“Freelance” doesn’t mean “works for free”

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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.

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5 comments to “Freelance” doesn’t mean “works for free”

  • I used to describe myself as a freelance writer, but stopped because people tended to assume that “freelance” meant “unpublished.” The meaning of the word, of course, has it’s roots in medieval mercenary practices — a lance, or sword, for hire. I think it’s odd in away that freelance has a somewhat benign, even hapless connotation, while mercenaries are thought of so poorly. I admit it. When it comes to my writing career, I’m a mercenary and proud of it.

    Paying out money to get published is far different, it seems to me, from investing in a project that you hope to sell to a publisher. I hope the comic does great, Catie.

  • Emily Leverett

    David, I have to agree that paying for something vs. investing money in something is different. I mean, if I spend my time writing, I’m not doing something else. “Spend” is a great verb, no? I do research on something for my novel, I’m not doing research for my academic articles. In effect, I’m spending my money one place and not another (although ultimately I value my time more than my money, I think. After a certain base level of needs is handled, I’d rather have more free time than more money). That is, of course, not the same as spending all that time PLUS spending money to be published. And I have to admit that I agree 100% with Catie about vanity publishing. Also, comparatively, there are very few other fields where it is considered a good idea to pay someone else to let you work. I mean, do doctors say “hey, let me treat you for a while and pay you, too, and then, if you like it, you can tell other people to pay me!” Or lawyers? Or teachers? Or anything, really. None that I can think of.

  • There’s a key difference here — Catie is paying an artist to help her in the creation of the work, _not the publication and distribution_. It’s like making an independent film. You have to lay out a lot of money for all the artists and technical aspects involved in helping you create the work — actors, designers, lighting, props, etc. You don’t, however, go to Sundance and expect Warner Brothers to say, “You pay us and we’ll make copies available to all you friends!” Warner Brothers pays you for the right to reproduce the work and attempt to sell it to the public. At least, that’s how I see the difference.

  • Emily and Stuart, I like both analogies — the doctor one and the movie one. And I think all of this is by way of saying, “Yes!” to Catie’s post.

  • I have freelance writer in my email title at the moment because that’s the work I’ve done for RPG companies in the past, which for the most part use freelance writers for their works.