This, in many ways, becomes the flip side of all the ranting I’ve been doing about spending your own money to publish. So let it be known I can be hypocritical, or something.
Several weeks ago a friend commented on the fact that while I feel very strongly that writers shouldn’t go the vanity press route and spend their own money on publishing their books, I had also spent a fair chunk of /my/ own money developing my comic book “Take A Chance”. This seemed contradictory to him, and I thought it was a good enough point to warrant some discussion. Then a couple days ago I saw a poster, maybe on FaceBook, which said “”Freelance” doesn’t mean “works for free””, and I went, “Yes!”
We’re all freelancers, when it comes to writing books. Sometimes we’re freelancers under contract, sometimes we’re freelancers hoping for a contract, but ultimately we’re working on a product we intend to sell. It’s not work we’re doing for free, even if we’re not getting paid at this very moment.
It’s the same thing, obviously, for an artist. For me, as a writer and as a freelancer, there was only one way to approach getting a professional artist to do my comic: pay them. Anything short of that didn’t feel like a professional relationship and I didn’t feel like I could expect professional work or attention to deadline without it. Somebody else might have come along with a paying gig, after all, and freelancers don’t work for free. If I wanted to keep Ardian Syaf as my artist, I had to offer him compensation for that, *particularly* since I couldn’t guarantee the project would get published and therefore be an eventual payday.
Ideally, of course, there’d either be a guarantee of a payday or an artist in a position where being paid right now didn’t matter (I don’t think I know *any* freelancers for whom being paid right now isn’t pretty important, though!), but “Chance” was my nascent comics project. I had no contacts in the comics industry and no experience as a comics writer. I was willing to risk my own time (and therefore money, both figuratively and literally), because it was *my* project. Asking someone else to risk their time–particularly given how much longer it takes to draw, ink & color a comic page than it does to *write* one–seemed ludicrous. My artist was a freelancer–but that doesn’t mean he could work for free.
There are plenty of times when people *will* work for free, obviously. Write for free, draw for free, whatever-for-free. I’ve got a fair bit of free fiction on cemurphy.net. Of course, there are ulterior motives there–hopefully the free fiction will draw people in to paying for books! Or, for another example, I have comics projects in the hopper where my artist and I are developing something together which we’ll pitch, as a proposal, to publishers. If they don’t work, yeah, it looks like work we’ve done for free…but it’s really done in pursuit of that all-powerful paycheck.
I think the idea that writing(art) is a job, even when it’s not paying yet, is a very hard one for people who aren’t writers to fully grasp. I don’t know if it’s made easier by using the word “freelancer” instead, or if the ‘free’ part in there just throws people off. But I was very much struck by the inherent truth of that idea: “Freelance” doesn’t mean “works for free”. I think it’s a good thing to remember.