Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Writers Have a Right to Rant


The best rants are written so well that they do not offend. At least, they do not give an impression of being self-serving, or even bitter. The best rants create an understanding where there was none before. Today, I hope to deliver just such an essay, about what life is like as a writer in the digital age.

First, traditional markets for non-fiction writers are ever dwindling. Magazines are disappearing, their circulation sliding as people turn more and more to online content. The magazines that still exist are relying less and less on freelancers, so there are even fewer prospective clients to approach. One of my favorite, and most dependable, clients was forced last year to limit freelance work to in-state authors only as a result of state congressional mandate (which applied to all government agencies hiring contractors).

Second, if you manage to land an assignment, the time lag between when you deliver and when you are compensated can vary from a few weeks to months, even years. You always aim, as a writer, for clients who "pay on acceptance." That means that once they receive and approve your article, they cut you a check. Many magazines, however, pay "on publication." Editorial calendars typically work several months or more in advance, so even if they love your piece, you will not be paid until it goes to press.

There is no guarantee that even if the editor agreed to entertain your piece, that it will ever see the light of day in the publication. New writers almost invariably have to write "on spec," short for speculation, until they can demonstrate to the editor that they provide quality content and meet deadlines consistently. Good publications will offer a "kill fee," a percentage of the contracted payment amount for the article, if for some reason they cannot use the completed assignment. Really good publications will pay a "finder's fee" for research you do that they want to keep on file and perhaps spread over several articles.

The continuing expectation of free content from yourself, dear reader, feeds into the collective devaluation of all forms of artistic expression, from photography to painting to literature to music....and that is when you are not stealing those images and passages to raise your own profit margin. Hear that, advertising agencies and corporate marketing departments? This is a rampant criminal enterprise flying under the radar. I, myself, have had my entire Bug Eric blog reproduced without my authorization.

Copyright infringement has become so obscene that many writers, photographers, and artists now devote more time to writing Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices to search engine and blog platform providers than they do to producing new material of their choosing. One author I know regularly files suit for infringement; but you have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, at $35 a crack, to be eligible to file lawsuits. She now earns more from lawsuits than she does from new projects.

When you put all these factors together, writing presents itself as an occupation that is disrespected, pays little and rarely with any predictable frequency, and is subject to copyright infringement at any time. Consequently, we have mostly beleaguered, demoralized writers who mutter "what's the use?" to themselves every time they plop down behind their keyboards; and, not surprisingly, few new writers are emerging to take their place.

I don't know what we should expect from a culture and society that has devolved in its ability to spell words correctly, and arrange them in grammatically appropriate ways. That is, when we even use words. Every damn thing is an acronym anymore, with resulting confusion, misunderstanding, and inappropriate assumptions that serve only as fodder for "Damn You, Autocorrect!" Clear communication is vital to the sustainability and advancement of civilization. We devalue writers at our collective peril. They are not out to make a monetary fortune, but they deserve to make a living.


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