Pay or paid to publish?

As usual I’ve got myself into a fairly inarticulate state on Twitter over the Mamma Mia no-pay-to-publish thing. There’s a bit of history to it, just for context.

Marieke Hardy, of all people, kicked off on Twitter the other day at Mamma Mia founder Mia Freedman for not paying her contributors.

I was surprised at this. I thought MM was a pretty big site (Freedman claims 1.2m visitors) and I would have thought at least paying a nominal amount to say thanks is fair. 1.2m is a big number in the Australian web scene, so the site must be doing alright. Freedman does not appear short of a bob or the influence her position affords.

Now, nobody holds a gun to these people’s heads. Bern Morley and Meshel Laurie both stuck up for Freedman, saying it led to bigger and better things. I can believe that and am pleased it worked out for them.

Freedman then wrote a lengthy piece about how she employs a number of full and part-time writers and then casually dropped that she has “about a dozen” unpaid interns. Which, in raw numbers, doubles her staff, but they’re obviously  part time.

Still, this made me extremely uncomfortable.

Most of the writers laying into her are people who make a living being paid to write or are very close to doing so. Freedman’s counter-argument is that this is the sort of exposure money can’t buy and anyway, she’s not the only one.

She’s right, unless you’re Jamie Packer and you spend lots of money advertising in Fairfax papers.

I write for free and have done so for 20 years. The vast bulk of my writing in that time has been for zero dollars. Four hundred game reviews over several sites, (some that were in a position to pay, I might add), many film reviews and probably millions of words about Formula 1.

I’ve been paid less than $15,000 in 20 years of writing. I won a writing award in 1997 which paid, I was paid a nominal amount for a play to be toured by ATYP, a magazine article or two and now am paid regularly to write about cars. It’s a nice feeling.

I’d say about 95% of the money has come from writing about cars, if you’re interested. I am extraordinarily thankful for that. And 95% of that from a website with far fewer visitors than Freedman’s claimed audience and over the last 7 months.

(I’m not including the scripts and unpublished novels, by the way)

Anyway, the point is, there has to be a line somewhere. In fact, two. One must be drawn by the writer – how much are they willing to do for free, for how long and why are they doing it for free? Only the writer can decide this and it’s really nobody else’s business. Some say those who write for free undermine other writers, but I don’t think that holds any water because that’s not how business or publishing works.

The second is for the publisher: how much free labour am I going to harness before it gets a bit silly?

I’ve been both. I published a video game website for a few years that I inherited from an impressive younger bloke and had to be completely upfront about the fact that there wasn’t a red cent in it, despite being one of the most successful sites around at the time. I felt bad.

Thing is, I’m really lucky. I have a good income from other sources that keeps me better than well-fed and housed and clothed and I am extremely grateful for that. Writing is a hobby for me and I am always pleasantly surprised by the payments I do get.

But, because I’m an egomaniac, the reward for me is that my name is in lights or pixels or whatever and my thoughts are being read by others who don’t know me and never will. I get a kick out of that.

What I don’t get a kick out of is exploitation. Sites like Mamma Mia (and I am picking on them unfairly here and on Twitter) make a lot of money (if 1.2m is true, etc etc) and have a responsibility to check themselves. And not cry about it on TV.

The power, in the end, is with the writer. If you’re not prepared to do it for nothing, don’t. If you are, but are uncomfortable with Freedman et al, don’t write for them. That doesn’t pay the bills, but neither does The Punch or The Drum or whoever else.

What does pay the bills eventually is the exposure you get for judiciously choosing your targets and setting yourself a goal – “if I am not paid after n pageviews, I will say thanks, but I’m off.” Or whatever. It’s up to you.

I just wish it didn’t have to be this way and I don’t honestly think Freedman takes delight in not paying, she just thinks it’s the only way.

It isn’t, but she, and many others, are looking after their own financial interests.

 

I hope Kate Middleton ONLY has morning sickness

DISCLAIMER: Before I get going on this, let me be clear that I think the already over-reported Kate-Middleton-pregnant thing is rubbish. It’s so utterly tedious and while, yes, she knew what she was getting herself into, the pressure to tell the world about this stuff is tedious for us and pretty galling for her. This isn’t about Kate Middleton being sick, or to get you to understand how HG  affected us it’s about thousands of women worldwide who suffer what she is suffering today.

So yeah, I’m not here waving a Union Jack and telling you to feel sorry for her because she’s rich and posh and whatever.

—–

Kate Middleton does not have a simple case of acute morning sickness. I hope she does. But if the papers are to be believed, she has a terrifying condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. I’ll tell you why it’s terrifying.

When a woman has hyperemesis gravidarum, she cannot function because she is constantly throwing up. It is unstoppable. She dehydrates, she can become anorexic and even when hospitalised, HG can and does lead to organ failure.

How do I know this? My wife went through it several times. She tried everything, and I mean everything.

Western medicine is largely useless when it comes to HG because the anti-nausea and anti-emetic drugs will most likely either disable or kill the foetus. Lots of baffled doctors, though, especially the women who think women with HG are bunging it on. When they realise the truth, they run, they don’t want a failure on their hands.

She tried Eastern medicine, she tried things that she knew to be mumbo-jumbo, but she tried everything in an attempt to trick her mind or body into thinking that it didn’t need to be doing this to her. All failed.

She spent months lolling on couches and beds, talking to women the world over via HG forums, a group of women desperately trying to keep themselves and each other going through this tortuous time. Some women got through it at 12 weeks, some at 28, some didn’t stop until 40 weeks. Or they lost their children either through termination or miscarriage and had to pick up the pieces and be expected to just get on with their lives.

When our son Max was born, she was still throwing up an hour after. She weighed less with him on board than she did before she fell pregnant.

Over the next few years and several pregnancies, she would spend over six months in hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, full of tubes, still throwing up because that’s what her body was doing, whether there was anything to throw up or not.

When there was no food, her stomach lining and oesophagus came up.

Her liver and kidneys both came to the point of failure in each and every pregnancy after our son was born. She could not go to the bathroom unaided because she had such low blood pressure she would faint and hit her head on the floor. There was nothing – nothing – anyone could do.

She could die, they told us, and so could our baby. Could became would and we had to terminate pregnancies to save her life. It was heartbreaking and she has never forgiven herself for what she sees as a personal failure to carry her children.

In April 2007 after 24 weeks of sheer bloody-minded determination to get through the HG, we suffered a stillbirth. I can’t tell you how painful it was for us to get that far, to feel we were turning a corner with her condition, only to lose our baby boy, who we named Gabriel.

We still have his ashes, we can’t bear to part with him and the box full of toys and clothes we bought for him. We were told a good strategy is to create hope, a future – buy things for the baby so you have something to look forward to and crash through the pain.

We still have the things her friends from the HG forum sent her, from all over the world, to say how sorry they were. A beanie to fit his tiny head still moves me to tears when I see it or think about it.

My wife, once so happy and confident, became a shell, each and every time and had to be rebuilt. Neither of our families understand what it has done to her and can’t or won’t take the time to find out. It’s too confronting. Her experience has alienated her from friends and family because she finds it difficult to cope with their inability to empathise. She doesn’t want to be that way, but she is.

She suffered post-traumatic stress, still does. She has panic and anxiety attacks.

She wants to kill pregnant women who, dressed, groomed, make-up on and otherwise okay, are standing in front of her, upright with a glass of wine in their hand telling her how sick they are.

It’s not their fault, but they don’t get it or understand her reaction. She couldn’t even wash her hair, she couldn’t cope with it. Have a shower? Forget it. Her sense of smell became hyper-sensitive, the chlorine would make her chuck.

She couldn’t leave her hospital room or our bedroom for months at a time. She went weeks without seeing our son, she couldn’t stand noise or light or the smell of sheets washed in certain powders. Every day I sat with her as she drifted in and out of consciousness or going stir-crazy, waking only to throw up or try and get some food or water down.

She had suicidal thoughts, the rolling nausea breaks down your will and your soul. She lived in a half-light, a twilight, but she so badly wanted another child. It was not to be. We called a stop to it after the fourth pregnancy, when she mercifully miscarried but still had to go through a procedure to clear her womb.

Women still die from this, some of them courtesy of some insane religious extremism relating to terminations, some of them because they refuse to give up and some of them because they are simply not believed.

It’s not fair. While it’s hilarious to stand back and laugh at the idiotic reporting of Kate Middleton’s condition, to say that it’s only being reported because she’s posh and she probably isn’t that sick, if she’s got hyperemesis she’s in deep, deep trouble.

Because it doesn’t matter if you’re Charlotte Bronte, who died at four months in a dank room in nineteenth century England, or you have the best care in Australia’s maternity hospitals or you are carrying the heir to the British throne, nobody knows why this happens or how to stop it. Anyone who says they have an answer is either deluded or a liar.

Middleton is in the same boat as my wife and only a slightly better boat than Bronte. It has nothing to do with twins, social status, diet, ethnicity, nothing at all.

William is in the same boat as me, having to stand by and watch it all unfold and being able to do nothing. Doesn’t matter he’s Prince William, today he’s a very worried husband and potential father hoping this all goes away soon.

HG is not an attention-seeking version of “acute morning sickness,” it’s so awful many sufferers are consigned to cancer wards because that’s the best place to deal with the constant vomiting and nausea.

Doctors will confidently stride in to see Middleton today and tell her she’ll be fine, in a week they’ll give up having tried everything and hand her over to another doctor who will do the same thing. It will happen to about twenty women in Australia every month, hundreds more in the US and the UK.

I genuinely hope we can go back to being snarky about Mrs Windsor at some point in the future because all of this will be a false alarm brought on by over-enthusiastic reporters and she was just a bit wobbly and needed a shot of fluids or vitamin B or something.

Because I can tell her – and you – she’d rather a bit of derision than what’s ahead of her if she truly has hyperemesis.