Why you need to mention money near the top of your email

Sun Yung Shin
3 min readMay 24, 2024


Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Dear beloved organizers of cultural events,

Thank you for doing this work of organizing events that feature poets, writers, authors. We appreciate you (and often are you).

If you want to approach us with respect and make it slightly easier for artists of color and artists from working class or working poor backgrounds to earn a living as an independent artist in the U.S., I have a request (based on my own decades of experience as well as many conversations with other artists in various disciplines. I also have a contrasting experience of working with a wonderful speaking agency for the last few years, and know how much work is removed from my administrative plate by having access to this service).

When you email a writer, poet, author, for a gig (speaking, reading, performing, MC-ing, moderating, judging, critiquing, etc.) please put all relevant details into an email asking us if we want a job or gig, including what the job pays. Bonus points for including a brief or contract in a separate document that we can whisk into our folders and organize as needed.

Please do not make us ask about pay. Please do not assume that if you don’t mention pay, we will assume it’s a volunteer job and then not ask about pay. We will always ask about pay. We need to know before we get further into the email spiral whether there is pay and how much it is, (and even how you pay contractors and by when and whether we need to invoice, etc. etc.)

(Please use paragraph breaks and bullet points.)

If there is no honorarium or pay, please let us know at the top of the email, perhaps the first or second sentence.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, freelancers, the self-employed, or those who do contract work on top of W-2 work, like everyone, deal with a seething abyss of email, and we really need to know if the work involves pay, and how much, before reading a long email with other details.

Also, please do not be coy and write, “a small honorarium,” because we don’t know what that means. Is that $50? A Starbucks gift card? $200? We cannot read your minds.

And, if you want to ask us our rate, ask us right away. If you have a budget, let us know right away. Etc. You get the idea.

Many others on the internet have discussed this, but it can’t hurt to include it here; please do not attempt to persuade us that your offer of unpaid work is a “good opportunity” for “exposure” “networking” “connecting with audiences” and therefore we should be grateful and enthusiastic about this unpaid labor. It’s insulting.

If you want us to volunteer, ask us directly. Many of us do pro-bono or volunteer work for causes and groups about which we care, but historically-white institutions and organizations and well-resourced groups should not ask BIPOC authors or artists to do work for free, as a rule.

In conclusion, to avoid mentioning payment, or lack thereof, in your initial missive is, unfortunately, classist, racist, and other -ists. (While many of us may have been raised or acculturated to believe it’s impolite and vulgar to talk about money, but for people who need to get paid for work in order to live, it is neither impolite nor vulgar to respectfully discuss terms in a respectful manner. To pretend otherwise is to uphold the status quo of the violent and white supremacist myth of meritocracy.)

I know we all know that for those of us in the U.S. who are not white, citizens, cis, heteronormative, non-disabled, employed with benefits, etc. etc. etc. we have far more barriers to becoming working writers/artists, and to getting paid fairly, or getting paid the agreed upon amount at all.

I know we all value artists and cultural workers. In great appreciation for the organizing tasks required to curate and host events, thank you for your kind attention to this small but important economic equity issue.

Sun Yung Shin



Sun Yung Shin

MAT, MFA. Writer, poet, editor, bodyworker, gardener. She/they. Author or editor of nine books, plus three forthcoming in 2024 and 2025. www.sunyungshin.com