Okay y'all, I may be stepping on something delicate here, but I've got to ask. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but why are people always begging for money on their blogs? I don't know why this bothers me, but I always get a little annoyed when I see those things, kinda like the never-ending PBS fundraisers. "You're enjoying our programming, now don't you feel guilty???" Ummm.. not really. Run a commercial. Or go off the air. I could care less. [...]Now, I was just going to leave a lengthy comment over at My Three Sons, but as I thought about it, I thought there might be a lot of people with similar thoughts or questions; anyway, I have trouble being brief enough for the average combox (no, really? you gasp). I think there's some general misunderstanding about Catholic bloggers, donation drives, writers' pay, and the like that perhaps I can help clear up.
And it's not just those serious circumstances. Why are certain bloggers always asking for free books or other stuff on Amazon? Or soliciting donations for ordinary living expenses, or sometimes for literally no reason at all? Are we supposed to feel guilty for reading and not paying? If you want to be a writer, write a book. Sell articles to magazines. Put more ads on your blog. Or, if you really think you're good, sell subscriptions to your own website. Here's a hint: if people won't pay for it, you're probably not that good at it.
I'm sorry to be harsh, but couldn't they just spend less time blogging and get a real job if they are that hard up? I know you really really want to be a successful writer, or an entrepreneur with a home-based business, and only do what you love and only work for yourself. So would all the rest of us! But I, for one, will continue working for The Man, because it pays well and has good benefits.
So here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Many Catholic bloggers are employed directly by the Church, or by various Catholic ministries, by Catholic non-profits, and the like. I don't think that any of us would want to see a situation wherein nobody but single people fresh out of college could "afford" to work in such positions, but at the same time we ought to recognize that these sorts of jobs are not glamorous careers with high compensation and terrific benefits. Especially in today's world, where the expectation is that a family will have two incomes and costs reflect that expectation, it's pretty hard for a man working as a parish DRE to make enough money for his growing homeschooling family's needs. If he manages to run a popular blog in his spare time, and people are willing to contribute to it to help make it possible for him to keep blogging, why not give them the opportunity?
2. Many Catholic bloggers are former Protestants who were employed in some way in their own churches before hearing and answering a call from God to turn to the Catholic Church and encounter His Real Presence in the Eucharist. A former Protestant minister may sometimes be able to become a Catholic priest, receiving special permission to do so if he is married and has a family; but the vast majority of former Protestant ministers, teachers, preachers, writers, speakers etc. who once earned decent livings in these fields may find themselves facing not only the ordinary ramifications of a conversion to Rome (e.g., family disappointment, pressure from friends etc.) but also the very real loss of their ordinary source of income. And though they may (and do) find other ways to earn a living, the chances are good that there will be a huge difference between what they earned before and what they can earn now. Imagine, for a moment, being a graduate of a school of theology, having a degree that is geared toward a life of ministry in a Protestant church or setting--and then becoming Catholic, and finding those jobs not only scarce but filled quickly by all the well-known long-time Catholic writers, teachers, speakers, non-profit managers, etc. out there. Your skill set, in other words, isn't in demand in your new faith home, but those corporations out there (that is, "The Man") are generally going to be dismissive of the resume of a person in the middle forties whose previous experience was all in church and non-profit work.
3. It is easy to tell someone that if they want to be a writer they should write a book (or write articles etc.) Most of those Catholic bloggers out there who do have a PayPal button on their blogs already are writers; they write copious articles, they have written books. Guess what? Writing for the Catholic market is a one-way ticket to starvation, unless you have some other source of income--but as writers know, a full-time job is usually a death-knell to any hopes of a writing career. I did the least amount of writing in my life when I worked in a corporate office; the mental tiredness at the end of a day of petty corporate tasks doesn't always provide the most fertile environment for wit and imagination to flourish. This is especially true for writers of non-fiction; a J.K. Rowling may be able to scratch enough Harry Potter ideas out on napkins during her job as a waitress to make an eventual go of it, but it's a little hard to research what third-century Church Fathers had to say about the Holy Spirit in between taking orders or waiting on customers.
There are two realities here that most of those who don't write for publication aren't necessarily aware of. The first is that while freelance work is out there, it doesn't pay especially well (from the standpoint of earning a living, that is). If I add up all the money I earned in freelance work last year, for instance, I might be able to pay for two weeks' worth of groceries--if the company who owes me the money eventually gets around to paying me for the work, which they have not done as of yet (which is the known, and most often encountered, bane of a freelancer's existence). Granted, with Mr. M.'s full-time employment I can afford to be patient--but not every freelance writer is in the same boat, and some of them, who work a lot harder than I do to submit articles of every kind to every publication imaginable while also maintaining lively blogs and working on books and other projects, are depending on those checks just to pay the ordinary bills. Any delay in payment means that you might have to postpone such luxuries as a trip to the dentist or a new pair of shoes for the child who has outgrown his old ones. True, the freelance Catholic writer could just stop writing and start working at Wal-Mart instead on the grounds that at least the checks will show up on time--but I think we'd all be a lot poorer without some of these people's thoughts and ideas helping to inform Catholic discourse.
The second reality, specific to Catholic writing, is this, and it's a shameful one: Catholics don't pay for Catholic media. Compared to the general Christian writing market, Catholic writers have little hope of selling more than a relative handful of copies of a book that may have taken them hundreds of hours to research and write. Few parishes have any kind of budget to buy and maintain good Catholic materials in a sort of parish library; few of those who attend Mass weekly ever purchase a single Catholic book or subscribe to a Catholic magazine or paper (aside from diocesan papers which are often sent to every registered parish family in a diocese), and few Catholic publishers will consider publishing a manuscript from a Catholic writer who has not already managed to establish himself or herself as some kind of noted Catholic personality without their help--because the Catholic publishers have almost no budget to promote a new writer, and know they might have some chance of selling an author's book if the author is someone the public already knows.
So with those two realities in mind, a Catholic writer almost can't afford not to write a blog. But the time he or she spends on blogging is time that can't be put towards paid writing, either, leaving the blogger in the position of needing to spend time on a public, visible activity which is wholly uncompensated.
If we really don't want Catholic writers to have to beg for money on their blogs, we could support them by buying their books. Many of us spend tons of money on various forms of expensive media entertainment, but how often do we think we need a good spiritual book to read, or a reflection on the Gospels, or some work encouraging us to persist in our vocations with humility and charity? If some Catholic writers have to put up a PayPal button in order to keep writing such good books, in a country with 60 million Catholics, 42% of whom attend Mass weekly, then doesn't this say something about us all?