Monday, January 21, 2013

The Writer And Fairness

Good morning everyone. I'm writing this morning not because I'm angry, but because I'm content, and I want to share HOW I got to be this way -- because I see and talk to a lot of writers who...just aren't so content. They want to be, but for whatever reasons, either internal or external, they just can't seem to get into the spot that they want to be. I'd like to offer some solutions for that.

One of the biggest problems I hear about, and thankfully have seldom experienced, is getting treated unfairly within the gaming/writing industry (yes I'm lumping them together - I believe in this case the Venn diagrams overlap). So let's look at the roll fairness plays in getting you where you want to be.

I'm a woman/part of the LGBTQ community/I'm not a white male -- Despite owning a lab coat, I am not a scientist, and this is not a science blog. Nor am I a trained sociologist or anthropologist. All I have is my opinion, shaped into a sense and a feeling that your race, your gender and your preferences are all factors outside most of your control. It's not like you purchased "woman" or "black" from late-night television and you can return them after thirty days if you're dissatisfied. You are who and what you are. People and institutions (read: businesses) who cannot recognize that should be either ignored or encouraged/educated to change whatever sexist, racist, phobic views they persist. Who and what you are, whatever that might be, however you choose to identify yourself, has ZERO bearing on your ability to work.

As an editor, I get a chance to read and deduce a lot about a writer. I can tell their level of education, maybe where they're from, sometimes their gender. But not their race, not their sexual preference. Also, and I'm not sure you're aware of this -- those things don't matter when the goal is to write the best thing you can, tell the best story you can, and get it into the hands of people who want to read it. And my job is to help the author, whoever they are, do that.

I run a company, I want to be taken seriously, so I have this hugely exclusive and limiting contract, replete with NDAs and clauses to protect my work -- The very thought of this makes my stomach churn. Not because I don't believe you shouldn't be taken seriously, I just don't think that a big contract that limits rather than encourages is the way to go. It's also patently unfair to the people who have to work under that contract. I'm not sure if you know this, but restrictions aren't really all that great a fuel for creativity. Now, don't confuse boundaries for restrictions, they're not the same thing. (Boundaries limit range, restrictions limit actions). Everyone needs a little boundary now and then, just to keep them moving forward rather than in a constant lateral loop, but when you're trying to get that business going, keep it chugging along, so that one day you can be a big deal in your respective field(s), nothing slams the brakes down on progress like a contract that prohibits writers from writing, or speaking about their writing.

See, I get it, the company is afraid that their property, their idea, is going to be stolen by other people if word gets out. Now this assumes a few things:
1. That there are some sort of idea-pirates roaming just on the edges of your workspace, waiting to rob you.
2. That your idea is so...revolutionary that everyone is going to want it.
3. That you need this level of security.

There are no pirates. There might be some jerks out on the fringes of your respective communities and arenas, but here's a pro-tip - everyone's so afraid their ideas are either going to be stolen or "ripped off" that no one's doing any active stealing or "ripping".

Your idea, no matter how revolutionary, is going to be wanted by people, who will want to exchange currency for your efforts (more on this concept in a minute). Whether you have an audience of one or one million, someone somewhere is going to want it. Not "everybody" because even in the "global audience", not everyone is interested in all things.

Your need for security screams two adjectives: "childish" and "insecure". Like a child who won't shed their security blankie for even a moment, you cling to big fancy "adult" things like contracts and NDAs because you think that's what's done, because you think these pieces of paper somehow empower and entitle you to be treated like the larger more successful companies.

I propose a radical idea -- treat people fairly, treat them kindly, encourage their good efforts, educate them on their bad habits and reward them more than equitably when they help you accomplish a common goal.

For those people who think that's utterly impossible, I can point to three companies I work for who do exactly this, and not surprisingly, they're very successful. (Yes, there are more than three who do this, but I'm making a point here)

Want to be more successful? Don't obfuscate and limit your work behind contracts, clauses and limitations, show the creative processes, encourage demonstrations and relax your fear that people will steal it -- that attitude shift alone will create interest in your work.

I am a writer/editor/artist. I don't think my work is worth what the industry rate is, so I undercharge -- There's a variation to this "I'm just helping out a friend, so I can't charge them that much".

Look, what you do has a value to other people, beyond their appreciation or liking you for doing it. This effort, be it with words or inks or whatever, deserves compensation at a fair value. Regardless of how quick it was for you to dash out the task, you are entitled, just by the act of creating something for someone else's consumption, to receive a fair amount of reward for doing so.

I tell this story often: When I was starting out writing and editing, and I didn't think I was worth anything, and I didn't know about pricing per word, I charged EVERYONE $40, regardless of the project or how long or short it took me. Because $40 was an amount of money that, at the time, seemed very large to me (read: I was always broke and hungry), so I thought I was asking for the moon anytime I did work. This sometimes led to me not even asking for money, because I thought there was no way I'd receive forty whole dollars for reading 300 pages and making notes. That just sounds absurd.

And then I came to realize that what I'm doing, even if I'm good at it, is something that sets me apart from other people. I have a talent, and a passion for editing, just as you may have a talent for writing or art or music or book-binding or whatever.

Listen to me carefully - Talents get rewarded. Period. They deserve, they merit, they are good enough for remuneration. Whatever art it is you do, whatever skill you apply, you deserve a fair wage for good work. It's simple. You are good enough at something to earn money for doing it. However, it's up to you to educate yourself on how much that money can actually be, else you'll be charging everyone $40 for a nearly a decade and wondering how anyone ever gets by.

It is criminal, it is an atrocity that there exist people in the world who let those of us who doubt ourselves keep doubting ourselves by reinforcing our "we don't deserve it" attitudes. When we get paid less than what we deserve, the idea of "not being good enough" cements into our thinking a little more, becoming harder to prise loose and convince us that we are in fact good at something and can make money doing it. Flat out, the people who underpay intentionally are scumbags and I strongly believe they should be drummed out of their industries. How dare people treat hard working writers and artists and editors so poorly. Do they think that word won't (if it hasn't already) spread? Do they think that won't have an effect on sales? Or popularity?

Stand up for yourselves. Educate yourselves. Have the courage and the faith and the strength to believe in yourself and your art to receive what it properly is owed.

I hope these ideas about fairness help those who need them. I hope you share them, practice them, and encourage their spread.

We'll talk soon, probably about gaming.

Happy writing.