It seems to me that the main hurdle writers face is that it’s a buyer’s market.
I’m not talking about occasional authors who become household names. I’m talking about the everyday author, journalist, writer who sells to buyers (media and publishers) that are flooded with people who write.
It’s how the agency system got traction. The advent of self-publishing (‘indie publishing’) hasn’t changed the calculation because the avenues are choked with output, much of it dross. Discovery is a real hurdle – and that has the same end result. It’s a buyers’ marker – the commodity is ‘being found’. And it’s hard; as a friend of mine observed recently, even ‘free’ doesn’t cut it. People won’t give away their time, and why should they amidst the sea of possibilities demanding their attention?
My own experience has been with the ‘trad’ model, which always was a buyers market and where attitudes always were hard-nosed. And as it bends and sways under the impact of the internet, that’s got worse. It’s been very bad of late when it comes to freelance journalism to newspapers and magazines – which I’ve basically given up for this reason, in favour of writing books. Aside from rates dropping to the point where they don’t cover expenses, there’s the way contributors are treated. For instance:
♦ Being commissioned to write a piece, fulfilling my part in good faith, then being told ‘we don’t want it now’ – and not being paid. This happened more than once, with different papers. When I suggested this was a breach of good faith, I got an answer. ‘Tough’.
♦ Being told that if I invoiced with the submission (standard business practise), they wouldn’t use me again.
♦ Not being paid because they’d got the amount to invoice wrong, spending more time than the amount was worth sorting out their mistake; and then being dumped from their stable of freelancers as my reward.
♦ Pitching a piece to a newspaper, being told they wouldn’t use it, then seeing the piece written to my pitch by a staff journalist. When I protested at the plagiarism, I was told ‘tough’.
♦ Selling a piece on a one-shot basis and discovering it had been nationally syndicated, without payment of syndication fees. This was unlicensed use of my intellectual property. The answer I got was – well, you guessed it, ‘tough’.
Not how I do business, In fact, I make a point of doing what I say – call me idealistic, but I believe in one’s word being one’s bond, and I live by that principle. I expect those I deal with to do the same, and that is the standard against which I measure their values. Trust is an earned commodity. People who break it have a hard time earning it back.
But it’s the nature of writing. If a brick-maker was treated with contempt every time they tried to sell a brick they’d soon stop making bricks and do something worthwhile.
Writers don’t. Writers keep writing. And those to whom they sell their writing know it.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013