Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 21 March 2016

A Fair Day's Wage for a Fair Day's Work

Of course, this is a Socialist precept, and the cry of the labour movement everywhere. I'm not sure anyone could disagree with it. It has always related to 'work' in the traditional sense, though. It has never, so far as I know, been applied to intellectuals or to the arts.

I was offered a gig yesterday.

It’s always nice to hear from editors looking for stories for anthologies. I like reading short stories, and I love to write them. I don’t write a lot of them, and I tend not to write on-spec and then look for somewhere to sell stories. I like to have a focus.

I like to write short stories to order. I like to have a target. Anthologies are good for that. They’re generally genre specific, and there’s usually a theme to follow. They’re the kind of targets I like. Focus is good.

Every so often, an editor will e-mail me to offer me a gig, a slot in an anthology. I generally find a way to say ‘yes’. I like writing shorts and I can generally fit them into my schedule. I also like to be stretched, so any target is a good target. I’ve written SF, Horror, Urban Fantasy… all sorts of things. I’ve always enjoyed it.

Once or twice, my stories haven’t made the cut, and I’ve sold them on elsewhere. It doesn’t happen often, but when I’ve got something I like, I’m happy to move it on, and I’ve never been left with anything in the drawer. I wish I could say the same about some of my novels.

Sadly, there’s been a shift in publishing. Sadly, the last couple of times I’ve been offered a short story gig, it’s come with a caveat.

Yesterday, I was offered a gig by an editor, and that’s great; the down side was that I wasn’t offered a paying gig. This particular editor at this particular small press decided that it was OK to ask professional writers to write for free.

I’d probably be shocked if I wasn’t so damned disappointed. I’d probably be shocked if it hadn’t happened before, and if it hadn’t also happened to the husband.

Self-publishing is very popular now. A lot of would-bes and wannabes are publishing their work for themselves on various platforms, hoping that they’ll sell, and perhaps that they’ll be picked up by traditional publishers. For most of them, it doesn’t work. For most of them it doesn’t differ very much from the old vanity publishing. Of course, vanity publishing cost money, and self-publishing can be done on a shoestring, but it’s still about circumventing the problem of having the work appraised, criticised, edited and published. It’s a way of side-stepping the gatekeepers.

When an editor at a small press expects writers to write for free, the publisher is simply extending the self-publishing model. Publishers pay writers to write. That’s the whole point. When a publisher asks a writer to write for free, he is no longer a publisher he is a third-party self-publisher.

I value what I do. It’s my job.

I don’t know anybody else who works for no money.

When I decide to give something away that I’ve written, I do it here, on the blog, and I do it for my own reasons. I do it to talk to all of you. I do it to entertain. I do it as a gift.

I have talked on this blog, often, about self-publishing. I don’t like it. I don’t think it works, and I absolutely would not do it.

Given that I wouldn’t do it for myself. I absolutely would not do it through a third party. Third party self-publishing makes money for small presses that shouldn’t be in business at all if they can’t pay the talent they are exploiting.

Publishers take a risk. They believe in a writer’s talent, so they pay for it. That’s the risk. They bring the resources, the writer brings the talent, and there’s a relationship. The publisher who isn’t taking that risk doesn’t need to believe in the talent. The publisher who isn’t taking the risk doesn’t need to be a gatekeeper any more, because the product doesn’t need to succeed. There is no investment. I don’t want to be part of that kind of arrangement.

I was offered a gig yesterday. 

I liked the target, and I would’ve enjoyed writing the story. Sadly, I can’t do it, because the small press that offered me the gig decided that it didn’t want to pay me for my work. 

Me, the writer who insist on being paid.
Creators work, too.
I’m baffled, though. I’m baffled, because the e-mail I received was enthusiastic and comprehensive. The e-mail I received offering me this gig, included a roster of writers who have committed to this project. Honest to goodness, I would have loved for my name to have appeared alongside those on that roster. The list included writers that I have read and admired, writers that are well-known and popular. It appals me that writers of this calibre are not only being invited to write for free, but that they are accepting those invitations.

I think it’s time that we all stopped accepting jobs that don’t pay, and by all of us, I don’t just mean writers, I mean creators of all kinds.

As far as publishing is concerned, it would probably mean the demise of some of the small presses, but, as it turns out, they’re not viable businesses as they stand. That won’t diminish the quality of the best writers out there. It might mean they write fewer stories, but they will, at least, be guaranteed payment for every story they write. I’m all for that.


  1. It's not just no pay either, extremely low pay is almost as bad. A few years ago, the new editor of a magazine I'd worked for in the early 2000s picked up the phone, told me how much he loved my writing and would like me to write for them again.

    He had a specific story in mind - required me to read 2-3 books, and interview 3-4 people, then write 1500 words of analysis based on those quotes.

    I asked about payment - he said they paid £50 for a story like that. I was absolutely astonished; I said that was a tenth of what the same magazine had paid a decade before. He replied "Ah, but that was old media. This is new media."

    Needless to say, I said no to working for about half the minimum wage - yet, a couple of months later, I saw the story appear, written by someone else. There's always a race to the bottom with these things - and sadly, it's an industry where rock bottom is free.

  2. First day of Spring, my son turns thirteen and Nik Returns..!