Life Lessons: Why You Are Worth More Than "Exposure"


I spend time on Facebook, learning a lot about how best to market my work and to help others with theirs. Feel free to visit me here. I find there is a lot to learn, but one thing remains constant: all of us are trying our best to get our work out there so people will take us seriously, and we all want to get our voices heard.

I also own horses and follow a few horse groups. I used to show and train, which meant I ran into a lot of the creative arts categories, such as writing, photography and artistry. Unfortunately, I saw the disregard for the creative arts and work on a regular basis. And I still see it today. I was on a local horse group for my area, and a woman posted that she wanted photographers to come photograph her stallions...very expensive stallions, I might add. She said flat out she was not going to pay the photographers. Her post (names and places eradicated per Facebook rules)...

And unfortunately, photographers flocked to this post, volunteering their time and incredibly expensive cameras. Luckily, myself and some other commenters, some who were photographers, pointed out that this is, quite frankly, unfair and unbecoming of a business owner. I even suggested giving away a free breeding to one of her stallions as payment, as bartering can be considered fair trade for a lot of people. I was shot down for it by her supporters. And many of those photographers who were supporting her didn't realize that they were actually contributing to the problem.

And before you say, "Well maybe, she didn't have enough money to pay for a photographer," she posted on her personal page a week or two later that she was buying a saddle that is priced at about $4000. Clearly, this woman could certainly afford to pay a photographer for their services.

From her page...

An example of the type of saddle she was going to be buying.

Sadly, I have found the same problem within the writing industry. I've seen submission calls where the money for the anthology will go to a "charity" (usually one isn't named) and your compensation is a printed copy of the book, called a contributor copy (which you should receive no matter what). Even worse are the publishers who offer absolutely nothing in return...not only no financial compensation, but no copy of the anthology either.

I almost got roped into an anthology where I would not only be giving away my story, but I would have to pay the publisher for editing and for the cover art of the anthology, all proceeds going to a charity that had not yet been selected. I respectfully bowed out. 

These types of publishing companies are usually known as "vanity presses", and the more broad term is "vanity work". These are situations where you give away your work for free in exchange for "exposure" and usually a copy of the finished product. Or you have to help pay for the service, once again, for "exposure".

Look, folks, doing work for free is never a good idea. Let me explain why.


From The Oatmeal

Exposure might get your work out there and noticed. Note: I said might. Most likely, it won't be noticed at all.


Let's look at how exposure has worked for writers in the past. How many authors have you heard of that gave away their work on a regular basis until they were suddenly "discovered"? Probably none. And if they have, it was probably absolutely pure luck. Stephen King was only discovered because his wife submitted Carrie to the right publisher who decided to take a chance on a new author. In a way, that's luck.

A couple of years ago, Wil Wheaton wrote a blog post about exposure, titled "you can’t pay your rent with “the unique platform and reach our site provides”". I highly recommend reading the post, because he's right, even in his own pondering of if he should've done it or not. This was his Tweet:

Thanks Wil, for sticking up for the creative arts.

Here's something that really chaps my hide: when a group that could be considered a minority asks someone within their group to give away their time or money for free. This article titled "People Don't Respect Free Work, So Charge Them for It" by Selena Resvani illustrates that.

In my own line of work, I experience this trend firsthand.  I make most of my living leading webinars, workshops and speeches for colleges and companies.  In the course of a year, I’m asked, usually by women, to do a lot of these events at a rate of – you guessed it – zero dollars.  “We’re a non-profit,” some groups will say.  “Our budget is miniscule,” others explain.  Still others apply pressure with, “We’ve had years of speakers who were willing to do it for free.”  Even so, “something” for “nothing” does not equate to a deal and these organizations need to take a closer look at what they’re asking of women. 

So you're a women's group who wants to have a woman come speak about entrepreneurship to fellow women so they can learn how to be successful...but you don't want to pay that woman? The irony is palpable.

Bender really is smarter than the beer he drinks.

Steve Martin, the comedian responsible for many of my own childhood laughs, talks a lot about success and how it has and hasn't worked for him. I like this article a lot with his advice for success, and this paragraph rings true when it comes to exposure.

There was a belief that one appearance on The Tonight Show [with Johnny] made you a star. But here are the facts. The first time you do the show, nothing. The second time you do the show, nothing. The sixth time you do the show, someone might come up to you and say, "Hi, I think we met at Harry’s Christmas party." The tenth time you do the show, you could conceivably be remembered as being seen somewhere on television. The twelfth time you do the show, you might hear, "Oh, I know you. You’re that guy."

So even a paid gig won't necessarily guarantee exposure.

Exposure comes from your work showing up in multiple places, not by giving your work away to a few anthologies. It also comes from perseverance.


Sure, giving away some work can feel really good. You feel like you're doing someone a good service. But you're not doing yourself a good service. When you give away work, you get known for it. That means others will assume you will work for free, even if you decide to start charging for your work.

Let's say one of those photographers who agreed to do the work for that stallion owner went there and did a fantastic job. A fellow stallion owner sees the photos and asks who the photographer was. The woman tells them that it was so-and-so, and they did it for free. Well, why would that stallion owner want to pay that photographer when they know they did other work for free? They've just lost a potential paying client because they gave away work.

Honestly, it comes down to this: don't be a sucker. There are always people out there who will try to get something for nothing. It doesn't mean that you're going to benefit from it. Benefit equals money, not the hope or potential for future work or exposure.


Even if you don't care whether you make money or not, you truly are hurting others who need to make money off of their business. When you offer your services for free, you deny another person the chance to make money. We all need to help each other within the creative arts businesses, and I find that help can come in the form of making sure everyone gets compensated for their time. It behooves you to choose competitive pricing over giving away your time and work because it creates a platform for everyone to springboard from. Just be sure not to sell yourself short, which means you'll sell someone else short in turn.

Ms. Rezvani explains this perfectly:

If you have a problem asking for compensation, realize that the effect of not getting paid extends beyond you.  If I give a speech to a student-run college club of women for example, and I tell them my expertise costs nothing, what am I teaching them about themselves?  What am I saying about how they should conduct themselves in the future or estimate their own worth?  Of course, I’m not talking about charity and pro bono type work, which is an exception; I am talking about freely giving away our expertise that we’ve worked hard to build.


From Pigeon Bits on Tumblr

Remember: in our world, the saying "time is money" is very true. We live in times where having money and making money is very important just so we can have food to eat and a roof over our heads. That means you not only deserve to be paid, you need to be paid when you've worked so hard and so many hours to put words on paper to tell a story. So, if there is no offer of payment, don't submit your work. It's as simple as that. You can always find other places to submit where you will get paid. Even if it's just a few dollars, it's worth it.

First of all is marketing yourself. This isn't easy to do, but if you take time out each day to put effort into it, even if it's just an hour or two, it can pay off. Get onto social media, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or a combination of them. Start a blog if you'd like, and talk about things pertinent to your craft (as I'm doing right now). Spread yourself out onto different Internet platforms for maximum exposure. There are lots of different people giving free advice out there about this, so use Google to your advantage.

Above I gave an example from Steve Martin about his advice for success. The article says that there is a lesson to be learned from his experiences with The Tonight Show:

Hitting one specific goal might not be what it takes, but if you keep persevering, and hit sixteen goals, you will be successful. It takes time, be patient and trust the process. If you are feeling impatient, try practicing meditation to relax.

One of my favorite pieces of advice from my creative writing classes was SUBMIT SUBMIT SUBMIT. You don't get your work published if you don't submit. Of course, that means only submit your work that fits the submission requirements. Don't submit just because there is a call for submissions. ALWAYS read the submission requirements, and ALWAYS follow the format required.

It also means have your work polished and ready to go, so be sure to take advantage of beta readers. There are lots of free groups on Facebook where you can find beta readers. I personally have a friend with whom we are each other's "editors"--we give advice and feedback and make story changes. We know each other's personalities and how we like to tell a story and get a message across. But most importantly, we are honest and trust each other, so we are good at seeing the flaws and pointing them out.

If you are just starting out, it's okay go with competitive prices to get your work out there. If you are self-publishing, price your books low so people will be more likely to buy them. I keep my editing prices low because first, I only started in the fiction editing business about 18 months ago, and second, I want to help genre authors who have "real" jobs and don't make a living at writing be able to afford editing services.

From PearlEden

You're just starting out, so go ahead and submit to those lower paying calls for submissions. I mostly have been published in the non-fiction realm, which was in horse magazines and various documents for the government and civilian companies. However, I recently had a micro-fiction story accepted to a web publishing company. Click here to read it, but be forewarned: HORROR EROTICA, NSFW, NSFK. Sure, it was only $5, but hey, $5 is a cup of coffee to fuel my next micro-fiction story. I am now a paid author, and the more I get paid, the better my work will be viewed. And I am going to submit to a book anthology they are going to publish, and they are encouraging me to do so.

When all else fails, barter. Are you a great editor? (And I mean do you actually know correct grammar, syntax, all of that?) Then perhaps you can offer to edit the anthology in exchange for your name in the book as the editor and your story in the anthology. Or find another possible barter that you feel is worthy of your story. But don't sell yourself short; be sure their offer is of equal value.

If you want to give away your work, do it on your terms. Volunteer where you haven't been asked to do so. For example, if you are a writer, offer to give away the proceeds of your own book to a charity you care about, and post the agreement between you and the charity online so potential buyers know you're serious. 

There are places online where you can post your work for free. DeviantArt is a common place for aspiring artists to post their work. The cool thing about DeviantArt is that there are lots of companies that look at that website for artists who are willing to do commissions. I myself have found artists for book covers on DeviantArt. I don't want to post one website over another, but know that if you do a search, you can find places that will help advertise your writing for free, or that will post a sample of your work so you can generate interest.

For the record, this dress was estimated to cost about $12,000 to make. See this article for more.

Overall, for some reason, people seem to think that those within the creative arts community are not worth paying, or they should only pay very little for their services. THIS IS NEVER OKAY.

And last but not least, don't forget about taking care of yourself. My horses are now a cherished hobby and a great stress reliever to the everyday issues of life. I recommend everyone find a good hobby for a stress reliever in their life, from playing a sport to knitting. We all need our escape out from behind the computer screen and social media!