Any person working in the arts can tell you, the hardest thing to sell is exposure. Personally, I prefer the phrase, “You can’t eat exposure”. But that’s what many “publishers” offer, and even as recently as last week, I have been offered to ‘write for exposure’.
I’m here to give four reasons why you should never, on your worst days, accept that offer.
1. Writing for exposure is different from exposure writing
First thing’s first. I want to make it clear that there is a difference between ‘writing for exposure’ and ‘exposure writing’. Writing for exposure is basically what I described, where someone else ask you to write for them with no monetary or trade commissions on the grounds of exposure.
Exposure writing is what I’m doing now, writing on my own time, building my own readership without an offer. I can go to a publisher and offer my work, and that’s still exposure writing, because I am not asked to write.
Here’s the thing. One day, if you work hard, be smart, and is just a little lucky, you’ll find yourself in the position as an established writer.
There was once a time where writing for exposure was a legitimate form of payment. That was before the internet, where publishers held most of the power to spread your name and art. But even then, sending in manuscripts was a better option, because you get paid if you get published. And it was better to work from the ground up as a writer for magazines and newspaper because, even as an intern, you also get paid.
Think of writing as a job, and exposure writing as your resume. It’s things you’ve learned on the side, or have done in school. You can earn some money from it, sure, but writing for exposure should not be work. Because work guarantees a pay.
2. It lowers the value of your work
You could be a great writer. You could be the best writer that has ever existed. But the moment you accept writing for exposure, the net value of that piece of yours is 0. The number of people who ‘made it’ from writing for exposure is akin to winning the lottery.
If someone offers you the chance to write for them, regardless of payment, it means your work has a certain level of publishable quality. It means you deserve to be paid.
But if the publisher does not pay you, the onus is on them. They are not paying you because either;
a) They do not actually have a readership large enough to pay, which means your ‘exposure payment’ would be low. Or,
b) The publisher is too cheap to pay, which means you’ll never get a fair shake from them.
B is especially important. Think about it. The Huffington Post is notorious for paying their writers with exposure. But if you’ll never get a fair shake, you won’t be writing for them long. Your “exposure” will be drowned within the hundreds of articles THP churns out every month, each with different writers. Tell me, can you actually name just five writers from THP that has been paid with exposure?
Unless you actually work at or for THP, you can’t. Or you Google now. You know. Internet. But either way, your exposure value is now next to zero. So in the end, you work value is still 0.
Here’s the thing people are forgetting. No matter what anyone says, publishers are still gatekeepers in the industry. They weed out the good work from the bad. And the moment you are published by a publisher, your work is considered good. ‘Publishable’ is a standard, not an action. And a standard is pay.
3. The market gets cut, and no one will earn
If you work for free, the market-value of your art will drop across the board. Publishers will think writing for exposure is a legitimate form of payment. Established writers will lose income as more and more publishers ask to write for free.
You might ask, “But that doesn’t affect me. I’m just starting up. It’s every person for themselves!”
Here’s the thing. One day, if you work hard, be smart, and is just a little lucky, you’ll find yourself in the position as an established writer. And your pay will be the market value that you helped set up. If you wrote free things and the value drops, so does your future earnings.
If someone offers you the chance to write for them, regardless of payment, it means your work has a certain level of publishable quality.
The current actual market rate for writing is along the lines of 8 cents per word. But many publishers are touting it as 6 cents instead. That might not seem much, but the difference for a 7,500 words short story along those rates are$600 and $450. That’s $150 worth of difference. That’s two days worth of work payment down the drain.
4. The internet has made exposure no longer as hard to achieve
But it is still hard. Don’t get me wrong. You’ll still need to market yourself, set up your ‘brand’. Keep writing or drawing, or whatever it is that you do. But you no longer have to rely on publishers for the exposure. You can reach your own market, mostly through the quality of your work. If you are good, people will read. And when people read, that is exposure.
Currently, through my blog and serial writings, I’ve reached thousands of readers a month, and I don’t work a single second of these for free. I do them on my own time, of my own will, knowingly putting out the best quality I can produce. In return? I get a reader base, I get indirectly paid from eBook sales and the slow but hopeful Patreon. Most importantly, I get writing commissions as well. Actual commissions for projects that gives me money for words.
‘Publishable’ is a standard, not an action.
The people who will make it as established writers are people who are willing to do the grind. This blog that I’m doing? The serials I’m writing? These are my internship. And I am getting paid for my internship in the long run without having to lower my rates.
There are many arguments that writing for free is something all writers must do at the start of the career. Take it from me, a writer at the start of his career. That is not true.
I hope these points will convince you that writing for exposure should never be an option. And now that I have given you all the logical reasons, let me give you the emotional one.
Writers and artists in general, across the board, holds a special position in society. We aren’t needed for survival, but instead, we reflect the culture and progress of civilisation as a whole.
Whether you are a fiction writer, a news reporter, a digital artist, film-maker, musician, or anything along that line, you hold the cultural compass of society in your work. And to do so, you have to hold a certain moral standard to reflect it.
Vincent van Gogh is one of my favourite artist of all time. As far as we know, he had never worked for exposure. He always sold or traded his work, and he held a compass that was ahead of his time. He died broke and broken, yet his work is now revered around the world, not just for the quality, but the life, colour, and representations they held.
So the question comes, is the moral value of your work only worth the exposure and fame it brings you? Are you willing to die fighting for your craft? Do you want to do art because you love it, or because someone else asks you to?