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.