What We Can Do

I had a great phone conversation yesterday with another writer, Sally. (Hi Sally!) In the course of the conversation, she and I covered everything from crazy former bosses to the current state of freelancing. One of the biggest topics we talked about was the proliferation of awful job postings on the Internet. As we lamented the $1-an-article job (it’s not even 4 bucks anymore), Sally said what we’re all thinking, “What can we do to stop it?”

You guys have been fighting the good fight with me for some time now, so you know we’ve tried just about everything. But what I said to Sally, what I’ll say to anyone else who asks, is we have to educate our peers. Moreover, we have to educate – nay, even shame – newcomers and wanna-bes from taking these jobs. What they see as their golden opportunity is for the entire profession a lead balloon weighing us down.

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 the bones down here.

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 Associated Content. 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. Right. 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 here. 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 right now we’re put together by paper chains of “I need clips!” mentality. Let’s show them all how to gain respectable clips without bringing down our profession.

Anything else we can do?

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  • Devon ellington August 28, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    I"m getting a little tired of the writers who know they're doing the wrong thing by taking these jobs, but do it anyway and then argue about why they do it, and boast about making $400 a week for working 4-6 hours per day.

    Or those who advocate fair pay for writers and then accept advertising or sponsorship dollars from mill content sites to pimp out writers to them.

  • Lori August 28, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Well there's the thing, Devon. If you were to make $400 in 4-6 hours, you'd be making a standard writing wage. To bust your hump nearly 40 hours a week for that? Why?

    And I agree. If you're talking the talk, you'd better be walking the walk.

  • Devon ellington August 29, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I've also come to the conclusion that there are writers who work for these sites because, bluntly, they're NOT good enough to work anywhere else.

    You get what you pay for. If the client pays crap, that's what they'll get. If the client wants quality, the client has to pony up.

  • Krista August 31, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    I'm very late adding to this discussion, I know. I think one important thing is that writers (particularly those who are doing well) need to be more open about their rates and what they earn each year.

    So many writers, when the subject comes up, don't seem comfortable talking numbers. Instead they say they earn a "professional" or "full-time" wage. Many beginning writers have no idea what that is. $10? $20? $100? I know I didn't.

    Maybe if beginning writers knew there are writers out there earning 40, 50, 60 thousand and even more, they'd sit down, do the math, and see for themselves that writing articles for $1 or $2 is just plain stupid.

    I'm only entering my third year and expect to earn between 40 and 45, so I'm constantly amazed by the "success stories" featured on sites about writers who earn two or three thousand a year. (Hope that didn't come across as arrogant).

    I also have to agree with Devon, though. Some people who call themselves writers just aren't very good at it.