Monday, December 21, 2009

Creative Product Pay

An uncopywrited photo for some color and cheer and that's the profit, but if I were a professional photographer...

My friends, fellow bloggers and different threads have been discussing the problem of the often low or no pay of many short story markets. This has brought to my mind the ongoing larger problem of what I call the "creative=not-being-real-work=free" problem. From my experience, every creative person struggles with the attitude, "You love doing this, right? So you shouldn't want to be paid, right? Isn't that crass commercialism that will only destroy your passion?"

Funny how nobody ever asks a surgeon or electrician or lawyer who has passion for the work about commercialism, i.e. being paid, destroying the enjoyment of the work. This was first brought home to me while I grew up. My father was a well-known, well-respected artist with his paintings hanging in museums all over the world. Still, often, way too often, someone would say, "You want me to pay HOW MUCH for this work of art?" Or even, "We're friends, this piece is small and Christmas is coming..."

Then, when I started film editing, I ran into the same belief. Editing is creative and fun, so why be paid money? And then was when I realized the crux of the problem. People who are not creative, aren't creative. Therefore, they don't create and therefore don't understand it's hard work. It takes tons of energy and many work hours to create something. And it can be tedious and boring (if you don't believe me, look at the same 10 seconds of film 400 times and then we'll talk!).

What do you think, dear readers? Is this part of the problem? Maybe the main part? Or maybe a comforting illusion?


Helen Ginger said...

I believe you could be right. On the other hand, if you are creative, you very much appreciate the work that goes into a creative piece, even if it's not the same type of work you do.

No, I can't imagine staring at the same 10 seconds of film 400 times!

Straight From Hel

Carol Kilgore said...

I've started three different responses here and erased them all. I really don't have an answer for this. Out of the three things I was going to say, the one that makes the most logical sense is that our creative products are wants and not needs for most people. But even with that, how do explain the exorbitant money paid to actors and sports figures? Their products are not needs either. Sigh. I think my brain is too tired to ponder this.

Anonymous said...

People want something for nothing, that's just human nature.

An awful lot of creative work is given away, apparently, for free. Except it isn't really free, it's supported by advertising.

I do think there's a sliding scale of perception though. I think most people appreciate that great art doesn't come easy. I'm surprised anyone was trying to mooch an actual painting.

Now writing on the other hand... oh, lord... the bar is set unbelievably low. I write, you write, 95 per cent of the people who come here probably write.

Short story rates in general haven't moved on much from what they were fifty years ago because everyone writes now.

Even TEN years ago the prospect of getting a typewriter and a stack of paper, or even a pad and pen, was enough to put most people off. Now everyone is on the internet and we're compelled to comment on every blessed little thing.

"What do you think, dear readers? "

SEE? :)

Every computer comes loaded with a word processor.

So everybody writes.

It's a bit of a golden age for the short story, because never have so many great stories been given away for free.

The trick is finding them.

Jim Murdoch said...

Unusually for me I had to do a bit of last minute Christmas shopping yesterday but what struck me was the fact that there was so much mass-produced junk out there, crap basically. Most of it was perfectly affordable crap but that didn’t stop it being crap. And why would I want to buy my loved ones crap? Because quality is so damn expensive and it always feels overpriced and sometimes it’s hard to tell what makes it quality; I mean, how can you tell?

Quality is not something we appreciate the way we used to. We can buy a print for twenty quid which looks exactly the same as the original which costs thousands – they both look the same so why bother with the original? When we get bored with the print we can just flog it on eBay or take it down to some charity chop or other.

The thing about the written word is that it feels mass-produced and yet it’s not, some poor bugger has sat there bent over a desk for months and how do you tell one book from another? I read a review of a book yesterday, a book I would dearly love to read but even the used copies were dearer than I like to pay and so, despite having been sent some cash from my in-laws, I still didn’t buy it. I can wait and if I can’t find a cheaper copy somewhere along the line I’ll find something else; the competition is fierce.

And that’s the problem with writing. There is always someone out there willing to do the work for less or for free. Just imagine if I tried to charge publishers for my book reviews. They admit they’re good but even if I asked to be paid minimum wage all that would happen is that they would stop sending me free books and I kinda like the free books so I keep my trap shut. Besides it gives me something to blog about.

It’s an odd world we’re living in. Quality is not important. There are enough people with bad taste or no taste at all to keep the crap mills burning from now till kingdom come. All you have to do is look at American television and the number of shows, the number of excellent shows that get cancelled because the thickoes out there don’t get it. They probably think I’ve spelled ‘thickoes’ wrong because they don’t know that the plural of a word ending in an ‘o’ gets ‘es’ added onto it. But that’s the world we live in.

June Calender said...

American culture is economics based, the last many months as been proof enough for most people. People have always spent money for what they perceived they needed and literature [serious writing including poetry] is not a perceived need for most people. They can be entertained by TV, movies, Facebook, and so on. Both publishers and bookstores exist to make money, in order to do so they offer what they perceive people will think they need -- look at what's available. The how-tos, mysteries, romances, feel-goods all took some creativity and writers spent serious time at their computers.

If I read you right, that's not the kind of writing you mean. Serious writers, poets, dramatists haven't earned a living from their work for probably 50 years [they teach or do something else to pay the bills]. I think we have to just pull up our socks and try to find paying work that doesn't kill our souls so that we can buy freedom to write what we need to write.

Swubird said...


I think that people who lack artistic talent, or the ability to write an essay, or make a movie actually think those things come easier for artists and writers and film producers. I have a friend who makes great movies. But he struggles every day, sometimes wanting to pull his hair out. It's hard brain numbing work. My aiunt Mary and her friend wrote a cookbook long before we had computers and word processing programs. It took them a year and, by the time the project was finished, they never wanted to see another book again. It was a great little book, clever, I thought. But to the people they gave it to, it was nothing more than something to hide in their bookshelves.

I've been guilty of things like that myself. Many years ago I had a good friend who was a fabulous artist. She painted wonderful scenes of Africa, and portraits and ships. Really great stuff. So one day I asked her if she could draw me a little cartoon for my business logo---for free, of course. After all, she could draw and I couldn't.

That's my two cents.

Happy trails.

Elisabeth said...

For me Conda, self proclaimed autobiographer that I am, writing is a way of preservation. I write to remember and to give others an opportunity to see how things might have been for one person, namely me and that to me is valuable in itself; that it doesn't bring financial rewards is sad, but inevitable.

I tell my children, if you want to follow creative pursuits be they writing, painting, dance, theatre, film making,then you will need to have another job to help pay the bills.

In some ways it's the reverse perhaps of the non-creative types who hold down the well paying jobs, jobs that are remunerated. They then pay for their creative pursuits on the side in the form of hobbies, interests etc.

This argument isn't coming out as clearly as I'd have liked. I mean to say, I think there are many many ways of being creative and these have their own rewards, cooking, gardening, writing, painting etc.

To be remunerated for them often comes out of necessity. If you really need an income you can make your writing pay, but in that case you probably need to compromise on what you write.

I have a journalist friend who writes for a living but she gets poorly paid for the writing she loves to do, namely the fiction writing. It's tough and unfair, sad and disappointing, but it's also one of those tensions that can in turn lead to good writing. If we have no obstacles whatsoever, I suspect we might not write as well as we do. We might not have the same needs.

We, or at least I, write against the pressure of being alive.

Conda Douglas said...

Helen: So true about appreciating other's creative work--I watch movies now and even the worst of them I can't help but think of all the hard work put into making that movie.

Conda Douglas said...

Carol, I sure understand, 'tis the season for brain fatigue. But I believe art in all its forms is a need. Can you imagine living without any art?!

Bethany Wiggins said...

If you want to be a writer, you need to do it because you love it. Not because you need a way to make money and writing books looks like a pretty cool job. Writing is work. The best work in the world, IMO, but work. I wrote five full novels before I finally got an agent. And even with an agent, I may still never see a dime. But I will always write. Even if I never earn a cent doing it.

Anonymous said...

Editing is hard. I do the best I can on my MS, then turn it over to a professional editor / proofreader and pay them $$$ to take my diamond in the rough and polish it into a bright and shiny gem.

Stephen Tremp

jesse said...

I like the comparison you draw between being a painter and being a doctor, because I hadn't thought of it that way. Being a doctor has to be passion! Half at least or those people are absolutly crazy for putting themselves through that sort of hell, and the same goes for artists. It is hell some of the time, otherwise lots of people would be artists. The reason the numbers are limited is because only the passionate ones see a reason to continue despite how much it sometimes hurts.

Conda Douglas said...

Anton, all great points. Although I would disagree with you about the art, just from the personal experience that people want anything free--so much so that one time a guy took a painting out of my dad's garbage (Dad, like most artists, was very particular). Which is fine, it was in the garbage, but THEN donated it for a tax write off!

Conda Douglas said...

Jim, I'm going to refer back to Anton's comment about "The trick is in finding them" i.e. the good writing. I believe the electronic world is changing everything (as you point out about prints, cheap, excellent and available). What we need are reviewers such as yourself, who give the type of review where I know if I want to read the book. Where I don't have to wade through everything to find the good stuff.

Conda Douglas said...

June--and has it not always been true that the huge majority of creative people (no matter if they write poetry or mysteries) must get a day job to support their passion? I also suspect this may continue to be true...although again, with the electronic revolution, who knows?

Conda Douglas said...

Swu--good points, all. I think sometimes we're all blinded by the passionate joy of someone creating something that we forget that it's effort that should be recognized in various ways, including, IMO, money.

Conda Douglas said...

Elisabeth--it's all about following your heart, isn't it? And my folks always told me to get a day job that paid well, no matter what it was. But I discovered that the jobs that I hated doing trashed my creativity as well. Until I found something I love to do, almost as much as writing.

Conda Douglas said...

Bethany, welcome to my blog! And did you know that 4-5 novels is average before one finds an agent?! You're right, it has to be an act of love.

Conda Douglas said...

Stephen--a whole 'nother discussion, whether to give it to an editor...

Conda Douglas said...

Liosis--true, so very true (and I suspect true of doctors and even plumbers). Without the passion, who could take the rejection?

Kathy McIntosh said...

Wow, Conda, you stirred up some emotions! Good job.
Just a few days back, someone said to me that we should create because we love it, not because we want to be paid for it. Odd, because I think she loves her job, and does expect to be paid for it. Yes, I love to write and I love it when my editing brings forth the diamond in someone else's rough work, but I need to be paid for my time.
Fiction writing does require a LOT of faith, and hope, and I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it. But at some point I'd like to share my words and I'd love it if I'm paid for them.

Conda Douglas said...

Absolutely, Kathy and as Liosis mentioned above, why is this only true for creative people, this "Do it for the love only" or else you're not a creative person? What if a surgeon did surgeries in the HOPE of being recognized and paid?!