All self employed, and creative people, alongside those who work within spirituality, come under a lot of pressure to do it for free. We hear frequently that we should do it for love, that love of craft and of labour should be reward enough. How dare we sully art/religion/music/dance/literature/teaching/etc with our petty, money grabbing?
Anyone who thinks about this for long will work out that if a thing is to be done or made, there’s a cost in terms of time, energy and often resources. Time spent doing things for love, is time you can’t spend earning the money to keep a roof over your head. We all have to eat.
All too often, someone else is making a profit. The lone creative is the last person in the chain to make anything. Booksellers all take their cut before the author sees a penny. There are plenty of people who will offer to publish you, for no payment but ‘exposure’. Well, exposure is something you can die of in other contexts. If you are making a profit, getting a financial advantage, or saving on paying someone else then it is not ok to ask for a freebie.
That said, there are contexts in which I will work for free, and these are my rules.
1) I will work for free if it really seriously hasn’t cost me anything and no one else is exploiting my work for a profit. People re-use writing from this blog for not-for profit sites and publications. That’s fine.
2) I will always consider working for free or for minimal expenses if you are a not for profit outfit (most Pagan magazines fall into this category) or a charity. You’re doing it for love, if I have time, I may be able to spare you some love, too.
3) I will work for a trade off that isn’t money based – a typical example would be doing talks or workshops in exchange for being able to attend an event and have some table space to sell books. I might cover my costs, I’ll take the gamble, especially if I like the look of your event. I do not like being asked to pay to attend an event so that I can freely provide you with entertainment. That sucks. Cake, accommodation, and other trade-offs are always worth a thought.
4) I will work for a profit share. If you can’t pay me upfront, but there’s a fighting chance this will raise money, and you want to pay later when you can, that’s negotiable. Especially if you’re doing it for love too and you getting paid also depends on it working. If I like the project, I will share in the risk. Most publishing works this way, in essence.
5) I will work for affordable donations rather than fixed charges where that seems fairer.
As a simple rule of thumb, if you are gaining from something, and most especially if you get a financial advantage, it is not ok to ask other people to facilitate that at their own expense. A fair exchange is called for. There are many shapes that can take, but the guilt trip of ‘you should be doing it for love’ is not acceptable. I’ll do it for love when I feel like it, and if don’t feel like it but you want something from me, you need to put something on the table. To offer recompense in some form, is a gesture of respect both to the person and their creativity. That recompense might be as simple as a favour owed, but where we honour that, life is a lot happier.