So it’s been cropping up on social media and even Humans of New York about the debate that every freelance artist struggles with: do we produce art for “experience” or “exposure,” or do we charge? When does that change happen? It boggles the mind how much general society thinks that those who do something out of passion should be willing to commission something either for free or dirt cheap. Here’s my insight and opinions on the matter.
When is exposure ideal?
I experienced this dilemma during college; I wanted a career surrounding writing and editing so I decided to bump up my resume with career-related internships and projects to say that A) I can do hard things and B) I can still do hard things. This was great for college—but as soon as I graduated I started charging for my work.
For many, editing seems like less of an “art form,” so they can understand that I won’t edit for free. But writing? Somehow that’s completely different. You start adding art, music, photography—anything that is remotely creative and enjoyable—and all of a sudden people don’t want to pay full price.
We do things all the time for exposure, such as blog with advice surrounding our craft, give out sample products, guest blogging, and put our e-books on sale to snatch prospective buyers. But when we are only getting work that is done for free or a fraction of what we’re worth, then it gets frustrating and counter-intuitive.
How much should you charge?
Artists will always have to stand up for their own talents to prove that their work is really worth the asking price. If you have a college degree, then any work related to that degree should definitely be compensated! People won’t consider your time or talents valuable unless you ask for the appropriate fee. If they won’t agree to the fee, then perhaps you are deserving of better clients.
And I should mention that even though you may not have a degree to back up your work, having consistent experience for a few years (three seems like a well-rounded number) proves that you have the skills and credibility to deserve a fair wage.
How do you figure out a fair wage as a freelancer? If you are a writer or editor, there are organizations that can help you determine how much to charge based on word count, hourly work, or your experience so you’re not selling yourself short. For example, as an editor, I refer to the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) because they set the professional freelance bar. If someone feels you’re overpriced, you can show potential clients where you’re getting your numbers. The point is to go into a potential freelance job prepared and informed to back you up.
For artists and musicians, it helps to compare prices with those in your niche or genre. I came up with a price range for my cross stitching samplers by looking at the common price range on Etsy. I set it myself based on the size and complexity of the design I made myself.
How can we turn this around?
As creatives, we can start setting a good example. We may not control the market as much as we like, but we don’t have to slave away with rat-faced jerks that don’t see our work for what it truly is: art. Chuck Wendig summarizes this sentiment well with “Do not be exposed. Expose yourself. NO, NOT LIKE THAT, PULL UP YOUR PANTS. I mean, be in control of how and when you write for free.” He was talking about writers for Huffington post having to agree to write for free so they could accrue experience for future jobs. I’m sorry, I didn’t have much respect for their writing before, and now I definitely have no respect for the brand. Instead of listening to people tell us that our interests and passions “don’t pay,” start talking and collaborating with people who value your work for what it is.
As mentioned before, be assertive about your worth and your price. The right consumers and business partners will gravitate towards you, even if it takes more time.
I would also say: build good karma. Support local business, indie writers, and other freelance creators that are sustaining their families with their own work. It’s an incredible feat; if you love their work, show them some love! Feature them on your blogs or social media, buy their stuff rather wait for it to be half-priced or free, and encourage others to follow your good example. Ironically, it can turn into “exposure” for your own work, and you’ll likely build friendships and relationships that will reward you when it’s your turn to sell.
We shouldn’t have to sell ourselves short because people think what we do is “easy,” “fun,” or “brainless”—because what you and I do isn’t easy, isn’t fun (sometimes), and is mentally exhausting.
Maybe it’s time I step down from my soap box. Do I have this right, or did I leave something out? Are there more obstacles that we as freelance creators have to overcome?