Review: Show Me The Money

Press Room contributor Bri Lee reviews Show Me The Money from Sunday afternoon featuring Adeline Teoh, Zoya Patel, David Drayton, and Rebecca Slater.

Adeline Teoh moderated this practical, no-bull panel about all the different ways you can make bank as a writer. The panellists had varied writing practices and different approaches to finding funding, and weren’t afraid to name figures, admit previous mistakes, and make recommendations.

Discussions began with Adeline asking each of the panellists whether or not they would work for free. Rebecca Slater went first, saying she “definitely” does if it’s for a publication or platform that she believes in, and that “getting published is better than not.” The point was also quickly raised that writers ought not shame other writers who are willing to work on such projects for free. David Drayton agreed, saying there were times when he’d be happy to work for free or for alternative payment like contributor copies.

David also spoke about how frustrating it was to work on massive, peer-reviewed journal articles that would be 5000 words (or more) and take up to 6 months to work on, and not be paid for it. Universities get money from journals when one of their academics is published, and whilst he did receive a $25k per annum stipend as a PhD candidate, he didn’t see a cent that directly correlated to those articles. Zoya Patel spoke about happily accepting gig tickets as payment for street press work for a long time before explaining how she got to a point where she decided she wanted to be paid for her work, and so transitioned. The takeaway message from the next part of the panel came from Adeline: “If you don’t ask for money, then you won’t get it.” Zoya explained that she would just send emails explaining she no longer worked for free, and outline her rates, and that overall she was successful in getting paid.

What followed was a little disheartening, as all the panelists exchanged stories about how unpredictable freelance income is. From $35k one year to six-figures the next, and everything in between, they all agreed that when you add factors like dependants or mortgages into the mix, things could get very stressful very quickly. Rebecca explained that she found her own disposition just wasn’t suited to full-time freelancing because she needed to wait for inspiration to strike and couldn’t force it. Her strategy is to work hard in a full-time job for months at a time, saving money, and then take 3-4 months off work and write. That way she doesn’t feel financial pressures affecting her writing practice. Zoya also mentioned that she likes having a nice apartment and nice things, so isn’t willing to give up her $80k salary job.

Finally, they all agreed that publishing a book will not make you rich, and that relying on prize money is a dangerous path to take. Most writers have other jobs to support them, and these other jobs can often compliment their craft. The panel concluded with everyone agreeing how problematic it is to consider that “real writers” have to be writers-only, rather than having any other source of regular income.