“So, I have this idea for a book.” If you’re a writer, an editor, or a publisher, you’ve heard this one before. I’ve heard it dozens — maybe one hundred — times. It’s the common follow-up to my answer to the question “What do you do?” It doesn’t matter that I usually reply with “I work in educational publishing” or “I edit kids’ books.” Any mention of the word “publishing” and suddenly somebody is telling me his or her brilliant idea for a post-Apocalyptic zombie novel or the next (but so much better) Fifty Shades of Grey.
I’m not complaining. I like these exchanges. I love hearing about people’s artistic aspirations and learning about the ideas that percolate in their heads. As Neil Gaiman once wrote, “You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.” I love hearing stories about how people transmit these ideas to a page.
It’s the question that inevitably follows that I don’t look forward to. “Do you mind taking a quick look?” As an editor, I’m trained to be critical. I’m trained to dissect words and their meanings, and this is rarely a quick task. But here’s the thing. A lot of times I do the thing I know I shouldn’t do. I say yes.
I’m the first to chime in against unpaid internships. When WestJet solicited local musicians to play free concerts, billing it as a “performance opportunity,” I was livid. Yet, I’ve written blog posts, classified ads, copyedited menus, and taken a “quick look” at proposals, grant applications, and essays all in the name of friendship.
This article is starting to feel like a confessional.
As writers, editors, and publishers, for the most part, we do what we do because we love doing it. But writing and editing aren’t our hobbies. They’re our careers. And in order for them to be valued that way, we (I!) need to say no.
A few weeks ago, a friend asked me to read a short story she had written, and I found myself apologizing for accepting her cheque. Her response was perfect.
“I truly believe people should be paid for their work.”
And she was right. Words have power, and being paid for writing or editing words is essential.
Speaking of words with power, Tom Kreider perfectly summed up why we need to say no to working for free in his 2013 editorial “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!”
“Do it for your colleagues, your fellow artists, because if we all consistently say no they might, eventually, take the hint. It shouldn’t be professionally or socially acceptable — it isn’t right — for people to tell us, over and over, that our vocation is worthless.”
Writer and editor Jessica Rose was born and raised in Burlington, but escaped the suburbs to become a proud Hamiltonian living in the downtown core. Since earning a degree in journalism from Carleton University, she has written for a number of publications across Canada, including THIS, Ricepaper, Broken Pencil, H, and rabble.ca. She is currently a committee member of gritLIT, Hamilton’s Literary festival. She also writes the “Shelf Life” column which appears in every issue of Hamilton Magazine. Jessica edits children's books by day, and writes book reviews by night, many of which appear on her personal blog at www.notmytypewriter.com.