Ten days ago, I was contacted by one of the editors I write for. He asked if I could provide four book reviews for the next issue of his magazine and said he’d need them in about a week and a half. (Ahem, today.)
Despite an even busier week with mom than usual — seven appointments in five days — and a few personal commitments, I said I’d do my best to deliver. (And then I took out a paper bag and forced myself to breathe into it.)
Each book review requires at least three hours of writing and revising time, often more — and this doesn’t include the reading component. While I was able to pitch two books I’d already read, I also had to finish a third (already begun) and read a fourth. As a pdf file. (Call me old fashioned, but cell phones, Kindle, and other screens are not my preferred method consumption.)
The time demands have been substantial. For instance, I was up until nearly 1 o’clock in the morning finishing the last of the books. So … sleep deprivation on top of needing to find an extra handful of hours in my day.
Have I mentioned that this assignment is unpaid?
I can hear the chorus of “Aww, hell no” that resounded with that revelation. But the truth is I could have said no. Was tempted to, even — and maybe should have. Nobody held a gun to my head.
So why didn’t I say no?
The easy answer is that I’m a people pleaser — a yes man, even when it’s to my own detriment. I don’t like to disappoint. I’ve been working on this aspect of my personality, but it’s difficult going against one’s nature.
But there were other factors that informed my decision.
First, I like this editor. (Okay, I like all my editors.) Once upon a time, he sought me out at a conference to compliment my work — which he was actually familiar with — and invited me to contact him about writing for his magazine, should I wish to do so. And then he provided an opportunity to do just that when I emailed him to follow-up. Beyond business, he has taken an interest in my personal life, regularly inquiring about my family. That makes an impression.
Second, the magazine — and its corresponding blog, which I’ve also written for on occasion — is prestigious. It’s somewhat of a coup to write for them (even if it is gratis). Those bylines increase the likelihood that other editors of repute will be open to having me write for them. Hopefully for monetary compensation.
Third, I genuinely enjoyed the books and wasn’t slated to review them elsewhere. Perhaps my work will offer the author a bit more exposure or entice a reader to check out the title(s). That’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Why wouldn’t I want to share my enthusiasm? Books bring me an inordinate amount of joy and this is often my way of returning the favor.
Having said all that, I don’t believe that writers — or other artists, or anybody, really — should have to work for free. Or to be expected to. In fact, I know people that will not work for free regardless of the circumstances. And I respect that position. But I also think it’s wise to consider the pros and cons before drawing a firm line.
For instance, if you write a blog that few people read, might it be beneficial to expend that energy elsewhere if it means reaching a substantially larger audience — and particularly if the subject matter is the same or similar? If you’re going to be writing for free anyway, you might as well maximize the benefit(s).
If you simply cannot afford to write for free then don’t. If you have some flexibility in this regard, think about matters beyond money. Will the work introduce you to a new audience? Does the topic compel you? Might you be challenged to write beyond your comfort zone and/or style? Are you passionate enough about the subject that all other concerns are secondary?
(A confession: I should probably tell you that my background is in working for non-profits. So perhaps I’m simply accustomed to doing a whole lot for very little. Make of that what you will.)
I could go on about this at length — and maybe someday I will — but I’ve got a deadline to meet. And sometimes the mere act of completion, of hitting SEND, of crossing it off my “to do” list is payment enough.