I define professional artists as people trying to make a living from their art; we are few and far between in the current harsh environment.

Non-professional artists are people who earn their living elsewhere, but do their art as a hobby or an extra source of income. A lot of the actions and behaviour of non-professional artists make it more difficult for professional artists to survive.

One of the most common things non-professional artists do is do art for free. If they are a singer, they’ll sing at the venue for free, to get exposure.

If they’re a writer, they’ll let magazines use their work for free.

If they’re a photographer, they allow magazines to use their photos but charge nothing.

This sort of behaviour obviously makes it difficult for professional artists to make a living.

Perhaps the non-professional artist never plans to go professional, but if she does, she should know she’s taking the short term exposure at the expense of the long term chance of a professional career in the arts.

For writers, there are numerous ways that non-professional writers make professional writers lives difficult.

One of these ways is not understanding the publishing business, to make that clearer -not understanding that publishing is a business.

When a manuscript is accepted, non-professional writers act as if the publisher is a friend doing them a favour.

Yes, it’s nice to get an acceptance, but you need to realise, publishing is a business. The publisher said yes because they believe that your manuscript is something they can sell. If they cannot make money from your manuscript, they are not going to publish it.

The thankfulness of non-professional writers can spill over to allow publishers to exploit them. This person is given a contract, and they sign it.

No questions asked. A blanket acceptance for everything the publisher wants. The non-professional writer is just thankful to be published; they’ll do anything to make the publisher happy.

So how does this affect me, the professional writer? It means I appear difficult when I ask for, the now standard, 25% royalties on ebooks when the publisher, in their contract, is offering only 10%, for example.

I know the business because I am trying to earn my living within it. I know the contract is a starting point, not the finish line.

Every time a non-professional writer doesn’t know that, and accepts everything, even willing to give more if required- anything actually– it makes my life more difficult.

In Botswana, most of the publishing is educational publishing. Many of the writers are non-professional writers, often teachers.

In the past, it was often common if a publisher wanted to write a social studies book, for example, to go to a hotel and call some social studies teachers there.

Pay them for a week’s work, include their stay at the posh hotel, their food, maybe at the end- P10,000 on top, and the teachers would be on their way.

The teachers were happy for what they got. They didn’t know how much they might have earned had they insisted on a proper publishing contract where they got royalties on the sales of the textbook, royalties that continued to be paid out over many years if the book was prescribed.

They didn’t care, but their choice to take the week hotel holiday and the P10,000 impacts on professional educational writers and their livelihood.

Non-professional writers also do not hold publishers to the legal contracts that they’ve signed. They’re just happy to get anything.

If royalties are due on the 18th of March, for example, and the publisher decides they feel like paying on the 25th of June, that’s fine with the non-professional writer. They’re just happy to get anything.

The flexibility of  the legal contract becomes the precedent.

The contract stops being a document with well-defined rights and responsibilities, with no legal wiggle room, a document that protects both parties from exploitation, and becomes merely a suggestion, and then only if the publisher feels in the mood to follow it.

Non-professional artists need to think clearly about the long term effect of their actions, and they must think of the consequences in a holistic way.

They may consider that they have no obligation to professionals, but that is only a short term view that may come back to haunt them.

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