What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing For Money
Whenever someone offers me a job, I think about how they’re going to make money off of what I am doing for them—and how much money that is. They’re not offering me a job out of the goodness of their heart. They have something that needs to be done, and they don’t have the time or the skill or the desire to do it. They want me to do it, and they’re willing to pay me. But they can’t pay me so much that they don’t make money off of what I am doing. If they did, I’d be no use to them.
(I know you know what “working” is but sometimes it helps to spell these things out.)
Writing is a job. It can be easy to forget this because there’s so much free writing. Anyway, words (theoretically) cost money. No one person can write enough to fill a whole publication, so the publication’s money is distributed to several writers who can.
Now, there are many publications that don’t make any money at all. A rich person is paying for the thing to exist, but the rich person got rich before the publication, not through the publication. How did that person get rich? People did work that the rich person did not do; he sold whatever it was they made and then he paid them but he did not pay them all or even close to most of the money he got for whatever he sold. He kept most of it, and now he is using that money to fund a publication. One could feel happy or relived about getting some of this person’s money, and could even express gratitude, but there is no reason to actually feel it.
The point is that when someone offers you money to do a job they are trying to think of what they can pay you and still make money themselves—or how to keep as much of the money they have themselves. You have to think of how to get more of their money. Whatever they offer you is definitely not everything they have. It is just the smallest amount they think you will take to do the job they want you to do.
Keep this in mind the next time you are discussing working for someone. I am not thinking of any one person as I write this. I have not been wronged in any special way. I am just talking about how things are, and how, given that things are this way, one might reasonably conduct themselves.