But, at the same time, I cannot possibly keep silent about this. More of us, whether amateur or professional, should be upset about the state of the industry. Why we have bent over and taken such lousy pay and treatment for so long without open revolt is astonishing. We’ve put up with it for decades. This is not an issue that began with the invention of Craigslist or the Internet; it has existed, in some capacity, since the dawn of modern publishing. The Internet has only created a fast-paced, flooded market that has little interest in what is good for writers—it is understandable that employers are interested in their bottom line and not in the ability of a writer to be able to eat. The endlessness of this issue, however, means that writers have not done enough to demand better, and perhaps now it is too late. True, there have been recent upsets in the industry, most notably the screenwriter’s strike that involved Harlan Ellison himself, a man who, while certainly angry and difficult to deal with, has earned his place as both a fantastic writer and a spokesman for writers everywhere. We should be so bold as to take up his mantle in all aspects of the industry.
But, we’re not that bold. A handful of us will do what I am doing here: complain on blogs, websites, or even podcasts. That handful cannot possibly change things on their own. It requires greater action from movers and shakers in the industry.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not calling for a drastic adjustment of payment levels in the writing and editing world. I know this is impossible. The industry and writers themselves have developed a system that openly exploits writers who either don’t know any better or have subjected themselves to the mindset that doing a bit of “charity” work is what it takes to get anywhere in the industry. That mindset exists because it is now true. John Scalzi has waxed lyrical about the changes in publishing internships to highlight this mindset: the publisher isn’t going to pay if the writer/worker/editor/etc. is willing to take next to nothing for hard work.
And yet, writing this, I get the sense that anything I say on this topic is pointless, just as anything Harlan Ellison might say, however articulate and true, will amount to nothing whatsoever—except, perhaps, resentment or hatred against him, wholly unearned. Writers and editors, it seems, must accept their fates. We have to scrounge at the bottom, some of us because we actually like it there (after all, sometimes there are jobs that you simply do because you like them, not because you want to be paid), and some of us because we have no other choice. We can’t possibly demand what we have not rightfully “earned.” Never mind that someone wanting to be a manager at any business, with rare exception, at least makes minimum wage by working at the bottom. I suppose “freelance” translates to “above the purview of the Federal Government.”
I see a problem with that. Do you?