Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Adventures in Selling Out

I may not be doing much more than keeping the lights on here, but I'm glad this little home of mine exists on the internet so that I can still retreat here when I need to. Like, say, now.

Since the days when I used to write here full-time a lot has happened. I made the decision to burn my proverbial ships and make a life in L.A. after driving out in late 2011. I got involved with someone and, even after all I'd gone through previously, gave in to the desire for human interaction with a woman I loved. Maybe most importantly in terms of my output here, I finally started getting paid to write full-time thanks to The Daily Banter. Being a professional writer was what I had been working toward since May of 2006, when I started this little experiment of mine and began cranking out material for it, so when the Banter offer came along I jumped at it. In some ways, even though it was the chance I'd waited for, I still felt like some kind of sell-out because I had always promised my readers that I would be completely independent. That's what DXM was. That's what I was so proud of.

Over the past few years, Banter has done something extraordinary. With just a few regular columnists working their asses off and creating only as much as a few columnists could, the site grew to the point where even though it wasn't a household name, it was still pulling in upwards of five-million hits a month at one point. We broke stories, went to Ferguson, did some genuine good, and took absolutely no prisoners. It was and is the best job I've ever had and I have no doubt my fellow contributors would say the same thing. But running a website is a herculean task financially, especially if you've made a promise to readers not to talk down to them or inundate them with clickbait. Investors want a concept -- and no, creating decent content and making it your mission to slap down those who deserve it doesn't really count as one -- and in lieu of venture capital the best you can hope for is to pummel readers with ads and pray it's enough to keep the lights on and the writers paid. It's been a struggle and, as any regular reader has noticed, it's one that's had a drastic impact on output at the site lately and the roster of writers on the payroll.

I don't write at Banter as much as I used to, but I still have to write. I want to write. But here's the thing: I can't come back here and do it for free anymore and I can't see this site, even with options like Patreon or GoFundMe, bringing in enough money for me to live off of. I need to keep myself out there both in terms of making a living and to keep my name in the conversation so that I'm helping to draw traffic to the Bob & Chez Show podcast I do with Bob Cesca. So in addition to the few pieces I post at Banter, I'm going to be branching out and pitching to other publications from this point forward. Which brings me to the thing I feel kind of shitty about. Thanks to a recommendation by my good friend Mary Beth Williams -- and with the knowledge that Cesca has taken to writing for them regularly -- I'm probably going to start writing for Salon. I feel like a hypocritical asshole for this considering the amount of criticism I've heaped upon Salon over the past couple of years, but the fact remains that the site pays shockingly well and has already agreed to accept my contributions. There will likely be other outlets where you'll be able to read me, but branching out to Salon is the immediate path of least resistance toward continuing to write and continuing to get paid for doing so. Maybe it seems like an odd choice considering, but really it's no choice at all: the pay is great, they're still a site that hosts a lot of really good writing, and they've even toned down the lunacy quite a bit as of late.

As I sit here and type out these words at DXM, I think to myself how great it would be to just come back here full-time. To try to make this site into something that pays me well enough to be able to abandon almost everything else. I have no idea if that would even be possible but I know that it's the future I would choose over any other. Maybe that's what's really left my head spinning. I owe no apologies or explanations to anyone when it comes to where I write, considering that nobody's paying my bills but me, and yet I've always known that nothing makes me happier or prouder than simply working for the people who read this site for so long. The best stuff I've ever written was published here because this was something I took more pride in than almost anything I've ever done in my life. DXM was and is my home, even if it's largely abandoned these days. I can't afford to come back here and put in a lot of effort when my day is so busy as it is and when I'm now in a position where literally everything I do that's work has to come with a paycheck. I can't do anything for free anymore. That's the reality.

So, I get to move on and push further out into the world yet again, which I guess is a good thing. Maybe the words I write won't be quite as meaningful as the ones I published here or even at Banter, but who knows. This is the life I chose nine years ago. I guess I'm stuck with it now.


Al said...

Nobody would begrudge you for writing to make a living...and if the living is comfortable DXM can be your refuge to be creative when the inspiration hits you. Pragmatism is not the enemy of idealism - living in a cubicle farm means my kids eat and have a safe home to life in. If that's selling out to my 20-something self who cares, my 40-something reality accepts that compromise.

Eric said...

Looks like I may have to start reading Salon again.

Chez, for what it's worth: don't you dare feel shitty. I mean, give me a break--"starving writer" is a job title that only has any kind of romantic lustre to it when you're seventeen, middle-class, and your entire concept of privation is built around being unable to buy U2 tickets. If you can get paid to work, you get paid for it. By whomever is willing to send you a check that won't bounce. And I guaran-damn-tee you anyone who thinks that's "selling out" and a bad thing is going to seriously reconsider when the grace period on their student loans ends six months after graduation.

What I mean is, congratulations.

Anonymous said...

I would only be disappointed if the skills you bring to your writing were diminished in any way by your Salon contributions. I am sure that is what they expect and I am also sue that is what you will contribute.


Izar Talon said...

You need to eat, man. Don't sweat it. If Salon is using writers like you, that means they won't be going too crazy hacks like they had been. You and Bob can class up the joint.

-Aaron Litz

Joey Perillo said...

Big win for Salon. Carry on, wayward son!

Ginya said...

I completely understand! I actually work at a place that I consider an extremely demeaning job to supplement my income to do what I love! I don't act like that in the workplace because that would make me an asshole, but you probably understand what I'm trying to say.
I do, however, miss you here. I still check in after all these years. And I wish nothing more for you than for you to have your dream of making DXM your sole income. I have utter faith in you that you can eventually do just that.
Not to be a total ass here, I'm sure you think about things like this, but as an artist myself (musician) I find that sometimes the things we say to ourselves become stronger when reinforced by the mirroring of a stranger or my friends. So... In every paycheck is there a tiny piece you can put aside? Instead of saving for a vacation, or that spending on a second cup of coffee or whatever it is for you in the category of THINGS that most of us forget about that we spend our money on that we could be saving? If you started a separate envelope or savings account to save for all the expenses you incur in, say, 6 months ... then you would be free to make this what you want. I don't know if that's possible or even something you want to worry about right now. Just trying to sprinkle a little hope on top of those mixed feelings of yours.

CNNfan said...

You know, Salon may be more of a
household name than Banter.

Cheers! Here to reading you,
struggling for tolerance,
over at Salon.

Izar Talon said...

Whew, thank goodness! I was afraid this place was gone forever! Glad to see it back up, Chez, if only for the archive! :)

Hope all is well!