Why does everyone think writers shouldn’t be paid?

March 12th, 2014 by Bob Bly

The other day, I got a letter from the town librarian welcoming
me as a new resident (we just moved here a few months ago).

Then the coup de grace: she knew I was an author and suggested
how nice it would be for me to donate some of the books I had
written to the library.

I felt like writing her back and saying: “So I should spend my
days writing stuff, and then give it away for free? What a great
business model! Why didn’t I think of it first?”

I also wanted to ask her whether she would donate some of her
time to the town library by foregoing her paycheck for a week or
so.

(I have no problem being sarcastic.)

In her letter, she pointed out that as a published author and
new resident, donating my books would be a nice way for me to
support my local library.

I felt like reminding her that I already support my local
library with a donation every 3 months. It’s called “property
taxes.”

What would have been even nicer than me donating my books would
have been for her to offer to BUY one of my books from the
publisher for the library – heaven forbid.

If she bought one of my books for $10 and I got my usual 8%
royalty, I would in a few months get an 80 cent check from the
publisher and be able to retire.

Look, if you are a regular reader of these e-mails, you know by
now that I am a cranky old curmudgeon.

And a sore point with me is people assuming that writers -
unlike nearly every other profession – should not be paid for
the fruits of their labor.

I am sure when my next-door neighbor the car dealer moved here
many years ago, the mayor did not ask him to donate a new Buick
to the town for city officials to use.

But why should a writer be paid for work it took him months to
complete? Give it away for free? Sure! That’s the American way!

I tore the librarian’s letter up, threw it in my waste basket,
and kept my books on the shelves.

They are still there, waiting for her to pick them up. All she
has to bring is ten dollars apiece.

Some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed….

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10 responses about “Why does everyone think writers shouldn’t be paid?”

  1. SEO and content writing tips: Week ending March 18, 2014 » SEO Copywriting said:

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  2. Von Horwath said:

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  3. michelle said:

    Loved the article…you could have substituted ‘designer’ everyplace you have ‘writer’. After 30 years in the business, I still have the same tired conversations about how I have experience that’s worth something, so no…I won’t do work on spec and no, I won’t give it away for free. Somehow writing, designing, advertising, and sometimes even marketing still have these same old idiotic conversations surrounding them. How is it that an attorney, auto mechanic, doctor can bill for every second of their time, but a designer/writer cannot? Hummm…..wonder if we’ll ever know…;)

  4. Julie said:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Bob.

    It is insulting that people do not value our expertise–as they would any other professional. I can’t think of any doctor, lawyer or dentist who would give their services away for free–so why assume a writer will?

    Many of us have spent years honing our craft and have invested heavily in our skills-and we deserve to be paid accordingly.

  5. Betty said:

    While I agree that a lot of people seem to think writers shouldn’t be paid much, or should do some of their work for free, I don’t think the librarian was in that category by asking for a donation. First of all, donating books to the library is tax deductible. I do it every year whenever I can’t trade in books I’m done with back to Amazon. The public libraries, like Universities, do request donations from businesses as part of their funding. Secondly, the benefit to society and your local economy pays you back. We’re only talking about maybe $50 worth of books, right? Believe it or not, a lot of people can’t afford to buy books, and one of your books borrowed from the library could be pivotal in helping a person’s career or business. Then they could go on to buy more of your books. I just don’t see a losing proposition in supporting your local library with a small donation of books.

    And yes, doctors, dentists, lawyers and a lot of other people do donate their services to causes and charities. It’s certainly not unheard of. If one can afford to do that, and it’s something you believe in, why not?

  6. Bob Bly said:

    Betty: If I want to support a cause, I write them a check. I do not give away my writing for free.

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  8. Writers Shouldn’t Be Paid Also? | Lauran Childs - Art, Writing, Film said:

    […] Carrying on from the post I wrote a while ago (below) regarding how people often ask artists to work for free, here’s an excellent post from top copywriter Robert Bly regarding people trying to get free work from writers too - http://bly.com/blog/general/why-does-everyone-think-writers-shouldnt-be-paid/ […]

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  10. Curtis W. White said:

    I had a client recently who insisted a sales letter shouldn’t cost more than £100.

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