Imagine you’re a plumber and you go to fix a customer’s toilet, then you ask for payment. The customer looks at you, shocked, then complains that you’re only in it for the money. Or you apply for a plumbing job in a company and despite all your previous experience and training, they say you have to do a sample job for free. The job brings in a few hundred £’s for them, but nothing for you. They have a recruitment campaign every three months and each time, they get 100 qualified applicants who all do a free job for them. That’s wrong, isn’t it?
However, this is how writers and other people in the creative arts are treated. If you try to make money from being creative, even if this is the thing that you spend all day doing, many people seem to think you’re only in it for the money, or you should just do it for the enjoyment. Although, this is what I have chosen to do, but like everyone else, I still have to eat and pay bills. There is nothing at all wrong with that.
In the past, I have been asked to do samples, and told my portfolio of previously written work wasn’t enough. The excuses have included; it’s not possible to know how much the client has edited the work, and they need to know I can follow specific instructions. Going back to the plumber again (sorry to pick on plumbers specifically) imagine being told your experience and training doesn’t prove anything, because maybe your customers might have fixed their own toilets after you left. Or the specific instructions on fixing a leaking pipe, which you now know by heart, aren’t enough and they have a new way of doing this which you need to prove you know by working for free. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Now imagine studying for eight years to gain two degrees, while working in different jobs from the one you hope to do someday, then taking two more short courses to build on your skills and knowledge, working for a year at what works out as £5 an hour (if you’re lucky) and taking on several unpaid projects to make your CV more appealing to employers. Then, in addition to all the employers who ask for you to do unpaid tests and samples, you’re told you should retrain, because your “hobby” is worthless. You might be a little upset and confused; about how what you’re going to retrain for, if that industry will have enough jobs by the time you have retrained and how you’re going to survive while you retrain when they aren’t enough jobs right now. Not to mention all the students loans you have from the first career you trained/studied for (funny how it’s not worthless when you’re paying for education) and the credit card debt you’ve racked up while working for next to nothing.
Ultimately, if you have put in the time and money to study towards any profession (including the arts) then you more than entitled to ask for a fair payment for the services you offer as a result of gaining your qualifications and experience. We (people working in the arts) are not worthless and are not the problem. The problem lies with the government who don’t support the arts and all the unscrupulous companies who try to get free work out of us. If they would just pay us some of the money our hard work earns them, then we might just be able to survive while doing the jobs we have trained for.
Money is not a dirty word. We all need it to live and whether people realise it or not, they need creativity in their lives. Without it, what will they watch when they get home from work? What will they listen to when they want to relax? What will they read when they fancy a few hours of escape? Or where will they go when they want to see a live performance?
I’m not saying people should run out and buy my books (even though that would be nice) but if you can support people working in the arts, please do. It doesn’t always have to involve buying anything. If you read a good book (especially if it’s by an indie author) tell people about it. Recommend shows and music to people if you think they’ll like them, and you know the people involved are struggling financially. If you know people who need a job in the arts and you see one that might suit them, let them know. And obviously, if you can spend money to support the arts, then please do. There might not be much support at the moment, but we can all support each other.
Disclaimer: No plumbers were harmed in the writing of this blog post
Amanda Steel is the author of Ghost of Me (a top ten Thriller finalist in the Author Elite Awards) and has had her work broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester and The NoSleep Podcast. She co-hosts Reading in Bed – a book review podcast. She also reads extracts of other authors’ books (with their permission) on Reading in Bed Extracts.