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If all the writers in the world were starving pizza sellers, then where would we be?: An interview with Alexandra Neill

by Veronica Sullivan , August 6, 2014Leave a comment

Today is the third ever Pitch, Bitch Day! Pitch, Bitch is an initiative devoted to assisting women writers to promote and pitch their work for publication. One of the most important issues facing freelance writers is that of payment. With widespread industry obfuscation of pay rates and exploitation of young writers, determining appropriate payment for writing is an increasingly frustrating and challenging task.

Alexandra Neill was a creative producer with this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival, where she facilitated a series of writers forums, including one on Paying Writers. Alex spoke with KYD‘s Veronica Sullivan about the importance of recognising the value of writers’ time and work, and how individual writers can tackle this issue in the industry.

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Image credit: Anna Mayberry

When and why was the Pay the Writers movement created, and how did you become involved?

Pay the Writers began as an article on Overland’s website in early 2013. In this video, Jennifer Mills (who wrote that article) provides a really solid overview of her intentions. Basically the aim is to bring writers together and to encourage collective action when it comes to fighting for better (and more transparent) pay rates.

I got involved earlier this year when I was a Creative Producer with the Emerging Writers’ Festival. I organised a number of forums, looking at key issues facing the writing community – one of which was the Pay the Writers Forum. Representatives from the ASA, the MEAA and Writers Victoria were invited to attend, along with freelancers, writers and members of the publishing community. The discussion aimed to bring together key people to talk about these issues and to lay the groundwork for more action in the future. These discussions produced a manifesto, the aim of which was to come up with some concrete strategies moving forward.

What challenges and problems has the Pay the Writers movement identified, and what methods have been suggested to address these?

The biggest thing that Pay the Writers is aiming to do is bring together a community of writers to discuss and fight for these issues. A collective is always going to be more powerful than a disparate group of individuals.

The issue which seems to come up again and again in the discussions is that of transparency. There’s obviously a whole host of issues branching out from the Pay the Writers movement but a better understanding of the lay of the land seems to be an important initial step. The first step in this process is a survey to collect data about pay rates.

Beyond that, establishing an agreed upon set of minimum pay rates is another key step. Establishing these rates is likely to be a long process but it’s encouraging that discussions have already started.

How important is it for writers to be paid for their work? How can they decide when it is acceptable to write for free, and at what point does this become exploitation for so-called ‘exposure’?

It’s very important that writers are paid for their work. Otherwise all the writers will either have to starve or get a job at Pizza Hut (or sometimes both, Pizza Hut doesn’t pay very well either). And if all the writers in the world were starving pizza sellers, then where would we be?

It’s important to remember that you should be paid. Regardless of what stage you are at in your career, your time and work has value and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking to be paid accordingly.

When it’s ok to work for free (and when it’s definitely not) is a fairly contentious and highly personal thing. In my opinion, working for free shouldn’t be a negative experience; if doing it is making you stressed or miserable, then maybe don’t do it. Work for free because the other benefits you’re getting out of the experience are significant. Always interrogate your reasons, and if you can’t justify it to yourself then it’s ok to pull out.

For writers who are unsure of the conventions and processes, when is the appropriate time to negotiate or enquire about payment during the process from pitch to submission?

There’s no right answer. One of the biggest hurdles that Pay the Writers faces, I think, is that so few of the questions come with a clear-cut answer. On the other hand I also don’t think that there’s really a wrong answer.

It’s ok to raise the issue of payment straight up. Personally, I’d usually bring it up when a pitch is picked up – before I sit down to do the bulk of the writing. That way you can make the decision whether or not you want to move forward.

When you’re pitching it’s worth doing a little bit of research. If you’re choosing which publication to take your pitch to, consider how much each of them pays and under what conditions.

What resources are available for writers to inform themselves about expected and acceptable pay rates for certain jobs and publications?

Pay the Writers has created a Facebook group to help facilitate ongoing discussion. You can also follow them on Twitter and Tumblr (scrolling back through those accounts you’ll find heaps of great information). The manifesto is available on the EWF website.

Also – use your networks. Friends and colleges are an invaluable resource. Sharing information is a really important part of this process.

Alexandra Neill is a co-director of the National Young Writers Festival and has been a writer for Good News Week, an Ambassador for National Young Writers’ Month and the editor of comedy review website The Pun. She blogs at Adventures in TV-Land and tweets @paper_bag_girl.

Kill Your Darlings is the Pitch, Bitch media partner. Find out more about Pitch, Bitch at yeahpitchbitch.tumblr.com, and follow the #pitchbitch hashtag on Twitter.




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