Why are authors called upon to work for free, for “exposure” when no one else would?

I am dead certain that you’ve heard the phrase “consider the exposure”, particularly when you’re an author (or a musician, etc.) It’s been less than two weeks that I was approached by someone who felt that  my writing was good/interesting enough to be featured in a magazine. Pay? Yeah right!

No, it would be good exposure for me. I’ve done this a few times, I’ve allowed blogs, online magazines and even papers use my writing. I’ve yet to be paid, and there have been great articles about this by people more famous than I am, e.g. Wil Wheaton’s article about the Huffington Post, the biggest leech of them all.

But even within our smaller circle, in the writing / publishing community, everybody gets paid. My cover artist wouldn’t dream of working for free, neither do editors or proof readers. And my publisher takes a percentage of all sales to get paid (although, and this should be mentioned here, they also take the risk of publishing a book that won’t sell!) When I organize a book tour, I pay, when I ask my publicist for help in getting some PR for a book, I pay. I pay for my swag, I pay for the imagery and the sounds I use in my trailers. Yet for some odd reason, that which is at the heart of it all, the book, the story, is often expected to be given away for free.

Happy Valentine's Day. Exposure? I don't know, but I always credit photographers who provide images I need for free. Photo: Wikipedia / m01229

Happy Valentine’s Day. Exposure? I don’t know, but I always credit photographers who provide images I need for free under CC. Photo: Wikipedia / m01229

This past weekend, I gave away a book of mine, as a Valentine’s Day gift. I wanted to do people a favor, you know, be nice? I had ONE caveat (and it wasn’t a caveat really), I wanted the subscribers of my newsletter to supply me with an e-mail address to the person who’d be on the receiving end of the book. In other words, I wanted my readers to give the book to someone else, in the true spirit of Valentine’s Day. Being who I am, I also said that I’d copy the giver (and you all know how e-mail works, right, basically ensuring that BOTH would get the book.) It’s who I am.

Yet the third e-mail to reach me was an incomplete sentence: “Please send your E-book for me if you are” I looked at it a couple of times before filing it away. I responded kindly the next day.

I’ll be honest with you, I was angry at first, and I was a little hurt. Here I had come up with a way to make a few (remember that only about 2% of the people on my not so humongous e-mail list ever respond) people happy, and the feedback from those who did receive the gift was overwhelmingly positive:

“Hans you and momma don’t know how much you made me cry when I opened my email. Thank you so much!”

It is for messages like the one above that I do what I do. But if you can’t even be bothered to nominate someone?

Gimme, gimme, gimme may be my favorite song of all times, the intro is guaranteed to drive tears to my eyes (long story!), but when it comes to real life, I’m tired. Last year was a good year for me, as an author. I sold more books than ever before, yet a closer look at those numbers show that the main reason I sold so many books was due to the fact that most of the books “sold” were actually books we’d given away, for free.

My bookbub for the Opera House was a huge success, for my readers! ;)

My bookbub for the Opera House was a huge success, for my readers! 😉

I’m sure you’ve heard of Bookbub, this gigantic e-mail list that makes authors’ mouths water at the mere mention. I managed to get a deal in, for The Opera House, and it was a HUGE success. I could’ve never even imagined how many books got downloaded in the two weeks the book was available for a (yes) free download. Did it impact my sales numbers overalls (the reason why we do this?) That remains to be seen. I had sold more the quarter before than the quarter after… But with tens of thousands of people having downloaded the book, I remain hopeful that over time, those readers will return and buy more of my books.

Bookbub offers a great deal (and they charge handsomely, mind you, no “exposure” there), and it goes straight to the heart of what people love the most, a deal, free, or at least super cheap. I mean, honestly, 99¢ for a novel? That’s a steal. We all have loads more coins lying around the house than that. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are a lot of people who cannot afford to buy books, there are a lot of people who struggle to make their living.

But why does that have to be my problem? You won’t get to buy a gallon of milk for exposure just because you can’t afford it, Public Transport won’t let you ride if you can’t pay, and you no insurance company will insure you for free. Yet books, music and films are often considered public property by the same people who’d turn on their heels if they were expected to work for free, for exposure. Minimum $15 wage anyone? To write and publish a book is a task that takes HUNDREDS if not THOUSANDS of hours for an author. Yet 99% of us can never even come close to that sum.

I’m not bitter, I’m not even angry, and I’m not sure there is a solution for this conundrum. Because, just like all people, I have a choice. I don’t have to give my books or texts away. I do it to help, and because I believe that poor people ARE my problem, and because I feel that I have a duty to help if I can. And I’m not complaining that I have to pay for my editors (I pay for the quality) or my cover artist (she’s among the best.) If people were to work for free for me, I’d feel obligated, in debt. Not sure I’d like that. Then again, maybe not everybody ticks like I do?

Hans M Hirschi

My official author photo by John O’Leary. Yes, he was paid for his work. 😉 John is an extremely talented photographer, and I absolutely adore his photos of Hawai’i!

I’ve noticed that authors (I can’t really talk about other groups of artists as I don’t know them well enough) are a special group of people. Many of us give a lot, be it a % of our revenue, or giving books to libraries, or those in need. We are socially engaged. Personally, I am lucky. I can work full time, supported by my family. Not all of us are this privileged, so I continue to give, to the Red Cross every month, I give the royalties of my “Christmas Story” to charity etc. And I will continue to give to my readers. However, when I ask YOU to give, the least you can do is show enough respect to give  some thought to whom you might be able to bring some joy. If you can’t even be bothered with that, move on, go elsewhere…

Exposure is great, we all need it, but 99.99% of the projects I support give me little to no exposure, certainly not that I’ve ever noticed. I doubt that even the Huffington Post is providing their writers the exposure they were hoping for, because after all, today’s news are tomorrow’s old news. Nobody reads old news. So the next time someone wants you to help out for free, for this amazing exposure, ask for proof. I don’t mind helping, but I also don’t care much for bullshitting. If you expect me to help you out of the goodness of my heart, by all means, be honest, but exposure? Tell me how or move on, go elsewhere…

Friends, what is your take on this? How often are you asked for freebies? How do you decide what to do and what not?

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Have a wonderful week.



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