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Indecent Exposure; or, Giving Your Work Away For Free

November 13, 2013

So I was browsing the internet and came across these tweets made not too long ago:

I agreed very heavily with Skottie Young — so much so that I decided to make a blog post on the topic.

I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say that some of the writers who read my blog are people who are coming in as relatively new writers. There’s no shame in this whatsoever — everyone has to start somewhere — but I thought that now would be a good a time as any to get this topic sorted.

See, if you go looking for any writing jobs, you will find these kind of job offers out there. Sometimes people will even approach you with them, as they did with Skottie here. Their offer is simple; you do a piece of work for them, and they take it. Oh, but don’t worry, it’s not going to be totally for naught — it’s going to go out there and be seen by others. You know, exposure.

That is the exact word that is used in these adverts. Exposure.

What a great word that is! When I was first hearing that word, I had a mental image of someone in a full circus costume clapping a hand on my shoulder. “Son,” he said, pointing to the distance with his spare hand. “Out there are people who have never heard your name before. All you have to do is give me a little something to work with, and we can get you into the big leagues. The fat cats. The living legends of our time”. I mean, who wouldn’t say yes to that? That sounds great.

There is something you need to keep in mind when people say the word ‘exposure’, however. Every time you see a sentence like ‘payment will be exposure’ or ‘every artist needs exposure these days’, replace it with the sentence ‘we don’t want to pay you’. That’s all you have to do. Then, you can see if you want to go with them or not, because that’s essentially what they’re saying when they send out an ‘exposure’ advert.

We don’t want to pay you.

Now, this, at first, gives off vibes of a greedy businessman, who wants to maximise money coming in and minimise money going out. Please, however, keep in mind that people can say the phrase ‘we don’t want to pay you’ if they are a small-time, non-profit website, or part of a charity. There are genuine people out there who just can’t afford to pay for stories, but would appreciate it if people sent them in. It’s up to you to decide where their motive lies. If they’re an anthology raising money for cancer cures, then you can’t really expect them to offer money. If they are, however, a high-end magazine that writes a huge spiel about how exposure is very important for young artists, and how your story will reach hundreds of viewers every month and will be a sure-fire way of raising your sales, you know they’re just dancing around the fact that they’d rather not pay you.

The problem with giving material to other people — especially the type that just flat out don’t want to pay people, and just want to harvest content to make money off of — is that your material then becomes their property. They can do whatever the hell they like with it, even if it goes against what you originally thought would happen with it. They can edit it, delete it, not put a link to your site on it, or bury it in archives where all those advertised eyeballs fail to hit your content whatsoever. If they were particularly strong with taking the rights that they want on your work, you will probably never be able to use it anywhere else ever again.

Having said that, however, there are good sides to exposure jobs. I’ve currently dragged them through the mud as if they’re all a waste of time, but that’s not true at all. The key is to, strangely enough, not pick up exposure jobs for exposure. Pick them up purely for fun. If someone contacts you with an exposure job, or you find one on the internet (and you will), and it seems like a lot of fun to do it, then by all means do it. Despite my above rant, I submit a yearly short story to the FM Writers Anthology, who only offer exposure due to the fact the income goes straight to supporting FM Writers. I also submit stories to The Liar’s League, an establishment which gives actors submitted short stories to read out to an audience. I would really love to see an actor read out my work. Plus, they’re not totally against paying their authors; everyone who makes it into the line-up gets free entry to the event, and drinks on the house. They just don’t pay directly. I submit to FM Writers to help out my writing home, and to Liar’s League because it’s very awesome. The exposure is a side-thought.

So now, the only question that remains is ‘what do I do if I actually want exposure?’. Well, the hint is in the tweets that started this post.

1) Make a blog. This is super easy these days. I personally use WordPress, and I also pay them for the domain which totals at about $20 a year (not a typo). There are lots of blogging platforms out there, so pick one that suits your style.

2) Write your content. Write serials. Write informative articles. Write chapters of a novel. Write drabbles, flashes, shorts, or even novellas. Whatever it is you want to write about, go for it.

3) Feed your content into channels. This includes, but is not exclusive to, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Friday Flash and Tuesday Serial. Remember the golden rule: do not spam! If in doubt, only make two posts for each release; one aimed in a timezone that hits the European countries (about 7PM GMT) and one in a timezone that hits America and Canada (about 2AM GMT). You’re aiming to get the post seen by people in those respective countries around 6-7PM, when they’re unwinding from their day and checking their social media. If you’re in a timezone where posting your messages would mean staying up all night to do so, check to see if you have the ability to schedule your message. Twitter has a ‘schedule message’ button that allows you to type the tweet now and have it go out as a designated time. Remember, though: no spamming!

4) Submit the stories to places, even ones offering exposure if you want. “What?” you say. “You just said not to do that. Why are you saying that now?” Well, it’s very simple; if you have your content published on your website, some magazines will turn their nose up at it. Because they want all the rights to your work, they also want it unpublished anywhere else. There are, however, places which accept reprints, which means they’re fine with the fact that the content is on your website. These people won’t be taking the rights to your work, meaning that you still have control over your free content. Even if they accept your work and it gets one view, it’s one view more than if you just kept it on your website, AND you still have control over your work. So, why not?

Take pride in your work, and have fun. Trust me, what you write is not worth nothing. Don’t let people keen to give you ‘exposure’ tell you otherwise.

And most of all, have fun!

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