What a Shocker! Professional Writers Like to be Paid

I've spouted on here a few times about the importance of writers valuing their work.  A writer is a skilled professional who offers up valuable services for companies in almost any industry.  This means that writers deserve to be paid professionally skilled rates.  Unfortunately, there are several companies out there that either don't appreciate the talent it takes to be a writer, or are just hoping to prey on the insecurities or lack of business sense owned by many writers.

The issue is that many writers are just so excited with the notion of seeing their name in print that they're willing to take pay that will barely cover a meal at a McDonald's.  Not only is that an atrocious way to make a living, but it messes over all the other writers who are trying to make a living. 

But you've heard me say this stuff before.  I also know all my readers are far too smart to get suckered into these kinds of cons.  Of course, that means that you need to ignore the fact I have taken shit pay in exchange for exposure.  I am a hypocrite.  I am not proud of that fact.

I thought I'd send you off to read and hear the words from actual respected and successful writers.  People who have made way over six figures, and are known by more than just their mom and neighbour.  You can see how hot and feisty they get when one dares try to get their work for free.

John Scalzi wrote a post earlier this week outlining the reasons why it is a monumental waste of time to ask him to write for free.  It apparently offended a few people, so he wrote a follow-up post.

I'm actually quite shocked Scalzi even had to write the post, because it was motivated after some groups approached him to do free work.  Scalzi is an award winning and bestselling author, and also happens to be a minor internet celebrity with his massively popular Whatever blog.  So you know, the opposite of me, who isn't the least bit shocked when I'm asked to write for free (but I don't do it either).  I can't believe that someone would think such a successful writer who has a pretty loaded schedule would even consider doing something for free.  The rallying cry of companies that either want free work or shit pay work is the magical exposure.  But a bestselling author and a guy who just optioned one of his books for a Hollywood film, probably doesn't really need too much help with exposure.

What I do find interesting is that Scalzi makes it clear he isn't interested in doing any kind of free work.  This includes charities and friends that may be looking for a favour.  This is likely something that upset a few people reading his post (though I doubt it was actually any of his real world friends).

He does a fine job justifying his position.  The reality is that most charities do have a budget, and so they can use that for the work they need from him.  He also shows that for the last few years he has had friends do some work for him, and in each case, he paid them for their services.  It is only fair he'd expect it in return.  Another thing about the charities, he has used his writing for several fundraisers for various groups, and it was done without them even asking for it. 

What I think it comes down to is the principle of it.  Okay, not just the principle, since the whole "making money to pay for the mortgage" is likely even more important.  But it is rather ridiculous for anyone to assume he would do his "day job" for free.  Demanding pay is to make sure people appreciate the work that is being done.  Writers are talented.  Many can write pretty fast.  But it still takes time.  It takes time away from paying work, but also time away from family.  A writer needs to prioritize, and most just don't have time to be a charity for a group that is likely going to profit off their work.

Now, here is a video by Harlan Ellison, who has written hundreds of science fiction short stories, several novels, and many screenplays.  Two of his stories were also the inspiration for a little film called The Terminator.  His points are similar to John Scalzi's, but it is filled with a bit more piss and vinegar.  He goes on a rant after a representative of Time Warner wants to get one of his interviews for free for a DVD extra.

So, there are examples of two professionals making it clear that writers should value their work.  They need to stand up to anyone that is trying to get high quality content for free (or for almost nothing).

This really isn't rare.  I read several postings on a regular basis from companies trying to get 500 words for pay that would be illegal in a traditional job.  But I've also been approached by people hoping for favours, despite the fact I barely know them.

About a year ago, I got an email from a person who vaguely qualified as an acquaintance.  They recently discovered I was a writer, and spent most of the message telling me how much they loved my blog and articles.  I love getting my ego inflated, so things started out well.  At the end of the email, this person mentioned they were starting up a new company and would need some articles and brochures written.  They asked me if I would be interested and if I could send some samples that would be similar to the work that was needed.

I like getting work.  I quickly sent over some samples, and told the person I was more than happy do some stuff for them.  I then asked what they specifically wanted for the brochures, since I had some availability to start working on it pretty quickly.

Then everything fell apart.

The next email informed me that before I started on the brochure that there was some important research they wanted me to do.  I was then sent two large documents and links to several sites.  I was asked to read all this content, then write out notes of the important information, and then provide them with an outline of what I could do for them (essentially, a marketing campaign -- very different than a brochure and a few articles).

This is when I got a little nervous.  We had not talked about money yet.  I thought I'd give my rates once I was told how big the brochure needed to be, and see what other work they wanted done as well.  Now, they suddenly wanted me to spend the whole afternoon doing a bunch of prep work.  Since the person had not mentioned anything about a rate, I was a little afraid they expected the research portion to be free.

This is when I let them know I was more than happy to do all this work, but it would cost a certain amount.  I also got a feeling the person didn't really have a clue what they wanted, and so I offered up an entire package I could do for them (this probably took at least a half hour to compose).

The person then disappeared for about a week, and I completely forgot about them.  I then landed a few high paying clients, and my schedule suddenly became full (this was actually during the highest peak of my very short career so far).

Of course, this is when I heard back from "my dear old friend."  They mentioned that it was a start-up company with a limited budget, but with hopes of expanding.  They were hoping I could offer a "friend rate", and also wanted to know if I had done all that research they wanted yet.  They also kindly informed me that the brochure and two articles should be completed within the next 48 hours.

This is when I informed them that "friend & family rates" are the same as any other client rate, because it takes the same amount of time and effort.  Even if I had a "friend rate" it would likely be reserved for people that I talked to more than once every 10 years.  I then reminded them that I am allergic to doing any work for free, and so the research had not been done since it would be a part of my rates.  I also kindly informed them that I have things like mortgages and bills, and I couldn't hold off getting work for an entire week while they went over my email with a magnifying glass; now, I was busy with clients and would not be able to get anything done in 48 hours, especially at a "friend rate."

Shockingly, I still haven't heard back from this person.  I can tell our friendship meant a lot.  I definitely have learned you suddenly start making a lot of new friends when people are hoping to get content for cheap.

Anyway, I told this story, because I wanted to feel like an important write akin to John Scalzi and Harlan Ellison.

As I said before, I have taken a few jobs for exposure in the past.  There are moments when I don't value my work enough.  This is basically the challenge of being a new writer.  You want to break into the writing world and start establishing yourself.  There is always that nagging voice that says, "this will be the last job offer you will ever get, and so you must take it."  But that voice is a liar.

There is a lot of work out there.  There are a lot of opportunities to make good money.  You just need to remember that your content is worth something, and only sell it to companies that realize this fact.