Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, November 6, 2015

On Working for Exposure

Meet The Don't Work for Exposure Fairy!
I'm going to ruffle some feathers here.  Actually, I'm probably not because nobody reads this blog, but in theory if there were feathers here to ruffle I would be about to ruffle them.  That's because I'm about to question inherited wisdom, and if there's one thing that pisses people off, it's questioning inherited wisdom.

So, Wil Wheaton wrote an article that sort of seized the authorial blogosphere by storm last week.  You should go check it out, of course, as I recommend everyone does check all the footnotes when trying to be well-educated on any subject, but as I also always do, I will simply sum it up for you here for the tl;dr crowd.

Basically, Wheaton wrote a blogpost (much like this one) and someone from the Huffington Post approached him and asked if they could share it on their site.  Wheaton asked to be paid and they declined, and everyone was pretty much respectful to each other and that's the end of the story portion of the article.

Then, in the time-honored tradition of people rich enough to whom it doesn't matter whether they turn down good opportunities or not, Wil took to task the very concept of writing for exposure.  As I said, you can read the article for the non-misrepresented-by-me story, but this argument boils down to a couple of bullet points:

- writers should be paid for every word they write
- other professionals like doctors and plumbers get paid when they doct and/or plumb
- exposure is not measurable in pounds sterling and therefore doesn't count as anything

Still tl;dr?  Check out this cartoon from The Oatmeal, then.  It basically sums up the concept.

Actually, before I get into this, let's look at some more background information.  First of all, Wil Wheaton is a famous actor.  He got famous in the '80s from Star Trek, where his character was much disliked.  He then got re-famous in the '00s for being an internet personality and trying to explain how character ≠ actor.

Huffington Post (which we'll just call HuffPo for brevity's sake, not that I've been particular brev up until now) is a news aggregator site.  They don't produce content, they collect the best content from around the web and put it in one spot.  This is all very fishy/dicey and could be the subject of a whole other blogpost or perhaps book.  But that being said, HuffPo according to its own presumably biased sources, has a reach of 84 million hits a week.

Okay, is the stage set and dressed?  Have I been more or less fair to all of the players? 

Now, here's my question.  If Wheaton thought his original blogpost was good enough that he ought to be paid for it...why did he post it for free on his blog?  So that leads us into tackling our first bullet point:

- writers should be paid for every word they write

Okay, so, I'm just going to put this out there: this is a stupid concept.  This is a really fucking stupid concept.  Look, even when you write words for a living there are words that you get paid for (novels, short stories, poems) and there are words you don't get paid for (texts, FB posts, tweets) and the fact that I even have to explicate that is kind of making me feel dumber.

And let's just be 100% clear here: blogposts are not something you should get paid for.  I don't expect somebody to pay me to write this.  You want to know why I'm writing this?  In all honesty?  100%?


Yes, I maintain a blog so that even when they're not reading my novels and shorts and the stuff I do get paid for, my readers, fans, and, yeah, total randos who happen to stumble across me (and then maybe become readers and fans...?) are enjoying getting to know me.  This is part of the deal, even for professionals, kids.  You have to be "available" to a reasonable extent to your fanbase and in the age of social media if you can't keep up with every tweet and FB post, sometimes it comes through having a blog.  Maybe you put out a blogpost and say, "Golly, jeepers I've been super busy, sorry I haven't been getting to all your tweets and FB posts."  Whatever.

But, okay, let's say we were talking about words you're supposed to be paid for instead of words you write for free.  I don't see how you can really make that argument about a blogpost, but okay, let's say we were.  Let's say we treated the blogpost as an article for an online news source, which is something that you should get paid for.  It's a stretch, but okay.

What Wheaton did was he posted his "article" on his blog already.  He already published it (yes, clicking the "publish" button on Blogger or Wordpress or whatever counts as publication for professional purposes.)  So what he's really trying to do is sell second publishing rights. 

I've published multiple trunked novels on this blog, for instance.  If I went and tried to sell those (already published) novels to an agent or a press, I'd be selling second publishing rights.  I won't say this never happens - for instance, FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY sold second publishing rights because it was self-pubbed first, and JOHN DIES AT THE END sold second publishing rights because it was serialized online first, and those both went on to popular, Big 5 success.  But it's pretty rare that it happens, and typically second publishing rights are not as valuable as first publishing rights. 

Okay, so to reiterate this point, Wheaton posted something on his blog - in other words, he wrote some shit for free - then someone came along and said, "Say, if I share this content of yours, you'll get somewhere between 0 and 84 million more eyes on your words."  And Wheaton turned that down.

Okay, fair enough.  That's his decision and he made it.

But then he turns around and writes a blogpost - again, for free - about how he turned this opportunity down.  And what does Wil Wheaton get out of writing this second blogpost?

Exposure.  Which is the same thing he said he was turning down out of principle.

Let me tell you something about Wil Wheaton.  I don't know Wil Wheaton from Adam.  From what I know, he sounds like a very nice guy.  But Wil Wheaton was on "Star Trek."  Wil Wheaton will never want for exposure in his life.  He has been world famous since he was a child.

If Wil Wheaton decides to write a book, I can guarantee you that agents will fight over it, it will be picked up by a Big 5 House, he'll get at least a 6-figure advance, and it will be a bestseller.

And you know what?  If Wil Wheaton decides never to write another book in his life, he has a backup source of income in the convention circuit.  There is not a convention in the United States, possibly the world, that would not at a minimum pay for his travel, lodging, and expenses (and quite likely an appearance fee) to show up.  And that's before the lines out the door of people willing to pay $50 for his autograph.  I say $50 very conservatively, because I've seen SyFy movie of the week actors get paid that.  A "Star Trek: The Next Generation" star?  He could probably get away with $200 an autograph.  I'm just guessing here.

I've also done the convention circuit.  I had to pay all my expenses.  I had to pay for travel, lodging, and food.  I had to pay for a table and pay for a ticket, and if I wanted to appear in the program, I had to pay for that, too.  And that was all for maybe the chance that someone might want to buy one of my books.

In other words...I was paying for exposure.

Wil Wheaton (and, just to be clear, I love him, I am a fan) will never have any concept what it's like to require publicity.  He's been famous since he was a child.  Wil Wheaton probably turns down more opportunities a month than I have ever had.

But here's the thing: nobody calls me a dummy for paying for advertising.  The same people who make a big stink about not doing for-the-love (FTL) or for-the-exposure work will also say that I am very wise to advertise myself in every way I can.  No one has ever told me to spend less on advertising, in fact, they have quite often told me I'm not advertising enough, not pimping myself enough.

But, gentle reader, I have to ask, at its core, what is advertising?

It's paying for exposure.

So out of one end of their mouths, a choir tells me to pay for exposure, and out of the other end this same choir insists that I not give my work away for exposure because it may have a technical value.  I don't know what to say to that.  Which leads us to our next bullet point:

- other professionals like doctors and plumbers get paid when they doct and/or plumb

So, this is true.  Professionals get paid to do what they are good at.  And we all know the story of Picasso, after being asked to draw a circle and asking for 1000 pesos for it saying, "Yes, it only took me thirty seconds to draw it, but it took me thirty years to learn how to draw it."

Yes, we pay a doctor exorbitant amounts of money to hand us a bottle of aspirin because he went to medical school to learn how to hand us a bottle of aspirin.  And, yes, in theory, you should pay a writer because he spent 10,000 hours (or one million words) to become a master of his craft.

But this argument only holds so much water with me.  Because you know what?

Professionals give shit away for free, too.

Have you ever been to the supermarket on a Sunday?  Taken a bite of that free cookie?  Did it ever occur to you that a professional baker baked that?  That maybe you should've paid for that baker's time instead of taking a bite of their damn cookie for free, you dirty, stinking thief?


Of course you've never thought that.  Because the baker understands that by giving away little cookie slices, he gets the customer interested in buying his cookies.  It's why there are coupons in your newspaper for plumbers to swing by your house for a free plumbing inspection.  It's why there are masseuses and masseurs who set up stands at the county fair and give away free five minute massages.  Because if you like your free massage or cookie or plumbing inspection or goddamn blogpost, maybe the customer will buy something from you.

Again, this is all part and parcel of advertising.  Getting your name out there.  I understand that famous people don't have to do this anymore.  We all want to be famous so that people will beg for our time.  But as long as we're in the trenches, trying to become famous, you're telling me I shouldn't be selling myself?

Let me tell you about the trenches.  I'm 33 damn years old.  I've been published for two years.  I have fought and slaved and screamed and rended my garments for every single sale I have ever made.  I have given out thousands of free copies of my books to reviewers on the slim hope that they might review it and grant me a modicum of exposure.  (That's solicited, by the way, not unsolicited.)

Every fan I have I have sweated for.  Every review I have I have jumped through my ass for.  Wil Wheaton will never have to jump through his ass to win a fan.  Taylor Swift will never have to sweat to win a fan.  Taylor Swift has been world famous since she was 16 goddamn years old, and Wil Wheaton even longer.  So when I hear stories about how Wil Wheaton boldly turned down HuffPo, or Taylor Swift sang truth to power to Spotify, there's only so excited I can get about that.  There's only so much I can relate to that.

And you know why?  Because for me, the battle is not between a good and a bad reputation.  The battle is not between making a little money and compromising my principles.  For me, the battle is between exposure and complete and utter obscurity.

Which leads us to our final point:

- exposure is not measurable in pounds sterling and therefore doesn't count as anything

Exposure has value.  Look, people, Coca-Cola is quite possibly the most ubiquitous brand on the planet.  And they still advertise.  McDonald's is bigger than Jesus.  And they advertise the fuck out of their brand.

The United States fucking Army advertises.  The United States fucking Postal Service advertises.

You know why?

Because exposure has value.

I know, I know, I'm not going to win any friends for saying this.  I'm probably supposed to shut up and toe the party line and say, "Yeah, writers deserve to be paid!"  Well, sure, writers deserve to be paid.  Obviously.  But a writer needs to prove himself first.  A writer needs to develop a platform first.

Look at the way the writing world has changed since the '90s.  You know what is the ubiquitous, inescapable watchword of the 21st century?  Platform.  Writers don't get to come at this brave new world without a platform.  They need Twitter, Facebook, a blog, a website, Tumblr, Instagram, God all knows what else.  

YouTube stars are getting book deals.  I personally know people who have gotten book deals from having popular blogs.  I have also personally been turned down by agents for not having a big enough platform.  Someone like The Oatmeal, who has a platform of millions of followers, confuses me when he weighs in on a subject like this.  Didn't he spend years doing hard work and giving it away for free to develop a platform big enough that he's now in a position to make money off of his books and merchandise?  I know I've read dozens of Oatmeal comics, and I've never paid a dime for one of them, because he gives them away for free on his blog for...(wait for it)...exposure!  And then chastises other writers not to work for exposure!  What the fuck am I not understanding here?

Here's a question.  Why do you think someone like John Kasich or Rick Perry or Lincoln Chafee runs for president?  I'm being 100% serious here.  John Kasich will not be president in 2016.  That's a guarantee.  (You read it here first!  Manuscripts Burn scoop!)  I know that.  You know that.  John fucking Kasich knows that.  So why run?  Why waste everybody's time?  Does he secretly think he's going to dark horse it in somehow?

Hell no.  The reason half the people who run for political office do so is to raise their public profile.  They take on the humiliation of a cruel media and an indifferent populace because it will get them on TV.  As Gore Vidal said, "Never turn down a chance to have sex or be on television."  It will not only get them on television, in the newspapers, on the internet in places like HuffPo (hmmm...), it will even get them mentioned in the same company as the person who really will be in president in 2016, and all of his (well, actually her, obviously) serious contenders.

Running for office - running for president, in particular - is a great way to get your name out there.  And then what do half these people do?  They leverage their new fame for either a cushy lobbying job, maybe a second crack at the office next election cycle when they're better known, or a fucking book deal.

Being famous sells books.  It sells TV ratings.  It sells internet ad copy.  In the 1980s or whenever, it sold newspapers.  Being famous is a commodity.  

So when Wil Wheaton or Taylor Swift or The Oatmeal, who are each more famous than I will likely ever be, tell me to fight the good fight and not trade a few hours of my time as a professional author producing a work for the chance at some exposure, you'll forgive me if I take it with a grain of salt.

And here endeth the feather-ruffling.  Please do let me know how wrong I am in the comments below.


  1. Quit exposing yourself, ya perv!

    1. You're right. From now on I'll only expose myself for the money. Wait a minute...

  2. Wil Wheaton knows as much about obscurity as Mitt Romney knows about poverty. They've heard of it, but they've never experienced it.

    The people who say don't work for exposure don't need to. They get it without working. If Taylor Swift buys a cupcake - it's Instagram headlines for her and the bakery. The rest of us? We'd have to buy a million cupcakes for starving European migrant refugees to get in the local paper - on page three. But there's a trade-off. I wouldn't want to live with the level of scrutiny she has to endure.

    1. Very true. Celebrities deal with problems we can't relate to the same way we deal with problems they can't relate to anymore, either. It's the moralizing that gets to me. Like if I were to give some kind of moral speechifying about how to deal with paparazzi or Hollywood beauty expectations. That's all very well and good for me to say, but I don't have any direct experience to draw from. Thanks for commenting, Gideon!


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