Very recently, I discovered that yet another big-name publishing house is not actually paying its writers, despite being quite a profitable venture. (If you want to read more about it, go here.)
As someone who writes professionally and has for years, and as someone who makes things as a hobby and sometimes for pay, I find myself baffled by the idea that anyone would give their talents away for free — or worse, at a cost to themselves — so that someone else can profit from it.
Don’t get me wrong; if you want to volunteer your time or donate your goods or services, go for it. But don’t do it “for the exposure” because that’s just a fancy way certain companies have of saying “let me exploit you so I can make money.” Make sure you’re doing it for your own reasons and that you have realistic expectations of what you’re going to get out of it. (Hint: getting “exposure” usually means you’re getting taken advantage of and in the end only serves to devalue the work we all do. Please don’t do anything just for the exposure.)
Part of the problem, though, is that in this age of instant gratification where anything you want to buy is a click away on Amazon, books are an instant download within seconds of seeing a review, and seasonal foods are available year round regardless of their proper season or country of origin, many people don’t understand just how very long it takes for things to happen.
Apples are a fall fruit, not a spring one, and it takes years to establish a tree thoroughly enough that it will give you a generous bounty of them. Raspberries bloom fast and furious, then give you an abundance of fruit for a few short weeks before they’re finished for the year and yes, you really do have to wait 11 more months before there will be new ones. A carrot really does take the entire summer to grow big enough to eat. And a Christmas stocking — at least, the way I do them — really does take hours and hours and hours of work before it’s finished.
Every so often, someone will ask me if I would make them a stocking, and even offering to pay for my materials, not understanding that the stocking they so admire and want to have for themselves not only uses $40 worth of materials, it took me 80 hours to finish.
Family members get stockings. Nieces and nephews get stockings. Dear friends who really should be family get stockings.
Random people on Facebook who admire my stockings and want one for themselves? Not unless they’re willing to pay for my time as well as my materials, which they inevitably aren’t.
And then they often get grumpy about it.
I don’t mind them changing their mind and not commissioning a stocking when they find out the price tag has three digits in it, not two. I don’t even mind them questioning why, exactly, I charge so much for such a thing when they can buy simpler ones much cheaper at Walmart.
But I do mind when they get grumpy about it and start saying nasty things about people who have such a high opinion of themselves that they think they can charge hundreds of dollars for what amounts to something a monkey could do.
To them, I ask: When was the last time you gave away 80 hours of work for free?
Not free, they tell me, being willing to pay for the materials and maybe a few dollars extra.
Yes, free, I tell them, knowing that even if they double their initial offer and pay me a whole $40 on top of the cost of materials, that still works out to an hourly wage of about fifty cents an hour, or a grand total of $4 for an 8-hour day’s worth of labour, 10 days in a row.
No, thank you.
Every so often, there’s someone who gets it. Someone who understands that what they’re paying for is one of a kind, crafted by hand, thoughtfully and mindfully and with an abundance of passion. I love those people. I strive to be one of those people when I visit craft fairs and art shows. Even if it means I can’t even begin to be able to afford all the things I want, it ensures that the people who are making the things I so admire will be able to continue to make a living making.
And just maybe, some day, we will realize the folly of devaluing ourselves for a little “exposure,” and treasure once more the art and skill that goes into whatever it is that we choose to do.
In the meantime, I have a new stocking to make for a sweet little nephew who is adored beyond measure. I’m four hours in to the process, and here’s what those four hours look like: