I’m one to agree with Harlan Ellison when he angrily complains about the state of professional writing. While I myself am not technically a professional writer, I do loathe the level of whoring oneself out present within the freelance and general writing communities. An entire generation of people have come to believe that they don’t deserve to get paid at a reasonable rate for the writing and editing work they do, a fact that continues to baffle me. Perhaps this has a lot to do with how the Internet functions, and how desperate amateur writers are to get a leg up in a fairly brutal industry. Whatever the reason, Harlan Ellison is right: pay the frakking writer. And not just that, but pay the frakking writer well. Professional quality deserves professional rates.
There aren’t that many instances in which it is okay to not be paid for writing or editing work:
–You’re doing it for charity. I can’t argue against writing a story to help raise money for cancer research.
–You have a personal blog or website. Hard to hire yourself to write for your own blog.
–Aliens have invaded your brain and forced you to write for free. Certainly a bad thing, and a good excuse, I think.
There are probably other good instances, but, let’s face it, writers deserve to be paid, and well. The amount of money authors make for what amounts to a hell of a lot of work has been declining for decades. It used to be that one short story sale could pay your rent. Now? You’d be lucky if it paid your grocery bill. Novel sales aren’t any better, with an average advance making up a fourth of the income you’d need to be right on the poverty line. That’s not a lot of money at all, and I don’t fully understand why. Aren’t writers important members of society? Don’t they provide a valuable service?
Or maybe I’m just an angry, bitter curmudgeon like Ellison, looking back to the glory days with longing. Maybe I want to see a world where writers demand and earn what they’re worth. But I doubt that will happen; not now, and not in the future. There are too many people willing to work for almost nothing thinking they’ll be like Stephen King if they just trudge at the bottom for a while, getting paid fifty cents for a 500-word article, or some other ridiculously low paying avenue. And now, with these folks, some not worth even the paltry sum they currently earn, flooding the market and selling themselves short, those who think writers should get more are put in a horrible position. We can join the ranks, or take fewer jobs.
But, maybe the glory days never happened and any desire for a writer’s utopia is nothing short of a delusional fantasy. Give it a few years and we might be proclaiming the slow and agonizing death of the professional writer. And the world will suffer for it.