Writing is a wonderful profession. You have the privilege of telling stories and of looking at the world from an unusual perspective. You are a craftsman, using words to give shape to ideas and concepts. You learn about a variety of topics and meet a fascinating cross-section of people. But anyone who writes will tell you they haven’t entered the profession to get rich.
Because of the vocational nature of writing and other creative professions, it can be easy for writers to fall into the trap of working for nothing, or for very little. Yet they are as well qualified and experienced as other professionals, such as doctors or accountants, who think nothing of charging full whack for their services. And because writing is so compettiive, many writers feel that working for nothing will get them in the door.
Unfortunately, this means that the people and organisations who need the services and writers are less likely to put value on the work that writers do. They’ll cut corners and get their cousin Freddie to do the writing for them, even though Freddie has not yet learned how to use the apostrophe. Or they think that writing is something they can easily do themselves, only to find that somehow the time isn’t available.
Media organisations are now also cutting corners when it comes to paying journalists. Some charge as little as 5c a word. The situation is not helped by the fact that in Ireland, the Competition Authority does not allow freelance writers to set their own rates, in case it creates a cartel situation. The trend for outsourcing writing services to India is also a scourge. Not only does it undercut writers in the West who need to make a living, but the low rates also exploit the Indian copywriters, who deserve a fair wage for their efforts.
This all means that the price writers charge for their work is constantly being undermined. And it also compromises the quality of writing. It doesn’t pay writers to invest time in producing fresh, original work. Because the organisations can get away with paying very little for writing, they place no value on it.
Writers need to recognise their own worth and be unafraid to state that worth to the people and organisations that employ them. I find dealing with money toe-curlingly embarrassing. But if I bury my head in the sand, I’ll be eroding my own worth.
Since I started my business, I’ve been doing a lot of digging around to find out what rates are considered acceptable. I’ve taken the plunge and consulted with my competitors. I’ve also used the British NUJ rates as a guide. From my research, I’ve found that calculating my rate by the hour rather than the word is a good yardstick and ensures I’ll get a fair rate for the labour I put in. I’ve also discovered the wisdom of quoting a slightly higher rate and bargaining down to the rate I initially envisages.
And over the past couple of years, I’ve quietly decided I won’t do any more freebies, unless the cause is dear to my heart or the article is for an organisation where nobody is paid. There is a lot of pressure on business people to give freebies and discounts during the recession, but a writer doesn’t need to do that to offer value for money. Many can charge a fair price anyway because they have few overheads.
Once a writer establishes their worth in their own eyes, the organisations they work with will recognise it too. They can weed out organisations which exploit them and only work with ones that recognise the value of what they do. Though this may mean a reduction of clients for a while, they’ll end up with a portfolio of clients who will offer them well-paid, regular work. This applies to other creative discipliens too. Writing brings rich rewards. It’s about time those rewards were financial as well as creative.