Writing EXPOSURE—Gamble or Grift?
Writing exposure. A phrase that makes my left eye twitch. For over a decade, many writers have been killing themselves (and their careers) believing a lie, an illusion, and a flat out SCAM. Countless writers have been giving their best to launch their brand and their career, trusting those who claimed to be helping them…doing them a favor even.
Writers and other creatives truly believed good content, diligence and hard work would pay off…and it does. Writing exposure doesn’t have to be dirty and predatory. Getting our name and work out there is critical in Web 2.0 (a brand/platform).
We’ve been taken unfair advantage of, and this nonsense ends NOW. We’ve been part of an illusion. We knew writing was a gamble, yet many of us fell for a grift.
We thought we were a contender, never realizing we were actually the mark.
Yet, knowledge is power. There’s nothing wrong with risking and losing. In fact it’s necessary. We learn more from failure than success. We grow and mature and get better.
There are no sure wins, no sure-fire paths to success with an express elevator. Every path to being a contender is a gamble.
But if we keep losing and losing and losing…and losing, something is going horribly wrong. My goal today is to take yet one more step toward righting the wrongs committed against hard-working creatives and showing them a way to be free.
Eighteen months ago, all I knew was I was angry—okay foaming at the mouth pissed OFF. I knew creatives were being used, just was unsure how. It’s taken me over a year and a half to figure out the hustle, to understand exactly what game the MEGAs are playing and how they’re using this to (often) play us for suckers.
***NOTE: For anyone new to this blog or series of posts, when I use the term MEGA, I’m referring to very large wealthy brands who are super fond of paying creative professionals in “exposure dollars”…all the while knowing that currency hasn’t been valuable since Abercrombie and Fitch was cool.
These brands are also wealthy enough to pay contributors, but why should they if content creators are so eager to work for free, for the golden writing exposure?
Yes, still looking at you Huffington Post.
As mentioned in my last post Pay the Writer 2–Out Hustle the Hustlers, the key (aside from realizing we’re being hustled in the first place) is to study the hustle long enough to unravel how it all works.
This important because we must know our weaknesses and how they’ve been used against us.
The LOVE of the GAME
In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, one of the main characters, Wednesday—who’s a shameless con man and a grifter—relates the story of the infamous 19th century gambler, Canada Bill Jones, who was in a small town doing what he loved to do.
Of course Jones was also steadily losing. A friend tried to intercede and told him, “The game is rigged.” Jones’s famous reply was, “I know, but it’s the only game in town.”
Thing was, Jones loved to gamble. It was who he was, and his gambling was a passion that drove him and gave him some kind of pleasure, even while losing.
We writers can be the same way, blinded by a similar passion, which is why we can make easy marks paid in exposure dollars.
We love to write. It’s who we are and we’re often willing to do it for FREE. We are willing to keep writing even when we’re being taken unfair advantage of…because we love it so much.
Thing is, those who are most likely to prey on creatives know that about us. They use this love—our passion—to keep us playing a losing game.
We might not see this weak spot, but predators will and do. The MEGAs couldn’t get away with the grift as successfully as they have if writers got smarter.
Which is where I come in. My first revelation is this:
The MEGAs are not the only game in town.
We might be gamblers, but we can refuse the grift.
We do have better and smarter options that pay out real money not “exposure dollars.”
The MEGAs have been playing the odds, wagering that writers would fail to see the grift and keep on hitting PUBLISH with the raw enthusiasm of a hamster randomly rewarded with a cheap sugar cube.
When (or if) a writer complains about never being paid, the MEGA is there to gently remind the writer that the entertainment business is a gamble…which is not exactly a lie.
But it isn’t entirely the truth, either.
The problem is we believe we’re playing Publishing Poker at the BRAND Bellagio, when it’s more like the Content Cup Shuffle run by some shady dude on a street corner. He rooks us in with an “easy challenge” and a quick “win” that keeps the hustle going.
Can we spot the peanut?
Eventually, we’re all hunting for a nut that’s no longer in play—unless you count us, because only a nut would think they could win this game.
The MEGA game (anything paying in only “exposure” dollars) can never be won…because it’s a hustle. The second every creative realizes this and refuses to play, the MEGA house of cards implodes.
Okay, so knowing writing is a gamble, it’s wise to learn how professional gambling operates so we can spot the game from the grift. We can leave Plastic Cup Dude the peanuts and get involved in a real game we can win.
Understanding how to win involves knowing what game to play and with whom. We need our work out there. Writing exposure critical, but we must control the game like pros.
See, folks who make a living playing professional poker understand the casino is a means to an end and vice versa. Pro gamblers don’t let the crystal and marble and all-you-can-eat buffets go to their heads. Flattery is rampant, but the pro shrugs it off.
It’s a distraction.
No professional gambler wins every single game. They also lose. Yet, in the end, the casino profits no matter what because they are in it for the long game. There are enough games going on for it to all work out. Some win, some lose but ultimately the chandeliers are paid for.
The pro gambler fundamentally understands this:
While the House is friendly, the House is not the gambler’s friend.
The pro gambler always remembers and respects this difference. Yet, the House remembers and respects this as well. The House knows they need the gamblers, and it’s unwise to use and abuse the guests who pay the bills. They need to let the gamblers win.
Greed is a double-edged sword handled with care by both gambler and the House.
Professional Publishing IS a Gamble
Publishers, agents, magazines, and book distributors are not our friend, but this doesn’t make them our enemy either—much like the pro gambler and the casino.
Yet the difference in the street hustle versus the pro game is this:
The hustle is ALWAYS a parasitic relationship (one side works for exposure and the other gets PAID REAL MONEY).
With the pros, it’s a far more symbiotic partnership, with BOTH sides taking calculated risks, playing odds, hedging losses and everyone hoping to win big. BOTH SIDES get PAID REAL MONEY.
Legit publishers appreciate that wins and losses generally balance out over time, so long as they aren’t being stupid. Sure the Big Five give Neil Gaiman the red carpet treatment, because he’s a high-roller.
Mr Gaiman has earned that red-carpet treatment because the House has made serious bank off his work (and even Neil Gaiman started out as a small time player in the beginning). Yet, after years of hard work and calculated risks, Neil Gaiman is a CONTENDER.
Contenders are the household name authors who bring the House enough revenue to cover that newbie who seemed so promising…yet fizzled.
For the pros, it is a game of balancing risk and reward for all.
The rest of us who are NOT yet a contender like Neil Gaiman have a path. We hone our craft, build our audience, build our brand, learn the business of our business.
We work hard and learn to be patient while also being simultaneously relentless….all the while appreciating the deck is stacked against us. Writing exposure vital, but must be done with strategy for the payoff.
Unlike 20th century publishing, there’s now more than one road that leads to being a CONTENDER.
There are a number of paths writers can take…but they are all a gamble. Legacy, small press, indie, self-pub, blog-to-book, crowd-sourcing, hybrid, and on and on. Lots of roads and many paths to being a CONTENDER.
This said some paths are not paths. They are DEAD ENDS where WE (writers) are the other white meat. These “paths” are scams. Writing exposure often means we’re just food for the MEGAs’ insatiable hunger for free content.
Writing Exposure: Gamble or Grift? How Can We Tell?
Good question and there are a LOT of grifts going on, which we will systematically tackle in other posts. Today, for the sake of brevity, we’ll talk about the one that burns my tail more than any other and is the most common.
The Blog for Our MEGA & Use Our BIG Name & HUGE Audiences Grift
One of the best ways for writers to create a brand and eventually sell books and make money is to blog. That is a fact. How we go about it, however, makes a HUGE difference. MEGA brands, however, as mentioned in my previous post, keep us writing like it’s 1999.
Often a MEGA will come and say something like, “Hey! We saw your post on BLAH and love it! We want to showcase your talent!”
Beware of flattery.
“It’s easy, too!”
Beware of easy.
Often they will come at you with a plan that sounds like sheer genius. We may have blogged to the ether. We are tired and we’d like some help. We don’t want to go it all alone and are looking for some benevolent force to propel us to a new level…and they know that.
The MEGA might say something like:
“We don’t even expect you to write a new post. Why NOT repurpose something you’ve ALREADY written? We can get it to a larger audience. You can still write on your little blog and get our audience too. It’s a favor…really.”
“AND you get exposed to our audience which is millions! That and you can link back to YOUR blog and BE DISCOVERED!”
Before you get all excited about writing for exposure, ask the next logical question.
How did the MEGA know to contact you in the first place?
Often a MEGA will contact us because our post was doing well enough on its own to get their attention…meaning it can get the attention of OTHERS as well.
The reason this is a grift is the MEGAs know a couple things many writers do not.
First, they understand your content was good enough for people to notice—FOR THEM to notice–and they want to cash in on opportunity. If they can get our work (excellent & FREE bait) on their site, every click on our good work pays THEM MONEY because they’re optimized in a way we can never compete with.
We’re working for exposure while they are paid in cold hard cash.
Secondly, they understand how search engines work. The MEGAs know search engines like Google penalize for duplicate content.
They know it is impossible for a writer to serve two digital masters.
What this means is that if I post a blog here on my blog and then the same post at Huffington…the bigger SEO shark wins.
In fact, even if I wrote two completely different blogs…bigger SEO shark would likely win because they beat me hands down with SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
I cannot compete with an entity that has tens or hundreds of writers putting out new content daily…short of cloning myself.
Anyone googling my name would be far more likely to find the MEGA and not me. The reader clicking on MY content will also PAY the MEGA and NOT me.
By blogging for exposure I am unwittingly cannibalizing my own brand and earning ability while building the ALREADY RICH MEGA….for FREE.
This is where we get smart about writing exposure. If I would’ve simply kept plugging along with the content that got the MEGA’s attention in the first place, I’d KNOW I was doing something right…because THEY WANTED IT.
I’d have confirmation I was on my way to having my own audience on my own site where eventually I’d make money off ads, books, merchandise, etc.
Sure I’m going to work for free but when I go it on my own, FREE is only temporary.
It’s a gamble. We all know this! I will have to work hard, hone my craft, put in a lot of time and work and posts. I’ll have to take risks, try new things, and build my audience.
But THAT is the gamble NOT the grift 😉 .
What about you? What are your thoughts?
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