I’m a Professional…So Pay Me Already!

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2008/06/im-a-professionalso-pay-me-already/

The last few days, I’ve seen a few too many ads posted online looking for writers where the client wants to pay something in other than legal tender. Being rather passionate about what I do and feeling a bit crusty today besides, I decided to share a few thoughts with you on this matter.

Here’s a few examples of the “offers” I’ve been recently where employers are offering writers the chance to write for :

  • Credit
  • The Joy of Seeing Your Name in Print
  • Exposure
  • Good Karma

Now, I can use good karma as much as the next person, but as far as payment is concerned, that doesn’t really cut it. When the day comes that I can buy groceries or pay my bills in “karma” or by showing someone my name in print, we can talk. Until then, I am a professional writer and I deserve to be paid for what I do. And if I want “exposure,” I’ll give Hugh Hefner a call…

I appreciate that a business owner must keep an eye on outgoing expenses and that not all clients have deep pockets. The excuse that you have a startup and can’t afford to pay doesn’t fly with me. If you can plan for and find funding for other expenses involved in running a biz, then either you budget for writers or you do the work yourself until you can afford to hire someone.

I am not into suffering for my art. I work hard and I deserve to be paid like anyone else who works and offers a service. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be flexible and I won’t try to work within a client’s budget. I can and I do.

Now, there is always more than one side to a story and I have to wonder if writers are not contributing to this problem, too. Are some of us so desperate to get our names “out there” that we are willing to give our work away? To my mind, an employer wouldn’t be offering these kinds of terms if on some level they didn’t think it was OK.

Being a good writer is both a skill and an art. If writers want to be treated like skilled professionals with a valuable service to offer, then we need to start seeing ourselves in that way first. Then it will be much easier to say “No” to someone who wants us to give our talents away.

Comments

  1. Amen. I was once promised cookies for completing a series of articles. I’m afraid I had to turn that one down. **sigh**

  2. Good post!

    @Kathleen,cookies?? Really? Was this so-called employer above the age of 5? Or was it a job for Sesame Street and the Cookie Monster?

  3. If I want to see my name in print, I look in the phone book.

    Though I don’t get involved in verbal or written “discuussions” when non-payments are offered — I don’t have the time — I just wonder if they’d offer similar payment to a plumber. I figure I’m just as much a professional and expect to be compensated as such. If they want a college student, who might be willing to work for “non-payment” (many internships no longer pay. I did have a paying one 30 years ago), then find a college student.

    I even recommended that to one firm I had contacted, who told me they what they were looking for in terms of compensation. I was thanked and told my information would be retained (maybe not, not a big deal) for more complex and higher paying work if there was a future need.

  4. Hey,

    My wife baked me 9 dozen cookies when we were dating. I had no chance of not eventually marrying her.

  5. Great piece. I get tired of the ads that talk about the joy of seeing your name in print. That’s always a warning sign: “No Pay.” And they say it as if they’re doing us a favor. I’d love to hire an accountant and say, “Because I know you love what you do so much, I won’t pay you but I will give you the joy of seeing your name at the bottom of a contract!” I’m a professional writer. I don’t want cookies, karma, or smiles. I want payment. And guess what – I can have the joy of seeing my name in print AND get paid for it.

  6. Kathleen,

    You turned down COOKIES?

    No, seriously. My friend is dealing with the no pay thing right now. She’s been a part of a magazine for a year. They’ve been promising her money for months, and nothing has come of it. I’ve told her she’s worth more than that.

    It continues to frustrate me that people expect writers to work for nothing.

  7. I’ve just been browsing Craiglist and saw one I was interested in… until I saw that the compensation was “Freelance Work Exposure.”

  8. Perhaps those who think that writing is so easy that it must be play-time and don’t think our efforts are worth paying for should try to write for themselves and find out how “easy” it really is.

    Besides, if writing is so easy as to not deserve compensation, why are these employers posting an ad looking for a professional to do it for them?

  9. Great Post! I just e-mailed someone two weeks ago who ran an ad looking for a writer and creative ‘partner’ (aka, someone to do all the work and write the entire script — for NO PAY!) I asked if this might be a paying opportunity, and he replied no. I in turn replied that if he was feeling lucky enough to think he could get the services of a professional writer for free, perhaps he should post some ads for plumbers, housekeepers and web designers who might selflessly work for free as well.

    As writers, it’s up to us to maintain the integrity and value of our work, and more importantly – to train others to do the same!

    That said, I do feel that ‘writing for free’ does have its place as a one-time marketing tool for a writer to get his or her foot in the door. If new writers have no clips and can write an article that will appear online, then they can use that to get a working sample and then leverage it to move up to paying gigs.

    They just need to be very selective, and CAREFULLY evaluate whether the assignment will truly help further their career.

    As for my ‘writing for free’ experience — while I did get a great online clip that launched my freelance career, I never got a single cookie!

  10. I have one writing job where I was offered no pay, but I get free music CDs before they are released. I’m a notorious music junkie, known to purchase four or five CD’s a month, so I took that offer. Since starting three months ago, I have 15 new CDs, some relatively unknowns, but Bryan Adams, Gavin Rossdale and Seven Mary Three saved me from buying them for myself or my kids. And my kids loved going to school and having the albums on their MP3 players months before their friends could get them.

    My favorite deal though came from a person who offered me a job and then said that if I was really interested, I would have to give him a $50 deposit to prove I had no intention on disappearing once he offered me work. I disappeared after getting his invoice for the $50 deposit.

  11. Please flag the Craigslist ads that offer no pay. Please do not accept non-paying work for commercial ventures. If we needed exposure, we’d be out in the sun instead of looking for work.

  12. It really is amazing to read so many ads that still offer “No Pay” to writers. Amazing, but a sad reality but not a writer’s reality. Yes, we have all volunteered our time for something, if we have kids we’ve helped fundraise, drive, put time in at a garage sale, etc. Very few professionals would agree to work without being paid. I whole heartedly agree that if to work for free helps to get you your first published clip or two, then do it but do move on from there to paying gigs.

    Great post Jodee. Lots of responses!

  13. I have a friend who always point out that if you say to someone, “I’m a ballet dancer,” or “I’m an opera singer,” or “I’m a biologist,” you’re unlikely to hear, “I am too!”(provided you’re not at a convention for said professions). But if you say you’re a writer, it’s amazing how many people will say, “Oh, I write.” Well, yes, you may write emails to friends, you may keep a journal, you may occasionally write memos at work, but do you write within guidelines and on deadline? Probably not. I think people tend to believe writing is something that anyone can do, and that’s why it gets undervalued.

  14. Thank you for all the kind comments. I was originally planning to write something else for today but this really got to me today.

    There was one this morning that clinched it: An employer wanted to take someone on for a time and then decide to pay them based on whether they were “worthy.” Sorry, I’m already worthy. I may not be a good fit for your project but that doesn’t have anything to do with my worth as either a writer or a person. ARRRGGGGHHHHH!!! (Feel better now.)

  15. This was a very interesting post today. I especially liked the part about calling Hugh Hefner for exposure…LOL. That made my day!

    As someone who struggles to be taken seriously, I can understand where everyone is coming from. If these people think it’s just so easy for writers to string a sentence together that we don’t need pay, they can certainly do it themselves. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to be snarky and it only makes writers as a whole look bad. I’ve read some comments here about situations that have been handled and I have to say, it’s rather disappointing that we should behave that way.

    It is one thing to inform a client of the minimum rates that writers should be paid, as well as point out your considerable experience; however, it’s another thing entirely just to be rude because you don’t like the fact that they don’t pay. Like Jodee said, on some level they believe it’s ok. We just have to re-educate these clients, but if we’re just sending smart emails telling them to hire other professionals like plumbers, accountants, and the like and then see what they say to working for free, that does nothing more than make the client feel like you have a chip on your shoulder. It doesn’t help.

    I’m a firm believer in being polite. You can be firm and still be polite. But I think snippy emails are very unprofessional. That’s just my two cents.

  16. I hear you, Jodee. The ads that really tick me off more than any others are the ads that promise “once we start making money, we’ll give you money, too!” I like to think that most people are good and honest, but really, why should I write for free under the assumption that a) the set-up IS really going to start making money, and b) the employers really WILL (and fairly, I might add) share that money with me once it starts rolling in? Thanks, but no thanks.

  17. @ Kristy: I almost deleted the reference to Hef, but now I’m glad I left it in! Glad you appreciated it! :D

  18. Kristy, I doubt many of us have the time or the inclination to actually write e-mails like that, but why shouldn’t we think those thoughts and vent about them? If they’re expressed through an outlet like this blog post, that is helpful to any employers who might come across it.

    Also, I don’t advocate flagging no-pay ads on craigslist. Some people (although I don’t know any, I’m sure they’re out there) are cool with writing for free. Even I would be cool with writing for free in some situations (as a favor to a friend, for a charity in a special circumstance, etc.). So I really don’t believe it’s a good move to flag those ads, however unprofessional they may seem.

  19. A truly excellent rant on the subject by Harlan Ellison. Required viewing by all writers:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

  20. I love the Hugh reference! :) I have had a few instances of clients wanting me to write for free. Most were okay when I told them I don’t work for free, that I want to be paid for my work just as they want to be paid for their work.

    But I did have one who became very upset, angry, mad, and plain horrible to me… just because I expected to be paid for my writing. She went so far as to tell me that “all the others” were working for free for her, so why could I not do the same. I asked her if she got a paycheck for her work, and of course she said yes.

    I have been in the writing field for about 25 years, and have never had a problem with being paid or of people not wanting to pay me, off the web. Online however… for some reason, there are so many today that just expect us to give our work away for nothing.

    Anytime that writers are expected to give away their work, they should see the red flags waving wildly in the wind and run fast the other way. There are plenty of good paying writing jobs out there! No one has to write for pennies or for free… unless you just want to do that.

  21. @Luke, I saw that a few days ago and it’s so on the mark!

  22. I’m sure what’s worse, the jobs for cookies or the ones that make poor naive “writers” bid for bad work done badly. The 5¢ jobs fulfill everyone except working writers; no-bies get to say they got paid for writing, publishers claim they value work by “paying”. We’re the only ones who have to work even harder to justify our rates. Every free job or piece written for cookies devalues every working writer.

    Of course, I was never offered cookies, so that could change. Depending on the cookie.

  23. And of course that should be “NOT sure”…

  24. my two-cents, I mean: my $250 (just gave myself a raise) ~

    I think it has a lot to do with the net. When you’re dealing with a bonafide editor or publisher for a magazine, they get it. They totally understand how the process works and they know that great writing takes serious talent and time.

    It’s “everybody and his brother” that rightfully see that “the internet is the future” and want blogs, websites etc.

    So then they go fishing for writers not really getting how expensive it will be ultimately to put together a professional site or blog.

    I say if you’re dealing with genuine editors or PR people, you have a strong chance of being treated fairly. Everyone else is suspect.

    Ahhhh. I feel better now.

    Wendy

  25. I wish we could start a freelance-writer’s strike. If all the freelancers, or freelance wannabes, would just refuse to work for these penny-pinching companies for a week or a month, maybe we could get the message out there and all of us would benefit.

  26. The last time I took a freelance writing job without a check attached, it was to write very brief (200 words or so, plus a cell-phone quality photo) restaurant reviews for a new local dining blog-like network. For every 5 reviews, they emailed me a $50 restaurant.com certificate. For the tiny amount of effort (and having the excuse to go out to eat more), it seemed a very fair deal.

    For any more effort than that, pay expectations rise accordingly.

    I’m currently in a regular gig situation thanks to your blog – you’d listed the editor’s CraigsList post, and it immediately led to my first manuscript contract with them. They pay, they pay reasonably, and they pay on time. Thank you!

  27. I really liked this. Perhpas you should write more posts when you are feeling a “bit crusty.” :-)

  28. Excellent post and I liked the Hefner reference, too. ;)

    If a job doesn´t say how much it pays, I rarely apply. And if it says something like karma or exposure . . . I just click away immediately. In my mind,it´s not even worth reading any further on these ads. My time is valuable and I´m not going to waste it on silly people who don´t know what it´s worth!

    Also, it seems to me that many new writers aren´t confident. They don´t realize that their work really is worth money, so they undervalue it and these vultures take advantage of that. I know I was like that until I wrote an article and put it up on a broker site and was amazed when someone paid me over $100 for it! That´s when I realized that maybe I should start valuing my work a bit more. ;)

  29. Perhaps those who think that writing is so easy that it must be play-time…

    Chad, you got me thinking.

    Because written communication is something we all do (email, grocery lists, blogs, notes left for other family members on the bathroom mirror) it’s very easy for non-writers to take what we do for granted. That’s the reason we hear so many people respond to our career descriptions with “Oh, you write? I’m going to write a book someday / I used to do that / I’ve been thinking about writing myself.” And that’s the reason our skills are so undervalued. “Oh, everyone writes….”

    And it doesn’t help that we writers, when we’re new at the game, will often take the no-pay jobs simply out of gratitude at finding an audience, an employer, a publisher, a client, or simply someone who acknowledges that we’re writers. Beyond the writing-for-clips we all do when we start out, and the pro bono work for non profits that we do to keep our karma points high :-) we need to agree not to do that, so that potential clients can’t say to us, “Oh, you won’t? Fine, your loss. Plenty of writers would pay for this job!”

    At one time I was between gigs and doing cents-per-post paid forum posting just to keep my hand in (please don’t throw that rotten tomato at me!) and fell into a conversation with other writers doing the same. One of them was gushing about the chance to get paid just for doing something she’d do anyway, which is indeed part of the reason I was doing it myself. But she had to go on: [paraphrasing] “Sure, we’re not getting paid much, but it’s not like this is work… Of course, writing isn’t really work, is it, if you love what you do?

    I replied, “Why, yes, it is work. It’s work that I enjoy, but it’s still very definitely work!”

    Her response to that made me see red: “Oh, I’m sorry you feel that way. I have to ask: do you really feel that writing is your true calling?”

    Because of course if I were a real writer I’d never consider writing to be work. Just like doctors, architects, social workers, and others who think that doing the job they love constitutes playtime.

    People like that forum poster? Not doing us any favors! Getoffmysideyoumakemysidelookstupidgrrrr!

  30. I received an offer today to write for a learning / educational blog, which I would have loved. Compensation – all of the writers would be put into a monthly drawing for a $50 American Express gift card. Guess a little luck would help you get paid each month.

  31. Nicole –

    If you’re offering an agreement, then you’re on! I won’t work for free either.

    Now we just have to start working on getting a few other writers to join in our agreement.

  32. Yes, sadly the trend is back. When I first started writing the trend was to pay on per views basis (something like one cent per view), stock in the company, and so forth. Then things started looking up and writers were beginning to be taken seriously and being offered real dollars, but over the past year, I’ve seen a shift back into the “how can we get a writer for free” mentaility and it just plain stinks. If anyone is interested, I have a “watch for scams” article up at: http://thedabblingmum.com/writing/getpaid/brokenpromises.htm

  33. OK, I’ve just seen an ad that really takes the cake. It’s from a writer who is bidding on a contract for a long term writing deal but doesn’t want to write the samples, so is offering $15 for someone to write the sample that may then land her a lucrative contract! Is it just me, or does that seem like sending someone else to do your job interview for you?

  34. just adding to the list of sensible people here as, thankfully, we all seem to be singing the same tune.

    i am a photographer, too, and i have found it to be even worse in that field. like Nicole said about everybody writing lists and whatnot, as a photographer people are constantly devaluing the work.

    everyone has a camera, or two or three, and on their cell phone, on their tooth brush, the key chain…who knows where these days.

    i feel doubly special to be a writer and photographer. it makes me one of the chosen ones who apparently gets to enjoy life’s “work” as a neverending merry-go-round, rather than be bothered with paying bills.

    if only the writer’s strike idea would work. but there’s always someone who will slip in and low-ball the industry; and there’s always a business who will take that cut-rate performance.

    i’ve found it’s best to say “No, thank you” for myself, hope others do the same, and try not to think about those who don’t. a prospective employer/client who doesn’t understand our value, doesn’t understand a lot of things, i’m guessing.

  35. @ Carly – I’m not talking about venting on a forum like this. In my opinion, that’s fine and it’s a healthy way to share ideas and suggestions about what we do and how we handle certain situations.

    I’m talking about those who waste their time by actually sending emails to the employers asking writers to work for no pay that tell them to ask other professionals to work for no pay and see what happens. From comments that I’ve read, here and other writer forums, those emails are often snarky and counterproductive. Those are the ones that I find unprofessional and to be generally unhelpful to writers as a whole. Like I said, it’s one thing to educate; it’s another entirely to be snotty just because you don’t like what someone’s offering.

    Make sense?

  36. Kathleen says:

    Fiona–

    That is too much! Kind of reminds me of a story I saw about parents going to job interviews with their recent college grads to make sure everything went well and their kids were treated right. Oh boy.

    I just heard back about a potential gig that would offer the chance to win (yes, win) a $50 American Express gift card–and I was flabbergasted. Then I stopped by here to check out the latest blog and realized that there are even better stories out there. I agree with everyone posting here; I’ve spent too much time as a writer, building up credentials and honing my skills, to do this for nothing…or next to nothing. Now I know I’m not alone!

  37. @ Nicole: Glad to hear about your gig! That’s great news! :)

    @ Louise: I’m glad you liked today’s post. I might just write more posts when I’m feeling a bit crusty, after all! ;)

  38. Kristy, I’m pretty sure we were always on the same page. I was agreeing with you by pointing out that employers have every right to ask people to write for free and by saying that I don’t think a lot of people who hang out at FWJ send snarky e-mails like the ones you mentioned. If anyone does send an e-mail like that, though, it’s up to the employer to realize that the e-mail doesn’t represent every writer ever. If someone is going to judge a whole group of people based on just a few people’s actions, well, that seems a little silly to me.

  39. Unfortunately, writing and journalism have been reduced to mere blocks of “content”, which is just another commodity in the eyes of buyers. The readers get to read the content for free, the thinking goes, so why should the writers be paid?

    In an ideal world, no one would accept these jobs, and they would eventually go away. In reality, though, there will always be people who jump at the chance to earn good karma and a byline. That harms the rest of the freelancers who know the value of their work.

  40. I get frustrated, too. No one asks their mechanic, their plumber, or their landlord to take less money or to negotiate for exposure. (I’ll put an ad for your business on my car – you’ll get great exposure!)

  41. I love this post.
    It does seem as if our profession is seen more as a “playtime hobby” or something that is not serious work.
    Ugh.
    Maybe that is what we should report to the IRS… it’s a non-taxable hobby…?!
    Can you imagine placing on your resume, “References Available Upon Request. Will Work for Cookies.”
    LOL!

  42. E.E. Kelley says:

    I currently have a situation where I’ve written four articles for Jolie magazine, and the editor, Alicia Marie Rivers, is refusing to compensate me for them. She ignores my phone calls and emails and I’m angry enough to explode at this point. What’s your opinion on how long I should wait before taking legal action?

  43. I too get the feeling that some of the people advertising writing jobs imagine that we’re bored housewives just sitting around waiting to see our names in print. They seem to expect top quality for peanut wages. Expose the money, please! I can bandy my own name about well enough.

  44. I have another great offer this morning-

    “Give me your phone number so that I can call you collect to discuss the job opportunity.”

    That won’t be happening.

  45. Ann G., are you serious?! The next thing you know they will want you to come over and clean the house in addition to writing for free.

  46. E.E.,

    File a complaint through angela Hoy at Writersweekly.com.

  47. Phil, you beat me to it! I was about to suggest contacting Angela too.

  48. Coming in a little late here, but I once saw a request for an ebook editor where the writers were certified hypnotists. They offered 4 sessions of hypnotherapy (valued at $450) in exchange for editing. I considered it but then realized that the best way to get rid of my stress was to have more money.

  49. I’m happy to write solely for the pure joy of of seeing my name in print.

    It’s just that I insist that it be printed on a check.

  50. Enjoyed your rant, Jodee. The working for “exposure” thing always gets me worked up too. Even if I was looking for exposure, how exactly does my byline appearing on this dude’s unheard of website grant me any kind of exposure? I assume if they can’t afford to pay a writer, they probably can’t afford to market their website… but then again, maybe some marketing departments work for cookies too? ;-) Too funny. And sad.

  51. @ John: Good point about seeing your name in print on a check!

    @ Amy: Thanks! And good point how having your stuff appear on some obscure site not really counting as “exposure.”

  52. Jodee, I totally agree about not writing for free. But how on earth can you then justify posting those ads for “500 words for $10?” It’s not free, but it’s darn close, and just as belittling. You aren’t helping anyone by giving credence to those ads. You are only helping to drive down rates even more.

    Please raise your standards.

  53. @ Cathy D: “My” standards are not the issue here. Deb, who owns FWJ, has set a minimum of $10 for jobs posted here. If you read through the leads that I post, I post what I find that is above that level. Is $10 on the low side? Maybe for some people it is. The rate that someone will find acceptable is a personal decision.

    From the number of comments and e-mails I get from people thanking me for all that I do to help the freelance writing community, I would have to disagree with your comment that I don’t help anyone.

    Thank you for sharing.

  54. Here’s a question: What do you do when you have submitted an assigned article to a magazine that’s published your work before, then wait months and months for payment, contact the editor by e-mail a few times inquiring about it, then discover quite by accident while on the Internet that the magazine has ceased publication? According to the web site my work was published, but I’ve never seen an actual copy of the magazine. Do I have any legal recourse, or am I out the money that was promised me? It isn’t a huge amount by publishing terms, but several hundred dollars makes a difference to my budget. Any advice? Anyone else had this problem?

  55. @ Sue: I would say the first thing you need to do is to find out who was publishing the magazine and contact them. Explain that your work was accepted and that you never received payment. Give them a chance to pay you what you are owed. If they refuse, then you will need to look at other options, but it doesn’t hurt to ask first.

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