Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why, yes, I really SHOULD pay those writers!

When I started working on the Revisions book, I had no idea what changes lay ahead – nor did I foresee any contributors to this book going above and beyond what I was asking for. Eventually, this played a role in me coming to a decision I only wished I decided on much earlier.

The one manuscript ended up being turned into 3 (my publisher was kept updated on the book’s progress as I worked on it and after I mentioned it was over 500 pages, she suggested we break the one into three). Additionally, I asked contributors if, in addition to being interviewed and sharing their revision advice, they wanted to contribute any short pieces for end-of-the-chapter features. There was no obligation for them to do so, of course. I just threw that out there. Nobody was under any pressure to submit anything. For the most part, I gathered those items myself – sending out requests to authors to include their book excerpts or writers of blog posts for permission to reprint their posts. I also wrote many of them myself. For one feature, I even included a writer’s comment left on my blog!

At some point, I “came to my senses” and realized that something was missing from this equation: Payment for original material. This especially became a concern for me after one contributor sent me a 19-page feature he labored over for one of the chapters. My heart sank, knowing I made it clear I wasn’t paying anybody for anything. But the fact that he did this stayed with me. It had a very profound effect. I hadn’t expected something so long and thorough, yet there it was.

So I started thinking. I thought maybe it would be a good idea to pay those writers. After all, they were taking the time to write ORIGINAL work for my book. And who was receiving the royalty checks from book sales?? ME! That’s not fair. It’s just not fair that I would profit off of their hard work like that. No, something was VERY wrong with that arrangement.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this. (I’ve been at this project for 2 years!!) But I’m just glad I realized this now. I think I finally woke up to this after a writer ranted at me after I told her I don’t pay for interviews. (Never have and never will.)

But before I could tell everybody, I had to figure out HOW I was going to make this work.

I didn’t see much sense in paying for things like blog posts and book excerpts. I also didn’t think I was obligated to pay any of the writers for including their before-and-after samples. That didn’t make sense to me. No, I realized, I will pay the writers who write something just for this book. This led me to my first decision:

1. I will be paying writers for ORIGINAL material written just for this book.

So what kind of “original material” qualified? It wasn’t quotes or interviews. I decided on exactly what I meant by “original material” in this second decision:

2. I will be paying writers for success stories and end-of-the chapter features.

My next task was to figure out how I was going to make this work. There are over 100 contributors to this series. I could not afford to pay all of them in one full swoop! No, that’s not going to work. I am on a fixed income. I have only so much available to spend each month, though I DO try to earn extra money with my writing. I had to figure out how to do this within my budget.

The first way to figure that out was to tally up how many items in the book qualified as paid work. So I went through the three manuscripts and counted them all up.

Next, I started with a figure and added that up to see if each payout was affordable. Fortunately, it was – on ONE CONDITION: IF I pay those writers after the book is published. To pay all of them right now is just not possible for me.

So I arrived at the third decision:

3. I will be paying writers when the book they appear in is published.

So it looks like I am paying writers for contributions after all. Hooray! I feel better, I have a clear conscience, I won’t look like someone taking advantage of hard-working writers, the book will have straight-on solid and helpful material useful from experts in the know, and everybody will be happy – including the writers.

I e-mailed the writers who qualified for payment and I let them know that I was NOW paying for contributions to this series. So far, none have complained about the amount (which is two figures). They were mostly grateful and appreciative that I was putting in an effort to pay them, and that they were receiving some kind of financial compensation for their hard work after all.

On the other hand, I considered the possibility that certain writers would not want payment from me. That COULD happen -- and, actually, it DID happen. I was prepared for this. I said that if the writer insisted on not receiving payment from me, then at least allow me the chance to take what I would pay them and donate it to their favorite charity. If they didn't have a favorite charity, or couldn't think of one, I said I would make the donation in their name to LiveStrong

This experience made me marvel over why on earth I didn’t think of this sooner. WHY hadn’t this struck me? After all, I agreed to pay contributors to the MIDNIGHT OIL book a portion of royalties. (Sadly, sales of that book have been insanely low. One writer said not to send him anything until the dollar amount he was entitled to reached $5, and it isn’t even yet at that amount even after all these years!) I really don’t know why I didn’t think about this sooner. I guess I needed that writer reading me the riot act to get me to take another look at what was going on here.

In any event, I am only relieved that I have finally understood the importance of paying the writers for their contributions to my book projects. They’ve earned it – and they are worth it!

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