If you’re a freelancer working with anything to do with publishing—and that includes games—this is for you. I want to take about you getting paid. Maybe it’s cold hard cash or some good old fashioned barter, but you should get compensated for your work. This isn’t an exhaustive guide to payment concerns, but it is a few things to think about when you’re new to working in publishing.
People Die From Exposure
There will be people who tell you that working for them will get you “great exposure.” That it’ll put your name out there, and show others what sort of talent you have. These are the people who will chronically follow that up with the words “non-paying.” This is a common problem in the fiction side of publishing.
Ann Leckie did a great piece in June that covers a lot of my own feelings about unpaid writing gigs. They aren’t inherently evil. But it is beyond not okay when those publishers conceal that they don’t pay, or employ manipulative language to avoid paying authors and artists whenever possible. Paid in exposure is the sort of phrase that comes out of publishers who will take advantage of you. There are plenty of publications and companies who will pay you. Many won’t pay you as much as a pro with a long career, or have the budget built up to pay you much. But they will pay. Same advice goes for artists, and anyone else trying to make it in publishing.
People die from exposure. Do not be one of those people.
Listen to Mike and Katie
Mike Monteiro Design Director, and co-founder of Mule Design Studio. In 2011 he did a talk called “F*ck You. Pay Me.” I’ve had the video bookmarked ever since. It’s casual and it’s got some swearing, but Mike gives great examples and good advice about the why and how of getting a contract in place. If people balk at paying you, that contract is a huge part of how it’s going to happen. You have skills, you were hired to use them. You should be getting paid. Do not be demure about getting paid.
While we’re on the topic of getting paid, the importance of contracts, and being compensated what your worth: go check out Katie Lane’s website. She’s a great lawyer out here on the West Coast, and she is a treasure trove of advice to freelancers via her website. The business side of what you do as a creative professional is something you can’t ignore. Her site is worth the read, and I’ve learned a lot from her blog about being paid fairly.
Some companies will offer internships, often without compensation. This often looks like a great deal. You’ll be interning with a publisher, getting experience, learning about the industry. Ideally, you’ll even have have new things in your portfolio when you’re done. It’s easy for a company to take advantage of new talent via internships. I think that many internship programs are predatory, because they’re using interns in the same ways they’d use a regular employee, without paying them or offering them benefits. Before you consider an internship, you should weigh how important it is to you to take that internship. Journalism non-profit ProPublica had a piece run last month on when it’s okay to not pay interns. You might be surprised by the answer.
If you’re taking an internship with a for-profit company, and they A) want you to do it unpaid ORB) for below minimum wage for your locationRead that ProPublica article before you say yes. If it doesn’t meet the Department of Labor criteria for an internship, saying no doesn’t mean you’ll never work in the industry. It means you chose to not be part of a company doing something illegal.
Sometimes Barter is Cool
Working for something other than cash can still end happily: it’s called barter. When I started in publishing, I was selling books at con booths for the first few years. I was content to work a few shifts at a booth and get books in return. But barter can scale upward in time and value.
One of the projects I edited was done as barter. The hours I’d put into that book were rewarded later with a cover for one of my own projects. Between what I’d have been charging for the edit, and what that cover probably would have cost me, I’m pretty satisfied with how that barter turned out. I have a number of friends who I commonly swap copy editing and proof reading time with. I try not to abuse that casual and useful connection, and we form a competent pool of editors who often redline each other’s writing. If I’m on a tight, harsh deadline, I try to add something to that agreed barter. Small gift card, coffee, a book, something that says I appreciate what they did for me. I’ve had similar gestures come my way, and that barter setup is one I’m cool with. It works for me and the other folks involved.
I’ve watched friends barter editing hours on big projects, layout favors, even web design and art. Barter may not be about cold, hard cash, but at its heart it’s still about fair compensation. Both parties get something they wanted and needed. And equally important, is that they got it for terms they agreed to.
Today’s title is a nod to the excellent comic Married To The Sea, and the strip they ran on 02-13-06, “got to get paid.” You can find it their archive, by scrolling to the bottom of this page. If you have beloved videos, articles or websites of use to new (and not so new) freelancers, leave ‘em in the comments!