On Exposure. Opportunity and Bills I Gotta Pay.
Before I get into the subject at hand, I’d like to make sure a few things are clear.
The way I use Medium as a vehicle for my work is a very deliberate thought out choice.
Even if this is the first time you’ve ever seen or heard of me or my work, I assure you I’m not new at this.
This heavily involves Intersectionality, economics and privilege.
You’ve been warned.
I’ve been using Medium for a while and after some uncertainty to begin with, I have come to deeply enjoy both creating content for my little slice of this site but also finding some really amazing work to read. As far as platforms to write on, this one has been pretty great.
Almost a year ago today I posted this piece that real talk started out as a rant written on my phone while I was commuting. Once it was done, I wasn’t entirely sure where to pitch it because I had discovered something important while writing it.
In the internal battle between the writer person who wants to get paid and the writer person who sometimes wants absolute control over their work, the latter won. I found my use for Medium and after much consideration and debate with myself, I posted it.
At this point, I think that piece is close to about 50K reads and is by far the most widely read, shared and loved thing I’ve ever written. I was admittedly not ready. I wasn’t ready for the tweets and random emails and messages and Facebook friend requests and occasional total misreadings that led to one woman offering to give me therapy for my apparent narcissism- it was a lot.
What I thought happened after something like that would be offers of paying gigs.
Extra cash! HELLS YEAH!
Neither of those things happened. I chalked it up to not being a “name” type, author, my style isn’t super conducive to many lady magazines. It was not a big deal, I had other work to do.
Time went by, I wrote and published other things both on Medium and elsewhere.
Fast forward to February when I wrote about a problem with Phil Anselmo and metal in general.
Holy damn some things happened.
After publishing that piece and watching it gain traction with a large part of the audience, I intended, I was able to do that thing that so many of us writers love to do, I touched some hearts. I got some really sweet messages from other metalheads, offers to have escorts to shows, there were some really great music recommendations and overall the few days after publication were pretty great.
Something new also happened. Offers from publications on Medium (no shade y’all) and a few other places started to come in all leading with variations of the same pitch:
We have ALL these readers and we want to show you to them.
Each email promised me the magical reward of exposure and potential future exposure opportunities. Not one offered cash. Or asked for a whole new original article.
Opportunity. Uh, yeah?
Extra cash? Nope.
During this time I was trying to get myself financially and emotionally ready for a very fast 20% increase in my basic cost of living. When I say basic, I’m talking about housing and utilities. I live in an area with what I deem a slow burn gentrification going on. I’ve known it was coming since November and given housing costs in the greater Seattle area, moving wasn’t an option for my little family.
I don’t live a very fancy life. I have a day job that 5 days a week is 12 hours of my day from walking out of my house to coming home. I have a very tight budget that I maintain carefully, I use coupons and scour the world for good deals on things I need. I’ve just discovered the joys of buying small bulk amounts of things I need. I know how to be poor while giving myself and my partner the best quality of life I can.
The other thing that has been going on and impacting my writing choices has been a large shift in things at my job. It is boring corporate stuff, but stuff that changes how I operate day to day. Nothing tragic or super awful, but enough that in combination with the cost of living increase, problems with my new landlords, etc. life in general has been pretty stressful.
This has not the best time for me to be hitting more thousands of views.
I sat myself down with the offers of reprints and exposure and decided to give HuffPo Black Voices blog a shot. My reasoning (and yes, I do deeply understand the problems with the Huffington Post and some of the issues with Medium as a platform as well) as follows. What if a Black lady writes about heavy metal and racism in Black Voices?
Who else has done that?
I thought maybe Laina Dawes, another Black woman metalhead who wrote an amazing book called What Are You Doing Here?
Really, I just wanted to see what would happen. It was an experiment. I got some more decent responses and another stack of requests for my work.
Out of 17 requests for essays, 4 requests for profiles or features, 2 requests for copywriting, 1 request for an album review (without a link for a review copy), and one weird ask for BW/WW cuckold porn-
Guess how many wanted to give me money?
Ding! Time is up. Did you guess zero?
Winner winner chicken dinner.
Theoretically, if I was not living in a place where I pay gentrification prices for hood living or lived a life where I frequently have to make decisions like does my partner get medication or do I get new orthotics? I would be able to make a decision based on passion and exposure alone.
In a perfect world, I could get my nerd on about all the stuff I’m passionate about for free.
That is not my world and in my world, I need cash. I’ve had to learn to answer very difficult questions for myself. How much is my emotional labor worth? Will I be able to also do things like work on my next book or write poetry or fiction?
Exposure doesn’t put me in a position where I have financial breathing room. I’ve come to learn that I need that breathing room in order to create my best work.
If I was still in my 20s it would be easier. I never assumed back then that my work was worth money. I didn’t believe that I could say anything about anything and have that be worth being paid. When I was young I believed that I could only be paid for big newsy stuff and that is not my strong suit. I like to chew on things before I write about them and that is not conducive to that type of freelance work. I’m not a journalist.
It has taken me more than a decade to figure out how I can freelance and know to a certainty that I do in fact deserve to be paid for my work. I’ve also had to come to the understanding that trusting my gut as to when and where to give my work away is freeing.
I am delighted when people read my work and it touches them. I am delighted when editors say things like, my publication needs you. I love it when I’ve been ranting about racial injustice and someone says, holy shit I get it. I love it when my voice reaches outside of my circle of regular readers.
I love those things that make up exposure.
As much as I love them, love don’t pay the bills and a bitch gotta eat.
I want my writing to be sustainable. To that end, I freelance when I can. I run a currently fully funded Patreon account where my patrons are getting an inside view as I write my first urban fantasy novella.
I won’t lecture about how publications should or shouldn’t pay their writers. You can run your publications any way you like. But remember, some of us live in worlds where an extra 50$ for an essay or article could make the difference between eating and not. Before touting exposure as that next level form of payment, remember-
Nobody can eat exposure.