Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Here’s another in a series of alerts that writers are getting screwed. That is, nobody wants to pay them for their work.
Writer/academic/activist Yasmin Nair goes into great depth here, and the bottom line is that far too many markets for good writing think of content as either a labor of love or a literal contribution. It’s a long article, so it’s particularly depressing.
It’s true that many varieties of artist are in the same boat. Musicians are getting hit hard, we all know, as are actors, no doubt, visual artists, indie filmmakers, poets (for sure), playwrights, stand-up comics, sculptors, cartoonists, choreographers, and knitters of humorous cummerbunds. (I’ve been listening to a lot of George Carlin lately …)
Why is it that no one wants to pay for things that bring such pleasure, enjoyment, wit, and wisdom?
Nair attacks this as mainly a labor issue, and it’s definitely that — at least in part. But there’s no minimum wage for artists, since we’re all, in effect, independent contractors, so there’s no recourse. And ultimately, as I’ve said before, this boils down to the plain fact that there is a superabundance of talent out there, so any time a writer says “I won’t work for free,” there’s another waiting behind her who will. It’s like my little rant last week about the freelance site, Upwork, where editors are bidding each other down down down, until there’s no reasonable way to make a living at it. Same in the arts. If you fuss about your publishing advance, HarperCollins will find someone who’ll take that five grand and be happy.
How/when did this happen?
Hard to say. All I know is, there’s pay-to-play atmosphere in the arts (see unpaid internships, MFA programs, expensive writers’ conferences, etc.) and plenty of artists who can afford the price of admission. The classic “struggling artist” is shut out.
What did I read recently, about people who wrote for some popular artsy thing (I’ll try to remember before I finish this), where, when you get into their backgrounds you realize they were already well set-up and able to do this rewarding thing on the side? Oh yeah! It was a documentary about New Yorker cartoonists! Clearly no one can make a living as a New Yorker cartoonist, since they only print so many per issue, so many per year, and yours can represent just a fraction of the total, even if you’re lucky. But it turns out that a lot of these guys (n’ gals) have done things like writing for Seinfeld or Saturday Night Live, or they’re well-off enough they don’t need the money. Imagine.
I’m not sure about Roz Chast. She’s my favorite.
Anyway. That’s the story. For now, at least, we’re not doing this for the money. If we ever were …