The End of Writing for Free, or: I Put My $50 Where My Mouth Is

I had a really interesting talk on Twitter yesterday/today with the ass-kickers behind How to Leave Academia, which I love. The site (which I love) is currently soliciting guest bloggers, which is great! And I am always interested in sharing my story for the wider postacademic sphere–but I am also torn, morally, about writing for free. Like, ever again. (Not that they need my wack-ass stories over there to be great! They are doing great work over there, make no mistake!)

A short digression that returns eventually to my point: It’s this ingrained (or, dare I say…indoctrinated?) part of academia that research is supposed to be a labor of love for all but the most privileged tenured faculty at the most elite institutions (if you don’t believe me, check out this wrenching link from Katherine Harris–no, not the Bush v. Gore one!–a tenured professor at a good regional university. Katherine teaches 4/4, she can’t buy a home, she “luckily” doesn’t have kids…it’s heartbreaking. She also blogs under her real name. YOU GO, GLEN COCO).

I once had a friend say to me, in the midst of yet another job-market fiaco, “I know I should want to do my research for free, but–” and I cut her off. “No you should not,” I said. “It is challenging, highly-skilled work, and it deserves fair remuneration.” This is one of the smartest women I’ve ever known, and she looked at me and her eyes got big. “All right, if you’ve given me permission not to believe I should research for free, at least I will know it’s bullshit when I’m doing it.” This was three years ago, so I guess I’ve been a rabble-rouser all along after all. HashtagWHOOPS.

My point is: it’s true that NTT faculty usually research their butts off–but more often than not, it’s on their own time, on their own dime. The tippy-toppest echelon of academe gets research funding (and still not very much! I got a shit-ton as an ACLS NFF, more than every Full Professor and Endowed Chair I know!), and everyone else is left to fund research, conference travel and professional development with “love.” IT IS BULLSHIT.

This year I’m slated to be on a panel at the German Studies Association conference, and I’m of two minds about going. On the one hand, the last thing I want to do is make anyone in The Field suspect that I’m too scared to show my face amongst the Worthy. Fuck. That. I’d love nothing more than to meet some of the screechiest anti-Schuman screechers Angesicht zu Angesicht and let them tell me how much I deserve my failure to my face, while I enjoy my damn life. I also just want to be on the panel and see a few friends. But, as I’m no longer In the Club, even provisionally as I was last year, I’d be going 100% self-funded, stuck footing the bill for a plane ticket to Denver, and a hotel room that would be at a “discounted” rate of about $150 a night (not to mention the GSA’s dues and the conference fees, which are reasonable, but add up to about $80, which is not chump change). If you bail on a panel, the GSA bans you from attending for two years (ooooooooooh…). If I do end up bailing, I wil do so by writing an open letter to the GSA’s director, either on this blog or on the Chronicle, if they’ll have me.

The reason I’ll submit it to the Chronicle first–and here, I return to my point!–even though it will be subject to the rigorous pens of their editors (and possible rejection!) is because they pay. You know that paywall around “My Academic Metamorphosis”? I loved that paywall–not only because it protected me from the worst of the crazies, but also because the subscribers’ and advertisers’ money translates into ca$h money for me. I really enjoy doing this blog as a therapeutic hobby–and I get to write whatever I want on it–but the price I pay for getting to write whatever I want is to earn jack squat doing it.

BUT. When guest bloggers write for me, I pay them. Little more than a symbolic, nominal pittance–but still, it’s something. I want to be able to say: I will pay you for your contribution. Because what you are doing to create it is work, and it is worthy. You are worthy. I do this specifically to chip away at the vestiges of the academic socialization machine that tells us that it is perfectly acceptable to spend six months torturing an article out of yourself, for which you usually receive a PDF of the article when it comes out. When I was adjuncting, I spent an entire  year to placate a single ornery reader that–I know now from distance–simply just did not know a damn thing about Wittgenstein, and felt like taking that out on me instead of admitting that. For real, this mofo just straight-up skipped the Wittgenstein parts of the article on every read, and then complained that the piece “didn’t say anything new.” But I sucked it up, and largely due to the tenacity of the editor that believed in me, that article ended up coming out (bonus points to anyone who can identify the parts I had to put in just to placate that reader; to me they stick out like sore, obvious, often-French thumbs). And boy was it worth it, because having an article in the top journal in Austrian studies resulted in…oh, wait, bupkis. If that article had paid even $100, it would have worked out to about $.01 an hour, but at least I could look at the underwear and socks I bought with that $100, and say, “Well, at least I got something out of that article (besides, of course, LOVE).”

But there’s this ludicrous notion in academia that legitimate scholarship should be completely disconnected from the banal sphere of the monetary. I mean, how gauche–say comfortably-ensconced academics who command $5000 honoraria to give condescendingly un-listenable guest lectures (there was a guy I won’t name at one of the institutions where I have spent time, who was paid handsomely to deliver the most pompously disjointed, blatantly audience-feindlich lecture I have ever heard, during which he also informed us he was both a world-renowned Germanist and an under-appreciated closet physicist, because he had a BA in physics from 1970).

One of the best things about being done with academe is that I am also largely done with writing for free. I say “largely” because when I have something I just have to get out and I don’t care how it gets out–like this–I’ll write the shit out of it. But because I pay my guest bloggers, I think that other blogs should also pay theirs–even if it’s $5. 

I shared this idea with @MamaNervosa and @ProjectReinvention (two of the fab ladeez behind How to Leave Academia), and they were both understandably annoyed with my apparent troll. “I pay OOP [out of pocket] for How to Leave Academia,” MamaNervosa pointed out–correctly. It’s “by #postacs, for #postacs”–also correct. 

During this convo, I had an old-fashioned lightbulb moment. In addition to paying FoPKK (Friends of Pan Kisses Kafka) my nominal pittance, I can also help HtLA pay nominal pittances for their Friends! How, do you ask?!? By ADVERTISING ON THAT SITE. A-duh. I am trying to make a go of it as a Postac Ass-Kicker, Enemy of Cowardice, Teller of Hard Truths…but that shit doesn’t pay much. What I could use, can always use, is a li’l exposure. For my Brand. Synergy. Cross-platform disruptive innovation. I’M A FUCKUP-PRENEUR, Y’ALL. 

So instead of just talking about how few of us get paid for writing that warrants it (and let me repeat–this disjointed-ass, stream-of-consciousness randosity that you are currently reading DOES NOT WARRANT IT), I want to make a nominal but grand gesture that nudges this culture in a different direction. I want to by a $50 advertisement on How to Leave Academia, and I want my postac homies to use that $50 to pay two guest bloggers the nominal, but meaningful, pittance of $25 each. Then I want those two bloggers to use a portion of that $25 to “buy ad space” on another postacademic blog. And so on. I want my $50 to go around in a circle für immer und ewig, like the Olympic Torch of Take Your ‘Love It’ and Shove It.

I’d make a Braveheart reference right now, but Mel Gibson is revolting, so, no.

If you are interested in this project, and think it could have a larger impact than my $50, please email me or let me know in the comments, and I will see what kind of Kickstarter/crowdfunding/PayPal/whatever charity thing we can set up. 

8 thoughts on “The End of Writing for Free, or: I Put My $50 Where My Mouth Is

  1. Having done the teaching work and gotten paid way below poverty wages for a decade, and having spent a massively disproportionate amount of time during that decade doing research and writing and getting nothing, it was indeed marvelously empowering to write an essay for FoPKK and know it had actual value to you.

    I really couldn’t wrap my head around the flood of positive comments, emails, facebook messages, twitter sharing…and know I earned something for it. Even a month on, it’s still refreshing to think about.


  2. The Twitter convo yesterday prompted me to start paying my Q&A participants. I’ve got one going up next week, and I’ll offer her some $! Although I’m paying out of pocket, I know the site should help me earn $$ down the road, so it’s only fair. (That wasn’t my intention when I created the site, but now that I’m looking ahead to a coaching business, I hope I can earn income.)
    So… thanks! And great idea, good luck 🙂


    • That is SO AWESOME!!!!! I am paying OOP too with a portion of my freelance $. I feel like even though it makes my budget tighter, I can afford it right now. St. Louis is so cheap. But most of all, I’m doing it as activism. I’m trying very hard to make the tiniest shift in a system I believe needs changing.


      • I think you’re awesome! The system def. needs changing and I’m struck by how powerful this could be, where it needs to be: on the individual level. Most of us undervalue ourselves a great deal… etc. and everything you wrote above.


  3. Take all of your comments about research writing and refer to them as “other duties assigned” and/or “teaching” and you have the exact same issues in full-on teaching colleges, including my 2-year teaching college. I do a TON of shit for FREE and it never fails to piss me off. It’s considered “service” and referred to as such. I’m almost out the door so this will no longer be an issue for me, but I will be DAMN happy to tutor at night after my 8-5 regular job because I will get PAID to teach PER HOUR.

    Writing, teaching, blogging….all of it deserves a solid hourly rate. While I still work with academics whom I believe live on another planet most of the time, based on their luany behavior, I’m happy and relieved to see another academic say something that is logical and obvious. There’s too much “magical thinking” in academia and I’ve had more than enough.


  4. Rebecca, I love your writing style and content, monetization and all. Please keep it up — we all need a sustainable way of living that pays writers and researchers for what they do!


  5. I know this post is quite old, but I just came across your blog. I love it!

    I just left my postdoc job after 10 years (not by choice), and my ex-supervisor actually said (in response to the union grievance I filed against him) that he would only write a letter of reference for me if I agreed to write up and publish my unfinished work. For free. While he still continues to pay his wife (who only has a bachelor’s degree) 25% more salary than I ever made.

    Why, you say? It’s “customary”. In what universe is it customary for highly skilled PhD scientists with 10 years of experience to WORK FOR FREE?! If this whole episode occurred in any other but the academic sphere, it would be considered lunacy.

    Thanks for your blog – one of the hardest things for me was being made to feel like I was alone in this whole experience (my supervisor actually engaged in some pretty shameless bullying to make me feel that way). It’s great to know there are other rabble-rousers out there!


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