I Ask For Tips On All My Creative Work — And I Don’t Feel Bad About It

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet. While I love that I can easily put my creative work into the world and build an audience around the type of art I want to create, I have a disdain for how much unpaid work I have to do. Almost everything is expected to be free now. Podcasts should be free. Art should be free. Music should be free. All of this valuable creative capital is being shucked out in the hope that exposure will ultimately lead to some sort of revenue.

So, while the internet is a cornucopia of art and a promised land for artists who truly want to share, it’s not always the most sustainable way to build your finances. Creatives have to become increasingly scrappy in order to be able to do what they love.

Back in February, I published a piece on Medium called To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind. It was one of those posts I wrote as if my fingers were not connected to the rest of my body. It came out of me like fire. It quickly became a top story on Medium and was being shared thousands of times. I cross-published it on the Huffington Post blog, which is unpaid. Per my own personal views of success, my writing either needs to reach a lot of people (exposure) or it needs to generate a paycheck (freelancing). For that particular post, it was generating a lot of exposure, so I wasn’t too worried about not making any money off of it.

However, as the numbers climbed, I started to become resentful. It’s the nature of the internet and it’s obviously my choice to make my work available at no cost, but it can often feel like a trap where I won’t be able to generate future opportunities if I don’t publish. And it’s hard to be excited about a viral post when you don’t know if you can pay your electric bill.

On the third day of that post going viral, I realized I had a chance to change the narrative. The last thing I wanted was to continue feeling resentful when all I want to do is share my writing — writing I feel is genuinely worthwhile.

So, I put a tip jar on all my posts on Medium. PayPal has a newish feature where you can sign up for your own paypal.me account and send people directly to a page where they can pay you. While I think this was intended for settling up the restaurant check or splitting movie tickets among friends, I repurposed it as a tip jar and confidently threw that link onto all my posts. I even have a link to the tip jar at the bottom of each of my newsletters I send out every Wednesday. And I have absolutely no shame about it. I’m not making demands, but I am giving readers the option to show appreciation for the work they’re consuming.

And, while I’m not inundated with tips, it also hasn’t been entirely fruitless. At the height of popularity for To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind, I was receiving at least twenty tips per day, some for $1.00 and a surprising amount for $20.00 or $25.00 — totaling more than $1,000.00 since February, 2016. I have only published one other post since then, so I don’t know how it will perform on an ongoing basis, but I do know that it has given me a new excitement for publishing on Medium. And, not one person has emailed me to hate on the tip jar.

While I appreciate more likes on my Facebook page, more followers on Twitter and Instagram, or sign-ups to my newsletter, there’s something powerful about receiving money for the art you put out into the world. It feels like a different kind of appreciation. And, as my resentment vanishes, I feel like I’m making a tiny step in the right direction.

Jamie Varon is a writer and graphic designer living in Los Angeles. You can connect with her via: Instagram or Twitter or Facebook or Medium or TinyLetter or Website. You can also leave her a tip here. (See? Shameless!)

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