Monday, May 09, 2011

Building Worth: What We Can Do

By Lori Widmer

One of the biggest issues freelance writers face today is the proliferation of awful job postings on the Internet. No matter at what level you are in your career, the $1-an-article jobs litter the job boards. And you’re thinking, “True, but what can I do about it?”

Perhaps we need to educate our peers. Moreover, we have to educate – nay, even shame – newcomers and wanna-be writers from taking these jobs. What they see as their golden opportunity is just more fodder for the content farm gristmill.

In the articles I write, I see a lot of talk about best practices. Mind you, best practices are a series of steps companies have taken that somehow or other worked, and other companies latch on thinking this is as good as it gets. For us, however, we're going to be a little smarter. We're going to take these as guidelines only and this list is going to evolve and change with us.

Let's get down to the bones.

When you see a lousy job posting, complain to the site owner. Please don't interpret this as attacking another writer or someone giving you these listings for free. These folks don't know your ceiling and some of them have carefully plucked through mountains of garbage to bring you what they think are viable offers. They're trying. I'm talking about the sites that tout themselves as bringing you quality postings - for a fee. Two things wrong with that: they don't bring you quality, and they make you pay. Send them a note telling them you're canceling your membership and why.

When you see other writers bidding or offering ridiculous rates, tell them about it. I'll leave it up to you how you'll do that, but I suggest a cordial, professional approach. Put your virtual arm around them and steer them toward better opportunities, better working habits, or the nearest minimum wage job. Educate these folks on why they're worth more and why these jobs on a resume make them look like hack wanna-bes. Seriously. No one ever got a gig at The Atlantic because they wrote for a content farm. Nor will they. Ever.

Do your best to ignore the offers. Engaging in verbal warfare with these fools is akin to wasting billable hours for nothing. Don't waste your time or your sanity, for they don't care. They want cheap work so they can gain whatever ad revenue they think is coming their way and make that whopping $5 profit. Leave them to spin their wheels alone.

If you must engage, be professional. Sometimes you find yourself in the unsavory position of having responded to what you thought was a legitimate job posting only to find it's no more than an offer to part you with more time wasted. When the "offer" comes back, if you feel like responding and wasting more time, do so only to tell the poster that your fee is 30 times higher because this is your full-time job, not your hobby, and that your rates are industry standard. Then disengage. If these posters share anything in common, it's their penchant for justifying their behavior and diminishing you as a result. I've been told I need an education in how PR, ad revenue, royalties, and various other key words work. Yet I manage to earn a respectable living despite this perceived ignorance. The bottom line is someone wants work and won't pay for it. Screw that. If you don't engage in verbal battle, you keep your professionalism, something these clowns will never have.

Help other writers say no. It's what I do every week. You can, too. Tell your blog readers, your forum buddies, your Twitter community why they need to say no to lousy offers, what they should be considering as a proper fighting wage, and why writing skills are indeed sought after and worthy of fair pay. We're only as strong as our weakest link, and let’s make sure those links are not paper chains of the "I need clips!" mentality. Let's show them all how to gain respectable clips without bringing down our profession.

What else we can do?

Lori Widmer is a veteran writer and editor who is worth every penny her clients pay. She blogs about all things writing-related at Words on the Page.


Damaria Senne said...

Thanks Lori for writing this guest post for my blog and for working so hard to help writers recognise their worth. As to suggestions on what we can do to build worth, I think experieced writers can also help newbies recognise that they don't have to take low-paying jobs. There's a difference between paying your dues and letting yourself be taken advantage of and sometimes people allow the lines between the two to blur. My feeling is, if you want to build clips, volunteer to develop marketing and educational materials for your favourite non-profit organisation. You'll get your much needed experience and clips and support a legitimate cause. Or as the South African government calls such organisations, a Public Benefit Organisation. BTW, a biz owner looking for cheap content is NOT a Public Benefit Organisation:-)

Ecoecho said...

Take out your writers hammer and whack those nails square on the head I say. You have certainly done that, Lori.

Aside from anything else, working for such abysmal reward is a slow way to death of a writers soul; it withers away. Those people who pay such ridiculous rates do not respect a writer, and if a writer does not feel respected and worthy they can end up with their ink drying and their nib broken.

Added to which, when you read the levels of writing these churn sites expect, you can almost see them tittering into their hands. Then you hear comments along the lines of 'I don't pay high rates/am not prepared to pay, because I don't feel people put their hearts into the writing of articles. They just dash them off willy nilly.' Now, I wonder why that would be?

Time and effort and heart and interest go into writing anything, and time means money. If anyone is tempted to do such low paid work, I suggest they stop and think. If it is so easy, why are they not churning themselves?

Damaria Senne said...

@ I like your last sentence best of all Corinna: "If it is so easy, why are they not churning themselves?"

Lori said...

Hello, Damaria! Thanks so much for allowing me blog space here.

Corinna, I love that you connected the "abysmal reward" with "death of a writer's soul." It is. I don't think too many writers even see it, either. That's the part I hope we can change.

tiah said...

Damaria, thanks for 'introducing' me to Lori. Saw your comment on my blog, too. She is def making me think. I do have a policy to never 'pay to submit' - but as you'll see tomorrow, she is advocating to go beyond that. Still turning that over. :-)

Lori said...

Hi Tiah. :) Thanks again for giving me blog space to promote better business practices. It's great that my little post gave you something to think about. I hope it helps others do the same kind of ruminating.

Pamela said...

I so love your suggestion, Damaria, that newbies volunteer to write copy for their favourite charity. I started by writing the local news for a small weekly newspaper. The pay was not wonderful, but it did lead to an offer to write feature and news articles and work the local government beat. I got invaluable experience, and a boost to my confidence. I began to see myself as a "real" writer. But although the pay was low, it was standard pay for that area - I wasn't screwed by the publisher - and when I left them for other things, they let me know they were sorry to see me go for the quality of my work. Can't wait to read more from this savvy writer! Thanks, D, for sharing Lori's insight with us.

Lori said...

Great idea, indeed! Damaria's like that, I'm finding. :)

I volunteered once - for the Alzheimer's Association. Like you, Pamela, I wrote for weekly newspapers and dailies. It wasn't great pay, but it was a start none of the content farms give you - a CREDIBLE start. You can use those clips without fear. Try that with a content farm and you'll have a lot of trouble finding work.

Devon Ellington said...

I'm a big believer in building your portfolio with one or two pro bono clients, such as charities, whose mission you are passionate about. Not only will the clips help you get other, legitimate, high-paying jobs, but you learn new things, you meet people with whom you might have never crossed paths.

Sometimes, the charity won't consider you for a paid position -- that whole why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free thing -- but you can get a paid position with another non-profit.

The money may not be as high in non-profit, but I find it preferable to corporate work on every level.

So glad to find this blog - plan to visit it again!

Damaria Senne said...

Thanks for coming by, Devon. I look forward to seeing you again.

Lori said...

Devon, that's a super idea!

I do worry how some writers will interpret "pro bono." I don't mind pro bono IF it's something the writer chooses and something the writer is passionate about or already involved in on a volunteer basis. I did one pro bono job in the day, and I never regretted it because I sought it out - not the other way around.

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