The other day I received a message inviting me to speak at a literary event. It’s a small thing – but they had a couple of great guests. They needed one more. I was pretty chuffed to be considered for the bronze medal…
Until I read on.
“We have a really small budget – so there’s no payment, but we will reimburse your fuel costs”.
Great, my 4 year old son loves petrol. He puts it in the bowl where his Weet-Bix would otherwise go. He pours it into the hands of the people that look after him at his day-care – they love it too! He takes what is left of the petrol and wears it to bed.
You’ve read and heard and possibly had such rants before. I wasn’t even angry when this happened. It was almost a Eureka-moment. Arriving a bit late, of course. I’m a bit slow like that.
Actually, the Eureka-moment had arrived a couple of months earlier. When I did take petrol-reimbursement as the payment for speaking to a bunch of students. I agreed to do it – my way of “giving back”, I figured. I knew I was getting a petrol voucher at the time. I turned up prepared, and gave the lecture. It was fine. It went well. I took my voucher and said my thanks. And I walked around the corner instantly disappointed with myself. Disappointed in myself. Taking that petrol voucher made me complicit in the lie. I was giving a lecture to journalism students. They’re still teaching people that writing is a plausible career option. They can’t (properly) pay the “experts” they’re calling in to talk to the green-and-eagers.
Fuck that noise. I am a chump.
So that, finally, was the moment when I realised that I could never accept a petrol voucher or a book voucher or a bottle of wine when being asked to pass on knowledge I’ve learned and earned, when explaining how I’ve gone about things…the why and how and where and whatever else is in that Journalistic pyramid (okay, so I’m not really any sort of expert – their term, not mine).
So I wrote back to this guy who had asked me to speak about writing a book and daily blogging and reviewing and commenting on radio – and in return for driving an hour out of town to do this I’d be reimbursed for the gas. I wrote back to this guy who had asked me to do a freebie, but had offered me to stay on to see the other guests too and possibly write about them – since, you know, they were probably getting some of the “really small budget” meaning they must have been really good. Worth seeing! I wrote back to this guy, politely explaining that I couldn’t do that sort of work. I thanked him for the generous offer of a petrol voucher that would pay me back for the gas I had used to get there an hour out of town and an hour back. And I told him the story of the Journalism Lecture and how it seemed a weird lie to be caught in and caught up in and part-promulgating and almost certainly endorsing.
And I didn’t expect to get a reply. I had bored him with my life. And not given him the answer he was looking for.
And I also expected to get a reply – possibly telling me “thanks for nothing” (which is really what I was thanking him for).
I did get a reply.
The guy who asked me to give up my free time – for free – and talk about how I did what I did and why (and presumably keep quiet the lack of money associated) wrote back to me and said, “fair enough, if someone asked me to do a gig out of town for petrol money I’d say no too!”
You’ve got to laugh at these chancers. And these chances.
Well, I did.
Stories of writers getting asked to do something for nothing are, er, dime a dozen. They go viral. That extends the irony right? Something they’ve written ends up doing the rounds, getting more and more eyeballs and still nothing resembling actual money in return…
But it’s great for your brand!