"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: To Pay or Not to Pay

Thursday, September 24, 2009

To Pay or Not to Pay

This week I've received lots of correspondence from my esteemed subscribers over the issue of whether writers should have to pay for writer's resources - including market listings.

I thought the topic worthy of discussion, not least because there are so many writer's sites out there that do charge fees - for almost everything from agent contacts, representation services, and the old chestnut, vanity (now often called POD or partnership) publishing.

It's interesting to me because it seems to be an issue that is unique to the Internet. Writers feel no similar qualms over paying for writing services and market listings off-line. It's only on the Internet that writers seem to think everything should be free!

Why, I'm not really sure.

I guess it's because once, a long time ago, there was an idealistic notion that the web would one day become a resource for humanity, free to all, forever...

Whilst a fervent minority bought into this cute idea, vast money driven corporations like Amazon, Apple, Google and our dear friend Mr Gates had no such heady plans to work for the good of mankind. No, theirs was a more basic driving force - the oldest of them all - the lure of profit.

And make no mistake - the Net is a commercial enterprise.

Note: Is. Always was, always will be. It's up to us, the consumers, to adjust our thinking back to this harsh reality. Face it:

Without business, the Internet wouldn't exist.

Advertisments (read: sales) - just like on TV, radio and in magazines - are what keep the Internet going.

Without commerce (read: people like you and me spending money) there would be no incentive for anyone to exist or persist online.

In the Good Old Days...

Writers are often reminded of the old maxim that when it comes to getting published, money should flow one way only - and that is towards the writer.

Good advice for the unwitting writer desperate for publication.

However, this does not necessarily mean that everything that a writer needs - and needs to do - will be free.

Writers have expenses, just like any other professional.

Doctors do not expect their tuition to be free. Nor do journalists or bricklayers or swimming instructors. People accept nowadays that you pay for further education. You may get grants and other pecuniary help - as do writers - but most people know that any kind of serious training is never going to be free.

Professionals need to pay for their tools - and to access their customers. They pay for premises, for supplies, for employees...

Professionals pay for listings in the Yellow Pages - or to advertise their services in public places or in newspapers and magazines.

Books containing lists of publishers, agents and writer's markets cost money - for both the advertiser and the consumer. Professionals may pay hundreds for a listing. And consumers may pay anything from $50 to $300 and more to buy those listings - in book form.

As full time writers, Robyn and I have shelves full of market listings in publishing, screenwriting and paying writer's markets from all over the world. These Writer's Guides have cost us, over time, literally thousands of dollars.

Given our need for this information, we don't complain about buying these guides. So why would we complain about paying for education, markets and opportunities on the Net?

It's a double standard, surely.

Should Information Be Free?

In today's world, hundreds of thousands of people are involved, every minute of every day, in the compilation and dissemination of information, the majority of whom are paid employees.

In the old days volunteers and enthusiasts gave over their time to put lists on the Net - and quickly realized (within a year or two) that this was a one way street. Having a web presence costs money - and without money coming back to the list owner, where's the incentive?

Many people think of the Internet as free.

This is purely an illusion. An Internet connection, a phone line even, can cost hundreds of dollars a year.

The Internet is an expensive, muti-million dollar operation.

Machinery, hardware, software, all technology has a price. Even time, as the cliche goes, is money.

Expertise is expensive. Information, services and financial guarantees cost time and money to provide, update and promote.

Simply put: you can't survive on the Net nowadays unless you approach it like a business.

But Where Does That Leave Writers?

It's a question of perspective. Professional writers, in fact, pay for everything anyway.

Look. You pay to have an agent. Around 15% of what you earn (before tax!) goes into your agent's pocket.

You pay to get published - traditional publishers take around 90% of your earnings, and give you only what is left over.

That's because publishers pay to get your books on the shelves.

Typically, even after publication, you will spend money to promote yourself.

Everybody pays...

So why should being a writer make you different?

The fact is, if you take your writing seriously, you have approach it like a business because, at the end of the day, that's the only way to survive in the long term.

In our experience, writers who pay for courses, information, editing, proofing, etc., get ahead more quickly than those who do not - because having professional feedback can make a real difference.

Those who buy writing tuition get ahead - because they're learning about what the market requires without having to learn it the hard way through experience, trial and error.

Even people who pay to self publish, tend to get publishing deals later on.

It's called making an investment in your future.

If you're serious about your writing, why wouldn't you want to position yourself - especially given that the writing industry is so fiercely competitive nowadays that the chances of you achieving your goals through luck and talent alone is next to slim.

Wouldn't you want to know everything there is to know - even the stuff you have to pay to find out?

Free stuff can only help you so much.

The rest is up to you.

Be a professional.

Accept that, as a writer, you will often need to spend money to make money - there's nothing wrong with this premise.

You can never hear good advice too often. And paying for it, let's face it, often makes it stick!

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

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