There was an article in The Guardian last week about Philip Hensher’s refusal to write an introduction to a textbook for free, and Cambridge University in response calling him ungracious.
Apparently its a growing trend to ask authors to present prizes, give speeches and even write for free, and people are surprised when they say no.
I have written for free in the past, but it was for two reasons – first, to get my name known, and second, to learn how to write. But my ultimate aim is to get paid to write, and get paid enough to live on.
I think there’s a belief that all authors are incredibly rich, and have nothing much to do all day. In fact, according to the authors I’ve spoken to, it’s a lot of hard work, for not very much money.
There seems to be this belief that the act of creativity should be a reward in itself, and not offered for money. But the pure act of creativity doesn’t pay the gas bill. As for having a job and being creative in your spare time – that only leads to less creativity. How does anyone have the time to produce a book a year if they’re spending all day at work, and are too tired to write when they get home?
So, I am on Mr Hensher’s side. What we do is time-consuming, skilled work, and we should be rewarded for it, just as any job is rewarded. No-one would ask their bin-man to empty their bins for free, just for the sheer joy of it, would they? I hope what day to be able to earn enough writing to live on, but I’m also expecting to work very hard for that money.
Yes, there is a great feeling in finishing a book. But there is also a great feeling in being able to eat too. Authors really shouldn’t be expected to choose between the two.