Exposure makes you cold

As a former full-time newspaper reporter, I’m used to getting paid for my work. My free writing — literally — is done in my head, in a journal/diary or now, a blog. Rarely will I contribute a piece for professional publication unless there is compensation involved. I believe my craft is valuable, and is worthy of pay. I have donated my work to support an effort or organization of my choice, but the “payoff,” in that sense, comes from bringing awareness to that cause and helping that cause raise money.

I was challenged to write about the concept of exposure in my online writing group, and am happy to share my thoughts with your here. For free!


“No pay, but great EXPOSURE!”

Those five words make creatives cringe. Whether in a written ad for work or a verbal request, the idea that a person should be willing to share his or her work without pay seems to be unique to the creative world.

As a writer, I see those offers all the time. Occasionally, I understand – if my writing will appear in a journal funded merely by the blood, sweat and tears of other unpaid authors, I might contribute to help the greater cause. Words are powerful, and sometimes, the placement of our words on paper (or a computer screen) can be world-changing. We might consider the social impact of those words payment enough.

But then, there are others who take those words, sell advertising on the strength of those words and pocket the proceeds. “Oh no, we don’t have the money to pay you now, but maybe in the future,” we’re told. Young people, college students, women, the marginalized – they trade those words for exposure in hopes of more in later days and years, only to find that those who demanded more, who felt entitled to compensation, got just that. Exposure wasn’t enough, and they were right.

Writers aren’t alone. I have a musician friend who performs for traveling theater groups and accompanies major artists. He works hard at his craft and does perform for free for causes he considers important. And yet, someone who can afford his services – and pays for other services such as promotional and marketing materials – asks him to work for “exposure.” He is offended, and rightfully so. Why is his skill not seen as worthy of payment? Is it because our society doesn’t see the value and beauty of art as a craft? Perhaps it’s a reflection of a particular value system that esteems certain abilities over others.

Whenever I see a young person, often a young woman, starting to pursue her craft as a writer, musician, speaker, makeup artist, dancer or in another area that might be deemed fluffy or frivolous, I tell her to be smart in deciding what she’ll do for free, and to expect to be compensated otherwise for her work.

After all, people die from exposure.


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