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Never Write for Exposure, and Other Illogical Advice

If you are an active part of just about any community of writers online you ill surely have heard the bad advice that one should never write for exposure.

As the falsism goes, writers should always be paid for their work, otherwise they are being taken advantage of.

I was reminded of this piece of ill-considered advice today while reading a piece on LitReactor. That piece focused on exceptions to the rule that should never write for exposure, which was good, but it also lead with:

If you’ve been doing the writing thing for more than three days, chances are someone has already told you never to give your work away for free. Whoever told you that is absolutely right. Exposure is something you die from. The day you go to the grocery store and the cashier tells you they’re now accepting exposure as payment, then go ahead and expose yourself like that creep by the park rocking the trench coat. If that hasn’t happened yet, make sure you get paid. You should always get something in return for your ideas, time, effort, and talent. Is that clear?

While I respect the OP for listing exceptions, he is still wrong for accepting the basic premise.

The problem with saying that one should never write for exposure is that it happens all the time. Business people write for exposure to attract new customers, authors write for exposure to attract an audience and sell books, and writers write for exposure to get their next gig.

It is marketing 101, and in fact every single self-pub guru, and every single marketing flack will give advice that, when you break it down, tells authors to write for exposure.

Every tweet you send, every Facebook update you post, and every guest blog post you write in support of your writing career?

All of that is writing for exposure, and as my mother just reminded me so is making the first book in a series perma-free (a practice followed by almost all fiction authors).

Or, if that’s not writing for exposure then what would you call it?

I would really like an answer to that question, because when I look at regular everyday author marketing I see a lot of writing for exposure going on.

And just to be clear, I am not arguing that authors should do all their work for free (although I am sure some idiot will misinterpret my words to that effect). My point is that I see writing for exposure happening every day, and I don’t understand why so many rail against the practice – including on Twitter, where the tweets about not writing for exposure are examples of writing for exposure.

Could someone tell me what I’m missing?

image by sylvar

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Michael W Lucas May 10, 2017 um 9:16 pm

As with many rules of thumb, this is shorthand for a more complicated thing. I pay the mortgage with my books. Here’s my rules on exposure.

– I’ll write for me for exposure.
– If someone else makes money on my writing, I want my cut.

I will write for free as charity contributions, or for causes I believe in. But that’s a different thing.

If you’re making money on my writing: pay me in cash.

Bill Peschel May 10, 2017 um 9:42 pm

The answer is this: "Writing for exposure" is a simple, easy way to avoid the harder question of "how can I earn money with my writing?"

That assumes that your writing and thinking is good enough to be worth paying for. If it is not, then you have to get better. You have to admit that you’re not there yet. You have to learn how to get better, and seek out feedback for your work.

That puts your ego on the line, and who wants to do that? Who wants to expose yourself to criticism?

So you "write for exposure." You write to get your name out. You write to become better known.

You write to avoid admitting that you’re not good enough to be worth money.

Meryl Yourish May 10, 2017 um 11:38 pm

I think the examples you cite are all examples of writing for free for yourself. The "do it for the exposure" problem comes in when someone wants you to write for them but accept nothing in payment but the chance that people will read your words and then buy your books. Or writing a nonfiction piece for someone else, who won’t pay you, will give you the opportunity to build your portfolio so you can get paying gigs. Yeah, no.

My time is worth money, and the older I get, the more valuable my time is. As Harlan Ellison says, pay the effing writer.

JONATHAN SORENSEN May 11, 2017 um 12:31 am

As an internet idiot, I will purposefully take your words out of context and use them for my own devious purposes, and will listen to nobodies opinions that are the least bit different than my own!

A nice piece. I agree, whatever terminology is used, ALL type of writing need marketing to get that writing seen by it audience. Otherwise it’s just writing in a vacuum. Pretty much what I do really – all my writing are unpaid hobby blogs. But I still have to try and find ways to reach out to any potential audience. So far online networks for my niches are rather fickle and hostile and not interested.

Harvey May 11, 2017 um 6:21 am

Never. What enables you to skirt the issue by the skin of your teeth is "never." Most of the examples you cite as writing for exposure are writing for advertising. The spirit of "don’t write for exposure" is "don’t give away your work." And you know it. Or am I "msising" something?

Nate Hoffelder May 11, 2017 um 12:16 pm

I’m not skirting the issue at all.

Exposure is advertising. Advertising is exposure. They’re the same thing.

Sure, there are many situations where the exposure has no net benefit, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re one and the same.

Chris Meadows May 15, 2017 um 7:56 pm

The funny thing is that every time someone complains about people blogging for free, they never seem to be able to tell them where they could do it to get paid instead. Sites that have tried to do that, like Themestream, ended up burning through all their cash and going under.

Meanwhile, lots of people write for themselves for fun. Even I’ve been known to write stories on Internet fiction sites, just for the enjoyment of it. One of these days I should figure out how to write something for money instead…

Nate Hoffelder May 16, 2017 um 12:29 pm

Do you know what I am getting from this comment section?

It is that the phrase "writing for exposure" has negative connotations even though the activity is quite common. The negativity is so bad that people are splitting hairs in attempts to deny that an activity is actually writing for exposure, only under a different name.

William Ockham January 15, 2018 um 1:51 pm

I think we might find more agreement if the "write for exposure" discussion went like this:

If you are a professional writer (and that means you have earned money from writing something) and an act of "writing for exposure" is part of your long-term career plan, that’s cool.

If you are a professional writer or aspire to be a professional writer and someone approaches you with an "opportunity to write for exposure", chances are good that they are ripping you off.

If you are an amateur writer, that’s cool, too.

Nate Hoffelder January 15, 2018 um 3:56 pm

I think we can all agree on not dealing with people who pressure, nag, or bully you into "doing it for the exposure", yes.

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