Dear Gillian: please pay women for their labour

Image by the fabulous Stuart F Taylor

I love Gillian Anderson, she’s done some amazing work. Like many nerds, I loved X-Files when I was young, and more recently I loved Sex Education (that bit when all the girls got on the bus together absolutely shattered me). But I would bet every single penny in my bank account that she didn’t work on either of these shows for free. What’s more, I imagine she wouldn’t agree to do this kind of work without being credited. Let’s talk about ‘Dear Gillian‘, her latest project with Bloomsbury Books!

I’m going to sound mean here, and I know there’s a lot of love for Gillian (I love her too, and I am so sorry to be critical but I think this is important!), so I’ll say up front that I don’t think this is her fault, and I also don’t think that anyone at Bloomsbury is being deliberately unfair. An updated ‘My Secret Garden‘ for the 21st century sounds like a really cool project and I wish them every success with it, it’s just being done in a way that I believe unfairly (and unnecessarily) profits from women’s unpaid labour and it would be great if they could rethink how they deal with submissions.

From the website Dear Gillian…

“The ‘Dear Gillian’ project will form a generation-defining book, compiling your anonymous letters to me to explore how women really think about sex. I am asking for letters of around 1,000 (but no more than 2,500) words, in any language, describing your most intimate, private sexual fantasies. Simply open your letter with ‘Dear Gillian,’ and let your imagination run wild. I will, of course, also share my own.”

LOVE IT! A collected anthology of people’s sexual fantasies? SIGN ME UP! A ‘Secret Garden’ for the 21st century? YES! Edited by Gillian Anderson?! BE STILL MY BEATING HEART.

But seeing as it is the 21st century, and this is a project that is going to generate profit, perhaps we could take a 21st-century approach to sharing women’s stories for money?

What should you expect when your work is published?


From the Dear Gillian website:

“All submissions are made voluntarily and without payment, regardless of whether the submission is selected for publication and the book is sold.”

As a baseline, I believe that if someone is making money off your work, you should be paid. The book could not exist without these stories, so the stories should be paid for. Of course there’s labour involved in curating and editing content (perhaps more than many people realise). Editors, publishers, marketing assistants, translators and Gillian Andersons all need to eat, so obviously the amount individual contributors should get will depend on a number of factors. But we all have bills to pay, so I believe contributors should be offered something.

If the collection was being published for charity, then fair play. But as far as I can tell this isn’t for charity (and even if it were, the rights they are requesting mean it could be used for more than that – see below). The team is asking for stories ‘of around 1000 words’. For comparison, Rachel Kramer-Bussel’s Best Women’s Erotica of the Year – a fabulous annual anthology collating stories from women around the world – offered $225 and two copies of the book for accepted stories between 2-4000 words in 2021 and 2022.

Keeping it Under Wraps – a project that also collects stories, which I spotted because they were doing some promo (well done!) off the back of Gillian Anderson’s tweet – offered £40 plus a copy of the book for pieces of between 1000-1500 words in 2022. That’s a very small amount, but I imagine they don’t have the kind of budget that Bloomsbury has. Often with projects like these, the amounts are token rather than something you could live off. But even a token amount is significantly better than nothing: it tells people that their submissions are valuable.


On top of the lack of payment, there’s also the question of credit. In the terms and conditions of submission, the Dear Gillian website states that:

“We may edit your submission to ensure it remains anonymous, that it does not contain any personal data and that you will not be identifiable from the submission if published.”

Anonymity is, of course, extremely important to those who want it, and it’s reassuring to know that the publishers will take this seriously. However, not everyone who submits their work will necessarily want to be anonymous. As the book is exploring how our attitudes towards sex have changed, it might be super interesting to see that sex has become de-stigmatised to the point that some women actively want to be credited! In those instances it feels unfair to not give credit where it’s due. This reminds me of the way the Vagenda used to publish women’s work under just their initials, refusing to give proper byline credit to those who’d written for them, even when contributors expressly asked to be named! 

There are understandable legal issues with people sharing true sex stories under their real names (if the protagonists’ partners are identifiable, for instance, there is a risk of libel) so I get why the publishers might be cautious about this. However, they’re already making it clear that submissions should be fantasy rather than true story, and that they will edit out any identifying details. In this case, it feels only fair to offer those who send their juicy writing appropriate credit if they’d like it.

There’s legitimate frustration from creative people who are constantly asked to work ‘for exposure’, so in this case it feels appropriate to point out that it contributors to this project won’t even be given exposure!


Final point: rights! I am not an expert in rights, but I have written a couple of books for which contracts had to be negotiated before signing. I also now license work from other people to turn into audio porn, and have been lucky enough to have the guidance of the brilliant Neil Brown of decoded:legal, who has helped me put together agreements to make sure that the work is all above board rights-wise. In doing these things I have learned that there are LOADS of different ways to negotiate rights – you can sell someone the right to use your work in one format but not another, you can limit the time period for which they have rights to your work, you can give them usage rights in certain channels but not others, certain languages, etc. On top of this you can also negotiate things like editorial input – i.e. anyone working with me could say ‘you have the right to publish my work as audio and make small copy changes, but any substantial changes to the text need to be run past me.’ Or whatever it is. No one’s ever asked me for this, incidentally, but instinctively I wouldn’t make any significant edits without checking in with someone first – when they’re sharing intimate fantasies, that just feels like the consensual way to do it.

Let’s take a look at the Ts and Cs from the Dear Gillian website…

“We will also ask for your full name and contact information. This will not be published in the book or anywhere else and is collected only for the purposes of you assigning your rights in the submission to us. This means that once you have made your submission it will belong to us. We will be able to use it for any purpose.” [emphasis mine]

For any purpose! So not only will they not pay you, nor credit you, they also want the right to use your work for any purpose? And you won’t be able to use that work elsewhere, because it will no longer belong to you. Hmmm.

Note, too, that these are the terms you agree to when you submit, so the publisher will own the rights to your work regardless of whether it is actually included in the book. So let’s say you submit a cool story but they don’t select it, these terms mean you’re not able to sell it to a different publisher (or website), nor even publish it on your own blog if you want to. Regardless of whether your story is chosen, it no longer belongs to you.

And thanks to Neil Brown for spotting this point too: under the detailed agreement, Bloomsbury Publishing’s liability to you is capped at £10. Your liability, though (for instance in the event that you’ve submitted material that’s libellous or breaches someone else’s copyright) is unlimited. In short: by giving them your work for free that they might profit off it, you’re exposing yourself to a much larger financial risk than they are willing to take on themselves.

Consent! Credit! Capitalism!

I don’t think any of us can meaningfully consent to capitalism, because we’re stuck in this system whether we like it or not. But seeing as we’re here, I think it’s good to try and minimise the harmful impact of it wherever we can. That means making sure that we’re not unfairly exploiting other people’s time to make money for ourselves. In the sex space that also means approaching any business partnership with consent at the front of your mind. So rather than saying ‘submit your work and then we’ll use it however we like, it’s ours now’ a more consensual approach would be to ask people to ‘submit your work and let us know how you’d like to be credited, if we choose to use it.’ That feels like a more comfortable way to go.

On top of this, I think it’d be appropriate to tell people that they’ll be contacted if their story is substantially edited, and their permission sought for any changes. If you can contact people to ask them to assign all rights, you can probably touch base to ask them to approve substantial changes. I can’t imagine how weird it would be to be told that your deeply personal and intimate sex fantasy has been selected for publication only to buy a copy of the book and find they’ve changed it beyond recognition. Again, just from a consent perspective, this feels extremely off.

I’ve left money till last because it’s a thornier issue. There will be women who don’t want or need payment for their stories – people often say to me, when they submit guest blogs, that they would like waive their fee or have me donate it to a charity instead. I’m always happy to do this, because I understand that not everyone wants capitalism to bleed into their sex life, even when they’re sharing their sex life with a profit-making website such as this one. But I do offer to pay! Because I make money! I don’t make tonnes of money, and nor would I ever claim to pay well (I pay £20 per guest blog which is rubbish, but I’m transparent about what I can afford and always happy to nudge bloggers towards publications that can pay more than I can, if they want to try and pitch elsewhere), but I do think that if even I can pay people something and credit them properly, a large publishing company like Bloomsbury can do the same.

Let’s assume this book will be around 80,000 words, and that roughly 20,000 of those will be written by Gillian herself, how much would it cost to pay the roughly 60 contributors required to fill the rest of the space? Let’s say they get $225 – the same as Rachel Kramer-Bussel pays for her anthology – it’d cost about $13,500. Paying the same as ‘Keeping It Under Wraps’ would cost a mere £2,400. Small price to pay, in my opinion, to let women know that their stories are valued.

Empowerment vs exploitation

The sex space is one in which women have often been exploited in the name of ’empowerment’. As Gillian explains in her Guardian article, much has changed in the area of sex since My Secret Garden was originally published. To my mind, one of the really positive things that has come about since then is that women have more power (not enough yet, but more). We have power over our own stories and experiences. We’re no longer solely the objects of other people’s desire, we’re often the producers – we make porn, we write erotica, we commission others to do the same.

That’s not just powerful content, it’s valuable work. The publishers believe it’s valuable too: they will print this and slap a price tag on it. So why not share the wealth?

In the Guardian piece, Gillian (I love you, I really do, and I’m so sorry to be a pain) says:

“I’m hoping your voices from diverse nationalities and backgrounds will shed light on just how far we have come since 1973.”

I hope so too! But I think it’s going to be tricky to do this in a book which relies on women’s unpaid and uncredited labour, especially when that labour essentially amounts to producing… free porn! The original Secret Garden did the same, sure, but fifty years have passed since then. Gillian Anderson and Bloomsbury Publishing: please reconsider your approach! Show that in 2023 it’s possible to produce what sounds like an AWESOME book in a way that empowers women by genuinely valuing their stories. Pay them, credit them if they want it, and treat them with respect.


Update 8th Feb 2023

Thanks to the person on Twitter who pointed me to Anna Sansom’s amazing blog post on this issue too. Anna highlights why projects which do not pay are unlikely to get the kind of diversity that this one claims it is looking for:

“is that really a fair trade for something that will require your emotional labour to explore and express your fantasy, your time to write and submit it, and the uncertainty of whether or not it will even be selected for the final manuscript? Despite the assurance that this is a book seeking diverse representation, I have a sinking feeling that most of the contributors will be white, cis, heterosexual, middle-class women. That is, those who are more likely to have the time, emotional bandwidth, and self-confidence to take part.”

Someone on Twitter also noted that Gillian Anderson has responded to critique about not paying writers in an Instagram post where she explains that the plan is to give £500 to each of the charities she’s an ambassador of (War Child and Women For Women UK) for each letter that is published in the book. This is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t tackle the substantive problem – women being asked to submit valuable work and ideas to a profit-making project, giving up all rights in the process and not being financially compensated themselves.


  • fuzzy says:


    Honestly I’m one of the people who would buy this as soon as it came out (hopefully in coffee-table quality), but being made aware of the circumstances that’s going to be a “no”.

    Disappointing, especially after the good work with Sex Education tv show.

    In a perfect world, she and Bloomsbury will be made aware of this and FIX IT.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I hope so! There are a few other people trying to point out that their terms are unfair, so I really hope that the people who can make a difference decide to take some action! I’m with you – it sounds like an awesome book, and a really cool project. But I couldn’t buy it under these circumstances I don’t think.

  • Northern Boy says:

    I await the G.A audio collab 🤞

  • ultraViolet says:

    everything seems out in the open, nothing is underhand as far as i can see. it’s up to the induvial to make an informed choice

    it’s not like some creepy company collecting all your data from websites you visit without you knowing and profiting from it.

    • Girl on the net says:

      It has to be out in the open in order to be a valid contract – by submitting their work people enter into a contract to hand over the rights.

      I understand what you’re saying, and transparency definitely is important! But then so is critique, right? I’m not telling anyone they can’t or shouldn’t submit, I’m explaining why these terms are unusual and why I think they run counter to the stated aims of the project. Which feels like valid comment to me!

  • ultraViolet says:

    i think if the book was about showcasing new and up and coming writers it would be a little different
    what we have is a book about random people’s fantasies, if payment is mention wouldn’t we have disingenuous work which was not true just to try and out do their peers for a chance of a slice of the pie (money :)

  • Goddessdeeva says:

    Well, you have saved me writing a post. I may have done it for free but I would want to be credited. I’m really disappointed in this approach.

    A note on amounts too. I’ve been paid hundreds for a piece of writing, but the £20 I got from you felt like the most honest twenty quid I’ve earned as a writer. And the moment I manage to monetise my blog, I’m paying my contributors too.

    I love Gillian, but this is just tacky. Credit, Pay and don’t take away even more rights from women.

  • Aaron says:

    I agree with all that you’ve said about both the ethics and the practicality about both paying contributors, especially since, as you point out, the terms of use are so very broad.

    So broad, in fact, that they reminded me of a (true) story I heard recently about a writer who was asked to take part in a TV show. The terms were so broad that they forbade him for ever writing anything about the experience, even though that’s how he made his income. (For that reason, he declined to appear.) His lawyer said that if it came to it, the contract was probably so unfair it wouldn’t stand up in court, but of course, how many people in the real world would have the money, time and inclination to fight a major TV company through the courts? This was a US example, but I mention it here because it makes me wonder if the publishers here are doing the same – deliberately inviting people to sign up to unenforcable terms, because they know they won’t actually have to enforce them.

    As a side note, among the discussion of this book, I’ve not seen any reference to Emily Dubberley’s book based on her own canvassing of women’s fantasies, ‘Garden of Desire’. I got a lot out of it, and I’m not saying its existence makes this project not worthwhile (I’m sure space exists on every good bookshelf, for both!), it’s just odd that I’ve not seen it mentioned.

  • Fajolan says:


    Thanks for the text

  • fuzzy says:

    I remember Ladies Home Erotica by the Kensington Ladies Erotica Society and how they were forced to change the name…

  • Mermaid says:

    oofff so many good points I simply hadn’t thought about when I got carried away by excitement when I first read about this. Thanks so much GOTN!

  • TwoStrokeGuy says:

    Interestingly in the software world these kind of “contributor agreements” are not that rare. For example see this:

    “you assign and agree to assign to SugarCRM all your rights, title, and interest worldwide in all intellectual property rights in Your Contributions, including all patents, copyrights and related moral rights”

    Writing a patch (fixing a bug, developing a new feature) might not be the same as writing erotic fiction – or might be from a certain point of view.

    • Girl on the net says:

      So I think a more accurate comparison would be ‘other writing agreements.’ I understand why different industries may have very different standard agreements on this kind of thing, and I’m not sure it’s a good comparison. For the record, other books tend to not have rights-grabs that are as all-encompassing as this one.

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