It happened again. A former client has asked me whether I could go to a meeting as a goodwill gesture. It would give me an opportunity to talk about our previous project to a wider audience, they promised me. Of course opportunity is simply code for “you will not be paid for your time”. I said no, but it wasn’t an easy decision.
Turning down any opportunity always makes me hesitate. I feel uneasy about saying no to these requests even though it’s my time that I will be giving away and I’d tell anyone else they should be paid for their time. Yet still a little voice in my head wonders, “is it unseemly for a business woman’s first question to be whether she is going to be paid for her time[?]”
[…] I also asked myself whether the people prevailing upon my team and me to work for free would be willing to put in the long hours they do if they weren’t receiving a sizeable paycheque at the end of each month. The answer was an emphatic “no”.
Belinda Parmar on free.
I’ve been thinking about this sort of equation a lot recently, particularly in light of being a Published Author™ while still having to juggle a full-time day job.
One of the things they sort of… gloss over when you become a Published Author™ is just how much extra work you’ll be expected to do. Going in, you think you know about it; about edits and revisions and conference appearances and blog tours and guest posts. But you don’t. You don’t know. And by “you”, I mean “me”. I didn’t know.
There’s a constant, largely unspoken, threat that if you don’t do this extra work, you won’t Make It. Refuse hundreds of hours of re-work on edits, and you’ll be dropped from your contracts and will, potentially, be locked out of your own IP. Refuse to put in a full-time third job as your own publicist and how can you expect to get exposure? Refuse to work as your own journalist and how will your own name get out there?
One of the things I’ve had to look really, really long and hard at over the last few years is exactly how much of this extra work I’m actually willing to do in order to be a Published Author™. There are some things I enjoy, and would do anyway; I like maintaining this blog, for example, and I’ve recently discovered I quite like speaking on panels. There are some things I’m competent at, but have mixed feelings on depending on context; guest blog posts and “blog tours” fall into this category. And there are some things that both terrify me and at which I am legitimately terrible; networking and self-promotion being right up there at #1 and #2 respectively.
Of course, what I’m always prepared to do is write books, hence wanting to be a writer. But, oh. If only that were the sole required skill!
This comes back to the way publishing is structured, specifically that it implicitly assumes that authors will both, a) have day jobs to support themselves financially, and b) have time and resources to devote to performing non-writing activities to promote their books (while also writing their next book and editing their current book). My problem is the fact that, well, I do have a day job, and what said day job engenders in me is an expectation that I will be financially remunerated in a way that is commensurate with the number of hours I put into performing a task. (The entitlement is outrageously Millennial of me, I know.)
Publishing does not work like this.1 And not just at the level of the author; it Does Not Work That Way for (most) agents and (most) editors, either. Everyone I’ve met in publishing is hard working and terribly paid, which, I’m gonna put it out there; bi-ii-ii-ig contrast to working in a field like information security, let me tell you.2 So, unless you’re in the Publishing 1%, the problem of underpay and overwork becomes structural; editors and underpaid and overworked so agents are even more underpaid and even more overworked and authors even more so again. There is no money and no market because there is far, far, far more content than the industry can sustain.
So… what do? How to battle structural inequality in an entire industry?
This is the question I’ve been grappling with recently, and really, the only answer I’ve been able to come up with is to just write. Write the next book, and learn to set some boundaries around (and be realistic about) the sort of effort I am and am not prepared to put in outside of that. I’m not a natural salesperson, I’m never going to be the social centre of Twitter, I can’t churn out dozens of 500-word clickbait blog posts. But all of those things–the self-promotion, the social media, the blog tours–are short-term phases in the industry. They weren’t expected of authors a decade ago and I’m willing to bet they won’t be expected of authors a decade hence.
What will be expected, what will never not be expect, is that authors will write.
So… I guess I’ll write. And we’ll see where we go from there.