The Bondage of FREE – Free stuff, that is.

Hot steam caresses your lungs as you take a deep breath, bringing the smoky scent of scorched grease and overcooked meat to them. The clash of steel on steel, submerged in a massive, jet powered sink, tickles the part of your skull where the latest headache died and threatens to return. Another order pops up in its garish lime green text on a blue screen. Seems the headache may hit sooner than you thought.

Suddenly, you smile. Payday tomorrow, and that means you’ve hit your goal. Just enough to buy that new pair of shoes that went on sale this week. Well, you frown as you remember, if I were getting paid for my hours today. Stupid corporate. So you keep working, because today, the high ups decided to try something new. Let the customers see just what hard workers all of you are, and maybe someone will decide you’re worth more than $7.25 an hour. A sigh escapes you as the manager tells you to go in the back and do some dishes. It’s lunch rush, and customers can’t see the dish area. Too much ruckus would escape the back. Looks like all that exposure is going to go to the ones who’ve been working here for five years with no end in sight.

I’m sure most of you remember the days when minimum wage brought home the bacon. At the risk of sounding “political,” I find great irony in the current ideas of raising the minimum wage for effectively unskilled workers, then demanding our craftsman and artisans work for EXPOSURE. So let’s do a bit of math, because I enjoy math applied to real life, and I want all of you to know just what manner of undertaking I’m in, writing not just one but several books, and likely several series in the next decade or so.

Imagine the minimum wage worker pictured above. Working hard to bring you food that you wish looked like this…

Fast Food

But ends up a smashed heap of bread and meat with limp, over-salted, fried potato sticks on the side, all of it dripping in grease that might just have appeared to spite our arteries. Our price is a few dollars for the mess, somewhere between five and ten to add the sugar nightmare called soda (or pop, depending).

That mess took one person between one and three minutes to smash together, wrap up, drop on a tray, and pass over the counter. So what does that mess have to do with exposure? Simple. No one gets paid to write a novel. Writers get paid for having written a novel. Or two. Or three. We, as writers, don’t get paid for our blog, especially starting out. We don’t get paid to be on Facebook or Twitter, and don’t expect anyone to pay to access those platforms either. Some more established writers may have websites that offer special features to paying members, but often they don’t. Especially as new writers, those writers who need to be seen and heard to gain a following, we get paid for, say it with me, HAVING WRITTEN a novel. Or two. Or three.

Put another way, we are missing out on up $14K a year, give or take a few hundred. Likely more. Here, I’ll show you.

Table for Income

Assuming it takes 736 hours to write a novel (for some it takes less, some far more), at 52 weeks in a year, that individual is working an average of 14.15 hours a week, assuming no holiday or vacation breaks. Take a look at the graph above. For a minimum wage worker in most of the United States, that works out to $5.4K a year. That’s enough for a vacation to Europe, people! If you work for minimum wage in Washington D. C. The number goes up by over a third. $7.7K.

Here’s the real kicker, though. An average middle class worker brings home around $20 an hour. Keeping the figure of 736 hours in one year, that’s $14,716! Three trips to Europe. Down payment on a new house. A vacation to somewhere truly exotic like Angkor Wat or the Forbidden City. A new car.

But for the writer putting in those hours, there is no trip to Europe. No new car. No down payment on a house. There’s 736 hours of madness, trying to get what’s in our heads out on paper, and if we’re considering publication? Hoping, praying that no one offers us less than 8% royalties on a paperback. Take a $5.99 small paperback, for example.  The author’s cut is $0.48 per book. Now that’s a low estimate on a traditional publishing route, but let’s look at it. How many copies will it take to earn a return on time invested? 30,658. That’s the number. Considering many fiction books don’t sell more than 1,000 copies in their entire run, especially first time authors, why would we give away something we’ve spent the equivalent of a part time job crafting?

Final Thoughts

I titled this post The Bondage of Free for one main reason. If artists are unable to support themselves in these times, there is no system of wealthy patrons to take over their entire financial life and leave them free to make art, then art will crumble, and fast. Artists will give up and go back to flipping burgers or their day job, just because writing, or any art, cannot put food on the table when Exposure is free, and the big names already making money see themselves as doing the nameless ones a favor by gifting us this Exposure.  Huge thanks to Revolva for speaking out.  We are capable of making our own Exposure thanks to the Internet. To quote Kristen Lamb, whose original post inspired this, “FREE is an excellent servant, but a lousy master.” And we are a culture rapidly becoming addicted to it.

If you want to download the Income Chart and use it on your own blog, please do.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.  Thanks!

 

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7 Responses

  1. A writer who wants to do the math? I think I like you. Very much. Numbers show it like it is.
    You talk about vacations and down payments, but what about putting food on the table and meeting rent? I’m fortunate because my husband is an engineer. He pays for all those essentials so I can sit in my office grinding out blog posts, short stories and novels. When my paycheck comes? I’m thrilled if it’s over $10 (and that’s per quarter-year). Most of the time, it’s $2. Not even enough for a skinny mocha at the coffee klatsch.
    I adore Kristin Lamb and have been following and quoting her for three years. I love exposure, too. Share my blog posts (and give me credit as the author). But don’t expect me to give you my novel for nothing.

    • Why thank you! ‘bows dramatically’ I do enjoy math, when it pertains to other things I’m interested in, like business sense and cash flow. Food on the table is absolutely vital, you’re right. However, I found it easier to show just how dire the consequences of not paying a writer can be in large chunks, rather than small increments. What blew my mind the most, though, was just how many small paperbacks it would take to earn an average middle class return on time invested. And you’re absolutely right. Don’t expect me to give my worlds away for free.

      As for Kristen Lamb, I found her book when one of her blog posts popped up on my feed two months ago. Saw Rise of the Machines on Amazon, and not only have not regretted the purchase, but it’s been the most useful advice ever on social media. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Tiffany Stockham says:

    I’m not entirely sure what your argument is here. Writers should be paid for every hour they spend writing on a book? That sounds nice, but who is supposed to pay us? And are they supposed to pay EVERYONE who wants to be a writer? Shakespeare had a patron like you’re suggesting, but he did mainly get the big checks for having written, and it was always commissions. Writing what he wanted wasn’t what Elizabeth was paying for.

    Also, he was Shakespeare. There were loads of other playwrights in England at the same time period who didn’t have Queen Elizabeth as a patron. The queen only wants the best, and therefore she only pays for the best, and only after they’ve proven themselves to be the best. Those hours we spend writing before we sell a book (or two or three) can be looked at as part of our training to become the best – or at least decent enough for people to shell out money for. No one pays doctors or laywers or plumbers for their training, but we do pay them for their work.

    Writers should be given much higher royalties? Or cash advances? I can get behind that, but publishers really do have other people they need to pay besides the author. I can’t find a good article on the internet detailing where the money goes once someone puts $20 into a book, and sure the publisher could make less profit, but a lot of that is paying the illustrator and the typesetter and the proofreader and so forth.

    Or is your argument instead a continuation of Revolva’s? That authors shouldn’t be asked to give their books away? I am not aware of a demand for authors to give their books away, but there may be one that I’m not thinking of, and if so please enlighten me. Well, there’s libraries, but libraries typically pay for their books at least once. But I would agree with that. At LTUE 2012 I attended a panel where the speaker (whose name I have buried in my notes somewhere) explained that buyers value books they have to pay for more than they value books they got for free. So offering your book for free on Amazon may actually hurt you more than it helps. I think Revolva did the right thing by turning down Oprah, and I think it was rude of Oprah to ask, but not illegal and an unfortunate byproduct of capitalism (people are worth what you pay for and if someone is willing to work for free then that’s what they’re worth).

    But my main point is that I’m not sure what your argument is here. I know you didn’t ask for a critique, so you can ignore this if you want, but I feel that of the two text-based posts you’ve put up so far, both of them confuse me a little. I would enjoy the first one much more if there was far more detail (which means you’d be lambasting someone personally instead of generally, which can be scary on the Internet so I can understand avoiding that), and I would enjoy this one far more if your point was clearer.

    It’s just like writing an essay for college – find out what your thesis is and stick to it. Tell me what your argument is straight-out, and then I can decide if I’m for or against it or write a miniature blog post (OMG this comment is long) explaining my overly complicated thoughts about it. But they would be an appropriate response, because I would understand what I was responding to.

    • As we did discuss this on another platform, I’m hoping we’ve reached an understanding. That said, I’ll likely revisit this as tomorrow’s post, since I’ve been lax this week. Thanks for giving me some points to think on later!

    • Jacob says:

      Tiffany, I believe some of the disconnect between the topic and your understanding of it is a matter of perspective. Looking at your comments it appears to me you are trying to analyze this post as an English essay like we do in college. I believe a better lens would be one of an economic standpoint or of cultural analysis.

      Also there is a clearly defined thesis in paragraph 3: “I find great irony in the current ideas of raising the minimum wage for effectively unskilled workers, then demanding our craftsman and artisans work for EXPOSURE.”

      This blog post is as much a commentary on the culture of free as it is about the worth of time. We have often been told “Time is Money”. This post just gives some actual numbers to go with the idiom.

  1. 3 March 2016

    […] I realize this is longer than my usual posts, and here’s why.  Context is everything.  Discussing identity without giving you the definition I’m using would be useless.  Now that we are roughly on the same page (or at least in the same chapter), I’ll go into why I say it’s our primary weapon in creating the cultural shift that will allow us as artists to stop ourselves from falling into the bondage discussed in my previous posts. […]

  2. 30 March 2016

    […] thank a few people.  First, Sharon Hughson for her comment that I am, indeed, a writer who “likes to do the math.”  I love to do math, at least when it applies to vital pieces of my life.  From finances to […]

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