It’s not about the money, money, money…

(But please let us know if you’re still keen)

IN the timeless classic Alice in Wonderland, that infamous bottle with the ‘Drink Me’ tag has a lot to answer for.

As a writer I wonder some days if I, too, have one of those tags — taped across my forehead — inviting all and sundry to come, help themselves to what’s inside… use me!

But I suspect I’m not in the only profession poisoned by the paranoia.

Recently, two separate experiences on opposite corners of the planet have reminded me the value of, well, finding and cherishing one’s pricetag despite tough economic times.

The first caught my eye and lifted my hopes for all that is good and true in the world — an advertised opportunity to submit the holy grail for most writers — travel stories with photography — to an online ‘newspaper’.

A prompt and shiny response from the young female editor was waiting in my inbox the next day stating how my articles “would work very well” with the site’s master plan but lamenting that small budgets meant they weren’t “able to pay for articles at this stage.”

Furthermore, I was ever-so-politely encouraged to “please let us know whether you are still keen.”

I wasn’t. But I still let them know.

It made me pause for rambling thought. I wondered would anyone dare make a request for free labour in any other trade or profession? And why writers?

“Excuse me, kind plumber, would you mind unclogging the kitchen sink … Er, my budget is quite tight at the moment, so unfortunately I’m unable to pay at this stage. But please let me know if you’re still keen.”

“Uh, yes, Doctor, I think you could do a really great job but unfortunately, neither I nor my health insurance is able to pay for the surgery. Please let me know if you’re still keen.”

In any other trade, it would be called exploitation. Even those who work in the world’s ‘oldest’ profession know well enough never to work for free.

But yet it’s even seemingly fast becoming socially accepted in business circles to proudly promote that curious little thing known as The Intern. Volunteering and internships are attracting university students and graduates like moths to the flame — and cheapening the playing field and the economy for the decades to follow. Long after these bright young things have passed the baton to the next gen and are facing the consequences of their rush to get flushed.

It’s hard to think of any other industry where an employer can unashamedly and unequivocally say ‘Work for me — I can’t afford to pay you for your efforts, but work for me.’

As long as there is an employer, there should be an “ability” to pay an employee. It’s a question of respect. Mutual respect.

The second experience involved an employer who contacted me regarding an opportunity to write content for a “big client”.

“They asked me if I know any writers,” she squeaked enthusiastically, “and I said, ‘Well, yes, I do!’”

“You DO!” I squeaked, even more enthusiastically. ” You DO!!”

“Would you be interested?” she continued.

“ABSOLUTELY!” I shrieked. “Yes, whatever it is — I’m interes… ”

“Well, I don’t have all the details just yet…”

She asked me to compile a list of my blogs and on a later day, over a coffee, very casually but with a wisp of nervousness asked for my rates…

It’s a question that strikes fear in my beating and courageous heart, I’m not afraid to say.

Charge too much, you can wave goodbye at the gate. Charge too little… Well, as in matters of the heart, they won’t respect you.

I felt an intense and burning pressure to name my pricetag without knowing the project.

Power games. Why can’t people just put all that effort into playing the Respect Game instead and reap the karmic rewards in their lives??

“Name… your… pricetag!” a deep booming voice thundered down from the clouds above. Right there and then, over a lukewarm, milky flat white.

I must confess, I thought to myself, some days I don’t even KNOW my own pricetag.

Heavens, I even have seasonal sales. But at the very least, I thought, I know I do have a pricetag.

It could be argued that I’ve only become acquainted with my general pricetag in recent years, after decades of wringing the words out of my brain one by one in an office with somebody else’s opinion of my pricetag slapped onto my hands.

The silence was deafening and the lukewarm coffee was starting to curdle from the glare.

And somewhere, deep down, I knew with much certainty that I was about to feel very small after drinking from that damned bottle…