by Keidra Chaney & Raizel Liebler
We are often asked for advice from those starting out in writing and digital publishing, often from those that are now referred to as millennials. So here is our bad advice from two women with long careers of varying success in writing and publishing:
First off, you are valuable, regardless of whether you are paid what you deserve.
Yes, you are.
The economy and workplaces are so different than they used to be.
Anyone who last did job searching before 2008 may not full understand know how things work now. There are fields that have for the most part stayed the same – such as medicine – but that’s not our speciality. What this means is that, in many fields, most of the people offering you advice, like asking for informational interviews (“I know someone who was able to break into that field by standing on his head!”) are offering you well-meaning pointlessness.
Don’t ask “to pick someone’s brain”!
That’s disgusting – are you a neurosurgeon? What “picking brains” means is that you want to take from someone, their knowledge and skill, and not pay them. If you have questions for someone, ask them directly – and if you think their time and expertise is valuable, offer to pay. If you don’t have the money to pay, at least tell them that you know that their time and expertise are valuable. And us old ladies do know when someone is trying to get a freebie – and who can’t pay.
Decide what is truly important to you – and make your decisions based on that.
We understand why so many of the youths of today (we are old, after all!) go on spring break and do lots of other stuff that we were never inclined to do. It’s hard to plan for a future that none of us are sure will get here.
So if you don’t really want to go to grad school, but you want to move to Miami, do that. Everyone does bull!@#$, but plan out so you get to focus on what matters to you. It doesn’t matter what the important thing or things to you are – they could be family, a creative passion, or a location, but that should be your focus.
Notice this isn’t saying “follow your passion” platitude. You will need to compromise, so figuring out what is most important to you is essential.
A job is not your family.
Family can be chosen – there are communities of identity based around this idea. But your job is not your family. Lots of jobs now act as if they are “family” but family doesn’t mean leaving you out of stock options and the possibility of being fired (unless it is a closely held family company – and still then there is the business and there is family overlapping, but they are not the same). Jobs come and go.
Family of origin or choice ideally means connections based around caring and love. Jobs ideally mean getting paid and doing something that you think is valuable. Don’t confuse them.
It’s ok to put everything out there. It’s ok to keep things to yourself.
There is so much pressure to sell oneself by crafting an online presence. If that is something you want to do, go ahead, with the realization that things can later be dug up. No, just live and record what you want. We aren’t sure.
Take care of yourself (and those you care about) first.
You are not your job. You are a person, who is imperfect as we all are – and will get ill. Especially if you are paid hourly, you might view taking sick time as stealing from yourself. Don’t. Take care of yourself!
If you are a person of difference at work, you will likely be put on the spot in some way – to appear in every work photo, asked in a public space for what all people who are [what you are] think, and more. Remember that not everyone goes through this, but many people that are not just like you also go through this. Seek those people out at your job and elsewhere – and support each other. Sometimes all you have at a destructive workplace or field is the knowledge that you aren’t alone.
But we reiterate – take care of yourself!
Q: What should I do if I’m writing about my experience as a X or how I went through Z?
It is likely you aren’t being paid anything for this. Is someone else making bank on your work? Likely yes, and it was sold as “exposure”, but can exposure pay back your student loans? If hateful people decide to attack you for what you’ve put out there, is the publication going to protect you – or just be glad that there were so many clicks?
Our advice is that if you do want to write personal essays that you either write on your own website or blog, where you can determine if you want to leave up your raw writings, not a publisher. Had some time or distance and want your personal writing to be more public? Seek out a publication that both has the right audience and has tough editors. Editors have helped us out so much with our writing – and can make your just-fine writing into something excellent.
Q: Should I only write if I get paid?
We know writers and journalists that do not create anything unless they get paid. We respect that! There are some that we have reached out to on behalf of TLF who have responded that they will only write for us if they are paid, but at present we don’t have that type of funding. Instead of being annoyed, we hope to eventually have the funds to publish them.
And as writers, we have both been paid for our writing – and not. Academic writing is definitely the worst when it comes to payment – assume that if it is in a scholarly journal, it won’t pay – and in some circumstances you will need to pay to have it published. [Hint: If you have interest in publishing in law reviews, go for it – you can submit to multiple journals simultaneously – and there isn’t an author charge!]
Q: If I’m not getting paid for my writing – or getting paid a tiny amount what should I ask for?
Try to retain rights in your creative output. Do your best to not assign over everything to the publisher; if you aren’t even getting paid, why also give up all of your control over your work? Ideally, you retain copyright in your work, but if not, at least hold on to the right for you to reuse your own work elsewhere. Lots of academics don’t do this, so if you do so, you’ll be a step ahead of them.
A final thought.
This is bad advice after all; we won’t notice if you don’t follow it!