Friends of mine often send me “calls for writers”. Such “calls” are often for unpaid publication in a webzine or on a website that I’ve never heard of before. I usually politely decline or simply file the forwarded “calls for writers” in my virtual trash can. Now before anyone starts making any assumptions about my reaction, let me tell you why I tend to balk or walk away from the “Get your article published in our online zine!” calls for writers.
This is probably one of the most difficult decisions of any writer’s career. When we all start out we sometimes give our work away for free in order to gain exposure and new readers. Hell, I still give away certain books, essays, stories etc… as a promotion of my own writing. But when does it actually hurt you as a writer?
See, the perpetuating myth is that all writers, regardless how published, are so desperate to get published that they’ll do anything to see their name in print. While that may be the truth for someone just starting out, for those of us who have been around the block a few times we’ve learned that where we get published is just as important as the quality of what we publish. This isn’t even a money issue just in case you were wondering. It’s the difference between playing with the big dogs or sitting on the porch.
Not to mention I’m not desperate to see my name in print like I may have been when I was nineteen and unpublished. I can afford to have standards now. As a result of these standards I have certain guidelines when it comes to deciding where I publish and whether or not I should give my work away for free.
1. Will I gain new readers by writing for free? Or is it completely one-sided where someone else (i.e. the website owner, publication, etc…) is just capitalizing on my reputation as an author or occultist? Don’t get me wrong – sometimes it’s mutually beneficial. My name brings readers to their website and their website introduces new readers to my work. If that’s the case – I might just consider doing an unpaid gig.
2. Is the publication respectable? Or is it some no-name website ran by “some guy”? Sure, some guy may have a neat website, but if no one knows it’s there you could just be wasting your time.
3. Does the publication put me alongside other writers as seasoned as me (or much better than me)? Or is my work being showcased amidst rank amateurs who, quite frankly, don’t write very well? Most people assume ‘birds of a feather flock together’. If none of the other writers are very good, they’re going to make me look bad. Sure, maybe I’ll make them look good. However, it’s more likely readers will think, “Sheesh. She can’t even get published by a quality mag so clearly she’s not that good.”
4. Will I look back six years from now and cringe? Nothing is worse than looking back and knowing you could have easily published that article or story in a bigger magazine or webzine and gotten paid for it. Or gotten paid more for it. Or that you could have published somewhere else and gotten more exposure! Yes, I speak from experience!
5. Does the website look like a professional designed it? Or does it look like my fourteen-year-old neighbor designed it? (Likewise with print publications.) If you’re going to spend the time writing it, the least the webmaster (or publisher) can do is spend the time to showcase your work in a way to where it looks like a professional had something to do with it.
Yeah – it may seem snooty of me to say this, but if writing is your career – where you’re published is just as important as what you publish. So for me, unless someone is a very close friend or the project is something I really believe in, or unless it promises to give me excellent exposure — I won’t jump at just any “opportunity” to write something for a free e-zine, newsletter, or amateur publication. Especially on someone’s personal occult website or a website I don’t personally endorse. It’s not that I don’t think new writers shouldn’t look at these opportunities, or that no one should write for said zines, I’m just saying that at this point in my professional career I can afford to be picky.
And yes, I suppose in a small way this is a gentle reminder to my friends that they don’t need to send me “calls for writers”. While I appreciate the thought, I know where to find opportunities for myself that are likely a better fit and more apt to give me better exposure. 🙂