Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why do they treat writers like this?

My writing friend sent me an article from the South African Sunday Times. It's an article in which they ask South African writer Michiel Heyns, author of the much acclaimed Bodies Politic, what he would be if he weren't a writer.

In the article, he certainly takes the magic out of this writing life we live. He talks about rushing to get to a reading where he find 15 people, 2 or 3 at best have read his novel he's there to discuss. He is thanked by the organiser, who also has not read the book, and is given R250 as compensation. He goes to lunch which costs R480 and drives home covering a distance in total of 147 km. There he finds an urgent request from the Sunday Times to write the very article I was sent and he's told there will be little time as the deadline looms and no compensation. In the end, he comes to the conclusion - " What I would be if I weren't a writer is somebody who got paid." My friend highlighted that bit since when she put it in the post I was being frantic about not being paid and she thought I'd find it very applicable. It arrived on the day a big sum of money arrived like magic in my account and all of my money worries disappeared (for now) ... but still. I think most of us can relate to Mr. Heyns' frustrations.

I wonder- do we allow people to treat us like this? Is this why people think they can waste our time having us speak to non-readers about our books knowing they'll not buy them? Why do we write for free? What if we put our collective foot down and said, "No more." Would things change? What do you think?


bonita said...

Heck, even people in the industry devalue the writer's work. Once I worked for a house that was significantly late in paying (usually it's a 45-60 day delay between approval and payment). I got worried. Then I got pissed. I called at 10 am, said I would be dropping by their office at 12:30 and if they had a check for me, I would give them a 10% discount. I did. They did. I was one of the few writers that they paid. Within a few weeks they stole away under cover of darkness.

Lauri said...

Bonita- UGH! It really is awful. I had a guy owing me money for 4 months. I called him and he had the audacity to hang up on ME- and I was still being nice! That certianly put me in a serious funk for a few days which pissed me off even more. I owned a business for 10 years, I left because I hated chasing money and yet here I am back chasing money.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I dont think we ac tively 'let' people treat us poorly - it is perhaps more of an 'apprenticeship' where if we are serious, we have to keep plugging at it for very little or nothing.
Then there is a crunch moment. Mine came late last year, when I ran writing workshops for a decent prearranged fee, for a long-established outfit called The South. The workshops were well-publicised on their smart website, and well attended by members of the public who had paid in advance.

They did not honour my fee. And when I complained, a director said ' you have not had nothing -we gave you exposure through our website' (!!!)

They have since closed.

But that was the moment I thought this was taking the piss. It was run by writers, for writers, this organisation- and it was writers actually fleecing writers!!!!

Lauri said...

That's awful Vanessa! That exposure spiel is common when they want you to write for free too. I wonder if I can use it on my car mechanic? If you fix my car I'll tell all my friends- it will be exposure. I have a feeling it won't fly.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Ha! love it! Hello supermarket - I will take this trolley-load of food and stuff away without paying. You wont mind... will you? It will be excellent exposure when I tell the family and friends where the stuff came from.

Elspeth Futcher said...

Honestly? I think it comes from the very common perception that anyone can write. How hard can it be? And since anyone can do it, I don't have to worry too much about paying you.

I really like Vanessa's idea about offering to take the supermarket's food in exchange for exposure.