Imagine with me, if you will, the following help wanted or classified ads:
“I have a huge tree that fell in the back yard, and I need someone with a chain saw to come over and cut it up. I can’t pay you, and I’ll mostly use the wood in my own fireplace, but if I happen to sell off some of the wood some time in the future, I’ll split the $$ with you 50/50.”
“Lamp won’t work. Need an electrician to swing by, re-wire it. No pay, but you can sit here and bask in the glow for a while after you get it working.”
“Toilet won’t flush. Floaters have turned into sludge. Need a plumber to get things moving. Payment: none. (But you can add me to your list of references…)”
“I am a budding dancer, with a lot of natural talent. I need a great teacher and mentor to help me learn the actual steps and stuff, but, trust me, I’m gonna be BIG. I can’t pay you now, but when I hit it big (and, honey, I’m gonna BLOW UP) I will NOT FORGET who helped me get where I am.”
These seem silly, to me, but these fake ads are similar to ads I read all the time directed at writers.
No pay. No compensation. “I’ll split it with you when I make millions off my book deal. (Trust me, I have a story to tell!)” I should be honored to spend hours and hours, days even, writing your story or article…
It’s funny how people instinctively know that they don’t have the ability to write their story themselves, but AT THE SAME TIME, they think, “Eh, it’s just writing. Anyone can do that.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not working under some delusion that my words are worth gold. And, I’ve given away plenty of free writing to people or causes or events that I believed in. I would even, under certain, very limited circumstances, write someone’s story (or, at least a chapter of it and a synopsis for the rest) in an effort to help them get their story published. What I won’t do is think that every idiot with an internet connection has the “next big story” to tell. There are some people I know, and love, and care so much about, I’d write for days, weeks, years on their behalf.
If you really believe what you have to tell is so important or will be such a bestseller, you’d be willing to invest a few dollars up front in order to get that big payout in the end. Or, better still, you would at least be willing to talk through the process of hiring a writer and build a relationship that might lead to me saying, “You know what, I believe in this project, too. Let me do more work than you have money to pay me for. It’s cool. I think we’ve got something here.”
It is frustrating to attempt to engage people who think writing isn’t work, isn’t a professional skill, and doesn’t deserve the same respect you’d give any other hard-working laborer, from the person you’d hire to clean your house (can you imagine asking someone to clean for you so they can “build their resume”?) to the plastic surgeon (“I can’t pay now, but when I’m pretty, and famous, I’ll TOTALLY come back and pay this off…”).