Let’s Talk About: Exposure vs What You’re Entitled To

The dreaded ‘E’-word…

The vast majority of writers write for free. Read that again. For free. Am I talking crap? Nope. Because when we sit down to write a short story, or a novella, or a novel, most of us aren’t being paid to do it. What’s truly incredible about writing is that most of us give up time in which we could be earning money to spend time doing something we might not be paid for. Ever. I’ve got a whole bunch of short stories, sitting on my hard drive, which I’ll probably never be paid for, because they’re crap. Does that mean that the time spent writing them was wasted time? Nope. Does that mean that they are valuable, in and of themselves? Of course – but not in the monetary sense.

For instance, an utter noob has to begin somewhere, and while you might look back on your earliest attempts at writing and scream in horror, don’t. Comparison is an incredible teacher, folks – so hang onto those stories, even if you’re probably not going to re-write or re-visit them, because their value is incredible.

Are those stories good enough to earn you some money? Probably not. Come on, be honest. Being able to write a story (however short or long) doesn’t equate to being able to write a story that folks will be willing to pay for. I started out submitting to venues that didn’t pay a cent, because I wanted to get my work out there. I wanted my work to be seen and read. I wanted folks to know that I wasn’t just talking about a dream, but was actively pursuing the dream. And I don’t for a second regret not getting paid for those early stories, because they simply weren’t good enough.

It is, unfortunately, a realization many writers seemed to have utterly bypassed. We simply don’t start out as good writers. We start as terrible writers, and we learn. In most cases, who earns the money for teaching? The teacher. Children don’t get paid to go to school – so why should we get paid to learn how to write? Or to teach ourselves how to write?

Before you begin frothing and spitting, let me continue. 🙂

After my first couple of stories were published, unpaid (and here I focus on the monetary aspect; being given a free ebook is payment in and of itself, when you’re a noob), I began looking for venues which would pay me for a publication-accepted story. I didn’t just submit and then froth and rage when if a tale was accepted and I didn’t get money for it. Sounds stupid, right? I mean, who would do that? Submit to a venue expecting payment, without checking to see if the venue paid?

Well, I would be really surprised if this didn’t happen. After all, many, many writers can’t even follow submission guidelines, so it stands to reason that they’ll expect payment without checking… 🙂

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is this: you begin writing for free -not only for exposure, but to learn– and you gradually build up to being a writer worth being paid. That makes sense, right?

Of course it does. 🙂

So, what am I saying with this post? It’s simple, really – exposure has its place, and its uses.

BUT… (there’s always a big but)

Don’t forget what ‘exposure’ means – or what it should mean. Today’s writing landscape is incredibly, continuously cut-throat. And on many different levels. New writers are constantly trying to break into the industry, whether by querying agents, posting to wattpad (which also has its uses), self-publishing, submitting to anthologies, etc. That means that your game has to be utterly exceptional if you want to land the big deal and, let’s face it, your work isn’t. Your work has the ability to become exceptional, but no matter how many of your family or friends tell you it is, it isn’t.

The only way to get outside opinions of your work is by getting your work out there, and in the beginning, that usually means not being paid at all. Exposure. Unfortunately, though, and in most cases, that ‘exposure’ isn’t useful, is it? You’re not getting anything out of it, not even mentions in reviews (if the work gets reviewed, that is…). So, how do you go about getting ‘exposure’ while also upgrading your writing skills?

Join writer’s groups and communities where people read and critique each others work, for one; basically everyone in such a group is looking to improve, and since you’ll be ‘exposing’ your work to a wider audience and learning from their critiques and stories, that’s the kind of exposure you want. Not monetary exposure, but valuable exposure. There are plenty such groups on Facebook, and even Twitter has a groups going. The two big things about these kinds of groups are reciprocation and respect, so don’t join up thinking that you’ll get critiques of your work if you’re not willing or able to critique the work of others.

That kind of ‘exposure’ is what you should be looking for. 🙂

Getting exposure by having stories published by venues which don’t pay can also be a useful thing, though. Hear me out! Yes, you didn’t receive a cent and you signed an exclusive contract but (there’s that pesky thing again) you’re now on that specific editor’s radar. Being on an editor’s radar is extremely valuable, folks. Now, I’m not saying, ‘Keep on submitting to that editor / venue, and make peace with not being paid for your work,’ – what I’m getting at is that you should keep in mind that one editor, at least, accepted your work, remember that editor, and move on. After a while, you might see that the editor is in charge of a paying gig, and you might have something suitable to submit, and hey, if your tale is accepted, and you get paid for it, remember what led you to that sale: exposure.

Now, if you continue to submit your stories to venues which don’t offer payment, and your writing career stalls, that’s no-one’s fault but your own. If you want to get paid for your work, submit your work to venues which can pay, BUT (what an evil word, eh?) keep in mind that your work needs to constantly improve. No-one writes to the best of their ability from that first pen-to-paper / fingers-to-keyboard moment. No one.

Keep on writing, keep on reading, grow your craft, keep ticking off those levels, keep rising higher than you did before – use exposure. Don’t let it use you.

And just so everyone reading this knows: this blog post is based entirely on my experience, and no-one’s experience will be the same. Some people use writers groups and critiquing to gain exposure; others submit to non-paying venues for exposure. The kind of exposure you’re after, and what you, as a writer, seek to gain, is what’s important here.

So, don’t knock exposure. Use it to grow and learn.

Until next time,