Writing for love or money? They aren’t mutually exclusive

Here are some follow-up thoughts on my post about why writers should not write for free.

Some readers may be wondering if I am saying that you should never write anything without getting paid for it. That actually is not what I’m saying at all, but let me clarify. What if you just really love to write? You don’t care about making money — you just want to do it for the love of it. Isn’t that allowed?

Sure. People do things they love without getting paid, or even investing a lot of their own money, all the time. These activities are called hobbies, and if writing is your hobby, great. For my part, I really enjoy blogging, cooking, gardening and reading. These are all hobbies of mine that I don’t get paid for, nor do I expect to be paid. I also don’t intend to turn any of these things into my profession, although I don’t find any fault with people who manage that feat. It’s always great to get paid for doing something you already love to do.

But there is a fundamental difference between writing for free because you love it and letting yourself be exploited. If you are just writing for a hobby, then by all means start a blog or contribute to a little literary magazine that someone else is publishing as a hobby or self-publish your book and give it away to your friends and family. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t.

What I object to are writers who want to write for a living, who have that as their expressly stated goal, and then agree to poor terms with an entity that is making money off their work. That is exploitation. If you want to be a professional writer — if you want to make money at writing — then act like it and charge for your work.

Cooking is my hobby. What if someone ate a dish I had cooked and said to me, “That is so great that I want you to cook in my restaurant. I can’t afford to pay you, but you will get great exposure.”

Would I then say, “Cooking is my art, and I wouldn’t think of charging for it. Of course I will cook in your restaurant for free, even though you are making gobs of money off my work.” Of course not! I think the response of any reasonable person would be, “Great! What’s the salary?” There are two words in the phrase dream job, and one of those words implies payment in exchange for work performed.

So I do think people should write just for the love of it. I do that every day. But if you are that good at it that someone else can make money off your work, then you deserve a fair cut. That’s all I’m saying.

For more about writing, go read this excellent post over at John Scalzi’s blog.

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