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Don’t work for free when others are paid

Found this link on Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter. Worth the read since we’re all in the publishing business.

Every once in a great while in the life of a writer, one is afforded the opportunity to correspond with one of the ethical giants of the publishing world. For me, this chance came a few years ago, when I received a query from a gentleman named Mark Reiter. The email exchange that followed was, simply put, awe-inspiring.

Community Comments

#1 dave nelson
April/8/2010
@ 11:34 am

Wow, that guy is so slimy, the words just slid off my monitor. I’m so glad Steve stuck to his guns. Personally, I get all my karma helping the LESS fortunate.

#2 Stephen Beals
April/8/2010
@ 11:56 am

I’ve been approached for free work many times, but Mark Evanier has written extensively about it: http://tinyurl.com/nncmjs

#3 Stephen Beals
April/8/2010
@ 12:00 pm

But I really should’ve linked to this funny exchange for free work that Mark Evanier linked to: http://tinyurl.com/yjr4hqu

#4 Steve Skelton
April/8/2010
@ 12:21 pm

This is worth posting again!

http://www.27bslash6.com/p2p.html

#5 Mike Cope
April/8/2010
@ 12:32 pm

Reminds me of Harlan Ellison’s “Pay the Writer”

#6 Scott Metzger
April/8/2010
@ 12:52 pm

Love it!

The “it’ll be fun, sign on for the spirit of it” is such a common tactic for sleazeballs trying to get work for free. Steve’s response was great:

“You?re asking people to sign on in the spirit of the thing, when you obviously can afford to pay one or two hundred bucks and still make a nifty profit; my moral compass says you should do that.”

That entire email exchange was excellent. Thanks for posting it.

#7 Samantha Wikan
April/8/2010
@ 1:07 pm

Oh well done, Steve Almond!

#8 Stephen Beals
April/8/2010
@ 1:36 pm

And it should be mentioned that people who aren’t typically paid for their work (especially art students) are asked for free work more often.

Experience is great. Volunteering for a library or church can be fun. But people who want free book or pamphlet illustration are crazy.

Right out of school I did a lot of spot drawings for an insurance company that never paid me because they decided to not make the booklets. Never again.

#9 Samantha Wikan
April/8/2010
@ 1:50 pm

@Mike Cope @Stephen Beals I am bookmarking your links as well as the Steve Almond post. I need to be reminded of this often.

#10 Scott Metzger
April/8/2010
@ 2:02 pm

“But people who want free book or pamphlet illustration are crazy.”

Exactly – and they act like you’re the crazy one when you tell them that you expect to be paid for your work. But that’s part of their game.

Steve Almond asked all the right questions any artist or writer should ask and was essentially treated like the bad guy for requesting fair compensation.

It was very satisfying when he let the guy have it in his last email. Brilliant and inspirational.

#11 guy endore-kaiser
April/8/2010
@ 3:17 pm

“It was very satisfying when he let the guy have it in his last email. Brilliant and inspirational.”

You mean the one he didn’t send? People shouldn’t go to therapy if their analysts are just going to talk them out of doing cool things.

#12 Scott Metzger
April/8/2010
@ 3:43 pm

Uh, yeah. That one. I missed that footnote. Don?t ask me how. Now I?m kinda let down that he never sent the email. It was a great response though. Damn analyst.

#13 Ted Rall
April/8/2010
@ 5:37 pm

I understand why he didn’t send the “real retort.” The guy’s a wuss.

When I get treated like crap, I prefer to not suck it up.

America: Land of the twee and the fey.

#14 Rodd Perry
April/8/2010
@ 6:08 pm

Stefan Fatsis… mean.

#15 Dan Reynolds
April/8/2010
@ 6:29 pm

I read half way and then I threw my computer against the wall.

Now, if they were doing this for charity and the charity was NOT the person asking you, the artist, to do it for free there might be something to consider, but these people are not only trying to steal your money (via your contribution), they also insulting you in the worst way a creative person can be insulted.

#16 mike beckom
April/8/2010
@ 9:50 pm

I had a prospective editor tell me once that I ‘should be happy to cut my fees in exchange for the prestige of working for a bigger paper like hers in a larger market’. She even went on to expound on how I should take less because I was getting more exposure working for them. I did my best to stifle the giggling while I looked her in the eye and proceeded with my reply…….I told her that ‘prestige won’t buy a biscuit. I told her that I had her paper surrounded and worked for every little market paper on every side of her now. I told her that these smaller market papers paid my price and I had won 1st place in the SC Press Association beating out all other inkslingers in the state numerous times….all for smaller market papers. I thanked her for her time and flashed her one last snarky ‘bite me’ smile. As I excited, I reminded her that I’d see her at the awards ceremony later that year…..as I again picked up another award and she watched as her paper was beaten again by one that I drew for. This scenario has played out several years now….my winning awards and her paper…..not. She avoids me like the plague. I giggle every time I see her. THAT…..my friends…..is KARMA.

#17 Donna Barstow
April/8/2010
@ 11:51 pm

Wow. So sad that Almond didn’t have the courage to send that. At first I thought it said his agent advised against it, which would kind of make sense, with various publishers, etc, but ANALYST?

He’s a coward and learns to take a self-esteem class.

Odd that you just wrote that column yesterday, Ted. It was something about burning bridges, right?

In general, I like my editors. But when things go bad – which isn’t often, thank Gah – I don’t mind getting into arguments with editors – they either die or leave eventually. However, I try not to alienate whole companies. But hey, I’ve done that, too. :)

#18 Stephanie McMillan
April/9/2010
@ 6:42 am

I used to fall for this guilt-tripping crap. Two things ended that:

1) Losing my day job and knowing my entire income must be generated by drawing,

2) Realizing that accepting less than fair compensation was helping to devalue the work of all my colleagues. I refuse to be a weenie who lets down my fellow content-providers.

#19 August J. Pollak
April/9/2010
@ 7:00 am

I’d say something, but then I remembered I run in the Huffington Post.

-August Pollak, Part of the Problem

#20 Ted Rall
April/9/2010
@ 7:04 am

Out of curiosity, August, do you feel like you’ve gotten anything out of being in the HuffPo?

#21 August J. Pollak
April/9/2010
@ 7:42 am

Save for Tom Tomorrow and one other blogger who has me on his front page blogroll, the irony is that the Huffington Post gives me more links back to my site than most left-wing blogs.

If there’s one thing I’ll give credit to right-wing bloggers for, it’s they have actually been a lot better historically in supporting cartoonists on their side. Regardless of anyone’s opinions of the content/quality, HotAir is a steady client for Chris Muir, and before their retirement many right-wing blogs paid for Cox & Forkum cartoons.

I think DailyKos paid Jen Sorensen once to reprint a strip, but it’s an incredible rarity. And Ezra Klein frequently links to Tom Toles, but that’s internal since they’re both in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Salon’s axing almost all of its cartoons.

It’s sad, but by and large the entirety of the left-leaning blog world feels that “exposure” is a legitimate form of payment. HuffPo turns out to be the only one who can actually provide it. At least to me, that is. Higher tier cartoonists should have no use for it, and if I was one I wouldn’t either. I guess as it stands I think I’m getting more out of HuffPo than they’re currently getting out of me. It costs me two minutes each week to get a few more links back to my own site.

The minute they ask me to start saying vaccines don’t work, though, I bail.

#22 Chris Fournier
April/9/2010
@ 7:53 am

I fell for this “Work for free because this is such a great opportunity and it’s going to take off” once, and almost a second time.

The first time this self-described marketing “guru” wanted a character drawing for a marketing campain he was going to pitch. Ultimately it would lead to children’s books, tee-shirts/merch, etc but alas it did not.

The cincher for me, when I knew it was time to drop it, was when my g/friend at the time (wife now), who is in Marketing, couldn’t understand a thing he was promoting. That’s when I said “I’m done”!

The second time a Canadian country music artist wanted a strip done to promote himself. He thought it’d be great exposure for both of us and while i admit 1) it would have been fun and perhaps I could flog my own songs on him to cover, and 2) he was really nice and could have been fun to work with, when I gave him a quote for the character design and ongoing strips I never heard from him. Yup, he wanted it for free, didn’t even negotiate which would have told me at least he valued my contribution!

I think it’s easy for us to get caught up in their enthusiasm especially when we’re just starting out ourselves. The reality sets in when you’re doing the work and not seeing any financial reward and the bills are piling up.

I also agree, too bad Steve didn’t send that last email. He had every right to particularly as he was being insulted by this guy!

#23 Shane Davis
April/9/2010
@ 9:51 am

How curiously pro Adam Smith this thread is.
I love it and agree totally. Isn’t free market capitalism great?

#24 Bret McManus
April/9/2010
@ 11:05 am

My day job I work for a F500 company, I did a couple of snarky strips that reflected on management poorly, true but unflattering. I I was shown the door for two months. I was able to get back with aid from the union I belong to.
The problem was that I was ceremoniously fired for all the troops to see what happens to insubordinate rif-raf… All 4000 of my co-workers now know I do cartoons. So the conversation goes like this; I’m so sorry about your firing, this company sucks, How about doing a cartoon for my fill in the blank______ Kid,s school, my church, this or that cause. I was never asked before this and talking with other designers in my group it never happens to them ever.
I just recently did a tree job for the american cancer society, nothing against them; the vice pres. of my company’s on the board, his baby. I did a fine cartoon, but was sent back with notes three times. I couldn’t do it on company time nor will I ever be paid.
I’ve been an artist for 20 years and this has never happened to me before. I was taken off a job by one of the producers because I wouldn’t do a quick one for him as he put it. I’ll bet I piss someone off once a week.
Is there a nice way to say NO.

#25 Steve Skelton
April/9/2010
@ 11:20 am

Bret, there is still a thing called free speech in this country. It sounds like that nice F500 company could have violated the law if they fired you because you drew a cartoon in your free time that was ” unsavory” to them. Seriously, if they actually told you the reason you were fired for two months was because you drew this cartoon you might be eligible for a nice hefty sum via a decent lawyer. This kind of stuff annoys me….

#26 Donna Barstow
April/9/2010
@ 5:26 pm

Stephanie, I totally agree with your 2nd point – and the reason why I joined the Cartoonists Assn when it existed. Every time you make a deal, you affect every other cartoonist who comes in contact with that editor.

So being in PuffPost gives you an ego boost, August? Because unless it affects adsense, not much else. I mean, that’s okay. But yes, by doing that you ARE part of the problem. What if no other cartoonists gave their work out for free on there? They would look like ding-dongs or pay.

I did talk to a writer for PuffPost who said she got a job or 2, or got some interest from people. Everyone else, nada.

I contacted the local version of Puff here in LA, but they don’t pay, either. I don’t know if I can link here, but I quoted the LA Times on what a GREAT year the Puff had when everyone else was dying: http://opedcartoons.com/2009/12/10/people-who-dont-read-a-newspaper-are-dull/

#27 Donna Barstow
April/9/2010
@ 5:27 pm

Steve, a private company can fire you just because they want to. Free speech has nothing to do with employment.

#28 Steve Skelton
April/9/2010
@ 5:30 pm

Well dang it, Donna. That just ain’t fair. I don’t really know the law, but if a company wants you out, I’m sure there are many ways to make it justifiable. Kinda like the cop that pulls you over for a faulty windshield wiper.

#29 Paul Fell
April/9/2010
@ 7:25 pm

Two things garnered in my long and “interesting” career… That’s “interesting” as in the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”.

Private companies are allowed to fire you for “cause” which is any reason imaginable under the sun, or “just cause”, which covers some policy you have violated.

As to working for free, just DON’T DO IT.

Imagine someone who wants desperately to be the best hooker on the corner. To drum up business, they start giving it away for free to get “exposure” and to build a client list. What do you suppose happens when they suddenly start charging for that which they gave away for so long? A big upsurge in paid customers due to word of mouth? Oh, yeah, you betcha.

The same thing applies to any business. There is a vast difference between giving away free samples of pizza and giving away whole pizza orders.

Don’t be stupid. You’re not only screwing yourself, but you are also screwing your fellow cartoonists. If people don’t want to pay you anything up front, there is no rational reason to expect they ever will at some later date.

#30 Joseph Rank ( KRANKY )
April/12/2010
@ 4:52 am

So many good thoughts here. What Paul said. And Ted.

One time a BIG paper editor threw me the schtick of “Oh What Great exposure it will be for you” .
After 17 years experience, I said, “Uh…OK” and proceeded to do my one and only cartoon for them of a very dim looking and greedy boss in complete caricature of the jerk editor, AND IT WAS PUBLISHED!
Course, I never submitted any others ( why bother ? )….But I had feedback from others that the guy ( who was an ass with everyone ) almost had a brain infarction! He looked like a red-haired and freckled Tom Hanks with big ears.

Hey Stephanie! ( waves from SLO )

#31 August J. Pollak
April/12/2010
@ 8:24 am

“So being in PuffPost gives you an ego boost, August?”

Where/how in the hell did you reach this conclusion from my comment? I tried to be offended by this but I’m too confused by the random cattiness of it.

Free advice: when claiming someone else has an ego problem it helps not to be a condescending snot when making the accusation.

#32 Tom Wood
April/12/2010
@ 9:19 am

Way back when HuffPo launched they had a contest that I entered and submitted a few short animations. It was good motivation to learn some new tools and craft a story.

Then they decided that all that free content was so good, they launched a video comedy channel, or some sort. Unpaid user content again, so, no thanks. I haven’t seen that promoted for a while, so I guess it bombed.

August – It’s not just the anti-vaccine stuff. You’ll also have to start pushing Chopra woo and Ullman homeopathy snake oil.

#33 Scott Kurtz
April/12/2010
@ 4:05 pm

CONGRATS TO SPEC WORK!!!!!

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