For the Edification of All

I’ve just updated myAvailability for Interviews, Appearances and Writing Work” page with the following paragraph:

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.

Because people needed to be reminded.

46 Comments on “For the Edification of All”

  1. I can’t believe you actually have to put that on your web page. Were people actually asking you to write something substantive for free? Lincoln said that a lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade. I assumed that the same was true of a writer’s words….

  2. Most of the people asking recently were aware they were asking for something they wouldn’t be likely to get but felt they should try anyway. I kind of want to discourage the “well, I’ll try anyway” urge.

  3. Ah, kind of like when I say I’m closed to submissions but writers feel that their books are the exception. Yes, am familiar with that kind of stupid. =)

  4. You are 100% correct. Harlan Ellison has had to say so a thousand times, and he still has to keep saying it. You may have said so 100 times, but you also have to keep saying so. In a Capitalist Society, this SHOULD go without saying, except that for a number of reasons that you have explained at length, a vast number of people have NO CLUE as to what an author actually does. None.

    Many people have read a book, and thus inexplicably think that they know what it took for that book to have been published. Yet almost all of them have watched TV, without imagining that they could build a TV.

    Many people have gone to school, and thus they think they know what teachers do. They are almost always wrong.

    What is it that authors, engineers, and teachers have in common? That should also go without saying. But I felt that I had to ask it.

    Hacker’s Ethic: “Information Wants to Be Free.”

    Author’s Ethic: “Authors Want to Be Paid.”

  5. I appreciate and support this entirely.

    Similarly, as a ‘computer guy’, I get requests for tech support occasionally. I provide free tech support to a very short list of people – at this point, my immediate family and my wife’s parents. I don’t charge a lot beyond that, but it has to be enough to make them think twice before calling.

    “What they get for free, they’ll decide is their right; what they pay for, they’ll value.”

  6. Jonathan Vos Post@4: John has certainly written stuff in public without getting (immediately) paid…I think the key phrase up there is “for others”.

  7. Jonathan@4:I’m absolutely with John Scalzi about this. However, the “free” in “Information Wants to Be Free” has to do with its availability, not its cost. It’s unfortunate that in English, we use the same word to represent both concepts.

    You present these two slogans in a way that implies they’re in opposition to each other, but they aren’t. (Or more accurately, only with a misreading of the Hacker’s Ethic do you get something that sounds like it opposes the Author’s Ethic.)

    Cory Doctorow is an excellent example of how they sympathize with each other. His work is highly available. He has placed a Creative Commons license on most (or maybe all?) of his work. He also is a very well paid author.

    I’m not saying that Cory’s way is the One True Way or that we should all adopt Cory’s methods. I’m just saying that making information highly available does not inevitably lead to authors working for no pay.

  8. Would the payment need to be in cash/money, or would you accept services and merchandise in exchange?

    For example, someone could write a software program in exchange for your writing services. Maybe you would accept a rare statue of Howard the Duck or a large shipment of a variety of bacon.

  9. Sir,

    I am disgusted and apalled that you seem to think you should be paid simply for doing your job. Isn’t it enough to bring dubious and peurile entertainment to the unwashed masses of science-fiction readers, people who read on the internet and other peculiar sorts of wireless-and-bleepy-thing afficionados? Surely the sweaty hugs bestowed on you by breathless, babbling fanboys is succour enough? Pallid, pendulous bicep placeholders thrown ’round your neck in febrile adoration should be recompense enough for any man. I strongly recommend you buck your ideas up at once.

    Yours frothingly,

    Delusional of Berkshire.

  10. “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

    — some psycho clown in some movie i saw recently

  11. So on the one hand you’ve got the people who figure they can quit their day job and make their fortune writing fiction. Then you’ve got the people who figure that some who HAS quit his day job so that writing IS his day job, would somehow do more writing just for free.

    There’s something wrong with this picture. Must be the DTV converter box is getting the analog signal wrong…

    Dr. Phil

  12. If I wrote as my day job I might MIGHT consider a free short story if it was for charity.

  13. Do I need to send an email requesting that you write something for free on your blog on what ever subject matter you choose that may or may not entertain me at some time in the next few days?

    If I sent that in an email, would you honor it? Please? Because I am cute?

  14. How are you on things like: some con has an author friend of yours as GOH, and they ask you to write the short appreciative article for the program book?

    Understand, I’m not asking you to do this, and am unlikely ever to be in a position to do so. It’s just that this sort of writing is something that pro writers in the SF field have traditionally done gratis, and I wonder if barriers are arising against that sort of thing.

  15. It’s all about who owns the IP that’s being rendered into word/picture/song/whatever. If anyone but the author owns it, that owner is trying to make money with the IP. Whoever actually executes it deserves a share of some kind.


  16. Jonathan@4: Hacker’s Ethic: “Information Wants to Be Free.”

    Similarly, I am convinced that large-screen flat-panel TVs want to be free.

  17. I have much the same policy. The only time that I will write for free is when I get something of benefit. I just wrote an article for a website that is in my non-fiction niche and that has significantly higher page rank than my site. When I do that, it is easy to see the spike in traffic as well as the spike in book sales. I’m okay with that. The key, though, is that your site has to get significantly more traffic than mine.

  18. Thank you, John.

    I’d go hunting around this site for a more appropriate place to put this, but it’s a damn big site and I just want to communicate a simple message.

    I just spent my weekend reading “Agent to the Stars” and “Zoe’s Tale”. Astoundingly witty dialogue that had me laughing out loud amidst confused patrons at the local Starbucks, and wiping tears from my eyes in the description of Enzo’s end.

    Magnificent. Engaging. Astounding.

    I’ve read your other books previously and enjoyed them thoroughly. These two pushed you over the top (and I’m utterly astounded that AttS was a “trial” work – you’ve far more talent than you’re willing to acknowledge).

    Write like the wind, dude. I want to read whatever you put on offer. Thanks for being so damn brilliant and clever. You’ve joined the ranks of Richard Morgan, Alastair Reynolds, Iain Banks, and Dan Simmonds (amongst a handful of others) from whom I would gladly purchase hardcover editions at first sight.

    I’m hoping that you’re doing well enough from the writing that you can quit you day job and focus on it full time. The world would be a better place for everyone out here.

    Thanks again for a spectacular experience.

    — Nick —

  19. Amen. And (and John, you may remember my angry rant about a certain publishing company) then there are the people who *agree* to pay you and refuse to send the check for six months.

    I’m appalled by the legions of people on craigslist here in los angeles who have the temerity to ask for screenplays or TV pilots to be written for them for free; people, if it’s a service YOU CAN’T DO, you need to offer MONEY for it. They display an ignorance about the business with “oh, if it gets ‘picked up,’ you’ll get paid.”) No. Most stuff *doesn’t* get picked up, and the writers get paid *anyway,* in advance, because writing material of that quality is very, very difficult and worthy of payment regardless of the whims of the business.

    Almost as appalling is that there are people out there who will get suckered in to doing this for free.

    Mind you, there are exceptions–I wrote a play for an incredibly talented grad actor at my graduate school to star in, knowing he’d do the heavy lifting to get it produced, and now have a very impressive writing sample, as well as a production that sold out its entire run. But I pick those projects very, very carefully, and really, that was writing for myself.

  20. Dear Mr. Scalzi,

    I do not wish for you to be unpaid for your talents. I am more than happy to pay for the privilege of reading your books. Please write more of them. Now, if not sooner.

    A devoted fan.

    P.S. While I generally prefer doggy pictures to kitty pictures, I have found this is not the case when it comes to pictures of your animals. I suspect that you find kitties vastly superior to doggies, and therefore take better pictures of them. Yes, of course, this is just a suspicion, and may be far from the truth… In any event, if you feel at all inclined to take my advice (which I suspect you do not, but there’s no harm in trying) please continue to take more kitty pictures than doggy pictures.

  21. The only thing I might reasonably expect an author to write for me for free would be his/her autograph if I caught him/her at a book signing. All others pay cash.

  22. I am curious to know, does that include review blurbs of other people’s work? How about Introductions to other people’s work? Do you get paid for both?

    I’m just curious about how these things work. This is not a request for either task.

  23. Introductions are writing work, and yes, I generally get paid for those. Blurbs are not paid for, but then, they would be suspect if they were.

  24. Just to throw a serious bit into the pool, it does occasionally irk me when people honk on that “information wants to be free, as in free beer”.

    I’d say “Them as makes it get to do what they want with it” – sell it, give it way, trade it for Alf pogs or whatever. It’s no third party’s decision. Nor (as while as it’s a free (as in speech) country) is it up to the buyer to dictate price – the seller always retains the rights to say “no sale” and be on his merry way, perhaps to where skinflints don’t live.

  25. Hm, if I give you $5, would you ghost-tweat? :D

    28 cents per character has GOT to be more than the magazines are paying these days!

  26. I am a writer. If people ask me to write something for free, I ask them to do something for me for free, like wash and vacuum out my girlfriend’s Jetta.

    This response tends to provoke either an offer of cash payment, or a clean Jetta, or an absence of future bothersome and insulting emails from the people in question.

  27. GCAW, you’ve just got me thinking. If writing is so pleasurable to do that you’ll give the product of that pleasure for free, then surely other pleasure byproducts would every bit as well!

    That Scalzi fellow sure seems to go through a lot of Coke Zero. And conversely so. Hmmm….

  28. I know John’s mentioned this before here and there, but I never quite thought people could actually do that…until I decided to go solo with my law firm.

    Amazing how many friends-of-friends thought I might ply my trade for free on their behalf. Now, I don’t mind giving away a little bit of free advice as a marketing ploy — here’s a taste of what I can do for you — but amazing how many of them have skittered off when I presented them my (very!) generous hourly rate.

  29. If I wrote as my day job I might MIGHT consider a free short story if it was for charity.

    I am an incredibly obscure nobody who writes (and edits) as her day job, and I get more of these requests than I can deal with politely.

    I imagine the Scalzi inbox is positively teeming with them. I love charitable enterprises, and support them whole-heartedly, but there are way too many charity anthology projects out there these days.

  30. When I write or edit for charity, I ask for a receipt for services rendered, and I quote my highest rate.

  31. Amount of time I spend per month talking to potential new clients: on average, 10 hours

    Percentage of those clients that I land: 30%

    Percentage that choose a different lawyer: 40%

    Percentage that choose to ignore the legal problem: 10%

    Percentage that were only using me for free legal advice on the pretext of a consult: 20%

    Curse that 20%.

  32. In my part of the computer industry, there are two terms for this:

    “I don’t do windows” (which is not exactly true, but I don’t do Windows for anyone that isn’t me) and
    “Friends and Family rate” (200% of general consulting rate. Mother excepted, but it’s on my schedule as long as I look for time in my schedule).

    I am always impressed with people who do their “thing” for me, for free, just because. A magician friend of mine that does party tricks when bored, or when he sees I’m interested. A masseuse that does a one-minute “feel better” thing when I’m visibly limping. But note that there’s no ask there. It’s volunteered.

    I’m willing to give professional advice, in a throwaway or general manner, if it’s short, and knowing that I’m not committing to doing it. I have been known to ask for “5 minutes” of time from my professional friends, and if all I get from it is “you really need a <professional> for this one”, fine. But again, “No” is, and if you’re asking me, had better be, an acceptable answer…

    But yeah, the rest? My time is worth <mumble>/hr. What are you going to give me in exchange for that time (and, since it’s a computer problem, the frustration – frequently worse than the timesink)? Doesn’t have to be money; doesn’t have to be anything tangible, even; but something close to equivalent, or go away.

    On the other hand, there’s two words I expect you to write for me, for free, John. When and if we meet; it won’t require any thinking on your part. It could, even, be multiple copies of those two words. And yes, I will follow the guidelines for *that*, as well.

  33. I’m nowhere near where Our Esteemed Host is – but I sing for my supper with a keyboard – and I need to get paid or I’ll go hungry.

    So I get paid for my work: if I’m writing for free, I’m writing for me.

    There are exceptions to that rule – such as something I did for a regular client today. I didn’t charge him, but it took less than three minutes and I get regular work from him anyway.

  34. I’ve been a national level, buck-a-word journalist for the last 10 years or so. You know, two best selling tech books, no-I’m-not-Cory-f’in-Doctorow. And yes, there are plenty of people who want you to write for free (free as in beer, not as in freedom, people who conflate the two do NOT understand the Hacker Ethic). And then there are those who offer “exposure,” that is almost never actual exposure. Usually, I laugh in their faces (right after I spit on the ground). I write for free under certain, very limited circumstances.

    1) It’s for a friend or family member… whom I like.

    2) I am promoting something I’m selling. Whether it’s a book that will be bought from Amazon or my copywriting services that will be bought direct from me. I have a certain “promotional budget” of time, effort and dollars.

    3) It’s for a good cause. “Good cause” does not involve someone, who is not a 501c3, making money (other than me). But I have been known to donate time or cut rates to people who actually really are charitable and do good work. I spend a vast amount of time every spring preparing taxes, for free, for the poor and elderly. Charitable work is good work.

    4) It’s for exposure that IS exposure. It’s in my market and has enough circulation to make it worthwhile. Circulation: 100K, YE HA! Circulation: 10K, just this once. Circulation: 1K, oh, okay, maybe when I get around to it. Circulation: 100, yeah, right, in your dreams! Circulation: 10, why are you asking me?

    5) I really want to. No, I really, REALLY want to. I have something to say and this is a good place to say it. I have something pre-written I’ve been unable to place. I reserve the right to work for whatever remuneration I please and that includes “because I wanna” sometimes. Angela Hoy cannot make me feel guilty for deciding what I will and won’t work for.

    But I respect John’s right not to work for what he doesn’t want to work for. He’s paid his dues.

  35. Not to call out Angela Hoy whom I consider a friend, she’s just a notable voice in the community on this particular topic…

  36. Easily in the top 5 worst things about being an attorney…the frequent calls from random relatives wanting “legal advice.” You try to be a good sport…but the situation almost invariably involves “this guy I know” getting arrested for something…and I, of course, am not a criminal lawyer, but getting the concept that there are multiple types of lawyers through the heads of the general O.J. trial watching public is elusive. Or it involves some small potatoes dispute…very little money and very large ego trip involved…”can you believe that crap? so, what can I do about it?” through gritted teeth they say. Um, I don’t know…want to pay me hundreds of dollars an hour to find out, like everyone else does? Except the difference between them and you is that their disputes actually involve something important, or, failing that, a reasonably large amount of money.

    Yeah…I can’t imagine it’s much better for writers. “Hey, you’re a writer. Write something!” *smack*

  37. I am coming late to this party, but I am with LB on the folks who ask me for free legal advice. It gets worse with me as I do strictly legal aid work. I don’t charge clients, therefore folks figure that I am used to working for free; no, I get paid for my work, just not by my clients.

    I also have quirk that becomes relevant a little later. I don’t like getting phone calls before I go to work. Somewhere I have decided that phone calls before work never, ever are good news.

    Anyways, a friend of my mom’s calls me at home before work. She went on for a bit asking whether I remembered who she was, etc, etc etc. I am internally freaking out as I am thinking that she is about tell me some bad news about my mom. It turns out she wanted free legal advice.

    Aaaaahhhhhh!!!!! What made things worse, I actually referred her to someone in her community who did the work, did it really well and did not charge clients. Did she follow my advice; nope, she hired someone.


  38. I’d assume that with legal advice there would be a lot of ethical issues involved in giving advice for free. . .

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