'They Shoot Writers, Don't They?' by Elmo Keep

Our unbelievably wonderful Digital Director, a person we call ’Elmo Keep’, has written a piece that is obligatory reading for any writer working in today’s marketplace. (Actually, maybe it’s obligatory for everyone, because anyone who reads words needs to be aware of all this shit too?) 

Elmo’s piece is full of important information, and includes some of the best advice/guidelines/suggestions for How To Do Best What You Do. Here’s a preview:

I’m in no small way discomfited by the cottage industry that now exists in writing about how there is no money in writing. We just love to have this conversation, over and over while getting nowhere. Yet again, okay, here we go!

First. Volunteer and not for profit concerns are very clearly marked as such. For example, community radio isn’t a profit-making enterprise for anyone involved. The salaries paid to the few staff members are generally low, and volunteers are unpaid, well, because they are volunteers. There is very little money in community radio because paid advertising violates the charter under which it operates. The station fulfils an important role tied directly to servicing its community. Volunteer positions are great for gaining experience, meeting wonderful people and hopefully finding mentors, and just for doing something that is all ‘round tops, civically speaking. You believe in the mission of an organisation that you volunteer your labour to for free or cheaply. Plus everyone feels good about going to work there. This is the model that literary magazines like this one work within.

Conversely, commercial websites and publications anywhere that sell advertising are for-profit enterprises existing only to make money. They employ a large roster of paid staff, a CEO, an accounting and ad sales department, and a strong advertising model. These certainly may publish a great deal of interesting things (or they never do), but it’s not a community service portal, it is a business. Therefore, in this model, there are people getting well paid and profit is earned from the work produced for and published on the site—without writers, without writing, the site would be an empty vessel of pointless design that no company would buy ads on. Therefore, writers should charge commensurate rates for the time they put into producing pieces for these publications because ultimately, a whole lot of people financially benefit from the writers’ work.

Not long ago, it used to be that new practitioners in a field would occasion to undertake unpaid work as this was a stepping stone towards paid work, which you earned your way into by acquiring the trade through practise. However, today, in the age of the perma-intern, the unpaid ‘opportunity’ has become the end in itself. There are few places left to step to. For writers today being published is not the problem—anyone can be published—earning a living from the published work is the problem.

Click through to the Meanjin Quarterly site and read read read the rest