Pay the Pilot

Yes, I still get requests like this.

Way back in 2009, I blogged about a video of Harlan Ellison ranting against people who expect professionals to write for free. It’s time to revisit that topic for two reasons.

I Can’t Use No Stinkin’ Badges

First, a Facebook friend pointed out that Idiot’s Guides, an imprint of Penguin Random House, is looking for authors and editors for books and articles. Compensation? “Badges” and exposure. Apparently some writers have mortgages and utility bills that accept that for payment. (Sadly, mine don’t.)

That set off the usual discussion about new writers needing to break into the field and obtain “published clips” countered by my argument that if enough writers are willing to write for free, all the clips in the world aren’t going to help a writer get past the freebie stage because there simply won’t be any paying work for him/her. Publishers don’t seem to care much about quality these days — read most online publications to see for yourself — they just want words that Google well. That’s why there are so many content mills.

I am hugely opposed to writing for free for any publication that makes money from my work. If a publication values your work, it should pay you for it. Period. If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t be writing for it.

If you have a differing opinion and feel a need to voice it here in comments, be my guest. Just (1) stay civil if you want your comment to actually appear and (2) don’t expect to change my mind. You might want to watch that Harlan Ellison video first.

Promoting My Company on Your “Social Medias” Doesn’t Pay for Fuel (or Maintenance or Insurance)

Last night, I got the following email message, submitted using a form on the Flying M Air website; I’ve obviously redacted identifying information:


Source: A Search Engine

my name is ***** and I’m a landscape photographer. I am in Page now and I was looking for joining a flight over Lake Powell/Alstrom Point tomorrow 05/27 or in the next days if not available. I would like to know if you would be interested in a collaboration. I would promote your company through my social medias and I will give you the rights to use some of the images I will take for your promotional purposes (such as website and social medias). Also I’m traveling with my partner, the travel blogger behind *****.com and she would also promote you through her social medias + mention you on her blog. Kindly let me know if you are interested in my proposal. If you want to check out my work please follow this link: www.*****.com

Best regards,

I need to point out that this person didn’t think it was appropriate to include his phone number in the field conveniently provided for it. So if I decided that I wanted to take him flying the next day at a location 736 NM from my base of operations, the only way I had to contact him was by email or to go to his website and attempt to find a phone number.

Alstrom Point
The view from above Alstrom Point at Lake Powell. This is just one of at least a dozen good photos I have from this area.

And yes, Lake Powell is over 700 nautical miles from my base of operations. The same contact page he used to send me an email clearly displays my mailing address in Washington state. The entire site provides information about the tours and other services I offer in the Wenatchee area of Washington. So I’m not quite sure why he thought it was remotely possible for me to fly him the next day at a place 700 miles away.

I did a Twitter and Google search for this person. I could not identify his Twitter account and he did not appear on the first page of search results for Google. This pretty much confirms my suspicion that his “social medias” wouldn’t have any value at all.

My first instinct was to simply delete the email. And I did. But then I thought about how well it would work as an example for this discussion in my blog. So I pulled it out of the trash and started writing this.

Then I thought about responding to it. And I wrote a response:

Thanks for taking the time to inquire about our aerial photography services.

Apparently you missed the part on our Contact page — coincidentally the same page where you found the form to email us — where we provided our mailing address in Washington state. Lake Powell is 739 nautical miles from our base, so the possibility of us flying there today to take advantage of your generous collaboration offer is pretty much nil.

If you’re serious about flying with us at Lake Powell, you might be interested in this offer for next spring:

You might also benefit from reading and understanding the information here:

A “collaboration” has to be mutually beneficial. I don’t need aerial photos of Lake Powell — I have hundreds of them, some of which appear on the Flying M Air site. Some of the photos in my collection were given to me by photographers who also paid me for their flights. I can’t imagine how more photos or promotion on your “social medias” would help me buy fuel, pay for maintenance, or cover my $15,000/year insurance bill.

And by the way, which ***** are you on Twitter? I couldn’t find you. And a Google search for your name didn’t bring up any landscape photographer on the first page of results. Seems to me that you need to fix your “social medias” before you offer them up as compensation for services rendered.

Enjoy your trip to Lake Powell.

Maria Langer
Owner, Flying M Air

I haven’t sent it yet. Should I?

May 25, 2916, 9 AM Update:

Prompted by Brian Dunning’s comment below, I’ve recomposed my response. What do you think of this?

Thanks for taking the time to inquire about our aerial photography services.

Unfortunately, we’re not available at Lake Powell today or the 27th or any other time this week. We are planning a trip there in April. You can learn more about opportunities to fly with us there then on this page of our website:

You might also benefit from checking out the additional information here:

But your timing is perfect! I have a photography job here near our Washington base that needs to be done this weekend and I think we might be able to collaborate on that. I’ll need about a dozen 20 megapixel photos of the Rock Island Dam shot with a 10mm fisheye lens from a boat near where the water is released from the dam. I’m sure you have or can get the equipment needed for creating such photos. I would sell your photos to my client and mention your name to him; maybe he’ll hire you in the future! I’d also show them off on my social medias to help promote your work. And a friend of mine who has a photography blog might mention your name, too.

Kindly let me know if you’re interested in my proposal.

Best regards,
Maria Langer
Owner, Flying M Air

Just Say No to Writing for Free

Don’t be part of the problem.

Yesterday, an editor of an aviation publication contacted me about writing for the organization’s blog. He’d found my blog through a link from another blog. He’s interested in increasing the amount of new content on his blog and wants to do that by signing up other writers. He already has a flight school operator signed up. One new post a month from each of four writers would get him the one post a week he wants for the blog. Makes sense.

From his email to me:

It’s quite difficult to find working helicopter pilots who can write, as I’m sure you can imagine. But you definitely seem to have the knowledge and interest. Would you consider doing some additional writing for [organization]?

At first, I was thrilled. I’ve been wanting to do some more aviation writing and the publication is well-respected. But then I began wondering whether this would be a paying gig or if I’d be expected to write for free. I worded my response carefully:

I definitely WOULD be interested in joining you folks. I’m an active helicopter pilot with a single pilot Part 135 operation now based in North Central Washington. And you probably already know that I also make a portion of my living as a writer.

Please do tell me more. If you’d like to chat, give me a call.

If you read what I wrote between the lines, the phrase “I also make a portion of my living as a writer” was meant to tell him that I’m usually paid to write.

His response came an hour later:

Thanks Maria. I should tell you up front that our budget for the blog is nil. So as much as it pains me to say it, I wouldn’t be able to pay you for the work. That said, there is always potential for additional opportunities.

I have to give him credit for not telling me that I’d be compensated with the “exposure” I’d get for writing for them. That really told me that he understood the situation — any editor that offers you “exposure” as compensation is either stupid or a manipulative bastard. You can’t pay the rent or buy groceries with exposure and the only thing it really exposes you to is additional editors looking for writers who will write for free.

As you might imagine, I put it out on Facebook to get feedback from friends, many of whom are freelancers. I was careful not to identify the organization. After all, does it really matter?

My post got lots of comments that are really worth reading. As my Facebook friend Carla said:

Comment from Carla

But this editor didn’t suggest such a thing. And I respect him for that.

The “additional opportunities” line, however, was obviously a lure — whether it was real or just a fabrication I’ll likely never know.

My response was frank:

We can still chat about the blog posts. I am willing to help out if it leads to other paying work. But if the additional opportunities never materialize, I probably won’t be motivated to continue writing without compensation.

Unlike the flight instructor you’re working with, I don’t have a flight school that might benefit with my name or company name getting out. My blog is already very well read by helicopter pilots — for good or for bad — and if I’m going to write for free, I’d rather write for my own blog.

I didn’t get a response.

The comments kept coming in on Facebook. All the publishing professionals and freelancers understood the situation perfectly. One of the commenters, a friend of Carla’s as a matter of fact, had this to say:

Comment from David

And that really hit home hard. The reason I couldn’t make a good living as a writer anymore was because too many people were writing for free. Publishers didn’t care much about quality when they could get free content. All they really want are hits and if something is interesting enough to attract the hits, they’re satisfied. Who cares about how it’s written? This is what’s killing the publishing industry — and giving those of us who actually enjoy reading well-written content a lot less to read.

I chewed on the comments overnight and when I woke up I knew I needed to send a new response. Here’s what I sent:

I’ve given this some more thought. I’ve decided that it would not be in my best interest, nor in the best interest of professional writers anywhere, to write for a commercial publication without compensation. Professional writers are paid for their work. Amateurs are not. I am not an amateur.

Maybe you don’t realize that I’ve written more than 80 books and hundreds of articles since 1990. Maybe you don’t realize that the money I earned as a writer enabled me to learn how to fly a helicopter and eventually buy my own. Maybe you don’t realize that my writing income kept my helicopter business afloat for its first eight years.

So not only did I earn a living as a writer, but I earned a very good living.

Sadly, those days are over. It’s now very difficult for freelance writers to find decent paying outlets for their work. I’m fortunate that my helicopter business became profitable when it did.

The way I see it, the reason [organization] is able to ask people to write for them without compensation is because too many people say yes. That’s the problem. That’s what’s bringing down publishing and the overall quality of what appears on the Web. Publishers settle for whatever they can get for free.

You say that it pains you to say that you can’t offer compensation. As a writing professional, I can understand that pain. But what I can’t understand is why someone in your position doesn’t push back and argue in favor of the writers. What’s a few hundred dollars a month to [organization]? You realize that’s all it would take. It’s the principle more than anything else.

I love to write; that’s why I have a blog. But I need to limit my uncompensated writing to my own blog — not one used to support an organization that generates revenue off the work of uncompensated writers.

I don’t want to be part of the problem.

Say No to No PayI emailed it this morning. I suspect the editor I sent it to will understand completely. But I don’t expect to be offered any money or any opportunities to write for them in the future.

Did I burn a bridge? Perhaps. But is it a bridge I really wanted to cross? I doubt it.

Are you a writer who can create quality content? If so, don’t sell yourself short. Demand compensation for your work. Don’t be part of the problem.


Just moments after clicking the Publish button for this post, I got a response to my last email (quoted above). I was offered a reasonable amount of money for my work. I’m just hoping this blog post didn’t piss off the editor enough to make him retract his offer. (I really do respect the guy, especially now.) Yet I won’t delete this blog post because the message remains the same: professional writers should not write for free. If I lose this opportunity for making this statement and using my situation as an example, so be it.

It really is the principle of the matter more than anything else.

One more thing…

Another Facebook friend reminded me that I’d embedded a rant by Harlan Ellison in my blog years ago. Mr. Ellison says it a lot better than I could.

Bees: Capturing My First Swarm

I lucked out. It was very easy.

I started my beekeeping hobby in June 2013 and have been blogging about it periodically. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, follow the Adventures in Beekeeping tag. Keep in mind that the most recent posts always appear first on this blog.

The call came while I was hovering over 35 acres of cherry trees in Monitor, WA. It was my friend Katie, who lives in Quincy. The bees that live in the wall inside the shop at their home had swarmed again. They were gathered in a bunch on the maple tree, about 8 feet off the ground. Did I want to catch them?

Of course I did!

My only problem was that I was working — with no end in sight. I spend my summers as a cherry drying pilot and I was into what would become a hellish week of rain and lots of hard work. I was hovering over one orchard when she called and another was already waiting for my attention. I told her I’d get there as soon as I could, thanked her for her patience, and hung up.

About Bee Swarms

Before I go into the story of this capture, let me take a moment to educate readers about bee swarms.

Honey bees live in hives. They could be manmade hives like the one I (and countless other beekeepers) have. Or they could be hives built inside of structures not intended to house bees, like hollow trees, rock overhangs, or building walls.

Most hives have a finite amount of space in which to build. Bees exist to reproduce and increase their numbers. Everything they do is to meet that end. (The honey they make is really for their consumption, not ours. They just make a heck of a lot more than they need.) So they’re constantly building inside their hive, making wax cells for brood (eggs laid by the queen and the larvae they turn into) and the storage of food like nectar (which turns to honey) and pollen.

As the hive population grows, the bees eventually start running out of space. They realize this and instinctively plan to split the colony. First, they create queen cells, which are special large brood cells for raising queens. The existing queen lays an egg in each of these cells, as she does for all the other brood cells. The workers, however, raise the larvae in these cells to be queens by feeding them royal jelly. (All larvae are started on a diet of royal jelly, but only future queens get it throughout their development.) Workers raise queens when they sense that the current queen is ready to die or already dead or when they know they need to swarm. The positioning of the queen cells helps beekeepers determine what’s going on; swarm cells normally appear at the bottom of the hive while supersedure cells appear near the top.

Bee Swarm
The swarm I caught looked a lot like this one. Wikipedia image by Mark Osgatharp.

Before the new queens emerge from their cells, the existing queen leaves the hive with at least half of the bees. They’ve already stuffed themselves with food so they’ve got enough energy to make a journey. This is the swarm. The bees stay close together, surrounding the queen to protect her. They leave the hive and often fly to a nearby location where they alight as tight mass on a branch or building eave or some other surface. They’ll remain there to rest and organize and get their bearings. Scout bees might fly off in different directions, looking for a new home. Eventually, the swarm will take off and fly in a bunch to a possible future homesite or another rest stop.

In general, when honey bees are swarming, they are least likely to sting. Why? Well, they don’t have a hive and food stores to protect. They’re on the go. Their only concern is protecting the queen and moving her into a new home so she can continue laying eggs and building their population.

Capturing a swarm is a win-win-win-win situation:

  • The property owner wins because she gets the bees removed for free.
  • Society wins because the bees are kept alive rather than killed — as an exterminator might do. Bees are vital to agriculture and the food chain.
  • The bees win because they’re not only kept alive, but they’re given a great new home all ready for them to move in — a manufactured hive, designed with their needs in mind.
  • The beekeeper wins because she gets a whole colony of bees, including a queen, for free.

Wikipedia, by the way, has an excellent article about honey bee swarming.

My Swarm Capture

I finally finished flying for the day at around 6 PM. I wasted no time loading up my beekeeping gear, which I keep in a rolling storage box, and the empty nuc box I’d gotten my first been colony in. My friend Cheryl climbed aboard the truck with me and we drove the 10 or so miles to Katie’s house.

Katie, by this time, was gone. She had to take her son to a swimming meet (or ball game or something like that). Her other son was home. He came out when we pulled up with the truck. The swarm hung from a branch on a maple tree beside their driveway. It was about 10 feet off the ground. But because it was overhanging the driveway, I could back my pickup’s bed under it. Standing on the pickup bed didn’t get me close enough to reach it, but standing on that big plastic bee equipment box in the back of the pickup did. (I really don’t like climbing ladders.)

I suited up and took a closer look, climbing up until my face was less than a foot from the swarm. They clung to a pair of small branches. I knew from conversations with other beekeepers that capturing a swarm like this was often as simple as clipping the branch off the tree and putting the bees in the box. So that’s what I did.

Capturing a Swarm
Cheryl took this photo of me lowering the bulk of the swarm into the nuc box.

I removed three frames from the 5-frame nuc box. Katie’s son got me a pair of clippers (note to self: buy clippers and put in bee box) and I climbed back up atop my equipment box. I grasped the branches right above the top of the swarm and clipped them right above my fingers. I then lowered the branch into the box. That took care of about 80% of the bees. I repeated this process for another small branch. Unfortunately, a clump of bees fell off and landed in the bed of my pickup. I had to scoop them up manually with some cardboard to get them in the box. When I was done, I had about 98% of the bees. A few dozen were flying around.

Captured Swarm
The captured bees wasted no time crawling up onto the frames in the nuc box I put them in.

I looked into the box. There was plenty of space in there to add a frame, so I gently lowered one in.

By that time, Katie’s husband had come out. He, his son, Cheryl, and I took a close look inside the box. We could clearly see “fanning” activity by a handful of bees on the top edge of the box. I’d seen this behavior before when watching another area beekeeper catch a swarm. The bees were trying to spread the queen’s scent outside the box to attract other colony members who hadn’t come into the box yet. That’s a great indication that the all-important queen was inside the box.

I took off my suit and stowed it in my equipment box, along with my smoker (which I hadn’t needed) and gloves. I waited as long as I could to cover the nuc box.Most of the bees were inside the box; the ones left behind might find their way back to the original hive in the shop wall less than 100 feet away. The plug for the hive entrance had already been put in place so the bees inside the box were trapped there. I wedged the box into a safe spot in the back of the truck, said goodbye to Katie’s family, and left.

Settling in the Swarm

Back at my RV, I offloaded the truck, leaving the nuc box on top of the bee equipment box under my fifth wheel hitch overhang. Then I took a quick shower, dressed, and went out with Cheryl to meet some friends in town.

The plan was to take the bees with me the next day when I moved my RV to Wenatchee Heights. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate. I had to fly most of the morning. If I left the bees closed up in the box, they could die from heat or lack of water. So I took the door plug off. Bees started coming and going like a regular hive. This meant that I would not be able to move the bees until that evening, when they returned for the night.

Although I did manage to move my RV that evening, I also had to fly. By the time I was done, it was too late to retrieve the bees. I asked Mike and Cheryl to close up the door, planning to retrieve them in the morning. But when morning came, I had to fly again. So they opened the door to let the bees out another day.

This turned out to be a tiny problem. Although I’d paid for my RV space through the next day, the campground people put a motorhome in that spot. The bees were coming and going from their box under the picnic table. The motorhome people were terrified of them and stayed locked up in their luxury box. The campground people called to ask when I’d get the bees. I was flying when they called. I assured them I’d be there later that evening and hoped (again) that the rain would stop.

Temporary Home
My new bees in their temporary home. I hope to have them moved into a real hive later this week.

Fortunately, the rain did stop and I did get back to Quincy to retrieve my bees and other possessions left behind. I brought everything back to Wenatchee Heights, where I’m currently camped out between two of the orchards I’m contracted to dry. In the morning, I opened the door to the hive. The bees began coming and going as usual, probably wondering what the heck was going on.

Several days have gone by. The bees seem happy enough. I’ve ordered a new hive to put them in; it should arrive sometime this week. I’ll set that up here, remove the frames from the nuc box and put them in the new hive, and get the nuc box ready for my next swarm capture. Details to come (of course).