pay the writer

Or in my particular case, pay the artist. I was going to rant about the expectation many people have that I should work for free, for them. Why? Ostensibly because I'm their friend; because I'm the friend of one of their friends; because I did them a favor once, and now I should apparently always do things for free; or because it's for their particular pet cause. Or because it will only take me a few minutes. Or because they're so horrible at design, or art, and I'm so good at it, and couldn't I just…?

No. I couldn't. And here's Harlan Ellison to explain why:

Look, I'm not interested in getting rich from overcharging my friends. It's more important to me that you give me something for my time and energy, than getting an exact dollar amount. Any of my past or current clients can tell you that I work for very reasonable rates, on a sliding scale that starts at 'coffee,' includes 'beer' and 'sushi,' and goes up to 'your firstborn child.' Somewhere in the middle is probably where your particular project falls. We can most likely work something out that makes both of us happy.

That said, there are, as in everything, exceptions.

At Comic-Con, I found myself at the booth of a man who was looking for an artist to draw his independent comic. Sounds good. Only this guy had run through two previous artists already, and he'd only managed to get one issue out. First red flag. I asked how much of the story he'd actually written, and he said he was still making changes to issue #2's script. Second red flag. The story was about a gay couple, set in an alternate Wild West. Fine. One of the couple was a werewolf, and the other looked suspiciously like a vampire. Still fine. The writer showed me the art from the first issue, and it verged on softcore porn. Hey, there are worse things to draw than naked good-looking men, right? And the writer likes to roleplay these characters with friends of his. Third red flag. But it was when the writer said, 'Well, I'm having this design contest for all the interested artists, where they draw the couple, and then send me the drawing, and whichever one I like best, I'll pick for the comic,' that I excused myself and said goodbye, and wished the writer luck.

Actually, that project would've fallen on the 'firstborn child' end of the payscale. If you want me to draw your own personal cowboy/werewolf/vampire gay porn, that will cost you a LOT. But what's even worse? Asking me to draw your own personal cowboy/werewolf/vampire gay porn FOR FREE, after which you can decide if you want to pay me. That's called working on spec, and it's a Bad Thing.

You wouldn't dream of asking your mechanic to fix your car for free. You'd be outraged if you were asked to do your job for no money. Why on earth would you ask an artist, designer, or writer to do just that? Clearly, you want to become the target of Mr. Ellison's wrath.

Preach it, Harlan!