Having been a professional writer for many years, and having worked at my career for over 25 years, the one word I hate to hear more than anything is “exposure”. When I was young and aspiring, and desperate for publication, I heard that word tossed around a lot.
“Come do a reading. It will be great exposure!”
“Submit to this magazine. We don’t pay, but we provide excellent exposure!”
“You have to give away your writing free in the beginning if you want the exposure!”
“Being in this anthology will be fantastic exposure!”
“Pay us to publish you in this anthology – and get some exposure!”
And you want to know what I gained from all that “exposure”? Not a gods-damned thing. It didn’t gain me new readers, and it didn’t help me sell my work. I actually found quite the opposite was true.
“Oh, you haven’t been paid a professional rate for your work? We’re not interested.”
“Oh, you’ve only had your work published on free websites? So you couldn’t get a real publishing contract… you must not be very good.”
That’s the cold, hard truth of it. Editors and publishers don’t care how much “exposure” you’ve had. Readers by and large still buy books from word of mouth recommendation, by brand recognition, or by browsing already published material. Very rarely does someone manifest a career from exposure. You can’t pay your bills or buy groceries with exposure.
People die from exposure.
What’s worse are the writers who buy into the exposure myth, who try to coerce the rest of their writer friends to contribute to projects or free writing sites for the exposure. If you complain about “exposure” to people who really do believe exposure is an actual thing – they’ll start saying shit like, “But you should write for the love of writing or telling stories, not because you want to make a living.”
Or, “You have to earn your way to paid publication by starting at the bottom and giving away your work is part of that.”
Or “All artists have to starve. There’s no money in writing. Besides, you shouldn’t write with the expectation of making a living anyway!”
When did it become a crime to want to make a living doing something you love? When did placing a value on your time and ideas become selfish and wrong? When did wanting to earn a living and loving what you do become opposed ideas too mutually exclusive to co-exist? There is this myth that if you want to make a living at something, you don’t love it (or shouldn’t). And if you love something, you shouldn’t make a living doing it.
I don’t believe writers should starve, I believe it’s a job just like anything else, and I believe you should get paid for that job. If I had only known then what I know now, I could have saved myself a lot of exposure and probably gotten a jump on my career earlier by focusing solely on paying markets and opportunities. But I was so desperate for exposure I wasn’t aiming high enough. I thought I needed exposure first, professional sales (i.e. someone, reader or publisher, buying my work) second.
Look – I do love writing. I love writing because I love reading. I wouldn’t have become a writer otherwise. Writing is probably one of the few things I’m really good at. That isn’t to say I don’t have other job skills, I absolutely do — but I enjoy writing the most. I’m also not saying that there aren’t some instances where writing a free article here and there isn’t helpful advertising for **existing** non-fiction books. But for fiction – it’s practically worthless. I rarely, if ever, see sell-through for fiction from the charity anthologies I’ve donated stories to. I see sell-through from in person events where I hand-sell books to readers and get to know them and their tastes. I see sell-through from advertising and reader word of mouth.
In the beginning of your career — don’t focus on EXPOSURE. Focus on learning craft, writing good stories, and getting them published (or professionally self-pubbing if you have the means to hire cover artists and editors). As you build your career and start making money from it, don’t worry about “exposure”. Just wipe that damn word from your vocabulary. Exposure is a load of bullshit.
Feel free to tell me I’m wrong and call me a cunt in the comments.