Pay the Writers (and other ideas on the potential of the Internet)

by Andrea Hoff


Emerging Writers

MONA museum and the Digital Writers’ panel with Kelly-lee Hickey and Jennifer Mills
Day One at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Hobart Roadshow

The Internet is not only a place of connectivity, it is also a place that is constantly morphing and changing. That is something as writers we can use to our advantage. If we can use the Internet in solidarity, we have the ability to change the current conversation.

This was one of the main themes discussed by writers Jennifer Mills and Kelly-lee Hickey during their panel discussion at the Digital Writers Conference — part of the Emerging Writers Festival — on October 31, 2013 at the MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart, Tasmania. The topic of the panel was the Internet and social media as tools for writers—but the conversation quickly turned to a recent article by Tim Kreider in the New York Times titled “Slaves of the Internet Unite.”

In his article, Kreider paints a pretty bleak picture for freelance writers looking for paid work—especially in online publications (a growing trend many of us are all too familiar with).

He concludes, “So I’m writing this not only in the hope that everyone will cross me off the list of writers to hit up for free content but, more important, to make a plea to my younger colleagues. As an older, more accomplished, equally unsuccessful artist, I beseech you, don’t give it away.”

Mills and Hickey framed these ideas into their discussion.

As writers, they work across multiple genres but share roots in activism and activist culture. And it is in activism that they find their critique of the current situation and their optimism in overcoming it.

Their discussion could have easily focussed on their own experiences with unpaid work offered in exchange for the illustrious carrot of exposure (and they both do have their tales to tell). However, Mills and Hickey offered a different narrative on the potential for the Internet—as an online community of writers as activists.

“It’s because many writers are community minded,” stated Hickey, “that we are so ripe for exploitation. There is definitely a place for volunteer activities but that is very different from being exploited.” It’s the difference between choosing to work for free and no longer having the option. They presented the case that the desire to create community (inherent in many writers) is a point of strength, one that we can use to leverage toward fair pay.

Inspiring as the ideas are to freelancers, equally exciting is the fact that Mills and Hickey had this conversation in front of a packed room in (just in case you missed it) Hobart, Tasmania. (Yes, Tasmania, Australia!)

This a not conversation limited by geography (if it ever was) but one that is now spilling across all kinds of media, gaining the greatest momentum on the very platform it critiques—the Internet.

Mills, in a practical example of “the writer as activist”, founded Pay the Writers, a tumblr and twitter feed (@paythewriters) which has been gaining exposure (and traffic) within Australia and internationally. If you haven’t heard about Pay the Writers, Jennifer Mills explains it here in an interview with Australian literary journal Overland.

At the completion of the panel discussion, the room opened up for questions. A young writer in the audience stood up and asked, “I still don’t understand how you know when you’ve written enough to start charging for your work?”

Both Hickey and Mills related experiences in their own writing careers to answer the question but an equally good summary of what they said can be found on a comment posted on Pay the Writers by Kate Larson, Director of Writers Victoria (Australia).

“Editors, publishers and organisations need to challenge ourselves and our colleagues to ensure that free writing is a gift that writers can choose to bestow rather than an expectation of the industry…”

Two weeks after the festival closed, Jennifer Mills sent me an email: “All of this has been blowing up a bit in Aus at present as some freelancers took a stand against a publication. Here’s their open letter. An interesting test case in the effectiveness of this kind of action.”


Follow-up links:

– The Emerging Writers Festival website

– A link to magazine pay rates in Australia (a number of the magazines accept international submissions)

@WhoPaysWriters Twitter feed for US (and some UK) publications that pay writers

– Pay the Writers tumblr (currently run by Hila Shachar)

– An excellent forum for even more digital writing links and ideas

– Link to a film by Joel Checkley of The Digital Writers Festival


Andrea Hoff is a writer and graphic novelist living in Vancouver, BC. Her nonfiction writing has been published in the Tyee, Room magazine, Geist’s Memory festival, and in the architectural publication Future Social. Her comics can be seen in Broken Pencil, 5×5, Display Canadian Design, This Great Society, and in the recent Australian anthology The Emerging Writer.


Posted on November 28, 2013 at 9:15 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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