What I learned at #NSNC17: please pass the gravy

I attended the 2017 National Society of Newspaper Columnists (#NSNC17) annual conference in Manchester, New Hampshire where the theme was “Live free and write, but not for free.”

The fabulous speakers declared that we writers possess unique skills and should expect reimbursement for our talent. I learned to carefully consider the cost before giving content to giants like Huffington Post, fueling a moneymaking machine that shares its platform and nothing else with its writers.

I listened intently to the gracious Amy Newark, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Chicken Soup for the Soul, as she delivered one of the keynotes. This book series pays every published writer $200, and I vowed I would submit a story.

To make the offer sweeter, they don’t demand original material as long as it hasn’t been widely distributed nor do they prevent sharing your story beyond the book. In further support of our craft, the series includes a motivational book for writers: Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul.

How can I have a beef with this writer friendly franchise?

While exploring the website for submission opportunities, rough drafts and two hundred dollar checks danced in my head. Then I clicked on ‘Facts and Figures’ and read that total worldwide retail sales of Chicken Soup for the Soul products have exceeded two billion dollars.

If I’ve done the math correctly 250 books with 101 stories in each one would incur payouts of over five million dollars to writers. Not too shabby until you calculate it represents 0.00025% of the two billion dollar intake.

I considered how I make my chicken soup after roasting a plump, juicy chicken, eating most of it before picking and boiling the carcass resulting in a thin broth with a few scattered shreds of meat. This dollar-stretching menu item morphed into a symbol for me of the way these highly profitable books have stuffed themselves with a chicken dinner complete with an abundance of gravy, doling a spoonful of soup to writers. 

I’m not against the Chicken Soup for the Soul-branded products making money. I’m a capitalist and applaud their success. But I do object to how they capitalize on a weakness inherent in me and most of the writers I know – we want people to read our material, and will donate or undervalue it to accomplish that goal.

Please don’t send hate mail telling me I have no soul because I’m criticizing this beloved book series. I think they are a significant positive influence on countless people who are sick from a steady diet of breaking news and social media. And I love that they respect writers enough to pay them.

My point is that without writers they would have nothing. And paying $200 per entry is chicken feed.

What if they moved the decimal point and gave writers $2000 for each of these gold-producing nuggets? And an opportunity for residual income as sales of the books skyrocket? My guess is they could enhance their claim that they are a socially conscious company since they’d be giving back a portion of their revenues to the chicken that gave its life to make the soup.

Will I continue to submit my work to non-paying or low-paying sites? Yes, I will, and I’ll try not to judge myself for it. I don’t like perching on a high horse. I’m always terrified I’ll fall and break a hip.

But I will feel uneasy about it because #NSNC17 gave me the courage to believe I have a right to claim a seat at the adult table. That includes loading my plate with a drumstick and dollop of mashed potato, and asking with a clear voice, without a hint of apology for someone to ‘please pass the gravy.’

Note: Shallow Reflections is a winner in the 2017 National Society of Newspaper Columnists Writing Contest! You can see all the winners here.

©2017, Stevens. All rights reserved.

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29 thoughts on “What I learned at #NSNC17: please pass the gravy

  1. congrats on your win, Molly and being able to attend this conference! It is a shame that most writers get paid chicken feed or peanuts depending on which metaphor du jour you might use 🙂 I do some freelance writing for my brother in law (you may have seen my posts on the bow-ties), at a reduced rate because he’s family etc. I don’t know why people think they can pay writers such a reduced rate. Glad you can do math…I used to pay people to do math (at work) 😉

    • I checked the math twice before I was confident it was correct, Terri. I’d like to pay someone to do my math! Thank you for the kind comments. It is true many writers are underpaid, but we write anyway and I’m so glad we do. I’d be lost without you and my other writing buddies.

  2. Congratulations again Molly, and as always I marvel at your creative punning and metaphoring, but the sheer empowering strength and bravery of this piece hits it clear outa the park. Ps. I can’t tie homeruns/baseball together with chicken/gravy but maybe you can? 😉

    • Thank you so much Stephanie. My brain is fried trying to tie baseball and chicken dinners together. I guess the best I can do is to say that a beer can go with both, though white wine is probably a better choice to complement the chicken. XO

  3. You make excellent points, Molly–thanks for speaking out (and with your usual wit)! A lot of sites and publishers have gotten rich off the backs of us chickens (your calculation of the CSFTS franchise was eye-opening). If we don’t value ourselves, who will?

  4. Excellent post Molly. It would be a nice thought for writers to be more appreciated for their work and time. One of the most underpaid professions. We really have to love what we do. Congrats on the win. 🙂

    • Thank you Debby. Not only do we love what we do, we simply can’t help it once we get started, right? The win was amazing and the conference was more than I could have ever hoped for. What a fantastic group of people. So welcoming and such stimulating presentations and conversations. And I got to meet Maureen Dowd, from the New York Times!

  5. Very accurate observation, Molly. Of course, I read it the day after I submitted to Chicken Soup! I completely agree with your comments and this past weekend reinforced that our material is worth being paid for!

    • I have confidence your submission will be accepted in a Chicken Soup book, Janine. I’m going to send this essay to Amy and I know she will increase her payment to writers when she reads it, so you’ll get a check for $2000 plus royalties, getting paid what you are worth. I can dream, right? Lovely to have you stopping by and leaving a comment.

  6. Kudos coming your way. I’ve published one Kindle e-book, but haven’t had much success re sales. But, I am considering writing another one just to see if I can and hopefully it will do better than the first book.But enough about my dreams, congratulatioNS on your success.

    • Thank you so much Irwin. I may not be rich in money from my writing but every time someone leaves a comment on my blog I feel like the richest woman in town. Best of luck in your ebook success!

  7. Congratulations on your win Molly Stevens! I must say when I attended BAM last year, stood up in front of those young, high powered bloggers and suggested you write for free until you got a resume filled with articles, they appeared to want to banish me from the room. I have written for pay and for non-profit. When you write you hone your craft, when you write you get another reference added to your resume. The value of writing is not always measured in dollars. (But don’t tell those girls.)

    • It is definitely an inner conflict for a writer to wrestle with: writing for free for recognition vs. brand building and being paid for our unique talent. There is no easy answer and I believe both are correct. You are right that all writing hones our craft but on the flip side when do you expect to have some financial reward for your skill?

  8. Brava, Amy! I have struggled with this – as we all have. I was paid well for my freelance copywriting over the years. It’s discouraging that creative writing is not acknowledged with equal respect financially.

    • So great to hear from you Cathy! Hahaha! Anyway, yes, it is sad that creative writing is not rewarded in the same way as copywriting. Let’s change things up! How will we do it? I haven’t got a clue!

  9. I’m not in the paid writing market yet for a number of reasons, but when that time comes, I’ll applaud your speaking out on our behalf. Heck – I’ll applaud it now: Yay!

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