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Notes on Saying No & on Asserting Your Worth

Let’s return to two topics we’ve discussed here on more than one occasion.

Let’s return to them because some of us need to learn some important lessons or because we need to have our professional stances reaffirmed and reinforced. A couple of recent anecdotes from my own professional life will, I hope, motivate you to either develop your own policies or motivate you to stick to them.

1. Saying “No, thank you” to “opportunities.”
Over the past six months or so, I’ve received a growing number of requests to sit on or moderate panels at conferences, be the featured guest in virtual workshops for writers and “aspiring”^ writers, and share my experience, knowledge, and time at “professional” events where someone (though it’s not always clear who, exactly) is making money. These invitations are often accompanied by a “Sorry that we can’t pay you for your time or your expenses” note, usually written almost as an aside (and sometimes written as a “P.S.”), but the person inviting me assures me that the event will be a “great opportunity.”

For what? For whom?

I’ve begun saying “No, thank you” to these requests. Beyond the time they require to actually participate and fulfill the obligations expected of me, they require time for preparation (because, you know, I actually would prepare for them), travel to a location that’s generally not near my home, and arrangements for childcare, not to mention adjustments to my own writing schedule and expenses. And frankly, beyond the considerable investment of time, these events have rarely, if ever, panned out to be “great opportunities” for me. Sure, maybe I’ll meet some interesting people, but I could meet those same people-–and probably to more mutually beneficial ends– if I set up an appointment to have coffee with them.

The “great opportunity,” then, is for someone else to take advantage of my knowledge and experience, the currency I’ve built up over nearly a decade of doing this work. I provide the info and intel; they walk away with the profits of having charged people for their time to listen to “thought leaders” or “industry influencers.”

No thanks. I’ll log my public service elsewhere, mentoring less experienced writers and maintaining this blog, for starters.

Take away: It’s ok to say “Thanks, but no thanks.” Plus, the more you say it, the easier it becomes. And the more discerning you become with your time and energy, the more you have, and the more you realize that the events and activities that are promoted relentlessly as being critical to one’s career (though it’s never clear if it’s your career) actually aren’t very important at all.

2. Saying “I’m a professional writer. I don’t write for free.”
A writer friend recently found herself in a situation that had become all too familiar: an editor would just love to run her piece about XYZ, but didn’t have a budget for freelancers. Oh, and by the way, could she provide photos (high res, preferably) for said article?

The writer actually considered saying “Yes.”

When I say “actually,” I don’t do so judgmentally because I have actually considered saying “Yes” to similar outrageous requests because I was weighing the benefits of getting a certain piece published–period– versus letting it languish.

“How should I respond?” the friend asked.

Because it is always easier to fight someone else’s battles than your own, I had a response for her.

“Dear Editor:

While I’m glad that you’re interested in coverage of XYZ, and while I’d very much like for this important event to be covered by your publication, I can’t agree to contribute a piece or photos about the event without arriving at an agreement about payment. I’m a professional writer. I write for a living and simply can’t agree to have my work published for free. If you’re able to negotiate a fee, please let me know. If not, I would appreciate knowing that as well so that we’re not using up each others’ valuable time. Thank you for your attention.”

A few days later, the friend reported that the editor had found some money after all, and they had arrived at an agreement about the fee.

“Hey, standing your ground works!” I thought, “I’ll have to try that for myself.”

Earlier this week, I had the chance to do so. An educational publisher contacted me to ask if his company could use one of my photos for teaching materials. There was no mention of a fee. I wrote back and thanked the publisher for contacting me, asked if he had a budget for photography, and said I’d be happy to negotiate a rate with him if he did. He wrote back right away and said that while he didn’t have much money to work with because stock agency rates are so low that they provide an attractive alternative, he did, in fact, have a budget. And because I’d sent him a link to some other relevant photos, he might want to buy some other photos beyond the original one about which he had contacted me.

Take away: Don’t give your work away if you want to make a living from it. Just as it becomes easier to give your work away for free the more you do it, it also becomes easier to defend your worth and ask for compensation the more you do it.

And goodness knows we have plenty of opportunities to practice.

Do you struggle with these two issues? Have you defined “policies” for yourself with respect to these two issues? I’d love to hear from you below in the comments.

^I’ve never really understood what that means. Either you’re a writer or you’re not. Please drop the “aspiring” or, worse, “budding.”


5 responses »

  1. I enjoy reading your posts. I wanted to comment on this whole “aspiring/budding” writer bit. I’ve stopped with that nonsense and now just say I’m an “unpublished” writer, just to stop the inevitable questions. Nobody asks you what you write about if you’ve not made coin with it. It’s a rather nice advantage.

  2. Yes, I do struggle with these very issues. I’ve participated in a few “wonderful opportunities” only to find that it was nowhere near a mutual benefit. Closely related to the “WO” is the line “it’ll be a great way to get your name out there.” That’s another red flag for me. Thanks for the reminder that we need to value our time, effort, and creative output.


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