Giving It All Away – Is it worth it, working for free?
Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know me from the British Fantasy Society or the Terror Scribes. I’ve co-edited Prism (but who in the BFS hasn’t over the years? If you haven’t, ask to see the list. They may say there’s no list, but trust me, there’s a list. And you’re on it.) I’m currently the Graphic Novels Reviews Editor for the BFS Journal. And in recent years at FantasyCon, whenever there’s a panel on comics, (usually at some ungodly hour like 9.30am), I seem to be on it.
But the way I see it, working on spec is a part and parcel of the writer’s life. It’s a lucky writer indeed who never has to work up a pitch, never has to write a detailed outline for a book that never ends up going anywhere, or never put a stroke of effort into a project that just didn’t pan out, for one reason or another. Giving away some of your work is just one of the building bricks towards getting that sustainable career, surely?
It never ceases to amaze me the generosity of professional writers and artists to do favours for friends and passing acquaintances by doing what is basically their day job, for free. I’ve come to rely upon it during my time publishing comics through Factor Fiction. While I’d love to be able to pay contributors, we’ve never made any profit after paying for printing and table costs at conventions. But contributors have always known that going in, and we’ve always operated a policy of letting copyright remain with the creators, so if there is ever an opportunity to reuse the work elsewhere, they are free to do so, with our blessing. And if our comics help to raise the profile of the creator to help them get that paying gig, well, we’re happy to have done our part. We’ve made so many great friends through our comics. And it’s led to a number of opportunities that we’d otherwise never have had, and ironically, these other opportunities have been more lucrative than the comics ever were! I’ve chaired panels on comics for Leicester Libraries, run workshops, Selina has spoken to students on crime in comics as part of their degree course. Both of us have been invited to be part of the judging panel for The Eagles Initiative, a new spin-off from the famous British comic awards, focusing on discovering new talent.
On the minus side, all this editing and plate-spinning takes time away from our own writing, so we’ve scaled back on all things editorial to focus more on that side of things. We joined a local writing group – The Speculators, and have been flexing our prose muscles for all they’re worth. The Speculators were able to get funding to produce a newspaper containing stories by the members. Gave that away too, as part of the goody bag at Alt Fiction last year. And you can still get hold of an electronic edition here: http://leicesterspeculators.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/the-speculator/ See, there I go, giving stuff away again. I can sense Harlan’s disapproval from here.
He is the editor of Violent! and publisher of The Girly Comic for Factor Fiction. [http://www.factorfictionpress.co.uk] He edited and published several Doctor Who anthologies for charity, designed the Obverse Press logo and the cover for The Obverse Book of Ghosts. His comics have appeared all over, from Image Comics to Constable & Robinson’s Mammoth Book of Best New Manga. He was News Features Editor for the award-winning Borderline magazine. He organises Britain’s longest running comic convention, Caption and sometimes gets paid, but hasn’t yet managed to make a habit of it.