The Lure of “Exposure” For Writers

There’s been lots of buzz lately on-line about how often even established authors get requests to submit their writing for free, or even speak somewhere for free.

The lure is “exposure.”

These pieces make me wince with recognition.  I’ve been publishing fiction and nonfiction about children of Holocaust survivors for over thirty years and I’ve keynoted three international Holocaust conferences.  I was traveling to Florida for a conference not so long ago, and months in advance contacted a local Holocaust Museum to let them know I’d be in town.  I asked if they’d like me to speak there about my work’ given its recognition in the U.S. and abroad.

They did.  But they had no interest in paying me even a token speaking fee for my time.  Why?  Because they insisted speaking there would get me good “exposure.”

I explained that I wasn’t a newbie, that speaking was work, that I planned all my talks and readings extensively.  After all, I was a writer and this was my business, not a hobby.  They didn’t bother replying.

sigh2-609x430I guess they thought I was nervy to ask to be compensated for my time.  I’m happy to report, though, that this happens to me rarely.  Now and then a new magazine might ask me to submit a story and say they’d be happy to “consider” it.  I thank them for their interest, and say I don’t write “on spec.”

If an editor knows my work well enough to ask me for a piece, I’m delighted to edit it as much as necessary to make it meet her or his requirements.  For one recent anthology, I did almost ten drafts of a story because I knew the editor, Derek Rubin was on target with his suggestions and I wanted to work with him to shape the story into something successful and polished.  He was going to take the story once it was “done” and I loved working with such a gifted editor.

promisedBut I don’t have the time anymore to supply people with material they can reject–that’s exposure I don’t need.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery which you can find on Amazon.

(updated 7/25/2015)

6 thoughts on “The Lure of “Exposure” For Writers

  1. Oh, yeah. Mind you, I’m not rich and famous, but I get asked all the time to “look at” other people’s work. And I was also invited to sell books at a “Ticket to the Twenties” conference in Southern California. I’d only have to pay $100 for the table so I could sell my books there. Sigh. If I drive to California, it’s going to be to see my kids, you know?

    • I’ve gotten requests like that, too! My favorite California story was a library that wanted me to fly out to SF, do a reading and talk and they offered me little more than air fare + “home hospitality.” I said the time involved and the time change adjustments made it impossible.

  2. I have been asked to write/work for free for almost thirty years, and the answer is usually no. I will do library events for a nominal fee, and signings at bookstores are, of course, “free.” But even years ago as an editor I was asked to do a “sample” chapter of a book. I sensed right away that the publisher was planning on having a number of ghostwriters write “sample” chapters, to produce a book he didn’t have to pay anyone to write. He never got away with it, but lots of people do now.

    Perhaps the problem originated with the huge number of wannabe writers and literary journals, which were happy to take work to give the writer a publication credit. Payment was mostly nonexistent.

    The situation today isn’t really better or worse; there are simply more venues for writers to write for free, and more editors/publishers willing to take advantage of others.

    • I think it’s worse inasmuch as there are so many more sources hungry for “content” and so many more writers hungry to be “published.” I’ve been lucky as far as nontraditional speaking engagements since colleges, universities, libraries, museums, churches and synagogues all respect a writer’s time and offer honoraria and often more. The museum in question was a big surprise since they didn’t have to come up with airfare, lodging or meal expenses. But even a token fee was apparently anathema to them.

  3. Oh, this sounds so familiar. I do my fair share of donating writings and books and suchlike for nonprofits, but that’s my choice. For some reason, folks who don’t write/speak for a living believe it takes no time at all. “It’s only a half hour talk,” they tell me. “It’s just one column.”
    Right, that means I must prepare the talk, travel there on my dime, travel home again–a minimum of half a day if local and much more if out of town. And the time spent writing “just one column” takes away time I could spend writing on something else that would earn me kibble.
    Sad to say, this isn’t unusual. Thanks for sharing the blog link, Lev.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. Back around 1990 a more senior author said that every single talk somewhere that involves travel is a minimum of three days out of your schedule, and I should start thinking of that as the minimum amount of time involved. She was very helpful and inspiring.

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