Today I want to talk about exposure. No, not the physical kind (that judge was very clear about me not being allowed to put up any more of my “artistic modeling” pictures after the ill-fated flyer campaign) but rather the kind you get as someone who does work where being better-known helps you. Photography, directing, acting, and, of course, writing are all ones off the top of my head, but by no means are they the only professions where it comes up.
Exposure, in its most simplified form, is merely the opportunity to get your work in front of people who might not have otherwise seen it. I touched on the concept briefly in my blog about Kindle Unlimited, but I decided it was important enough to warrant an article all of its own.
As of late, I feel like exposure is becoming a dirty word in the artistic community, and not without good reason. There is literally no end to the number of people out there who will happily take advantage of someone new to their field by offering to let them work “for exposure” which means there’s no pay, you’re just padding your resume. I’ve heard it likened to the unpaid internships regular companies put people through, but since those are equally bullshit it’s not a great defense. People trying to use exposure as a means to get free labor is straight-up underhanded ridiculousness, and if you want to see the best examples them you should follow ForExposure on Twitter.
That said, exposure itself isn’t inherently bad, when it’s done on your own terms. At the end of the day, putting more eyeballs on your work is a key part to getting further as an artist in most mediums. Like with most things in life, there really isn’t a hard and fast rule to use when deciding if doing work for exposure is a good idea, every situation will be as unique as the person in it. The best I can do is offer up some examples of my own, and a few of the questions I ask myself when the opportunities come up, to hopefully offer a bit of guidance when the time comes to make your own decisions.
Let’s take my favorite medium for example: the web-serial. With the very rare exception of those of us who are able to make a little bit of ad money off our sites, every web-serial is done pretty much entirely for exposure. We start out because the most important thing to us is simply sharing our work, knowing people are reading, and maybe even getting the occasional bit of feedback. There are no words for me to describe what it’s like when you’re first starting out and you begin seeing comments on your pages. Having people care about your work for the first time is a wholly unique and wonderful experience.
But here’s the thing: this web-serial is something I put out on my own terms. I understood I was trading my effort for nothing more than eyeballs, actually only the chance at eyeballs if we’re being honest, and I was at peace with that. On the off chance things took off, of course, I would be the one who would see benefit, but in the beginning all I knew was that it was worth the time invested in writing and updating just to have people see my work who would never have otherwise. The doing was enough of a reward in itself.
Really, I think that’s the most important part of deciding to do something solely for exposure. Do you want to do it anyway? If so, then maybe it’s worth looking at, though there is another side to this that requires heavy consideration: Is it fair?
Sticking with real-world examples, a few weeks back I got the idea for a web-short. I talked to my friends who are trying to make movies, rolled the idea by them, and they agreed it sounded fun. I wrote a short story to serve as the basis for a script, which they are going over, and ideally in a few weeks we can shoot it, though whether it will ever see the light of day remains to be seen. None of us are making any money off of this, no one is charging for filming any more than I am charging for writing the script. We all saw that this would be something fun to do, and as such we decided to pool our efforts to create it. Yes, this whole project is just for fun, or some exposure if things turn out great and we put it out there. We’re all pitching in and making it happen, working to do our best with our own fields. That, to me, is a fair situation. No one getting exploited, no one making money and tucking it away from the others, just a group of people who decided that their time was worth the effort of creating something.
That one is easy though, so let’s do one more, this time where money is on the line. The Pen and Cape Society has thus far done two anthologies, with more planned ahead. Every author had the chance to write or submit a story going along with the theme, and then they were compiled and sold as e-books. For the first, we tried to make it free but accidently generated revenue (Amazon’s a pain in the ass about price-matching) which we communally decided to put toward expenses of site hosting and maintenance. For the second, we decided before it started that all profits would go toward James Hundall’s charity, because it was a cause that certainly seemed worth doing what we could for.
In both cases, none of us received any income for the stories we submitted, we did it solely to get more work out there, and to get a little attention on the group we were forming. The money was used on a resource that benefitted everyone, and on a cause we agreed was worthwhile, respectively. I can’t vouch for everyone’s set of ethics, but to me that seemed completely fair, especially since we all knew going in what we were doing.
My point with all of this is that only you know for sure if a situation where exposure is on the line is worth your effort. It’s your time and art, you get to decide what you commit to. I just wanted to showcase the fact that sometimes it’s worth it, but generally only when it’s something you really want to do, and everyone involved is being treated fairly. If you are creating, then you have say on the terms; don’t ever let someone try to con you by saying otherwise.
Exposure can definitely be misused, and damned if that doesn’t happen rampantly. But when the situation is right, sometimes working just for the sake of doing can lead to fun, interesting projects. And occasionally it can even pay off big time. After all, if I’d never started this web-serial I would still be doing spreadsheets in a cubicle, but instead I get to write stories all day long. That came from the support of you, my wonderful readers. And you all came, at least initially, from a little bit of exposure.