When I was a naïve college student, flush with dreams of writing grandeur, I fell prey to a publishing scam. The people who nabbed the coveted domain poetry.com took full advantage of their good fortune. (The site is now owned by Lulu, the self-publishing company.) Originally, the site was run by an organization called The International Library of Poetry, which sounded to me like an elite group of literary sophisticates. They held poetry “contests” where selected “winners” had their poem published in what they described as a beautiful, exclusive anthology. Low and behold, I was chosen to be a semi-finalist. So excited about the prospect of being published, I wasn’t even that shocked when they informed me I could purchase the anthology that would hold my poem for the low price of $50.00.
I bought two.
I was shocked when the anthology arrived containing hundreds of poems, many of them shockingly banal. (Come to think of it, my poem wasn’t so hot, either.) I wish I could share some with you, but I was so embarrassed that I had stupidly bought into this scheme that I threw them away.
I’ve never told anyone this story until this very day.
I’ve since learned. As writers, we sometimes view payment for our work as a privilege rather than an expectation. (Or, as in my case, we sometimes succumb to vanity.) I wish to make the argument that giving full-rights to a story or an article to a publication sans payment is harmful, not only to you, but to other writers. Writing is highly competitive. Accepting low-paying jobs or working for free compromises the integrity of the business and hurts those who actually write for a living.
My family does not rely on my writing as a primary source of income; I work part-time. However, that time is money. If I spend, say, five hours researching, writing, and polishing an article, I do not want to just give it to a publisher with the promise of receiving “great exposure.” (Would you work five hours for free at McDonald’s in hopes that a manager from Olive Garden will notice your hard work and excellent customer service and offer you a job? I thought probably not.)
As a writer, I’ve found that if I take myself seriously, others will take me seriously as well. Never again will I give my work away for free, and God help me if I ever PAY to see my own work again. I’ve stuck by this rule, and it has served me pretty well.
I have two exceptions. Occasionally, it’s okay to spend money in order to gain exposure.
Exception #1: Writing contests. There are a lot of prestigious contests that require an entry fee. Writing contests are a great way for no-name writers to gain respectability. Plus, writing contests that require a fee generally have a smaller pool of entries to read.
Exception #2: Continuing education. Most employers will pay for their own employees continuing professional education. Many writers are their own employees. It’s okay to budget for continuing education, whether for a writing class or for a critique of your work.
We all know that writing is hard work. It requires not only your time, but fortitude and complete self-exposure. Plus, let’s not forget our increased susceptibility to carpal tunnel syndrome and lower back pain. What I’m saying here is… your writing is valuable. Keep it that way.