Something for nothing


Reading LinkedIn this morning, I came across this echo of my own cri de coeur from the New York Times: ‘Slaves of the Internet unite‘. I’ve been writing various stories since the age of fifteen with fairly mixed results. Few of them that well paid. On one salutary occasion in 2006, for a paltry fifteen hundred word short story, I ended up with a cheque for seventy five pounds. Not bad, you might think. Seventy five quid for fifteen hundred words? Money for old rope, right? No. The original story, which was a pretty lean piece to start with, had to be cut by two hundred and seventy words because of a graphic. Four requested rewrites over a forty eight hour period later, I had met all three targets for the magazines shifting wordage goalposts. The original target wordage was fifteen hundred at first submission, then changed to fourteen fifty the following day, then thirteen fifty, and finally thirteen hundred and thirty two. It was a cute little ghost story, but I ended up writing it for an hourly rate that wouldn’t get the most low aspiration burger flipper out of bed.

All through my working life I’ve been approached by people asking “Oo, could you do a little piece for our magazine?” or “Loved that story – can we use it for free now it’s been published?” or “We need a new logo – could you knock something up for us?” I’ve done a little graphic design work, and it’s never just one design these freeloaders want, it’s several. Frankly, I’d rather not work than work for nothing. I’ll happily practice my craft, but I’d rather be shot than give it away, ‘exposure’ or no.

While we’re on the topic of something for nothing, I got a cold call Monday night from a ‘charity’ asking me to be a volunteer canvasser. I’m sorry, what part of the word ‘volunteer’ don’t they get? A volunteer comes to you, not vice versa. If I do not call a charity to offer my services, then how is it ‘volunteering’ if they call me? Who gave them my details, and who do I have some very sharp words with? Canada has privacy laws, and I think they just got violated. Anyway, I’ve done enough voluntary work over the last five years, and I’m getting a little tired. Come to think of it, from helping rewire and refit Claverdons Dorothea Mitchell Hall, working on committees and suchlike, I’ve given away a great many hours of my time and expertise over the years for no appreciation, and on at least three occasions, personal threats. No more.

The same goes for giving stories away to get attention or reviews. No. They’re mine, I’ve spent time and energy on them, and as the New York Times piece suggests; you wouldn’t ask a plumber or electrician to work for free, editors get paid, so why is a writer any different?

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

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