First, enjoy this cartoon gem from The Oatmeal:
And now – let’s discuss amongst ourselves.
If your business or project requires the output of a creative person (be they writer, editor, graphic designer, musician, filmmaker, or even underwater basket weaver), and it’s not a job you have the time or skills to perform yourself, then – for the love of cupcakes (you KNOW how I feel about cupcakes) – stop devaluing that work when it is performed by others.
The other week, I received yet another request to work for free. (Yes, to many who wish to
employ utilize the services of a creative freelancer, this is often considered the starting gate for “salary negotiation.” Don’t make the mistake of assuming that freelance salary negotiation always results in an actual salary.) Actually, this particular clown framed his request within the dubious confines of “deferred payment” – meaning once the book he intended to write have written by me was sold, he’d pay me. It’d be “easy money,” he assured me.
And “all” I had to do in exchange for this “easy money” would be transcribe every word he would speak into a voice recorder, and come up with a logical structure for the book so that it would flow well, and edit and polish it up so it would read nice and pretty. Oh, and then find him a publisher who wants to publish his book. (He at least was willing to admit that NONE of these were his areas of expertise.) Yeah. And then, IF the book sold, I’d get paid my *easy* money.
And therein lies the problem. People who aren’t writers think that writing is easy. I can even see where they might be tempted to think so. Unlike, say, an ability to paint or draw or play the piano brilliantly, we all have words at our disposal – we’re taught a never-ending stream of words since birth, more or less. (OK, so some streams are more finite than others. When it comes to words, some people are oceans, and some are puddles.) I suppose to a non-writer, it must appear that writing merely consists of transcribing the words from your head onto the page or computer screen. Never mind that pesky business of revising and polishing and finetuning so that those words are powerful, moving, brilliant, inspired, and/or hilarious, instead of meandering, pointless, banal, and riddled with typos. Never mind the amount of construction, and deconstruction, and reconstruction, that goes into composing the perfect Tweet or product slogan or web page or article or screenplay. Never mind we foolish writers who spend years perfecting our craft so that maybe – MAYBE – one day we’ll be good enough to elevate words into an award-winning movie, or a multi-million dollar ad campaign, or a campaign-winning political speech.
But I digress.
Before this, I never seriously considered that this, “Hey you! Work for me for FREE!” strategy was a real option in our money-obsessed society. But I’m encountering it all the damn time lately, so it’s obviously trending.
What a needlessly frugal life I’ve been living as a chronically under-employed writer! Jesus, do I feel stupid now. The luxury European vacations I could have been taking with just a wink and a nod to the travel agent! The Ferrari I could have been driving – instead of my meager Honda – if I’d written on the credit application at the dealership that I have the potential to earn fucktons of money! The Alexander McQueen couture gowns I could have frolicked down the produce aisle at Trader Joe’s in, if I’d only thought to explain to the boutique owner that I’d totally come back and pay for said gowns once I received a large enough paycheck!
So I owe an immense debt of gratitude to this inadvertent guru who taught me how to milk the shit out of the “free” part of “free market economy.” This is going to open up a whole new way of life for me! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make an offer on that dream mansion in Bel Air I’ve had my eye on for a while. I’m simply going to explain to the realtor that I totally intend to pay for the mansion…..eventually. And because I want to live in it now, they need to waive that silly “you get what you pay for” mandate! (See, I’ll be doing them a favor by pointing out how *easy* it could be to sell that $34.4 million mansion that’s been sitting on the market for months without a nibble……and then they too can skip forward, newly unencumbered by the soul-crushing, dream-killing little details in life! Talk about a total win-win.)
Mind you, I’ll write for friends for free. But you better be a really, reeeeeeeeally good friend. The kind of friend who has license to call me at 2 a.m. if he or she is in trouble (and whom I have called in such situations). The kind of friend who has engaged in a mutual and healthy exchange of camaraderie and shared life details with me for long enough that they know they’ve earned a place within my inner circle. For those people, I’ll go to the ends of the earth….without an invoice in hand. OF COURSE. That’s what good friends do. Whatever it takes for the ones we love. Now, if you’re wondering if you’re in my inner circle: you’re probably not. But here’s a more direct test. If you ask me to write for you for free, and I make THIS face…..
….then you’re not in my inner circle. Also, you might want to start running.
For anyone standing even a centimeter outside of that inner circle, go ahead and ask me to work for you for free. But first, you just gotta ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky?
Well, DO ya, you illiterate, cheapskate punk?!