Working for free

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.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

18 responses to “Working for free

  • siatsenetnetjeru

    *sigh* Yes! You´re hitting a hot topic. Thanks for that!

  • siatsenetnetjeru

    Hat dies auf Dance of the dragon rebloggt und kommentierte:
    Ja… Immer wieder ein aufkommendes heißes Eisen.
    – Yes. It has always been a hot topic.

  • asuburbandruid

    A perrenial problem for me. Well said and great thinking material.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    We will not mind doing something for free when the bill collectors will accept a smile in full payment of our bills. Until then we need to make a living.

    There are just too many nearly starving Pagan authors, leaders, teachers and craft makers. Note how many of our elders live in poverty.

    It is one thing to stop eating for several days to go on a vision quest, it is quite another when you just cannot afford the food.

    • Nimue Brown

      To want those resources, but to refuse to recognise and honour the worth of them… to refuse to pay when it is within your means to pay… it’s hardly a very spiritual or compassionate response. Very much agree with you Christopher. We have, as a wider culture, lost all sense of worth and replaced it instead with ideas based on the cost of the cheapest things, forgetting that the real costs there are many, but fall upon someone else…

  • Morrighan's Trove

    I cannot agree with you more! And, I think most of the creative people I have come across thus far would as well! There are a lot of custom jewelry, altar tool, and Pagan services advertised on my Twitter stream. All for a cost!

    I love your rules, and am thinking about adopting them into my own future creative works.

  • Iulia Flame

    To me, it goes back to the matter of energy balance–what one receives as a service, one needs to compensate for somehow. That’s why, for example, one needs to pay for energy healing, etc.

  • Running Elk

    Yup! Nobody should expect you to do anything for nowt!
    As I’m in full time payed employment and the work I’d rather be doing is all done in my spare time, I tend to do “at cost” or, depending on the case, on a “pay it forward” basis.
    I do get peeved, however, with those who have read a book and sell themselves for ridiculous sums, on the back of half forgotten chapters of someone else’s hard won knowledge. Especially if I’m the one faced with cleaning up the mess they have made… 😦

  • Sylvia Pearson

    Why is it that in English ‘culture’ we so undervalue cultural activity in the now? Yet we spend vast amounts of money on archaeological excavation to find ancient evidence of cultural activity

    • Nimue Brown

      Now there’s a thing to ponder. We have lost something, and the not knowing exactly what it is, is probably as important as its absence…

      • Helen Wood

        Perhaps the ability to find non-financial worth in anything.

      • Nimue Brown

        it’s fine to go there, if you can eat, if there is a roof over your head, if you are warm enough. Too many people do not have these things right now and I am NEVER going to assume that someone I am talking to can afford to give freely of themselves. I will pay fairly, because I am all too aware that sometimes, people can’t afford to eat. Or I’ll accept that I’m not having something, because that’s how abject poverty really works, and we won’t make abject poverty go away just by refusing to engage in financial exchange. Probably, the opposite.

  • Helen Wood

    I’m always deeply unpopular for saying this, but whilst I support people charging for an actual product, like a book or a piece of jewellery, I think the idea of “energy exchange” is new age twaddle used by charlatans to justify charging for just about everything and I believe that the moment you set a price on anything, you render it worthless. Not everything should be reduced to the level of a transaction.

    I would, for example, never charge for a Tarot reading.

    Of course, I’m never going to get rich, but I’m happier that way.

    • Nimue Brown

      That’s a choice available to you, but I wholly dispute that putting a price on something renders it worthless. If you are happy to pay for some things, and not others it is worth asking why. I assume you pay for food, accommodation, transport and other things that would be refused you should you refuse to pay. Big corporations have the power to make you pay. Lone creatives and self employed folk are much more readily beaten down, and will care about being told their work is now worthless because they charge for it, and will be hurt by it.

      • Helen Wood

        As I said, it always makes me unpopular. It says a lot about our mercenary culture that the thing I say that most readily gets me in trouble is that not everything needs to be a transaction.

        I actually find it quite hurtful when those in favour of an everything for sale view of the world say my writing is worthless because I make no money from it. The fact that it makes people happy, has helped people through bereavement and brings me a lot of pleasure is all deemed irrelevant – I make no money from it, so it, and by extension its creator, are nothing.

        But I’m a druid. My life is not about transaction, but relationship. As a writer, I want to give something to a reader. As a druid, I want to serve life in some meaningful way. As I said, I’m not rich – I have at times been very poor. Maybe that’s why money means little to me. I’ve never been able to judge my worth by money, because I never had any.

        For me, the world is at a fork in the road. We have a choice, more transactions, setting a price on everything and valuing only what we can sell, or more relationship, giving freely and not living in a constant dread of not having enough wealth. If we say that setting a price on something does not diminish its worth, then what passes between a prostitute and her client is no different from what passes between committed lovers. To me, that feels like a mistake.

        Money is what people give us to turn us into servants, rather than people. Money is what we give others to keep that distance. Money was the death of the tribal way of life and the end of trust. I do have to pay for food, but I don’t have to charge for anything but the work I do solely to make money, my sacrifice to allow the rest of my life to be an act of relationship – but because I don’t ask for money for readings or for my writing, people will always dismiss me as worthless, someone who gives away for nothing what she could sell, which those who value money will never understand.

  • Nimue Brown

    I see no need to denigrate anyone’s work, based on whether or not they charge for it. The value of a thing, is between the person creating it and, if they exist, the person responding to it. But, as you point out, this is a mercenary culture and people who pour self and life into their work also need to eat, and I would not ask anyone to do that so that I can have something from them for nothing. Either I don’t value it, and therefore I don’t have it, or I expect to manifest that value in some appropriate way, as a gesture of respect. It’s not always about money, but it is about not ripping people off so that I benefit to their detriment. It is the culture of exploitation, not the utility of trading tokens, that undermines us as a tribe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: