Don’t Toy With Me

It seems to be a much-practiced habit – writers who stand up publicly for the rights of other writers, for better wages, for respect, dammit! But then look under the surface and oops! There you are – those projects you don’t want to admit to taking, those projects that you took that you’d be ashamed to admit to, the ones you try justifying to yourself and others, those “clip building” attempts at a career. Oh, honey. I’ve been there and done that in terms of taking jobs that are too low in price. But I don’t wear the t-shirt any longer.

Somewhere in our minds we justify that taking a job paying ten cents a word is a way to “break in” to the industry. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. But really, how often have we progressed beyond that price, or for that matter, any further into that industry? I used to have a “one-and-done” policy of article writing for magazines. One article to get into the industry, then move on to higher-paying stuff. Only I didn’t move on. In fact, I stayed. By the end of my relationship with one publication, I was so resentful I couldn’t stand it. And I resented myself for taking the job. They were clear what they’d pay. I accepted it. Bitterness that followed? My fault entirely.

I know some writers who still work for well under $1/word. I know writers who think residual income lies in posting articles on content mill sites. These are people I adore and respect. Know what I think is missing in their business choices? Clearly thought out side effects. Really. In the case of say one article on a content mill site, how much money are you earning? How much would that “residual” income make if you’d put some proactive marketing into the idea? About 30 minutes of real research into magazines and you could easily quadruple (or better) that payout.

Another side effect – the loss of respect. In one case, writers were shocked to learn of an experienced writer putting his stuff on a content mill site. Shock turned to disbelief as he had posted numerous blog entries berating these same sites. Worse, he accepted ads from these sites. You must be kidding.

Content mills aside, my theory on accepting less just to get the foot in the door is simple. If everyone takes this approach, magazines will soon learn they can drop their rates to ridiculous levels and still fill pages. Don’t think those lower-priced jobs you take don’t affect your future rates at other publications. Just try getting top dollar from XYZ magazine when they know you worked for ABC, and they know what ABC pays its writers (this info is almost always readily attainable on the Internet).

I’m up front with you guys on everything I do and say. For that reason, I’m inviting you to come clean. Right here, tell us the job you cling to for whatever reason. Tell us in your own words how you’ve justified it, and tell us how you will move beyond it. No judgments here – just an opportunity for you to openly examine those projects that are beneath you and make a proclamation of your own worth.

So, pull up a keyboard and tell us. Don’t be shy. You’re among friends. And we’ve all been there, too.

About the author




  • Devon Ellington October 1, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I accepted a pay cut in a reviewing job because I adore my editor and I really love the work they send me. I made it clear that I would leave if: the pay rate didn't go back up in X amount of time, or if they fired the editor or the editor left.

    And, if any of those things occur, yes, I will leave it.

    Right now, it suits me to stay, and I haven't hit the resentment edge yet. When I do, I will move on.

    I've pretty much shed the other low paying jobs, having stopped working for several publications that didn't live up to promises to raise rates on subsequent articles by simply stating, "I told you I'd work for X time at this rate and would move on if the rate didn't go up. It doesn't, and I can't afford to work for you at the rate. It's not smart business on my part." And I leave.

    I was nervous about leaving a couple of them, but I found that I haven't missed them.

    When you clear out the low-paying jobs, you make room for higher paying jobs. It's sort of like cleaning out your closet before you go and buy new clothes.

  • Paula October 1, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    I admit it. I write a weekly TV column for a small weekly paper. I know the editor. I know they pay crap. I can knock out a column in an hour or less, and if I don't have a spare hour there's no column that week.

    It's an extra $100 or so per month, which never hurts, as long as I don't allow the column to intrude on my real work. I have 100% free reign, so I can cover whatever shows I want to and re-use material I already have. I can even ride my high horse onto the soapbox if I want.

    If the column ever encroached on my ability to do paying work, I'd drop it in a second.

  • Wendy J. October 2, 2009 at 9:25 am

    I admit it; I have one that I work for less than what I normally charge. The reason I went ahead with it is because the client has helped me out in numerous other ways before.

    She's helped me out with understanding a target market better and writing for them. She also gives me a little bonus once in awhile.

  • Midwest Mystery October 2, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I also admit it. But I am just starting out, and I had no idea that I could actually make more money. :p I didn't even really consider that I could do this for quite some time until a friend referred me to the first job I'd ever had. My first job was paying roughly a penny a word and now, reading through some of the other bloggers…wow.
    I stumbled on Avid Writer's blog, and through hers to yours and have learned more in about ten minutes than I have randomly google searching around. 🙂 You guys are awesome.

  • Lori October 5, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Welcome to the fold, Midwest Mystery. We're very glad you're here. :))

    Paula, your newspaper job is credible. That's the difference between it and a content mill job – it's legitimate and looks better on a resume.

    I like your parameters, Devon. I set similar ones recently. As much as I enjoy the work, I need to feel my work is compensated. In my former full-time job, I loved the work and the people, so I stayed longer than I should have. It wasn't until new management came on board and the place went to hell that I realized I should've moved on sooner.

    Sounds like a win-win, Wendy. I would feel a certain loyalty to that, too.

  • Midwest Mystery October 5, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Lori, I am really, REALLY glad that I decided to do some research. WHen I first got that job, I was so stoked, really. Now? I've been reading around and realizing quite a bit. XP

  • Devon Ellington October 5, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Also, this is how I pay the bills. It's all on me. I don't have anyone else's income to shore me up. So I'm not going to take jobs that don't pay what I'm worth.

    This is not a hobby or a sideline. This is my career. If I don't respect it, why should I expect anyone else so to do?

  • Katharine Swan October 6, 2009 at 6:20 am

    I'm a bit behind on my blog-reading, clearly!

    Every once in a while, I submit something to Associated Content. I usually remember pretty quickly why that's dumb, and don't do it again for a while. Although I do have to say, I've gotten some good marketing for an e-booklet I wrote, and sold quite a few copies thanks to articles on that site.

    Other than that, my lowest paying client is also one of my favorites — and one of my biggest. I love them, I like the work (mainly social media marketing), and for the most part it's quick, easy work. The irony, and the biggest reason why I've stayed, is because when I am completely focused I can complete their work pretty quickly, so that my hourly is about the same as, if not higher than, my other clients. So even though it pays less on the surface, when I can get into that zone it's pretty good — and easy — money.

    Of course, the problem lies in determining your rates based on when you work your fastest. No one can keep up their fastest pace all the time. And when I slow down, the pay admittedly isn't as good as my other clients.

    The biggest reason I stay with them, though, is because I genuinely like them. And because in three years of working with them, they've always paid me within 24 hours of finishing the work. It's a valuable business relationship that I'm not willing to give up right now.

  • Carson Brackney October 6, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    I don't do as much content writing these days as I did a few years ago.

    However, I made a damn good living doing nothing BUT work that would fall short of your dime a word rate.

    Look, it all depends on what you're good at, how quickly you can work and what you enjoy.

    I wouldn't work on the shallow end of the wage pool on a copywriting job–I tend to spend hours just thinking and mulling things over before I put a pen to paper or a finger to the keyboard for those. They require research, consideration, care, etc. and they're worth the prince's (not yet a king's) ransom I get for them.

    However, I found that I could make a very healthy living churning out better-than-what-anyone-would-give-'em content work.

    I guess that makes me a hack. On the bright side, I'm a paid hack, right?

    My point? I don't think anyone should be ashamed of any job they take if it makes sense for THEM for whatever combination of personal and financial factors govern their decision making.

    You can question the business sense of those working for less than you, but you might reconsider if you took a look at their checking balances.

    So, I've been there. I gues I'm still there. I do more consulting and copywriting these days but I'm working on running a content production service that won't get too many dime per word gigs for its writers.

    To each his/her own.

    As long as people are making informed decisions (i.e. Katharine's above), I am not about to question their financial sense. I know a lot of struggling writers with high standards and plenty of folks who are doing AOK who work cheaper.

    This concludes my long, rambling comment.

  • Niche Momma October 27, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    I am happily writing for residual income. I love the fact that I made $20 today while signing in music class with my daughter and working on potty learning.

    I don't have time to put together queries and argue with clients who want to wiggle out of a contract. Right now, I have complete control; set my own hours, create my own topics and make money. I've worked maybe 10 hours this month and will gross $200 in ad revenue.

    When I get some free time, I'm going to push it to $500 a month.

    I'm not a writer in the classic sense–although I do write and have published fiction. More an internet marketer who writes.