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We can’t eat exposure: Writers in developing countries

  • The post says ‘Entries are open for fashion writers. 2 articles per week. 500 naira for every approved two. Buzz me. ‘When my cousin sends this to me I wasn’t even shocked, the first thing I said was ‘I don’t know much about fashion to write about it.’

    And then she asked me if it isn’t even insulting, to begin with, because she sent it as a joke. And I told her I had seen so many offers like this and I don’t even find it shocking.

    We can’t talk about writing in Nigeria without talking about the exploitation that accompanies it. Creatives in this country are offered terrible gigs which people expect you to accept gladly; sometimes you are not even paid at all. A man once asked my friend to write 1500 words for 500 naira, and when she told me, I wondered the kind of audacity it takes to look someone in the eye and offer them such a demeaning amount for their time and energy.

    A common practice in the freelance industry is the ‘one naira per word' method of payment, this kind of jobs ranges from research works to creative writing and so much more, with no consideration for your time, data you use on research or anything at all.

    And when we are not being offered measly amounts of money, we are being asked to give services in exchange for ‘exposure‘ because apparently, that’s all we need as creatives.

    Yes, a lot of creatives write because they love to and because they want to influence the world, but they also need to earn from their art. Just because I hope my writing will help someone in the future does not mean I shouldn’t be paid well for it. If a doctor can save lives and still be paid for it, I don’t see why it should be any different for artists.

    Check out this article on how to make some money writing online.

    Once, an organisation asked us to submit pieces for their anthology with the promise that they were going to pay us in copies, but at the end of the day, they gave us a 500 naira discount on our own personal copies, which means that we had to pay for a copy of the book. And the funny thing is we are expected to be satisfied because at least they ‘published our works.’

    This exploitation of creatives has made me and many others stay away from freelance writing. There are times clients give you little or no details for a story and expect you to produce hundreds of words and yet have the audacity to complain about it not being what they want.

    In 2018, I used to do a lot of freelance works which majority being creative writing, once a client gave me a small sketch of a story to build on, with only the name of the characters, their line of work, place of residence and the skeleton of the plot to work with and he expected me to write 100,000 words from that. I told him I needed more details so as to avoid stories that he might not want, but he insisted that I should just do what I think is best.

    After producing 30,000 words and sending it to him to look through, he was upset about most of the details I added, kept demanding that I change it because that’s not what he wanted. I told him I wouldn’t do it, I have my own life to live and he told me earlier to do what I feel is best for the stories. I refused to work on the story, and I demanded to be paid, which we negotiated and he ended up paying me less than I expected. I had to make it clear that I am taking legal action if I see the story anywhere else since he rejected it, and he didn’t even pay me the full amount. The funny thing was that the guy who offered me the job tried to gaslight me into thinking I am too materialistic for demanding to be paid what I deserve.

    I was once offered a job to write a ten paged research work on Buddhism for 5,000 naira, which I rejected instantly. I can’t imagine spending hours of my life, writing a ten paged essay on a topic I have to deeply research on to be paid 5,000 naira.

    One naira per word is just a fancy way of writing exploitation. You can’t judge the quality of a work based on the number of words on paper, it takes a lot of energy to write, and you have to put that into consideration. Just because writers write well does not mean it comes easily to them.

    Related article: How to write stories that inspire.

    Again, we can’t talk about exploitation in the creative industry without talking about how we creatives view ourselves. I know we all like to believe we are creating for the greater good, but we also have to understand we are human beings with needs. There is a trend I noticed among creatives when it comes to earning good money from our works. A lot of creatives tend to dismiss it as materialism as if being paid for your work takes away its power to create change.

    When my friend and I published our poetry books sometime this year, we received a lot of opinions from other creatives, with some telling us that ‘we should have put it up for free’ so we can get more readers or to make it easily accessible to readers who cannot afford it.

    But that wasn’t the only comment we received, some people also believed that the sum of N1500 I fixed for my poetry collection was too costly, as ‘it is just an e-book' as if Okada Books is not taking 30 per cent on each copy sold and as if my poems are not worth that amount just because they are not in print.

    Being a creative sometimes seem a lot like being stuck between a hard place and a rock because you receive exploitation from one side and self-righteous claptrap from the other side.

    But it’s high time we rise up as creatives and demand to be treated well. I know being a creative in this place is tough and there are limited opportunities, and that is why we jump at every opportunity we are given, but then it doesn’t have to be like this. We shouldn’t have to tolerate taking gigs that are disrespectful to us and our art. We shouldn’t have to endure being invited to other states to perform for free with no payment or travel stipend. We shouldn’t have to put our lives on hold and create for people who gain from our art while we are left to struggle.

    Passion is a beautiful thing, but you also have to learn how to channel it in ways that are beneficial to you as well, a common weakness people use to exploit us is our passion for our art. For instance, If you are passionate about advocating for women there is possibility that people will keep inviting you to programs, even in other states without payment or travel stipend because they believe your passion is enough to sustain you, because they believe If you like doing something, you must like doing it in all conditions even if it inconveniences you. I know that because this has happened to me before, I received calls to perform poetry in programs that had to do with women advocacy with no offer to pay me for my services or time despite the fact that they sold tickets for the show. People like this tend to think that free entrance into the show and your passion for the topic is enough payment for your service.

    We creatives love to make jokes about being poor, but we have to understand that this is a reality for a lot of creatives because people don’t rate our works. People don’t think that we deserve to be paid well for our services. They believe that just because most of us aim to make this world a little better means we shouldn’t benefit from our art. But this has got to stop; we have to learn to protect ourselves from people who view our art as essential but don’t view us as important enough to be paid.

    And the most important thing perhaps is how we see ourselves, we need to stop beating up ourselves for wanting more from our works. We need to understand that we can do both; we can keep our passion and also find ways to put money in our accounts. We can’t eat exposure, we can’t spend it, and we definitely cannot survive on exposure alone. Our art itself requires money, when you earn from your art you don’t have to waste half your life doing something you don’t like in order to survive. When you earn from your art you get opportunities to take lessons that will make you a better artist. When you earn from your art, you get more motivated and more immersed in your work because you don’t have to think of anything else.

    Read this article to explore how to stop being hard on yourself, just because you want to please others.

    Fix the price you think is necessary for your work and don't let anyone make you feel like you are being greedy or materialistic. People that will buy your book will buy it regardless. The same artists that may shame you for fixing a little amount for your work buy other famous artists' works at higher prices. We need to be kinder to ourselves as well; the world is already being unfair to many of us.

    This is perhaps more important for budding artist (that is not to say established artists are free from that). People find it easier to exploit you when you are just starting, but you shouldn’t let that discourage you. There are people out there who value your art and are willing to pay you what you deserve for the services you render to them. And you have to remind yourself it’s not because you are not good enough or because you don’t deserve to earn from your work.

    But unless we see our value, we cannot recognize when we are being exploited, and if we don’t realize when we are being exploited, we cannot fight against these unfair systems fashioned against us. Today look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I am an artist, I love what I do, and I deserve to be paid well for my services.’

    Photo credit: David Pennington on Unsplash

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