Please Don’t Offer to Work (for Me) for Free
I’ve often written about the problems with working for free, but always from the perspective of someone who is looking for work. I don’t want others to do for free what I charge for because… well… we’ve all got bills to pay, and work you do for free is a paid opportunity I can’t pick up. However, recently I’ve been doing far more commissioning than pitching, and it struck me that it might be useful to explain why, from an editor’s perspective, your offer to work for free might be less than ideal.
Naturally, as with all rules, there are exceptions, and I’ve accepted unpaid opportunities in the past myself, but broadly if you are a Smutlancer (or an aspiring Smutlancer!) I would always prefer to pay you than to have your work for free. Here’s why…
If I pay you, I can edit you
It’s quite hard to ask for edits and revisions on a piece that someone’s given you for free. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and all that. When someone pays you money, they aren’t just telling you “your time is valuable,” they’re also letting you know that they expect a certain level of service.
If you have given your work away for free, it’s very hard for the person editing to ask you for corrections/amends. After all, you’ve already done this for free! Why would you spend more time making tweaks and changes? Payment isn’t just for you, it’s also for the person commissioning: they can ask you for revisions because those are the things they have paid for.
If I pay you, I have rights
Your words – be they audio or written text – belong to you. You own the rights to them. When you sell those words, you are usually selling some or all of the rights, depending on what you negotiate. Exclusive rights are where they will only ever be published on that other blog/website or non-exclusive rights where the other blog/site has your permission to use them, but you can still publish them in other places/in other formats if you so desire.
Most of the time, when I’m commissioning guest blogs, I’m not asking for exclusive rights to the content. (Though I’d like to have those, and there are very good reasons why you shouldn’t repost a guest blog from someone else’s site on yours, I don’t think I pay enough to be able to demand exclusivity.) But I am essentially asking for non-exclusive rights to have your words on my own website. Forever.
Paying you money for your work protects me from claims later down the line that I have somehow ripped off your work. This is extremely unlikely to happen, of course, and in practice, no one has ever accused me of stealing their work. But the protection gives me peace of mind when publishing. If someone just told me “hey! You took this without my permission!” an invoice provides an audit trail to show that no, I did not.
While this has never happened (thankfully!) I have had a few guest bloggers ask me to remove their pieces after they’ve been published (if they become nervous that they didn’t anonymize the post well enough, for instance, or they’ve changed their mind about having a particular story out there). I have never said no to any of these requests, and I probably wouldn’t ever say “no,” because who am I to judge why people need something removed? But the act of paying people helps to minimize the likelihood that they might request this in the first place. Money adds a barrier that gives people pause to think more carefully about what they want out there. I’ve had fewer requests to remove guest blogs after I started paying people than I did when I accepted them for free. So: paying people gives me security.
If I pay you, we both know the terms
Recently I’ve been taking submissions for my audio porn project – something I’m delighted to find that a lot of people are keen to get involved with. I have quite a few submissions, and among the ones which follow my brief to the letter (A+++ gold stars for all of these people because it makes it so much easier to say “yes!”), there are some who don’t follow the brief at all but do offer me their work for free.
It’s tempting, sure, to say “Yes please!” to free content, but often when something is free that actually means a lot more work for me.
If we have an agreement that I will give you £X in exchange for Y work, I can pay you when you’ve done the work, and I can then use that work in the ways we’ve agreed in the contract/license. If, instead, you just say “here’s this, it’s free” then I don’t have that kind of certainty.
I need to check in on lots of details: Can I post this here? Can I be confident you’re happy for me to use it forever? What about edits/changes/sub-licensing?. There is a lot of uncertainty and a lot more work for me. Because instead of issuing a brief and receiving work that fits it, I’m thrown something that may not fit the brief, which I have to work to fit into the slot I have available.
I fully understand why people want to do this. I know there are some people who are happy just to have their work out there, so if I’m out of budget it’s understandable to say “don’t pay me, just stick it up!” And I appreciate the gesture! But although I have done this in the past occasionally, it’s not a great way to run a business, because uncertainty is a spanner in the works.
If I pay you, you know you’re worth something
As always, I’ve left the most important point till last. When I work with other Smutlancers, I want our working relationship to be one that is professional and uplifting. I don’t pretend I succeed in this aim all the time, but I do my best to try and make it so that the people I’m working with feel valued.
They are, after all, sharing some of their most intimate stories and powerful work with my audience, and I want them to go away from that feeling happy about the experience. Financial compensation is not the only way to make people feel valued, sure, but it helps.
If I’m publishing your work, it’s not because I got a free bargain, it’s because your work is good.