In my young and hungry years, I paid my rent by writing freelance stories for print publications. I worked doggedly to find a great story idea. Sometimes, dynamite copy seemed to fall at my feet. Other times I had to hunt – for weeks – to find something that would produce a great piece.
After all the hard work, did I sell my story idea to just one media source? Only if I enjoyed a nightly meal of soda crackers. As every writer knows, a barnburner of a story idea can be reworked, massaged, edited, or reformatted for sale to a number of media outlets. Heck, it might even transform into a book and a significantly bigger payday.
Enter the Internet and the ability to blithely hyperlink to just about anything on anyone’s web site. For example, this very item you’re reading might make it into diatribes.com or even writerslament.com some day. And do any of these sites need to issue me even a “heads up” email? Nope. Not in today’s world.
Even worse, it’s very possible that my piece can appear in somewhat altered format or with a derisive editor’s comment as an introduction. (This actually happened to my husband, who was astounded to see his piece appended with a stinging comment from the web site editors who pilfered his material.)
All this discussion leads me to the premise of my first column for this series. Why is it that writers shy away from Internet assignments? Remuneration is key. Granted, publicity is a wonderful thing for any career. However, I’m not sure writers want to be hyperlinked throughout the universe without a penny for their words or even simple acknowledgment that they are being immortalized by the miracle of hypertext.
Are we talking the Napster of prose? To a certain extent, the issues are similar, although pilfering copy has gone on longer and with less controversy than the Napster debacle. (Something tells me writers need the heavy thud of Metallica to back them up!)
My neighbor gets royalty checks from a television commercial she filmed a year ago (although she would also have something to say about the paltriness of the royalties she receives). If we want great content and good writers contributing to the Internet, we need to come up with a fair way to treat writers that are hyperlinked to death… or at least to the poorhouse.