Recently I was contacted by someone who wants to reprint my Roe v. Wade essay from Common Dreams. It's an educational publisher that compiles writing on specific Supreme Court decisions, for study in schools. I was very flattered to be included.
The publishers sent me a permissions agreement, which looked acceptable, meaning they weren't asking for anything ridiculous like exclusive rights or a copyright transfer. Under "payment", there were two checkboxes - "gratis", and "fee"; under "fee" there was a blank for an amount.
The man who emailed me hadn't mentioned a fee. Mind you, they aren't asking to use the essay on a website which the public accesses for free. It's for a hardcover book, published by a for-profit company.
I thanked him, told him I was flattered, and asked about payment. Guess what? There is a fee - for those who ask. No one ever would have mentioned money if I hadn't.
Lesson #1: Always ask for money.
Lesson #2: Always ask for more money. The worst they can do is say no.
Lesson #3: Your time and your work is valuable. In our society, value can be measured in several ways, but only one of them will pay your rent.
Lesson #4: Businesses are always trying to cut costs. One cost that's historically easy to trim is writer's fees, since there are so many writers, many desperate for work, and many undervaluing their worth.*
Thank you, thank you, thank you, National Writers Union. I learned so much, and those lessons continue to serve me well.
* If anyone questions why writers should be paid for re-use of their work - after all, we're all blogging for free, right? - ask yourself how much of your job you'd be willing to donate to your employer without compensation. If you still have questions, ask me and I'll try to explain.