Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to Deal with Writers Effectively in One Easy Lesson

That’s right, if you are a publisher, anthologist, or anyone else who frequently enters into business transactions with writers but often finds them problematic, I am going to tell you how to deal with writers effectively in just one easy lesson made up of two simple, single-syllable words.


There seems to be a great deal of confusion about writers. Some people seem to believe that a business transaction with a writer operates under entirely different rules than all the other business transactions they enter into every day of their lives. This can be cleared up very easily with two more simple words:


This is how business transactions work:

1.) Someone provides a service or product in exchange for a fee.

2.) You need that service or product.

3.) You pay the fee, you get the service or product.

That’s how it works. That’s how it works everywhere. That’s how it has always worked everywhere. If you can’t pay, there is a problem. The problem is that you can’t pay. The problem is NOT that the person who provides the service or product expects payment because, as I pointed out:


I’ve been a professional, full-time writer for 30 years. During that time, I have heard many brilliantly creative attempts to get around this fact. I’ve even been asked for work by people who have no intention of paying for it and don’t even offer a payment, people who seem incapable of understanding why a professional writer would find that insulting. After hearing all of these approaches enough times, they all begin to sound alike. They run together into a blur of toxic, squirming bullshit that amounts to something resembling this:

“But we’re giving you the chance to be published by us/appear in our anthology/be a part of our team/etc. We thought you would appreciate that. We’re giving you a tremendous opportunity here. We thought you would want to be a part of what we’re doing. We’d like you to be part of our family.”

First of all, I already have a family, and they fucked me up beyond repair. I don’t need another one. And if I decide to find one, I certainly won’t build it around a business transaction.

I’m not asking for any favors, so please don’t offer any, or worse, pretend that you’ve offered one when you haven’t.

No, you’re not giving me a tremendous opportunity if you expect me work for free. What you’re giving me is an unlubricated pineapple right up the anus. I don’t need one of those. I need to be paid for my work. That’s why I’m here.

There was a time in my life when I wrote constantly for my own pleasure. That was before I entered school and during the years I attended school. You’re a little late. You missed it. That time is over. Now I write for a different reason. I like to call that reason:


There are a lot of writers who do not write for a living. They do other things in addition to writing. Some have entire careers separate from their writing. This does not change a single thing. That writer still provides a service/product and the business transaction is still a business transaction and SHOULD be carried out like any OTHER business transaction.

Let’s say you have a car problem. You take the car to an auto mechanic. The mechanic finds the problem and fixes it. Then the mechanic expects to be paid. But you say, “Look, I’ve had a lot of mechanics work on my car over the years, and now you’re one of them. I appreciate what you’ve done, but I thought you would appreciate being a part of that family of mechanics who also have worked on my car. I’ve done many wonderful things in my car and it’s taken me to many wonderful places, and I thought it would be enough for you simply to be a part of that.”

There is a spectrum of responses you might get that would fall between the mechanic chuckling and saying, “You’re shittin’ me, right?” and the mechanic introducing the business end of a tire iron to your forehead. Nowhere within that spectrum would you find the response, “Okay, sounds good to me. Have a nice day!”

No one is stupid enough to try that — not unless they’re affiliated with a hidden camera prank show on TV. No one is stupid enough to think that a mechanic — or any other professional, for that matter — would accept that kind of insulting bullshit in lieu of payment. No one.

And yet this happens quite frequently to writers. These and other equally insulting and skull-crackingly stupid things are often said in an effort to talk a writer out of being paid and after a while, it can get kind of demoralizing. But you know what?


There’s a reason for this. A lot of people write. Among those people are many who have no self-respect, no confidence in their work, a streak of masochism, and no concern for things like quality, reputation or respect. They have one goal and one goal only, and that is to be published. They will do anything and accept any kind of treatment as long as it results in their name being printed on something somewhere that somebody might read. To them, the sensation of an unlubricated pineapple up the ass is the sound of opportunity knocking.

Those of us who think we’re pretty good at what we do and have some self-respect and would like to be shown some respect and even have a certain fondness for the idea of getting paid for our work have a message for those who fit that description:


We are sane enough, however, to know that’s not going to happen. But we remind those interested in entering into business transactions with writers:



  1. Love this post. It says what everyone should know, but somehow it needs to be said again.

  2. Bravo thank you thank you I could not have said it better myself

  3. Some people think writing is so easy anyone can do it--until they need to sound literate on the page.

    I'm always amazed when people say, "You should write my life story." Oh, like I'm just waiting for the opportunity. Like I'm too lame to think of material on my own. When I tell them how much it would cost them, they back away in a hurry!

  4. Pineapples belong in my tummy, and not up my bummy. (>_>)

    Totally spot on, though. Why work for free when it doesn't get you anything besides a short term emotional high? Having my name in print isn't so important that I don't want to be paid for my efforts.

  5. If you want something, you MUST pay for it. This is complicated, how? Totally baffled by why this has to be pointed out to anyone. It's completely logical and really a no-brainer. *sigh*

  6. does that mean you won't be in my anthology?

    1. No. It means there won't BE an anthology.

    2. I usually don't mind a little snarkiness now and then, but I'm pretty sure he was joking.

  7. Thank you Ray- Beautifully articulated :-)

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Thank god I don't do this for a living.

  10. *cheers*

    I'd even take this a step further: people who would never dream of walking out of said mechanic's store with their tire iron will happily download ebooks off torrent sites.

    Writers are always getting ripped off.

  11. I am so tired of getting fucked over by unnamed entities. Thank you Ray. I guess my first comment didn't go through.

  12. LOL I love it. I know in my early early days I accepted the "getting your name in print" thing for the first few genre magazines I got published in. The final straw was when I wrote for a non-profit webzine. I wrote inspirational articles once a month. Once again it was free, but I did it for exposure. I quit after a few months though when A) the editor who would try and "polish" my articles was half the writer I was. I felt he had no business telling me what to do to make my stuff better when his was crap. and B) they would push me on deadlines and want certain topics etc....HELLO? I'M DOING THIS FOR FREE! I had a full time job and a family and these pricks were jumping my ass about deadlines and crap as if I had nothing better to do or like they should have been my top priority. So after that I said enough. Now I don't mind doing guest blogs in return for promotion of my book, etc. But yeah, you said everything perfectly.

  13. If exposure and 'your name in print' is all a writer wants, there are non-problematic ways of doing it. A couple of my earliest credits were in Doctor Who fan fiction anthologies in support of charities. The small press has largely been replaced by shitty Wordpress blogs these days, but there's another option for the payment-oblivious hobbyist (the £10 or so I made per story was a ridiculously token amount for all it was much appreciated at the time). There ARE places you can go if you're not bothered about money.

    The most insidious thing that's happened to writers though, is the word 'content'. The web potentially provides so many opportunities for writers, but the creeping use of the word 'content' in place of 'writing' or 'literature' has spawned a generation of budget holders who think any old shit from a voucher clipping stay at home mum will do the job as well as polished professional writing. Not that there aren't voucher-clipping stay at home mums who are capable of producing quality work but... well, let's end that sentence there. Fucking Suite101 and its imitators have a lot to answer for.

  14. Well said, Ray. I'm going to have Tweet this out and see if the birds poop on it any.

  15. Here via Keith DeCandido. I'm not a writer myself (I'm lucky if I write a story once a year, and that's always part of a writing challenge...), and I absolutely support this.

    One of my friends-of-friends puts a donation button on every story she self-publishes on the Web. All of them are worthy of payment, yet she gets pushback from people who don't get it.

    Good luck to all of you.

  16. Love this! And the next level is that you shouldn't expect a published writer to look at your work for free...

  17. Oh yes. Awesome post, Ray, as usual, but this might be my favorite so far... of course, I say that with every post of yours I read. But this one hits home!

  18. I wouldn't write for free if the pineapple was an M&M. Screw that.

  19. This needs to move out of the Blog world, and be placed on the front page of all the major newspapers, sent to each and every publishing house, and maybe even read aloud on the evening news..

    Bravo !!!!!

  20. I'm very annoyed reading this, but it's because I didn't write it. Well said, every word.


  22. Indeed.

    Although paying me for WRITING (I've been making my full-time, self-supporting living at this for 24 years) is the key theme here and I embrace it whole-heartedly, I suggest a footnote: People also shouldn't expect -me- to PAY for the privilege of sharing my professional experience and knowledge with them on my own time.

    I finally wrote up a "standard terms for public appearances" document last year that I now send to anyone who asks me to speak at an event, because I got so tired of people wasting my time with a multi-email exchange, inviting me to speak at their event, explaining what they wanted me to do, etc.... only for me to discover after they'd alreadyw asted that much of my time that they were inviting me on the basis of assuming I would pay my own airfare to the coast to speak to them, pay my travel-and-food expenses to spend a day teaching their seminar 100 miles away, pay for my own hotel room in exchange for the privilege of spending a weekend of working their event, donate several hours of my time to teach a workshop to their local group, etc., etc.

    Conferences, conventions, workshops, events, etc. represent time away from my personal life (which is already neglected enough) and also time away from my writing life (which I can't afford). The claim that I'll get "promo" out of it isn't effective (I get far MORE promo for my career out of my publisher running a banner add for my book on Amazon for a week, for example, than out of spending a day talking to aspiring writers about how to write and sell books).

    I'm perfectly willing to speak at events (I do it several times a year), but I finally wrote up a document which I send immediately, when contacted, to forestall someone wasting my time who expects me to take off a day or a weekend, and to work for them, AT MY OWN EXPENSE.

    1. Yes! This. I turn down a lot of appearance requests for this reason.

  23. Brilliant post.

    I'm very glad I found my way here via the Passive Voice blog; I'm going to be coming back regularly because of the sanity and the wonderful blog title.

    Steven Schend

  24. I shall never be able to look at another pineapple without thinking
    And I'll avoid becoming a member of the pineapple gang at all costs.

  25. Thank you for the great comments, everyone! I know what you mean, Laura Resnick. I considered covering other things like that in this article, but decided to stick to payment for now. I plan to write more articles about writing and I'll cover those other things eventually. For example, I've found that when people find out I'm a writer, one of the most common requests is that I read their manuscript and let them know what I think. I do book doctoring and critiquing work on the side, but for a fee, of course, because it's time consuming, and it's a SERVICE! I mean, it's WORK! I finally had to post a note on my Facebook page telling people that I simply could not read manuscripts for free. I'm not sure how many times I'll have to post it before the requests stop coming in, but I'll keep trying.

    It's true, people think that because it's work you love, then it's not really work, so you're available for anything and everything -- for free. It's like the idea of working at home -- a lot of people seem to think that if you're working at home, you're not really working, so you're available. It's very frustrating and with each passing year, I have less and less patience with this attitude.

  26. While I agree with the majority of this piece, and with the sentiment that it shouldn't be assumed writers will work for free, I disagree with the last part. Just because a writer is at a point in their career where they consider it more important to get their work in front of readers' eyes instead of getting paid for it, that doesn't mean they have no self-respect or confidence, or no concern for quality or respect. Sometimes it's a business decision, just like some companies will give away free samples of their product in order to attract customer attention.
    In my case, my book sales were languishing between nothing and barely there, but when I set one of my books for free, the sales of my other books took off. So, when I decide it's in my own best interest to give away a story for free, whether it's on my own or in an anthology with other writers, no, I won't knock it the fuck off.

  27. You misunderstood the article, S. I didn't mention a thing about "free samples."

  28. If I choose to submit a story to an anthology for the purpose of exposure, rather than monetary payment, that would be a 'free sample' I'm willing to give away. It's not a free sample of my book, it's a free sample of my writing.

  29. Gasp! I am in shock! Shock, I say! A writer wants to be PAID for their work? What is the world coming to? Cats and dogs sleeping together?!? Aren't writers supposed to be penniless, suffering artistes?

    Unfortunately, I've found this attitude runs beyond just publishers and sometimes editors. Some readers even think this way, and far, far worse, some writers think this way.

  30. That's more like it, S. Yes, that's what I'm talking about. You're free to do it, but you're contributing to the problem.

  31. I work as an concept artist and we do get this kind of "offers" too. I found a good way to deal with them: these are, after all, not the clients I want. Simple as that. So I just want to get them off the phone to avoid them wasting my time.
    After identifying such a "client" I will in fact give them a new price–a significantly HIGHER one!

    I jusually need to repeat these steps once more before they understand that I am not joking. But once it sinks in they go away quietly never to return with a similar offer

    Works nicely.

  32. I see a distinct difference between offering a free product sample direct from producer to consumer, and offering a 'free product sample' to a third party distributor, who then charges the consumer for it. It is no longer a free sample. It is a free pineapple. For the writer.

    Free samples are an enormously powerful sales tool; however it is not a 'free sample' just because you the writer aren't getting paid. It's only a free sample if it's both a) free to the consumer, and b) limited. Whether limited by the size of the sample, or the length of time you can download it for free. And sure, you can leave one book free indefinitely if it brings people to the rest of your catalogue.

    However, people who think they are offering 'free samples' to publishers who make it their business model not to pay writers need to understand that this practise is substantively different from making a sample free to readers on Amazon.

    Readers who check out free books and samples are looking for an author they can read again and yes, pay for. Publishers who want free content have that as a permanent practice. Perhaps you'll get some notice. However, I've noticed that the better quality publications make a point of paying their contributors, even the ones that run on a shoestring. They can't pay much, but they do pay. They get it.

    By not asking for payment from third party publishers, you help to fund the lie that excellent new content is so plentiful that it is a low-value commodity. You're free to do this of course. However, your actions, and the actions of all writers collectively, do impact your future ability to earn income from your writing.

  33. I don't see it as a problem. I see it as a method of getting my work in front of more people, and in the long run, selling more books. It's a marketing technique, nothing more.

    And actually, it's not a lack of confidence. In fact, it's just the opposite. I'm confident that my free book will convince readers to purchase my other books.

  34. I liked this article as a whole but disagree with many points. The main point is that I have been published recently in a few anthologies that paid a mere contributor copy. The point was for the exposure. I have not written much in my life, mostly before I entered the work force as a teacher, a job that seems to suck out all of my creative energies. I never thought of self publishing the classic way, where you pay to have your books printed. I have put a few things out there on some of the eBook sites but when this opportunity arose, I said why not?

    Since the first story I have written a few and it seemed to spark something in me that I thought had died. I know I may never enjoy the success that a full time writer has, nor do I have any delusions of grandeur. I do think, maybe erroneously, that having a story in an anthology or two may be a way to have my name out there so I can eventually get paid for a story. For now, I am actually writing again, and I owe that to an editor of anthology that approached me about a story I had of mine that was already posted on a popular site for free.

    1. A professional writer gets paid for his/her work. By definition.

      A writer who does not get paid for his/her work is not a professional. By definition.

      Being published "for the love" makes you an amateur, not a professional. By definition.

      If you give away your writing for the "exposure," why should anyone ever pay you for it?

      Of course, if you have no desire ever to become a professional writer, all the above is moot.

  35. S. Wolf and C is the Big Dog -- I understand WHY you do this. Your reasons for doing it aren't relevant to this discussion. I know you don't think this is a problem for you, but every time you do it, you're relieving yourself in the pool, and you are not the only two people IN that pool. There is a bigger picture here that you're not seeing and maybe have no interest in seeing, but your lack of interest does not change that bigger picture.

    You are contributing to the notion that if a publisher wants a writer's work, he doesn't have to pay for it. There are always, ALWAYS plenty of S. Wolfs and C is the Big Dogs out there willing to hand over free work so THEY can get exposure. But don't fool yourself into thinking that it will lead to PAYING work later, because THAT is what you're damaging when you give publishers free work. The brass ring of payment for your work is pushed farther out of reach every time you work for free. Ever heard of the old saying, “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” It usually refers to sex, but it applies here. You’re giving away free milk, S. and C. Your reasons for doing it don’t change the result, and the result is this: If you start out by giving your work away for free, then you’d better like it because you’re going to keep getting more of the same.

    I've been asked MANY times to contribute to anthologies in exchange for a free copy, an insulting proposition that shouldn't even be made. The reason it’s made, though, is because there are so many S. Wolfs and C is the Big Dogs who agree to it that now it has become a fairly standard offer. If publishers want to put together anthologies of new writers who are willing to work for free so they can get some exposure, fine, but that's not how it works. Because of the success of this ploy, publishers make the same approach to established professional writers and they do it with a straight face.

    Yes, you're getting exposure, but you are decreasing your OWN chances of getting paid for other work later once you've gotten some exposure, and you are doing the same thing to a LOT of other writers. In order to understand this, you have to step back from your own personal reasons for doing it and look at that bigger picture. Like I said, you're pissing in the pool.

  36. Adam:

    There is a third kind of boob in the mix. I can understand why you didn't mention them though.
    There is the nimrod that prattles on and on about BEING a writer but never quite manages to GET HIRED to write or PAID for anything, or produce anything salable. They muddy your water too.

    Jack Haldeman once told somebody while I was lurking, "Stop calling yourself a professional writer and call yourself a WORKING Writer."
    "...for some reason it is easier to get paid that way".
    I thought it interesting enough to remember all these years.

    Be well.
    Lloyd McDaniel

  37. Nothing really to add here.

    I am sick to death of "writers" who "write" for free. Most of that crap shouldn't even exist, much less be free.

    I am also quite sick of publishers who don't pay, or pay late, or lie about it. Just have the decency to explain that money is tight and that the promised funds are going to be late in coming. The publishers who at least told me that I'd have to wait did me a small courtesy. The ones who keep telling me that the money is on the way...those are the ones who are the most crooked.

  38. Huh? Our reasons for doing it aren't relevant to this discussion?

    YOU seemed to think they were relevant when claimed the reason we do it is we have no self-respect, no confidence in our work, a streak of masochism, and no concern for things like quality. After making that claim, the reasons aren't relevant anymore? Seriously?

    And forgive me if I don't buy into your Chicken Little scenario. There always have been opportunities for new authors to get their stories in front of readers without monetary payment, and it hasn't stopped the opportunities to get paid from happening. And my own experience doing this has led to increased sales, which is PAYING work. Your prediction of giving away free work leading to more of the same simply just doesn't match the reality I'm seeing.

    As for peeing in the pool, I don't expect you to do anything that goes against your self-interests in order to benefit me, so I'm not sure why you'd expect me to restrict my sales for your benefit.

  39. But I find, if nothing else, when you show up at the grocery store, or to pay your electric bill, or your monthly mortgage, pick up badly-needed prescription medication, etc., you can always show them a copy of your contract that promises to pay you ON ACCEPTANCE (hoping, of course, that no one notices the date on the contract is 7 months old), so it seems only fair, going by this logic, that they provide you with on-credit groceries, prescriptions, a roof over your head, etc., because as soon as said publisher pays you for your already-rendered services, you shall happily, gleefully, with a song in your heart and a jaunty bounce in your step, pay them for *their* services rendered.

    Seriously, you should try this. Just to see the looks on their faces as they shake your head and maybe offer the address and phone number of the nearest Social Servies office.

    Brilliant, *brilliant* post, Ray.

    -- Gary Braunbeck

  40. Look, S., I don't have time to keep explaining myself to you. I made my point in the article with some humor and sarcasm. If it offends you, then write your own article on the subject. I don't expect you to do anything, S. I had a point to make. I made it at LEAST once. If you think it doesn't apply to you, then I don't know why you're so worked up about it.

  41. Amen to this! Bravo for this excellent post.

  42. LOL Gary! Thanks for reading and commenting. Great to hear from you.

  43. Thanks for the excellent article, Ray! You told the truth, and were nothing short of inspirational.

    I must admit I was one of those pool-pissers when I started. I lacked confidence, yes, but mostly I thought it was simply how the writing world worked. There are many rules of the business that are good for publishers but not so good for writers (which could be a whole other article), so I thought payment in contributor copies was the first rung in the ladder a writer must climb.

    I started thinking differently when I had an argument with a zine editor over serial rights. This editor insisted on obtaining First North American Serial Rights from all contributors, but only paid in zine copies. I suggested that, since he offered so little in return, perhaps he should only be asking for one-time rights and/or reprint rights. He scoffed at the very idea, and told me his method "encourages writers to write more!" I nodded and smiled... and never sent him anything unless it had been rejected by every other publisher first.

    You are right - my willingness to write for free contributed to the attitude this zine editor proudly held. These days, I like to look at the writing jobs posted on Craigslist so I can laugh at all the posters offering 'no pay' for hours of hard work. I do believe it is hard, however, for beginning writers to realize their work is worth money. There are so many out there working diligently to convince them otherwise.

    Thanks again.

    1. I don't see a problem with taking a contributor copy as payment. If a new novel that took a year to write is worth only, say, 3,000 dollars, then 30 dollars (or a thirty-dollar item) might be fair payment for a 30-page short story.

      That is, if it's a book you would have actually *bought* if you couldn't get it for free.

      (If you wouldn't have bought and read the thing unless your own story was in it, then you've basically been paid with a giant paperweight.)

      I don't think professional writers should be that worried about no-name newbies. If they're giving their stuff away, it might not be that big a deal. No one has ever heard of them! Now if James Patterson and Stephen King started giving their stuff away, that would be a problem. Already I've seen new hardcover novels by Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King sold for just $9 each. If you're a lesser-known writer, it might be hard to get people to spend $8 on your new paperback if they can get a future #1 bestseller, in hardcover, for just a dollar more.

  44. Lloyd -- That's a great quote! And I'm going to take that advice. From now on, "working writer" it is! Thanks.

  45. You've made a good point, Timothy. Publishing is a mystery to most people. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked over the years, "How much does it cost you to have your book published?" They usually express shock when I explain that the publisher pays the writer. When I ask how they THOUGHT it worked, they usually shrug and say they had no idea. But they assumed that writers paid for the privilege of being published.

    Anyone who wants to write is probably writing already. If they’re not, they’re just talking about it, and they probably never will. But if they’re serious about it, they’re going to do some research, find out how publishing works, see what writers have to say about the business of writing and writing itself. They'll read everything they can get their hands on, see what’s out there, find out who’s doing what and how they’re doing it and whether or not it’s working. There is no drive-thru window for writing. It might seem like there is, but there really isn’t.

    These days, self-publishing is more accessible and common than it used to be, which has only muddied the waters further. Those who choose to self-publish don’t have to jump the same hurdles as those who go the traditional route of submitting to a publisher, but that’s not always an advantage. And the big difference between the two is that ANYONE can self-publish. Pointing to a self-published book and saying, “Look! I’m a writer, just like Stephen King!” (and believe me, that attitude is ABUNDANT out there, and I’ve heard people say that very thing more than once) is a lot like pointing to a drawing and saying, “Look! I’m an artist, just like Leonardo da Vinci!”

    I think what’s changed even more drastically than publishing is the attitude of sooo many people out there. When I make the point I just made in the above paragraph, the immediate response of many is, “Oh, you think you’re better than me!” That’s so absurd, it doesn’t even deserve a response, but it’s a very common attitude. There is a sense of entitlement that seems to have permeated every aspect of our culture these days. Too many people just want to be “published writers” without making any effort. They seem to think they shouldn’t have to earn it, that it’s something owed them.

    I was approached by a guy last year who wanted me to read his self-published work and give him my opinion. He expected me to do this for free and he seemed to think I OWED it to him. In his email to me, he expressed the hope that I was not one of those people who was hung up on things like grammar and spelling and punctuation because those things simply weren’t important to him. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. I told him that if things like grammar and spelling and punctuation weren’t important to him, he probably would be the only one who ever read his work. He became furious, called me “egotistical” and blocked me on Facebook.

    Another guy wrote to ask me how to get his work published because he had no idea how to go about it. He claimed that writing was his life. In our brief exchange, I asked him what he liked to read. He said he didn’t have time to read and didn’t enjoy it much. But he wanted to be a writer and knew he could be bestseller if he could just figure out how to get published because he had such great ideas. That’s kind of like saying you want to be an Olympic swimmer but you have no interest in getting wet.

    Writing is like anything else — it takes time to become good at it, and not everyone succeeds, not everyone gets published. Those who do get published SHOULD get paid for their work. If they’ve done it right — worked hard at it over time, struggled to get better, kept at it diligently — then they should KNOW their work has value and shouldn’t simply be given away for free, because it's work they've done, and they know it isn't easy. But for many, becoming a good writer is not the goal — being PUBLISHED is the goal, and they want to take nothing but shortcuts in achieving it.

    1. It's interesting that some people think the publisher gets paid by the writer. I think the majority of people are sort of the opposite: they assume all published novelists are millionaires.

      (Also, if you *pay* to get published, you basically *are* the publisher.)

      I'm bothered by aspiring writers who don't like to read. If you have no interest in reading other writers' books, what makes you think anyone will be interested in yours?

      I don't think the Olympic swimmer analogy really applies to those guys, though -- he *is* interested in writing (swimming) but not interested in reading (um, watching people swim) -- but I do think it accurately describes the earlier guy, the writer who wasn't interested in grammar or spelling.

      A related point is that I don't think aspiring writers should be so eager to get another writer's input. Professional writers aren't their target audience. They need to get input from the type of people whom might actually buy their books. It's probably better to get input from a big group of regular readers than to get input from one professional. On the one hand, the other writer probably is (or was) a fan of the genre he writes in, and he's gained valuable experience, but on the other hand, he probably won't have the same sensibility, the same mindset, as your target audience.

      Thinking spelling and grammar are completely unimportant is just ridiculous, but I do think "real" writers value things in a different proportion than ordinary readers. People piss all over the prose of Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown, but they write bestselling books. I haven't read them, but my instinct is that a highly entertaining book shouldn't be considered "bad" even if its writing is somewhat sloppy.

      My point is: why bother being a pain in some writer's ass when the guy down the block might be an equally effective guinea pig?

    2. David, You're spot on! Thanks for sharing this. Lynne (Garindein, France)

  46. Thanks for that, you totally said it just how it is.

  47. I had to re-check the by-line...

    ...I thought for a minute I was reading Harlan Ellison!


    1. I think Ellison's view might be a little extreme. I remember him (vaguely) complaining that someone had asked him to do a free interview for use as a DVD extra. That doesn't sound that bad to me, assuming he gets royalties for DVD sales of the episode he wrote. (I don't have the interview handy to check.) Now if other people are getting paid for *their* interviews, or if he doesn't otherwise get paid for the DVDs, then he certainly has a point, but if not, I think he's being unnecessarily ornery and short-sighted. If the DVD royalties are higher than the syndication royalties, then it's in his interest to add value to the DVDs. People want an excuse to buy the set. Give 'em one.

  48. Everything about this post makes me want to reward you with a cookie and a pony. Well stated, sir.

    Only last week I was offered two "jobs offers" to a) research for a charity and b) provide content to a website. Both men were flattering ("We'd like YOU to be our word wizard!Isn't that great?") until I told them about details like my hourly rate. Then I got the, "But couldn't you do this in your spare time for us? You know, as a special favor to total strangers?" When I said no - and really, during WHAT spare time? - I never heard from them again. Sheesh. Writers. Need. To. Be. Paid.

  49. Big old "amen" from this corner of the world!

  50. I'm a system administrator (writer by night) and the same thing happens with people asking to fix their computer or build them a website.

    They think it's a funny job and won't expect you wanting to get paid and often are offended when ask for money. They really don't see your job like a real job compared to their own. It's very offending.

    I think it happens to jobs people associate with fun. Reading is fun so writing must be fun, not a real job. Computer games are fun, computers are fun, not a real job.

    And I think it might be that they don't know what it entails to be able to do your job and because of this can't value it to monetary worth. They don't know the amount of study and practice required.

  51. I suspect I'll be quoting this article and referring to it repeatedly for many years to come.


  52. Are you telling me that writing advertising copy for the latest get rich quick scheme, where the person who doesn't want to pay you keeps insisting how they swim on money, doesn't make you all warm and cozy inside?
    tsk tsk writers today...

  53. I decided to do a random search on Craigslist just now to see if they had some good examples relating to this discussion. I found these two gems in less than 30 seconds:

    My Entertainment World is looking for smart and insightful writers to contribute to our website ( on the topic of Sports, Games (video, computer, board, etc...), Music, TV, Film, Theatre or Books. Editorials, reviews and general articles will be accepted. Please contact for more details or to submit a piece for consideration.

    Compensation: no pay

    I am looking for someone (or people) interested in writing a book review(s). If interested, please email me or call me at 647-220-4200.

    Compensation: no pay

    Awesome opportunities, huh?

  54. Genius article! Love it! Still laughing! And feeling strangely proud :)

  55. My favourite is those entrepreneurs who, on hearing you are a writer say, "we gotta talk!" Then begin to tell you how they need you and you can get in on the ground floor and put in sweat equity and have a share of the zillions their latest scheme will generate, once you write all the copy, the book, the blog, the checks.... Or they hear you also publish books and so they now take up an hour of your day telling you about their book they have just written in 4 exercise books, long hand, that you could data enter for them as they don't type or own a computer and then publish, but they want it in bookstores because the message they have is so vital... been in their heads for years and time to come out and you can be the chosen one.... Sound familiar to anyone?

  56. Great article, Ray! There are a lot of people out there sniffing glue.

  57. So what do you think about folks that self publish?

  58. First of all I want to apologize for my absence, though I doubt anyone noticed. It seems that while I love my brand new smartphone, it is hard to discuss and post, especially on Facebook. (Doug from Facebook) I cant even figure how to share stuff on your page anymore. Anyway. I commented on this post a while back and while I believe my reasons were sound, I think they paid off. I have a contract for my novella that I was completing when I previously posted. There is no up front money but there are quarterly royalties on both the paperback sales and e book sales. Obviously I am no Ray Garton, nor will I ever be, and I say that without an ounce of sarcasm, nevertheless I am happy about this first step. The percentages that they offered are fair, and I was free to set price point for e books but chose to keep that low as I wanted to maximize sales. A recent E ZINE I was published in offered no pay but did provided a full page ad and copy as payment, and think it may be worth doing again when my novella comes out in Sept. To me it was a means to an end, and while my book is not yet in print, my contract seems to prove that my reasoning, has paid off. For me anyway.

  59. I think the situation has got worse since the ebook explosion with desperate and impatient self-published writers giving away their work for free. Unscrupulous would be anthology publishers rely on that seam of panic and desperation to fill their tomes with freebie stories.
    We all know it takes time, patience and bloody hard work to develop and hone your craft, accept and learn from the inevitable rejections. Once you are a professional writer, damn right you should be paid!

  60. Great piece, Ray. Writers should insist that they be paid for their work, period. If someone wants to publish your work for free, or for 'contributors copies'?

    Congratulations, you've just decided what your work is worth.

    If you're thinking that publishing for free will give you "exposure"? It won't... at least not in any way that will ultimately benefit you, "benefit" defined as, 'one day being compensated for your work.'

    Same with "spec" publishing in an anthology wherein you as author/contributor receive no upfront payment and only a percentage of payment... sometime later... maybe?

    It's enough to contend with a publishing model that shortchanges writers and the "free content" model wherein people will happily pay for their content-viewing devices but expect what they then view to be 'free'. Writers are already ripped off... you as a writer do not need to rip yourself off.

  61. A standing ovation, sir! Well done, well done indeed!

  62. Great article!

    I totally agree with you Ray!

    No novel that takes a six months to a year to write should be bought for as little as $3000. Publishers should offer at least twice as much as that for a for a new writer and much more for one with over 20 years experience!

  63. Being around with musicians and working with models ... this complaint isn't unique to writers. Non-creatives want creative product -- they don't want to pay for creative product. When pressed, they insinuate it is easy or they could get anyone to do it.

    Ask a musician or model how often they are asked to do something for free "for the exposure". Insert cynical laugh emoticons here.

  64. Fucking A, Ray. absolutely spot on.

  65. Standing ovation, Ray! Thank you for sharing this. And now *I* am going to share this link / post with others who need to see it -- and UNDERSTAND it. Write on, brother. I certainly will . . . and for a paycheck, too. Thanks for all your wonderful stories, and cheers!