Amazon keep a strong hold on e-books from 90-60% of the market, depending on the area and time period. Publishers have on the whole not liked the approach, which doesn’t work really for print, but if they are trying to do a digital only imprint and corner part of a market, they are likely to try it, especially when vendors want it and it’s a category market such as romance. Part of the grant of license an author makes with a publisher is that the publisher has control of its edition of the work, including control of pricing. Being the sacrificial lamb in that situation is hard on the author. You’re being neither not paid nor underpaid in that scenario, since you get your royalties agreed on for sales, but the product is being underpriced, something that can help the line but not great for the individual author/entrepreneur. If your books perform well, then you won’t be used as the loss leader until your sales levels reach bestseller, at which point the publisher may discount you again and lose money on purpose on your new title because you have such massive volume of sales and more profitable backlist sales, but it’s not quite the loss leader strategy then. If the publisher is able under the contract to loss leader your book for free price beyond a brief promotion stunt, then it starts to get very nasty, and the legal issues of the next few years are going to be about situations like this. It has gotten better and it will get better as e-books grow with other electronic data markets, but it’s all up in the air. That’s all not the same thing as people asking you to do something for free, though.

  143. From Joe McNally’s blog this week. See? Even big time photogs are asked to work for free by big time Sports Magazines.

    “His birthday was a marker in another way for me, as well. SI contacted me the other week and told me they were building a special feature about Bo’s fiftieth on SI.com, and could they use my archived pictures—for free? The gentleman doing the arranging for the feature was quite a decent sort, and did his best to explain that the biggest sports magazine in the world had no money to support this article. I was sympathetic. As a lone freelance photographer with a mortgage and kids, I’ve experienced that condition myself, more than once. I demurred.”

  144. Doc: Bob-Geldof-Writer-Equivalent knows the value of what he’s asking for.

    I get people asking me to fix their computer once in a while. I might ask a few questions to see if its something I can figure out just talking with them. If it sounds like a day-long rabbit hole, I just say no. But how would they know how long it would to take to fix unless they knew how to fix it?

    Long time ago, I went to the doctor for a couple of chronic problems. Described both of them to the doc. He started getting cross with me because the first problem was apparently something he couldn’t do anything about. Well, how the fuck would I know that? I’m not the doctor here. Second problem, apparently, needed one follow up thing and it was fine.

    All I can figure is I asked for help, and he couldn’t do anything, and it made him feel uncomfortable saying he couldn’t do anything, so rather than just say he couldn’t do anything, he started getting cross at me for asking what he thought was a “stupid” question. I solved the problem by changing doctors the next day.

    Note this is different from KNOWING the value, but trying to bullshit the writer into thinking they will get compensated fairly via “exposure” or some other bullshit. In that situation, the guy asking for free writing knows he’s getting something of value. He also knows he’s giving little of value in return. So he tries to talk it up into something it isn’t so the writer thinks its a fair trade when its not. Geldof knew the value, but he was upfront about the musicisians not getting any payment for their work. He didn’t try to bullshit them about “exposure” or something. He was straight with them about being a charitible donation with no compensation.

    moral absolute (where ever the hell you’re getting that from)

    Probably from the “Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free” that preemptively answered with “2. Seriously, are you fucking kidding me?”, (3) “what other dumb things did you do” (6) “smack you.”, (7) “feed you to wild dogs”. Sounds like an absolute “Don’t you ever ask me to write for free!” kind of thing to me.

    Also, moral absolute seems to be reflected here (emphasis added by me):

    I mean FFS, do you really think the gorram Salvation Army sends people like Scalzi the kind of requests he was talking about in the first post? And if they did, do you think that because they’re a charity that they are the special snowflake, somehow exempt from the basic moral obligation of respecting the person providing what they clearly value?

    A basic moral obligation sounds pretty absolute. It doesn’t sound like its a personal choice to me. If the salvation army cold-called me for money, I might donate something or I might decline. It would be my personal choice. There is no basic moral obligation that prohibits them from making the request.

    Most of these two threads are framed in the narrative of moral absolutes, but really, we’re talking about personal choices here.

    Now, that said, if what is really at issue in these two threads is really this notion that the requester failed at “respecting the person” that they requested the donation from, well, that’s got nothing to do with “Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free” and everything to do with “Should You Be Thinking of Disrespecting Me”.

    If “disrespect” is really the issue, then it would explain the immediate anger in “2. Seriously, are you fucking kidding me?”.

    If disrespect is the problem, then that would explain my confusion, because the title of the previous thread was “A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free” rather than something like “A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Disrespecting Me While Asking Me to Write For You For Free.”

    Because, as you acknowledge above, Geldof-Writer-Equivalent could make the request for free professional singers with the appropriate level of respect. He could know the value of what he was asking for. He could call people he knew personally, not cold call random people. He could have people he knew call people he didn’t know.

    If disrespect is the trigger here, then that explains almost everything in these two threads.

    Y’know, I’m pretty sure the only reason John put that paragraph about charities into the post was to avoid this whole stupid tangent conversation.

    The word “charity” does not appear anywhere in the first thread titled “A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free”. But a charity might be an organization that might be thinking of asking a writer to write for free.

    18 minutes after the original post was started, someone mentions they could see a charity asking for Scalzi to write something for free.

    If the original post is making a blanket statement about “asking me to write for free” and doesn’t make an exception for charity, then I think it is reasonable to at least question whether charity gets an exception. I had only one post in that entire thread about two hours later, and in it, I said “You can ask me for donations. I can say no.”

    So, if Scalzi intended to exclude charities to avoid this “stupid tangent”, then he might have wanted to mention something in the original post.

    That said, in THIS post, Scalzi makes it clear that charities don’t really get treated much differently by him when it comes to asking him to write for free. He points out that he paid Jeff Zugale to paint the Unicorn Pegasus for the Lupus charity. He says he’ll work pro-bono for a tax deduction, but he also says a charity would be foolish to assume that I should expect that to be the entirety of my compensation.

    He also indicates that cold-calling is part of the reason he doesn’t like it: But when people come to me — especially people I don’t know — looking for writing, they’re asking for work. So, he wants people he knows to call him, not strangers cold-calling him. Which is fine. That’s his choice.

    But I don’t think you get to say that this is a “stupid tangent”, because Scalzi doesn’t really treat charities any differently than commercial organizations when it comes to asking for free writing. He expects to be paid. Which is fine. That’s his choice. But its not an absolute for everyone.

    And like I said, I think I got wrapped up in this being presented as if it were an absolute that must be true for everyone. It isn’t. And it’s fine that Scalzi wants to relate to requests for free writing as “are you fucking kidding me” kind of a “dumb” thing that deserves a “smack” and fed to “wild dogs”. That’s his choice. But it’s presented as an absolute for everyone. And you invoking “basic moral obligation” seems to reinforce this particular view. It’s just that I don’t agree with it.

    personally, I think people can request whatever they want to request, as long as their honest about what they’re requesting, and the people they’re making the request of can either say yes or no.

    Sarah If a charity organizer demands that donation, well not so good on him

    Scalzi said “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”

    Note that says “the organization asking me”. It doesn’t say “the organization demanding me”.

    Scalzi expects to get paid by charity organizations. Especially if they approach him, versus him going to them. That’s fine. That’s his choice. But in trying to understand his position, I don’t think “a charity organizer demands that donation” is really talking about anything relating to Scalzi’s position.

    Scalzi expects to be paid, even by charities, for his writing. It has nothing to do with the charity “demanding” his writing. He wants to be paid. And that’s his choice.

    But it isn’t my choice. I was getting wrapped up in the language that presents this as a moral absolute for everyone. But that isn’t the case. I have donated my professional labor for free. I don’t have a problem doing that. It’s a personal choice. And there isn’t much in these two threads that really frames this as a personal choice.

  145. Being willing to volunteer for a task of your chosoing is a tad different than being willing to be conscripted by any random stranger for a task of their choosing.

    Good grief. If someone has a problem saying “no” to people making requests of them, then the solution isn’t to try and frame people making requests into evil-doers who are drafting volunteers into a conscripted army by force. The solution isn’t to attempt to frame people making requests into evil-doers so as to try and put social pressure on people so they stop making requests.

    The solution is to learn to say “no”.

    Would you like to donate to the Salvation Army? No thank you.
    Would you like to come down to the soup kitchen and help feed the hungry? No thank you.
    Would you like to donate some of your professional labor to help feed the starving in Africa? No thank you.

    That’s your end of the bargain.

    Their end of the bargain is to follow the laws about charitable organizations, laws about fraud, laws about when you can call people, and so on. That’s their end of the bargain.

  146. @Greg
    “The solution is to learn to say “no”.
    Would you like to donate to the Salvation Army? No thank you.
    Would you like to come down to the soup kitchen and help feed the hungry? No thank you.
    Would you like to donate some of your professional labor to help feed the starving in Africa? No thank you.”

    Greg,
    I am a professional social worker and have run fund raisers for years. The one thing, professionals learn quick is the exhausted “no” is never good. Sure you have the right to ask, and I have the right to get pissed. I also have the right to blacken your name so that no one I know will donate either. Not Good for Anyone. Some organizations have actually chased away devoted volunteers by continual asking. Also, these organizations were probably not charities. I am sure that John gets thousands of donation pitches each month, but he isn’t yelling about NPR. He is upset about being asked to work for free in a disrespectful manner by a for profit. I have volunteered to run fund raisers and write grants for my kids school, but if someone treated it like it would be good for my career or was insulting in any way, screw them.

    I think that at this point you are being deliberately obtuse or you just like the attention.

  147. Greg @ 9:53: “And there isn’t much in these two threads that really frames this as a personal choice.”

    What’s the phrase we’re arguing over again? I’m pretty sure it’s not “Fuck you. Pay for what you want as a general rule.”

    (P.S., @10:08: Why say “no” if you might get paid? Not, granted, that “Fuck you” is a great opener for a business arrangement… but if you stipulate that, then it’s basically synonymous with “no,” right?)

  148. MNmom: I also have the right to blacken your name so that no one I know will donate either. Not Good for Anyone.

    This does not appear to be an actual concern in either of Scalzi’s two original posts. If this is your attempt at explaining the posts, I don’t see where you’re getting this from.

    Some organizations have actually chased away devoted volunteers by continual asking.

    This does not appear to be an actual concern in either of Scalzi’s two original posts. If this is your attempt at explaining the posts, I don’t see where you’re getting this from.

    [Scalzi] is upset about being asked to work for free in a disrespectful manner by a for profit.

    I admit this would make a better headline for the first thread.

    It has better targeting than what’s there now (disrespectful corporations -versus- anyone asking for anything anytime). It also explains it is a personal choice of Scalzi’s, not an absolute rule for everyone (Scalzi is upset -versus- People asking for donations should be fed to wild dogs).

    What I can see now is that its a personal choice even if its being presented as an absolute moral rule. That’s when I was saying I realized I was getting “wrapped around the axles” about the framing. It’s framed as an absolute. But its a personal choice. So, if I ignore the framing, its Scalzi talking about his personal choices around writing for free, versus how everyone is supposed to act around writing for free, then I can get what he’s saying. It’s just framed in a way that confused the hell out of me at first.

    So, yeah, I can get its about how Scalzi is upset about being asked to work for free in a disrespectful manner by a for profit. And we can agree on that.

    If you want to insist the framing as an absolute rule is also correct, then, meh. I don’t think so. But you can if you want to.

  149. Greg, after all of this, it’s about the title of the post? Because you’re too thick to realize “Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free” IS EXACTLY “Should You Be Thinking of Disrespecting Me”? Because others might be? Because it’s MEAN to be rude to those who disrespect? Because “they didn’t know, why go nuclear?”

    Fuck that. First, most of them *do* know, or should – they’re hoping to get away with it anyway. They deserve being post-slapped. Those that don’t are clueless and need a clue-by-four. You’re blaming the victim – “why don’t you just say ‘no’ and be polite? I didn’t ask a million times” – no, but there’s a million of you, and they’ve all asked once – frequently, they continue after many “no”s. Fuck them, they treated me as if my time and expertise are worth nothing; why should I have any respect or patience for them?

    Why should John, or me, or anyone else, respect those who diss them? Isn’t that what Real Life is about – School of Hard Knocks, fuck up and get your ass handed to you?

    “I get people asking me to fix their computer once in a while. I might ask a few questions to see if its something I can figure out just talking with them. If it sounds like a day-long rabbit hole, I just say no. But how would they know how long it would to take to fix unless they knew how to fix it?” Wow, either you are less social than this introvert, or you have the patience of a saint, or you’re a bigger sucker than you should be – there’s a reason the “Friends and Family” rate exists. My “few questions” take two seconds, and don’t involve me asking any questions:
    – is it a checkbox to click? Okay, I’ll tell them what checkbox it is, and if I can remember, how to get there. Or I’ll give them the technical terms to search for to find instructions.
    – if not, there’s the house cleaner’s excuse – “I don’t do Windows.” That usually gets me a blank stare, and a move to another topic.
    – if not, is it interesting? Something I now want to know, or have wanted to know for my own home system? Dinner and beer, then. My open source work falls under this category (and I eat the dinner and beer, because I don’t have to leave my house or get dressed).
    – if not, “You should talk to Geek Squad. My rates are $X (or 150% of $X, if F&F, or 200% of $X, if a random at an event); they’ll be cheaper.” In other words, FY, PM.

    It’s ALL ABOUT respect, and it’s rather disturbing that it’s taken you, a professional that has had to have had this happen to you repeatedly, this long to figure that out. Unless you’re being deliberately obtuse, in which case you don’t have to pay me.

  150. I agree 100%. I am an IT Director. I haven’t been an IT Technician in almost 10 years, but I still have people asking me to fix their dam computers all of the time or asking my advice on the latest computer whatever. I have stopped answering and/or returning calls to friends, relatives and even friends of my children that have driven me crazy wanting me to “help out” with their computer problems. I have friends that are Doctors, lawyers, plumbers, etc. and I wouldn’t dream of asking any of them to stop by my house to “help out” with a medical, legal or plumbing problem.

  151. Mycroft: Greg, after all of this, it’s about the title of the post?

    Maybe if you quoted something I said, I would know what you are talking about. But I don’t recall saying anything was all about the title of the post.

    Because you’re too thick … It’s ALL ABOUT respect …. Unless you’re being deliberately obtuse

    Well, it’s not ALL ABOUT respect for me. For example, one could probably take you calling me “thick” and “obtuse” as disrespect. But I’m not going to get bent out of shape about it.

    At the same time, I’ve been trying to respect Mr. Scalzi’s right to react to people asking him for free writing however he wants to react. It’s his choice. Where I disagreed was with how the posts frame it as a moral absolute statement that is required to be true for everyone.

    For example, you said it is ALL ABOUT RESPECT, a universal statement that must be true for everyone, everywhere, everytime. But it isn’t. Your name calling me doesn’t bother me. So, that’s an example where it is NOT all about respect. It’s a personal choice to make it all about respect FOR YOU. But that doesn’t mean I have to make it all about respect FOR ME. You and I disagree. The fact that I disagree with you does not mean I disrespect you.

    Why should John, or me, or anyone else, respect those who diss them?

    Well, you tell me. Say someone calls you, oh I don’t know, thick and obtuse. Are you required to call them disrespectful names in return? Are you hardwired to demand your honor be restored? Pistols at dawn? Is it a moral imperative that the scales of respect be balanced?

    What would you say to someone who got dissed, and in response, they turned and let the person diss the other cheek? Are they violating some moral absolute by not enforcing the “diss those who diss you” approach? Why SHOULD they disrespect those who diss them? Why MUST they?

    Isn’t that what Real Life is about – School of Hard Knocks, fuck up and get your ass handed to you?

    Is it that way for you? Has no one forgiven you? Fallen in love with you? overlooked your imperfections? Done any number of things in this world that don’t add up on the scales of “an eye for an eye”?

    Life is a lot more than the school of hard knocks. Which school of thought you subscribe to is choice.

  152. I have been doing the struggling-to-be-published writer for a good while now, and as a result I have no problem whatsoever with my day-job. The idea of being asked to write, for free, makes the brain stem twitch, in my opinion. I deliver pizza as a means to make money in this town. I’m asked to go pick up a batched order from a customer, first thing I ask is “How much stop money will I be comped for gas?”

    The Boss has never even attempted to tell me “nothing” as an answer. Damn straight you don’t write for free. Fuck you. Pay me. I’d like to be able to eat.

  153. Of course 5¢ per word, SFWA’s minimum pro rate, is a hobby not a profession. Back in 2008, Scalzi wrote, “The problem was, this very talented writer, and the others on the panel, had largely confined themselves to the science fiction writing markets (and other related markets), in which the major outlets pay the grand sum of six to nine cents a word, and in which three cents a word is considered a ‘pro’ rate.
    “Well, not to be an ass about this, but this pro doesn’t consider it a pro rate; this pro won’t even roll out of bed for less than twenty cents a word.”
    Just so.

  154. Greg, given that the immediate second sentence – as in, The Next Words After You Finished Quoting – were your quotes which I was rebutting in argument; and that there was another direct quote of yours I discussed later – I think I am comfortable. Given that that argument took two days to get out of you – and that it *should be*, but *isn’t*, obvious that the one is equivalent the other, so obvious that that’s the reason for the vituperation in the first place, I got a little heated. Maybe too much, and maybe because I have been on the wrong end of this often enough to hear “but *I*’ve never done this” and “but what about the newwwbieees” (which inevitably means “why are you doing this to me?”, but that sounds selfish) myself, and realize the frustration. And, of course, this is triggering the FY,PM and why anyone would use that language. And it is, in fact, about respect. And why the people who don’t give that respect shouldn’t be surprised when the response is disrespectful (even if, from a Good Person, it shouldn’t be).

    Absolutely, Life shouldn’t be “SoHK”, but that argument doesn’t issue from my mouth; oddly enough it seems to come from those who think themselves entitled enough to pull this stunt. Yes, they’re direct quotes. It just seems to be “SoHK” when Life Sucks hits other people, and “why the nasty reaction? You could have just said ‘no'” when it hits them.

    So, you are absolutely correct, I’m not obliged to do ANYTHING when somebody treats my professional experience, which I do in fact get paid quite well for, thank you, as if it were worthless or worth little. I can CHOOSE to say No, or be polite, or ignore them as if they were speaking a language I don’t understand, or show them up for what they’re doing (which is a lot of fun when they’re professionals themselves, that make much more than I do, and react really badly when I suggest turnabout), or I can choose to drop the hammer. I get to own the consequences of whichever choice I make, but you know what? For those entitled few, it’s the only thing that gets through. For the ones who do this as a matter of course, the only thing that works is not only dropping the hammer, but doing it publicly.

    And yes, I was being disrespectful, and doing it very much for a purpose and quite purposefully. Oddly enough, I believe that Our Host made those same decisions and did what he did for a purpose and purposefully. As do I believe that you are doing what you are doing throughout this thread and the last on purpose and purposefully.

  155. Mycroft: I can CHOOSE to say No, or be polite, or ignore them as if they were speaking a language I don’t understand, or show them up for what they’re doing

    Well, it might be a theoretical possibility, but the question I’m left with is “Are you capable?” So far, all I’ve seen is you being disrespectful, and attempt to justify being disrespectful (That’s just how Real Life works, ya know). If that’s all you’re capable of, then you don’t have a choice to do anything else. Penguins dont have a choice to fly.

    As do I believe that you are doing what you are doing throughout this thread and the last on purpose and purposefully.

    I had one post on the last thread. And my posts on this thread were trying to sort out what the moral difference was between donating money to charity versus donating labor. Scalzi specifically said he expects charities to pay him for his writing, so I thought maybe I was missing something. But I get now that I was caught up in the framing on the thread. People are framing their personal choice as an absolute rule. It tripped me up a bit. But I see it now.

    Other than that, I’m just replying to folks like you who keep trying to reframe the issue into a moral absolute of some kind, like its ALL ABOUT respect. No. It’s all about respect FOR YOU. You forgot the “for you” part. That’s all.

    (~200 words)
    (Waves to david.)

  156. Geez. There’s some anger in here! I should have brought in some levity as I did, oh so surgically, in that last comment section. Mr. Scalzi: You’re totes right, although as Htom mentioned, you could phrase it “Fuck no”; also, unpaid internships are borderline criminal. PS–if anyone wants me to write for them for free…eh, I’ll think about it. I’m not worth much, anyway. (Legal work will cost ya, though.)

  157. Couldn’t agree with you more; also about unpaid internships and treating grad students as (semi-)slave labor…..Just told a group that I’d be happy to help them pick out a telescope, as long as they were willing to pay my hourly consulting fee (less than a typical lawyer, but they were still shocked into momentary silence, before they went back to texting….).

  158. Greg, did it really take you till 10 this morning to figure out that disrespect is the trigger? And that “asking John Scalzi, NYT-bestselling author, to write for free” is the context of the trigger?

    BTW, that it’s John is rather important. If someone asked me, Doc RocketScience, internet pseudonym of an unremarkable high school science teacher, to write something for free, I wouldn’t be insulted so much as bewildered. ‘Cause frankly, I’m just glad I can express more than one thought at a time in coherent English.

    Also, as an aside, I don’t see “moral absolute” and “moral obligation” as synonymous. In fact, I believe in moral obligations, I don’t believe there is such a thing as moral absolutes. Sorry if that doesn’t compute, but, hey, you don’t have to live in my headspace. :)

  159. Man, oh man. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked to work for free — I did tech support for many years before the SAHM thing — I could afford to hire a full-time maid. :P Normally, because I’m a sucker, I’ve been doing it anyway, even for people I don’t know well or like; thanks for the reminder to buck up and have a little more respect for my time.

  160. Doc: did it really take you till 10 this morning to figure out that disrespect is the trigger? And that “asking John Scalzi, NYT-bestselling author, to write for free” is the context of the trigger?

    I pointed out, Bob Geldof asked quite a few top-selling musical artists to sing “Feed the World”. So, it isn’t simply being famous at what one does, or being “NYT bestselling” that is neccessarily the trigger. And Geldof shows that “for free” isn’t neccessarily “disrespectful” to every best selling musical artist. Which was basically what I was thinking of when I first posted on the 10th. I specifically mentioned Geldof later that same day.

    It could be because I’ve literally shoveled shit enough years on the farm that I just don’t see myself as above shoveling shit again if need be. If Amnesty International approached me and said they could get some political prisoner out of being tortured if I just shovel a bunch of shit, I’d do it. I’ve shlepped crates for charity. I’ve written open source works. I’ve given my professional work away for free. I will generally shovel the snow off the neighbors sidewalks when it snows around here. I’ve donated money to charities, and to political organizations. I’ve donated grunt work. And I’ve given my professional skills away on occaission.

    And as for “professional” skills, I mentioned I grew up in a small farm town? The fire department and the rescue squad where I grew up were all volunteers. I got trained as an EMT when I was living there. Paid for it out of my own pocket. Didn’t go on any calls because I moved away for a job about the time I finished my training. But I knew a lot of the people on the squad who went out in the middle of the night and would save your sorry, anonymous, unknown, science teacher ass, in the middle of a blizzard, and they would do it for no pay, in addition to working their full time jobs to pay bills. Poeple working 9-5 would get a phone call at 2 am, and go out into the black, pick you up, patch you up, take you to a hospital, and drag themselves into bed for a couple hours sleep before going to their day job that actually paid them.

    My day job is easy. I work at a desk. It’s air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. And I get paid gobs of money to do it. And I know people who regularly go out and save lives for fucking free in the rain, in blizzards, and in the scorching heat, while working fulltime jobs at the gas station or grocery store to pay their bills. These very same people that I knew actually scraped my ass off the pavement when I got in a car accident years ago, their professional skills kept my sorry ass alive, and they don’t do it for the money.

    Never mind the volunteer fire department. I was at a wedding when when the ceremony got put on hold because the minister, and a groomsman, were on the volunteer fire department, and the call came in just before the bride came down the aisle. These guys train to go into burning buildings and save people’s lives, and they don’t do it for money.

    Which is to say, growing up around friends and family who trained and committed their time and energy to save lives, were willing to risk their lives, and were willing to do all of that for free, and did it in addition to their day job that actually paid the bills, this idea that a charity asking me to donate my cushy “professional” desk job skills for free is somehow “disrespecting” me, is a totally fucking alien concept to me.

    That said, even if its a totally alien concept to me, it’s totally your and anyone else’s personal choice to decide that your professional skills are above donating to charity for free. It’s totally your right to decide that for even the most legitimate charity to approach you, you must get paid money to donate your professional skills. Its your choice. You get to make it.

    But I’m getting a little sick of people telling me it MUST be true for everyone, that it must land as “disrespectful” for everyone to have even a charity approach you and ask you to donate your professional skills for free, and acting shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU, that any other possibility exists. “My god man, how could you not know how disrespectiful this is?”

    So, yeah, it really did take me until this morning to figure out that “disrespect is the trigger”.

  161. Seriously, Greg? You’re comparing fielding requests from people for free professional work with volunteer emergency services? And using that to insult another poster in the same phrase as you note that you know nothing about her except her profession, including her likelihood or lack thereof to be involved in such volunteering? Because there’s no comparison between choosing to volunteer* and being told your professional output is of such little value that you should be happy to donate it to projects which do pay for other people’s professional output. And that is the context. You know what? I recently read the first few months of John’s Whatever posts, courtesy the Wayback Machine, and even in those, late 1998, he had a post about would-be e-zine editors asking writers to write for free. So it’s not like this is a recent development. After fifteen** years of it he’s probably pretty damn sick of it.

    Look, follow the logic, here. Why is it John getting these requests and not Doc RocketScience? Because John’s a professional writer. How do you know about his being a professional writer and what sorts of things he writes? Well, besides actually seeing his work published, there’s this very website. And on every page of the website there’s a sidebar link on availability for interviews, appearances, and writing work. It’s not hidden. Quite clearly stated in that page is: “First, a general note regarding both fiction and non-fiction: I do not write for others without being paid. This is my job. If you cannot pay me to write for you, do not ask me to write for you; you’ll be wasting my time and yours. Requests for non-paid writing will be deleted unanswered.”

    So if you’re asking him to write for free, you have either a) not read his very findable guidelines (in which case you’re showing you don’t care much about it being him doing the writing, you just want a warm-body writer) or b) completely disregarded them. Either way it’s insulting to him. And surprise, he’s insulted.

    *I’m reminded of certain people being very strongly in favor of volunteering for military service and yet being completely against conscription. I’m not going to try to make any comparison here, as I’ve already said in the sentence to which this is a footnote that I don’t think it makes sense, but I’ll note that there is a vast difference between volunteering to do something and being required (or even expected) to do something.

    **I know it doesn’t add up to fifteen, but his post referred to a community that would get this sort of thing, to which he had clearly belonged for some time.

  162. Robin: Seriously, Greg? You’re comparing fielding requests from people for free professional work with volunteer emergency services?

    I think you may have missed the part or the original post I was replying to. From the top of this post, empasis added by me: 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?

    My question was about this specific point. Number 2. CHARITY. The Unicorn Pegasus Kitten was created to raise money for a Lupus CHARITY. If a Lupus CHARITY approached Scalzi to write something for free to raise money for that charity, would Scalzi tell them “Fuck you. Pay me”? That was my question. If not, then point number 2 above is a little unclear. It appears that Scalzi expects to get paid to write, even by a charity.

    And that’s fine. That’s his choice. But I totally disagree with his use of a rather wide brush stroke about ALL people with his leading question:: “Do you think Jeff Zugale did that awesome Unicorn Pegasus Kitten painting out of the kindness of his own heart?”. Do I think someone would do professional labor for a life saving charity out of the kindness of his own heart???

    Why, yes. Yes, I do. In fact, I know people who donate serious, professional quality, life saving, labor, purely out of the kindness of their hearts. They are the friends and relatives I grew up with and they’ve been giving that labor, out of the kindness of their hearts, for years.

    This is another example of that “absolute morality” thing I was talking about. It’s talking about something being true for ALL PEOPLE. It would be more accurate if it were rephrased as a personal choice for Scalzi, saying he expects to get paid for charity work, rather than trying to paint a picture about ALL PEOPLE that just isn’t true.

  163. Oh Greg, never change!

    Your ability to pick on one point and ignore the larger context makes you entertaining (if occasionally irritating… to me).

    I hope your desk job requires picking nits because man I would hire you in a second for that detail work.

  164. Actually, I do have a problem with core societal services being delivered on a volunteer basis, Greg. I don’t think that there should be volunteer fire departments and paramedics, because I think society, at some level, should be ponying up to pay for protecting the people in it. Even if they are working part time because there is no need for full time services, it should be paid for. To do anything else is not only disrespectful of their labor, but is a form of wealth transfer. And it’s this attitude that leads us to teachers being expected to supplement the school budget with their own salaries, effective charity administrators being expected to take pittances for jobs that would pull in sizable salaries in the private sector, and other acts where individuals are expected to shoulder the burden of paying for society on an individual level.

    In short the problem isn’t that our esteemed host chooses to respect the value of his labor, but that you don’t. And my response to you trying to justify your own lack of respect by framing it in terms of nobility, sacrifice, and community is, well, see the image at the top of the page.

  165. Karina: Your ability to pick on one point and ignore the larger context

    I took the larger context to be what MNmom said: “[Scalzi] is upset about being asked to work for free in a disrespectful manner by a for profit.” And I don’t have any problems with that context, so I only made one post on the first thread.

    This thread, bullet #2 talked specifically about charities, and contained some bits that confused me. So I asked the question: whats the difference between donating money to charity versus donating money?

    It boils down to the leading question in #2: Do you think anyone would donate their labor to a charity for free, out of the kindness of their own heart? Well, yeah, actually, I DO think some people would do such a thing. I know some people who have. The implied premise (that no one would donate their labor for free out of the kindness of their own heart) is provably, demonstrably, obviously false, for example, Bob Geldof’s “feed the world”, volunteer EMTs, and similar.

    The larger context (being upset being asked to work for free in a disrespectful manner by a for profit) is kind of irrelevant to this “kindness of their heart” bit used to justify much of #2 being false. No matter how you apply the context, the “kindness of their own heart” bit is untrue.

    NoxAeternum: my response to you trying to justify your own lack of respect by framing it in terms of nobility, sacrifice, and community is, well, see the image at the top of the page

    Ah, well, we disagree. But you’re probably the most blatantly honest person on the thread. Nobility? Sacrifice? Community? Fuck that you disrespectful bastards! Pay up!

    Its admirable in its own way.

  166. I’m reading a very humorous book right now – Ticket to Hollywood by Gary Reilly – and he has this to say about this issue:
    I myself had been approached by people who tried to talk me into writing things after they learned I was an aspiring writer—gratis of course. People have a peculiar attitude toward writers. They think writers are desperate to write things for free out of the goodness of their altruistic hearts.

    I thought you might get a kick out of that.

  167. Here’s the thing, Greg – if I thought that your viewpoint was solely a matter of academic difference, then I would be inclined to leave it at “agree to disagree”. But I find your viewpoint to be a dangerous and corrosive one. I think it is the purest example of disrespect for a community to demand (and yes, it is a demand, no matter how many flowery words about nobility and community are used to dress it up) that individual members shoulder the burdens of providing vital services for the community, rather than the community as a whole. It’s a nicer form of dulce et decorum est. And it leads to situations such as where it is more acceptable to ask teachers to supplement the school budget with their own salaries rather than ask the community to pay more in taxes.

    As for people to heartfully give their time away, as long as they aren’t impacting me, then it’s their own choice. The problem is that none of them live in a vacuum, and their choice to give their labor away does actually impact me. At which point it is no longer just their choice anymore. That doesn’t mean that I won’t give my time to charity – but that decision is mine to make, and I will make it abundantly clear that they are getting something of value. And if it’s a charity I’m not particularly inclined towards and they still want my labor, then see the top of the page.

    I’m tired of seeing people demanding that creative workers freely give their labor up for free for nebulous ideas of “information freedom”. Look at the current circus revolving around the rather Orwellianly named Internet Radio Freedom Act, where artists and songwriters are being asked to take steep cuts in the value of their labor to benefit a company that clearly did not think their business plan through. And yet the artists are the ones vilified for demanding that they get paid what they are worth.

  168. @NoxAeternum, yup.

    I do volunteer, only occasionally, and do donate, but I really agree. It’s great people are willing to do certain jobs, even for free. It’s terrible that they perform such necessary functions to society that we don’t actually pay for.

  169. Nox: The problem is that none of them live in a vacuum, and their choice to give their labor away does actually impact me. At which point it is no longer just their choice anymore.

    Microsoft would absolutely love to have you as dictator. People contributing free software programming skills to Linux doesn’t happen in a vacuum, is impacting Microsoft’s ability to make money, and therefore by your rules… what? Linux is outlawed?

    Encyclopedia Britanica gets Wikipedia outlawed because its based on free labor and is impacting their bottom line. That doesn’t happen in a vacuuum, ya know.

    Oh yeah, I can just see the wonderful corporate dictatorship you would have to create to enact this nonsense. How would you start? Establish salary tables for every job description in the world? And pass a law saying people have to be paid acording to the table? Doctors can’t join Doctors Without Borders? EMT’s can’t be on volunteer squads? Musicians can’t do “Feed the World” type albums? Programmers cant donate programming time to projects like Linux?

    This is a wonderful little dictatorship you’ve designed in your head. Clearly you’ve thought this through.

    I find your viewpoint to be a dangerous and corrosive one.

    Right back at ya.

  170. Unless you are a child working for your parents, your work should always be paid unless you decide otherwise. Even then, your work should always be paid when you’re asked to work. To do otherwise reduces the value of your work.

    I have a friend who did a bunch of work for a startup for free. I told him he was an idiot because he’d never see a dime. If the company can’t manage finances well enough to actually pay an employee, they’ll never be successful. In the meanwhile, you’re wasting your time doing something for nothing rather than finding a way to make money with your time. Guess what–I was right.

    Unpaid internships are simply taking advantage of people who can’t afford it. Here’s the deal–if your training has not prepared you to do your work at some level of proficiency, it failed to do its job. But if you have any level of proficiency, you should be paid. If your work is not worth paying for, you’re doing the wrong job. Companies that practice unpaid internships are simply unethical. There is a cost associated with training a person. If you aren’t willing to pay that cost, you should stick to experienced workers. But… companies can get away with it because there are people lining up to get better training, so if you won’t work for free, someone else will. It’s still unethical.

  171. Hey Scalzi

    This generic ” Fuck Off, Pay Me ” is no good. I want my
    very own personalized version and I want you to write it.
    For free.

    Rest assured that if you do, I will realize that it’s because
    you choose to do so, that it’s in your own free time, so to speak,
    because it amuses you in some greater or lesser degree, and etc.

    PS : Would a metaphorical ” 2¢ worth” constitute payment ?

  172. Greg,

    I can’t speak for Mr. Scalzi but I don’t think he’s suggested that people can’t or even shouldn’t work for free if they want to. He hasn’t even said that he won’t if HE wants to. Wikipedia is a problem for Britannica but no one has suggested that they be banned, not even Britannica. You’ve carved out a straw man to attack. What dictator? If you don’t want to buy his book, magazine or whatever, don’t. YOU are the one in control. He can ASK to be paid whatever he wants but it’s his potential customers who decide if that will actually happen, just like it is with Microsoft and Encyclopedia Britannica.

    I’m a professional appraiser and people ask me ALL THE TIME to give them a ‘ballpark’ opinion on what something is worth, presuming that this is somehow a free service if it’s delivered verbally. I’m a little more polite in my response but the gestalt of the message is still the same. Pay me. ‘Free’ appraisals are easy to come by. They’re also routinely worth less than they cost. The cost is just hidden. Prostitutes aren’t competing against free providers, they’re competing against folks who charge differently, and boy are you ever missing something if you think they’re free.

  173. [Deleted because being lectured for colloquial use of language is not on topic, and annoying besides - JS]

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