Why Nate Thayer’s expectation of payment pissed so many people off

This blogger did a great analysis of the drama:

who is Nate Thayer thinking so highly of himself and better than us?  This makes sense; we like to think ourselves better than others, not the other way around.  We also really don’t want to think about how working hard =/= success.   It scares us and once you add some jealous, thus in short, we decide that Thayer is uppity, unrealistic, ungrateful, and possibly lazy.

There’s a larger issue here, and I’ve addressed it before.

The world is filled with people who think they are Writers because they bang away at a keyboard for hours. I wish good luck to everyone. I do.

But none of the most deeply thwarted or unrealized ambition — and there is enough of it to light L.A. for a century if converted to electrical power — justifies trashing someone who has actually succeeded in the field.  Someone who (!) chose to turn down an offer of $125,000 from The Atlantic to turn out six stories a year.

First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. ...
First cover of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. November 1857. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dozens, if not hundreds of writers I know, would kill for such an opportunity and will never ever get it. Not because we suck. Because it’s one of the very few well-paid spots ever available to any writer, with a Big Name Magazine that many people would also kill to even write for and will also never get the  chance.

Whaddya mean I can’t get it?

This is a deeply un-American thing to say. It flies in the fantasy that we are all — yes, we are! — such special little snowflakes that we will all get a ribbon or a prize or a trophy just for showing up and trying really really hard.

It does not happen that way. It is just not going to happen for many people.

This week on Facebook I’ve watched a former journo crow with (well-deserved, hard-won) delight that she is now casting major stars for her network television pilot. Do I wish I were in her shoes? Hell, yes!

But I’m not. And hating and trashing her for achieving something I’d reallyreallyreally like to have, but do not have and may never ever have?


So those who are busy sucking their thumbs and clutching their blankies and hissing that Thayer is possibly

“uppity, unrealistic, ungrateful, and possibly lazy.”

need help, my friends.

He wants to earn a living using the skills he’s spent decades acquiring.

So do we all.

16 thoughts on “Why Nate Thayer’s expectation of payment pissed so many people off

  1. I started a Tumblr this week because I feel like these “writing for free” controversies come up so frequently that it’s time someone chronicled them. (The irony is not lost on me that I am working on this blog for free.)

    Anyhow, I wrote a similar post this week about how maybe it’s time we struggling writers take a look at ourselves. Most of us aren’t going to make it to the big time. At what point do we let the dream die?

    Thanks for your blog, by the way. I’ve linked to you a few times on my Tumblr/Twitter this week.

    1. Thanks for the links!

      I think it’s even more complicated than that….There once was (and still is for some) a handsome ($60-100k/yr+) living to be made writing for publication, freelance. But not for the web! Those of us print folks who (sigh) wander over to web writing inevitably come away weary and annoyed — I’m now chasing a fat $800 (wooooohoooo) for three goddamn web articles (each 500 words) I banged out a month ago. I don’t know these people and I don’t trust them, while the two people who got me to write for them are both Big Names I knew from print. I would never have worked for these people otherwise…

      So it’s also a question of where you’re aiming for and your income/career goals, both short and long-term. If you really want to make a living as a writer — like the salaries I’ve listed above — what is your strategy for achieving that? You have to have a plan. I suspect far too many young writers just sort of hope a lot. That’s not a plan!

  2. This reminds me a lot of our American need for high self-esteem. It’s like everyone wants participation trophies even though only some people win. Great insight, again. Thanks!

  3. I also think there’s a generational aspect to the “Whadya mean I can’t?!” stance. My generation and (as far as I can tell, working at a university) a lot of those coming after us have been raised with a lot of “if you can dream it you can do it” and “everything will work out” platitudes. Unfortunately and quite suddenly, a lot of people in a lot of different fields were smacked with the harsh truth that the jobs we wanted and were told would be available to us, were suddenly gone. A lot of young people are not adjusting well to the new reality of writing or other industries either – and few I think were properly educated or prepared for what work was really like.

    And you’re right, a lot of people hope but aren’t proactive about doing anything to achieve it! I recently directed a friend who’s an aspiring novelist of the “hope” variety to some of your posts about the state of the writing industry and it really opened their eyes.

    1. I hear ya on the “Whaddya mean, I can’t?!” problem. Personally, it’s frustrating because I have been trying to eke out a living freelancing since 1998. 1998! And my pay has gotten worse and worse, even if I have worked with some big names. My highest writing salary to date happened in 2000. I keep trying. It keeps getting worse. My husband is at his wit’s end watching me try to make it work. So this whole episode, especially the responses from Felix Salmon (Reuters) and Alexis Madrigal (Atlantic) putting the freelance economy in perspective made me realize that it’s not just me, it’s everyone. And at some point, you’ve just got to quit trying to make a living out of it. *sigh*

      1. Funny thing that — me, too. My husband and I started dating that year and I made an excellent income, which he thought (!) would certainly continue. No it has not. I am barely making 2/3 of that income 13 years later and sick to death of chasing $500 checks from lying assholes who change the terms of the work agreement after they have used my copy.

        So…what is your exit strategy? Go back to school? Teach? Change careers? At my age, who is going to hire me into a FT job?

        I am investigating a few options, far away from journalism and publishing, but have no huge sense of optimism that I can suddenly double this income either…

    2. Gah.

      I blame the hell out of their parents. Seriously? I’m their age and we’ve seen this industry dying for a long time; 24,00 (!!!) journalists were canned in 1008 alone. No one Googled “journalism layoffs?”

  4. It’s really a complicated issue. Even I wasn’t sure if turning down such an opportunity of getting big exposure was really a nice idea. If it was me, I think I would’ve not done the same. I could easily get $100 by doing a little freelancing work but spending $100 would not get my writing at a popular magazine.

    On the other hand, Atlantic is definitely making a lot of money. So why on earth would they say that they are not able to pay for a piece? Is that a joke? Or is that just underestimating all the [unseen] efforts that every serious writer puts into all of his pieces?

    I’m really confused.

  5. leah wolfe

    I could not be more peeved. I’ve left my reaction on my own site to keep things respectable on your blog. Thanks for the info.

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