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.