Writing for Free: Is "Exposure" Just a Synonym for "Sweet Fuck All"?

This is one of those issues that flare up every now and again. A few months ago, I had a pretty big flare-up on my Facebook feed, thanks to a post on Wil Wheaton's blog: you can’t pay your rent with “the unique platform and reach our site provides”, about Huffington Post asking if they could repost something else he'd written on their site, and him refusing on principle as they didn't intend to pay him for it. His decision was a fine one for him, because he's famous as fuck, and HuffPost exposure would provide him little to no value.

The same isn't necessarily true for a schlub like me, and I daresay most of the schlubs who will read this. 

I have no problem with his post. He even goes so far as to acknowledge that he's fortunate not need the exposure and to be able to walk away from that kind of offer. It was the aftermath I had a problem with, when writers and other artists started sharing it on Facebook with their own comments.

 "Hell yeah! I'll never work for free!"  

"My art is worth something!"

"Do you realize how much of my time and heart and soul went into this art? Why does everyone just expect me to give it away for free?"

"Why would you give your hard work away for nothing?" 

It should be noted that none of these are actual quotes. I'm not scrolling my Facebook feed back to October to dig this shit up. They're just meant to be representative of some of the sentiments I heard during that time.

These first two sentiments I don't have a problem with. If those are principles you choose to stand by, good for you. The third doesn't bother me so much when I see it from visual artists. Knowing as many fellow self-published writers as I do, I know that quality book covers are something a lot of us try to get as cheaply as possible. And I feel for the artists who are offered nothing but "exposure" for their work.

But exposure isn't necessarily nothing, especially for a writer. Exposure is everything. That's why those BookBub fuckers charge as much as they do, and why desperate suckers like us suffer through their daily reminders in our inboxes that, as far as they're concerned, we can go eat a dick.

And that's why the fourth sentiment I mentioned above always rubs me the wrong way.

"Why would you give your hard work away for free?"

The implication here, as I interpret it, is that you're wrong to do free promotions, or to give away copies of your books for reviews, or to have the first book in a series available for free permanently. These aren't strategies that I currently use, and now that I have a decent following and a respectable number of reviews, are also not strategies I plan to ever use again. But that's not to say they aren't viable strategies.

Have you ever seen people giving away free samples of food in a supermarket? Do you think that's charity? I could be wrong, but I always assumed that was meant to entice customers into paying money to buy more of whatever they'd just sampled.

Maybe that says more about me than it does about them.

Maybe that says more about me than it does about them.

I don't have any supermarket statistics to back me up, but I have to assume, given the fact that this is still such a popular strategy, that it works.

Likewise, it sometimes works to give away books. I got a lot of those initial reviews from free promotions. And other authors, more successful than me, use the permafree-first-book-in-a-series strategy. 

Fellow writer and Authors and Dragons player, Rick Gualtieri, recently blogged about douchey authors who claim to have found the One True Path to success, and for a while I wondered if he had me in mind while writing it (because I'm a douchey narcissist). I know that in some of my blog posts, I tend to come off as a know-it-all telling you the right way to get shit done. But I've always maintained, since my very first blog post, that the freedom to experiment was one of a self-published author's greatest potential advantages. Rick and I are in agreement that there are many potential roads leading toward success.

I bring this up because I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to tell you how to run your business. If I'm being completely honest, I don't give a shit about your business. But I give plenty of shits about mine. I'm writing this post, as I write all of them, for that sweet, sweet, exposure.

"Can I interest you in one of  my hilarious fantasy books ?"

"Can I interest you in one of my hilarious fantasy books?"

Use your head. Size up every opportunity that's presented to you. If some no-name author offers you nothing but "exposure" for designing his book cover, you might (almost certainly) want to respond in the same manner as the hot dog vendor in the 'The Oatmeal' comic pictured above.

But if Huffington Post comes knocking on my door asking if they may repost one of my blog posts on their site, principles can go fuck themselves.

Principles are great and all, but they also pay neither for rent nor for delicious hot dogs.

In a matter of freak coincidence, DeadPixel Publication's own Renee Miller wrote a similarly themed blog post today.

To pay for my rent and hot dogs, buy my books.

To give me exposure, come like my Facebook page.