Pissed Off Writer: The Right Way to Say No

UPDATE: As of tonight it looks like the Tumblr post in question has been deleted. It took a few days, but I’m very glad it happened and appreciate the creator recognizing that it should be removed. I’d like to think they reached out to the young girl whose question inspired and was included in that post, and if so I hope it was in private, with a kind word.

The creator did leave up their second Tumblr post, the one which removed the original questioner’s name and query, and I like that just fine. Their career is their business and there’s no reason anyone should hate them for not wanting to work for free (who does?), take certain types of work, or feeling a certain way about how projects outside of their work environment (read: comic lit/book pubs with graphic novel imprints) are put together. There’s also nothing wrong with them posting about it online, regardless of presentation. Do I agree with the message and attitude? Nope, and I discuss that in the original blog below alongside my issues with the ethics of the original Tumblr post and its target.

But the wonder of the internet is that it’s open to all. There’s nothing wrong with this creator having their say in whatever way and tone they see fit and I support that. Period. Full stop. I have to think that they support me having mine, too. I mean, that’s sort of the bedrock we all stand on as professional working adults and, really, as people, isn’t it? Not everybody can agree all the time, but engaging in and encouraging discussion and expression, especially if it’s heartfelt, is what separates us from poo-flinging monkeys.

I could argue that flinging poo is also expression, but it’s a separate blog post, I think…

In that spirit, I think the conversation about professional-to-fan interaction generated by the creator’s original Tumblr post is a great one, so I’m leaving the blog below in its original form for continued discussion here and anywhere else on the internet that a link to this place ends up.

Alright, I’m gonna put my rant hat on. Take my thoughts for what they are, but writing, and comics specifically, are the source my living wage at the moment, so the point at issue is something I have experience with, from both sides of the fence.

I read a professional creator’s (read: a working creator, not somebody trying to “break in”) Tumblr post today that had me seeing red, a response to a person, a self-professed fan, asking to work with said creator (FYI on Tumblr users can ask each other questions and recipients can choose to approve and answer them as public blog posts. When this happens, the user’s Tumblr ID and original question are at the head of the recipients public response post). The response from the creator was rude, snotty, and unprofessional. Yet, somehow, it’s being reblogged, favorited, and tweeted across the universe. Because the question didn’t include any mention of payment, the creator assumed that the fan in question likely wanted the creator to work for free. The creator then used it as a springboard to tar and feather the person. Publicly. On the internet.

And maybe they were right and the person wasn’t offering payment, because the person didn’t specify. However, in the internet age, what the creator actually experienced was a tentative query from someone who liked their work. Maybe the inquiry in itself wasn’t 100% on the ball professionally, but it still represented a complement to the creator.


When you work in a creative medium, and we’ll focus on comics here, people are going to ask you to work for free. Maybe it’s just because you have a little more experience than they do. Maybe they actually like your work–the case here as indicated in the initial question–and, from where they are, don’t know what to do next beyond finding the missing member(s) of a creative team. They probably have no idea how the business works, that you’re trying to make a living, pay rent, buy a value-pack of instant ramen, or maybe even take your wife or husband or kid to the movies once in a while.

The bottom line is that this happens, more often to artists than writers, but it still happens to all of us. I’ve gotten a few requests along the lines of “I draw stuff, wanna write it? I don’t have money, but…” and I always politely decline, explain why and the basics of business in comics, thank them for thinking of me, point them toward a site like Pencil Jack or deviantART, and give them the info for my agent in case they want to hire me in the future. I’ve never once gotten a nasty email in reply, and usually get a pleasant “thanks anyway” for my trouble.

You might want to make an argument that nobody walks into a mechanic’s shop and asks them to change their tires for free, or walks into a restaurant and requests a free meal. I caution you not to bother trying that one with me. The comic industry is full of working professionals who got their start looking for a collaborator willing to take a chance on them for chump change. We in the creative industries make sacrifices for the sake of art, be it in comfort or lifestyle or sleep or sanity, just to earn the right to be paid something, anything for our work. We don’t start out there, we just hope to get to that point.

This creator’s Tumblr post, however, went out of it’s way to not only belittle the person who asked the question, not to mention creators who work together on spec, but also make assumptions about what the person wanted and that they weren’t offering any payment. I’m not going to name check them, if nothing else to maintain some higher moral ground and not be accused of starting a witch hunt. But if I can dramatize for a moment, it looked something like this:
Fan: Hey, I have an idea. Wanna work with me in developing it?



Sad Panda  Pissed Off Writer: The Right Way to Say No

Bu-bu-but… I love you.


Now, maybe I’m more sensitive to this because I’ve been on that other side of the fence. Once, a young Nick sought out artists to work with and had no idea how things worked and very little money. He learned some hard lessons, got beat up a bit along the way, and eventually got a decent clue as to what passes for professionalism and etiquette in the comic world. And once I got published, yeah, it got easier. I made friends, some of my best friends ever, and we work together on things we’re passionate about. Some of them go places. Others don’t. We do it because we love it, between the cracks of paying jobs. We hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and try not to waste our valuable time.

But this creator presumes that any work done for free isn’t valuable. Untrue, if it’s creatively fulfilling to those involved. And if it works out, gets published, goes somewhere… Well, that’s the goal of any working creative, isn’t it? Nobody is suggesting any creator put off paying work in favor of non-paying work, but to suggest there’s no value in a project one or more people are passionate about is, frankly, short-sighted and ignorant. Everybody deserves to get paid for their hard work. Not everyone starts out at a point in their career where that can happen. Don’t devalue the work they do, or seek to do, because it doesn’t fit your rules for accepting a job. They want to be where you seem to be.

You know what though? Fine. If you don’t want to work with anybody but yourself or somebody who already has a deal with a publisher and a five-figure advance to offer an artist that’s your prerogative, and a fair one. Nobody is saying you need to work for free. In a perfect world nobody in comics ever would; every idea would earn a paycheck and we’d all be rolling in stupid amounts of money. So if you don’t want to be a part of the more bohemian dregs I count myself among I won’t judge you for it. Hey, you know what may help get that across professionally? A simple CONTACT PAGE ON YOUR WEBSITE, LIKE THIS.

Sad Stormtrooper  Pissed Off Writer: The Right Way to Say No

Ohhh, you mean set up a professional website instead of just a Tumblr? My bad.

And since you have specific requirements, like a publisher already in place with money in hand and an unwillingness to work on pitches used to get a publisher, maybe put that right there on the contact page along with information for your agent, if you have one (they do, by the way, just like me). And whenever you get a question from somebody who ignores the contact page and you don’t want to explain nicely in a quick, kind email what they’ve done wrong because you’re so busy? Just respond with a link back to the page. It’s still cold, but it’s better than spitting self-entitled vitriol at a well-meaning (potential) fan.

[EDITED 9/6 TO ADD:] So it turns out that said creator DOES have a non-Tumblr website that actually invites people to email her about small illustration projects:

Open for comic-centric workshops (children, teen & adult) and short term illustration/animation related work. Send an email for rates if you’re interested. VERY busy drawing comics at the moment, so if you have a long term project you think I might be right for, please consider emailing my agent first.

Rather than losing your internet mind on somebody publicly, and leaving up a rude and belittling Tumblr post directly addressing them, couldn’t you have just linked to the contact page and, if the information isn’t accurate, UPDATED IT FIRST?

So yeah, maybe your Tumblr post is getting reblogged and your tweet getting favorited, but do you know who’s doing that? Probably other creators who may want to have a freak out but realize it’s not the most charitable, intelligent, or professional of moves. By ranting on your soapbox at a fan, belittling a sizable portion of the working industry, and claiming artistic integrity with a desire to focus on your own work (unless there’s a publishing credit and a sizable advance, of course) you’ve only marked yourself as inaccessible, classless, rude, and unprofessional to the people who matter more than the peers who are, even now, throwing internet high-fives your way. You might remember them, vaguely. Who are they again? Those people who read and buy your books?

You know who won’t be reading your next book? That fan you just pissed on.

And this guy, who you pissed off.


[POST SCRIPT ADDED 9/5 & 9/6] A few other creators have started weighing in:

My good pal and GRAVE DOUG FRESHLEY scribe Josh Hechinger has weighed in over at his site. I encourage you to give it a read for a different perspective, coming from another writer with feet in both the creator-owned gamble of non-paying (up front) personal work and work for hire. He asks you to remember that it works both ways – sure an artist is usually working longer on a spec package/book than a writer, but neither party is getting paid. Josh says:

“See, I ask artists to work for free a lot. I know what I’d want to get paid if there was money on the table, but 99% of what I do anymore is without anyone involved but the creative team. Meaning there’s no money to be made until there’s something to monetize, unless we want to pay each other to work together.

A quick, interesting read, so head over to his site, NOBODY DIED to check it out in full.

Incidentally, he also links to the Tumblr post in question that I went to great pains not to name-check here, but I think his perspective is worth visiting for anyone remotely interested in this developing conversation. If you want to know who/what I’ve been talking about, the info is there. If you want to stay pure, steer clear.

Also, comic and prose scribe Adam P. Knave drops in with a balanced look as both sides of the argument. He says:

“Nick’s points are not lost on me, any more than [Creator's Name] are (I know Nick personally, which is why I call him Nick. [Creator's Name] I do not know and am not sure what she would like to be addressed as and so I keep using her full name – sorry if that cadence throws you) and that’s interesting to me. I see and feel both sides. The more I look at both arguments the more I agree with both.

You can read his whole post at ADAM P. KNAVE.COM. Have a look-see, but mind that he too linked to the creator’s Tumblr.

Of note: the Tumblr post both Josh and Adam link to is the second in question from the creator I’m leveling this open rant at. The first was the actual question exchange with a fan/Tumblr user, which the creator then tweeted out to the masses with the Tumblr user’s ID and original question intact. The only reason the creator posted a second entry, with just her answer and a brief summary of how it began (sans the questioners ID this time) was because the creator didn’t know questions can’t be reblogged. Not supposition folks, just from the creator’s Twitter feed.

Since my original post I’ve worked my way backwards in these links. Wanna know more about the person who asked the question that started this? It’s a real kicker:

She’s a young girl, a high school kid based on her Tumblr post about her parents letting her get her license. She’s not just any fan, but someone that could have walked right out of the creator’s own most recent book and certainly didn’t deserve a broadside smack like this. This wasn’t appropriate for any professional/fan interaction, but a kid? Really? Likely she was inspired by the creator’s book–she does say she’s a fan of the creator’s work in her question about working with them–and has no idea of the inner workings of our little world. Her question wasn’t rude or presumptuous; it was a bit more innocent than all that, which is what keeps me from agreeing with Adam’s take. 

Sort of deflates your righteous indignation, not to mention your “girl power” platform, doesn’t it, creator? Just a bit? Unless you’re proud of bullying a kid, who happens to be one of your fans and could pass as a template for your own character. In that case you might be bragging about your victory on Twitter.

Huh. You are.

Way to empower and inspire, creator. Stay classy.

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