As you may have noticed this is not a podcast episode, but this page functions as a blog and I have very important things to say!
A few days ago I was contacted by a publishing company called Reedy Press, who asked me to write a book about nearly 100 restaurants in Washington DC for free. It would be part of their Unique Eats and Eateries series, which has been published for cities all over America. When I asked if there was at the very least a budget to eat at all these restaurants, I was told that I should ask them for free meals as a thank you for all the exposure they'd be getting from this book. I made this offer public on Twitter, which was widely shared by members of the creative community.
You should click through and read the entire, hastily written thread. It's full of rage and has lots of awesome details about how the publishing industry works. And please share all that info with current and aspiring writers you know: all of this is common knowledge among published authors, but for the most part we've all been too scared to say anything for years. We've now hit rock bottom in this industry, and it's time to speak out.
In the event anyone thought my tweets were hyperbole or a complete fabrication, I also published the specifics of what they asked me to provide, as well as their author guidelines. Neither the email nor these documents had any sort of written confidentiality clause, so it was cool to share! They also have the contact information for everyone in the company, in case you want to inquire about working for them for zero dollars yourself.
The tweets also share lots of the fun parts of our emails, like how they said publishing costs were so high they couldn't afford to pay me, and how I should beg restaurants for free meals so I could get Reedy the content they needed to make money off these books.
I spent a day thinking about how I would respond to their offer. I have sent this email, and decided to share it all with you as well. Feel free to use it any time someone asks you to work for free and frames it as if they're doing you a favor.
This line in your last email stuck out: “Due to production costs of the book, we are not able to afford any advance. I totally understand if this is a concern on your end.” You’re right, I am concerned. I’ve written three books before and am a very experienced writer, and I know how much production costs are — currently you can get paperbacks printed for about .90 per book. Factoring the salaries of the small staff list you gave me, and taking into account the average overhead of such a business, I’m incredibly concerned for your company. If you guys are barely scraping by on production costs, especially when you’re retailing your books for $20 and are seeking authors to write for “exposure”, you’re in a lot of trouble.
Then I had an absolutely brilliant idea: you guys are struggling so hard you need to ask for free goods and services, yet you’re kindly offering all these authors and restaurants “exposure” through your books. You also need to beg me for marketing contact lists, and to do free work as a sales rep and PR agent. You guys must really be in trouble. As you noticed from my website — the one you found very impressive — I am very well connected in this industry. So I figured for once someone could be as kind as you all are and help you with exposure!
Yesterday I posted the entirety of the deal you offered me on Twitter, as well as the documents you sent in full — since they weren’t marked confidential, I thought it would be cool to share to help you acquire more talent. I also shared it in multiple professional groups I belong to, which include editors of almost every major food publication in America, as well as thousands of respected food writers all over the world. I’ve also made sure the terms of your contract have been shared with professional restaurant associations in Washington DC, Baltimore, and New York City so people can be prepared to offer your writers free meals and photography in exchange for all the exposure you’re giving them. Want them to be on their A-game!
As I write this, the thread I wrote about Reedy Press has been retweeted over 350 times by authors, editors, agents, and even big name celebrity chefs. I’ve even been contact by two journalists about your contract, who are going to do stories about Reedy Press! SUCCESS! You’ve got so much exposure now, which I’m sure is going to be fantastic for your company.
Unfortunately I will not be able to write your book for free, because I have bills to pay and children to feed. I don’t have the time to do you any more favors than the one I’ve already done for you. Hopefully soon you’ll be in a position to pay your writers and photographers. Good luck! "