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"we can't pay you, but..."

“we can’t pay you, but you can sell your books and get some great exposure!”

I’m so sick of hearing/reading those words. I get it. If I’m reading at an independent bookstore, or the publication is a “labor of love” that isn’t generating any $$$, then I understand. I’ve been there and done that. My beef is with those who can pay the artist but would rather use them to generate traffic/sales for their event or book without offering so much as gas money and a free lunch.

Recently I approached a group in the state who organize a Dias De Los Muertos event about reading or participating as a featured guest. I approached them, they did not seek me out. A friend suggested my poetry would be a positive and relevant addition to the event. The organizers seemed interested until I mentioned my expectation of a fee. They advised me the grant for the event did not include funds for any payment, but I could give a reading and sell my books. The sources for their support and funding: “…Mexico Embassy’s Cultural Institute located in Washington, DC, the Mexico Consulates Office in Milwaukee, and funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.” Uh, thanks but no thanks.

A poet who I allowed to use my poem, “why i feed the birds,” on his poetry blog several months ago, approached me about including it in an upcoming anthology. Payment would be one complimentary copy. He’s edited 2-3 previous anthologies, apparently all part of a series. They are priced at about 15.00 on Amazon. It came to my attention that the publisher belongs to Hatchette Book Group. Their website cites the following: “In one year, HBG publishes approximately 1,400+ adult books (including 50-100 digital-only titles), 300 books for young readers, and 450 audiobook titles (including both physical and downloadable-only titles). In 2017, the company had 167 books on the New York Times bestseller list, 34 of which reached #1.” The authors they publish are a who’s who of any bestsellers listed anywhere. The names of the poets in the previous anthologies this guy edited read like the Poetry Foundation’s all-star team. And yes, I was informed that there is no payment available except for the complimentary copy: “I'm so sorry, but there just isn't a budget to compensate poets for this book. These anthologies are incredibly expensive and time-consuming to produce.” I call bull shit. My response: “I'm flattered that you think my poem, "Why I Feed The Birds," worthy of being included in your fine publication. My questions for you are where does the profit from the selling of this book end up? Is it donated to a charitable cause or causes? Are boxes of the anthology shipped out to schools, hospitals, and prisons? Under those circumstances I will happily consent to the use of my poem. If the answers to my questions are "none of the above," then I don't think it is being unreasonable to expect monetary compensation for my work.”

I received no response, nor do I expect one. One last thing, the first anthology this guy edited has approximately 93,000 copies in print. Sounds like someone is getting paid

No, I no longer expect to make a living doing what I do. Never have, never will. But it is what I am, and long ago, I accepted that fact that I was destined to generate an income doing something else. I never identified with my job(s). I was/am so much more.

I’m just tired of being insulted. As we used to say in the Army: “if you’re gonna fuck me, at least give me a kiss.”

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