Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Another stroll through the depressing freelance writing landscape

This LA Times article describes the bleak present and darker future facing freelance writers.

"What's sailing away, a decade into the 21st century, is the common conception that writing is a profession - or at least a skilled craft that should come not only with psychic rewards, but with something resembling a living wage."

So it's time for another tour of some of the opportunities out there for writers. Not sure if any of these are as soul-crushing as writing about napkins, but they're close.


In today's media world, where speed rules above all else, punctuation is a casualty. Periods, commas, semicolons, parentheses - superfluous, pointless. Not even the Internet's favorite piece of punctuation - the lovable, enduring exclamation point - can find a place in today's sentences.

The job description:

Okay look at simple I have plenty of clients who will pay top dollar to have a Wikipedia article about themselves or their business on the Wikipedia website however it must be approved before they pay which means you must be an expert at getting articles approved because if it's not I don't get paid which means you don't get paid you will be paid between 200 to 500 per approved article but again they don't pay a dime until article is approved and viewable on the Wikipedia website. I had a guy before but now my computer crashed a month ago and I lost all my contacts including the guy who I used to use we make thousands of dollars together so I hope we can have the same thing happen

Makes me wonder why the employer even bothered with that lone period near the end of the longest run-on sentence this side of an early Tom Wolfe feature in Esquire. What made him put that one there, but nowhere else? The fourth finger on his right hand apparently accidentally moved south from the home keys. It begins with the in-your-face "Okay look" but ends in almost an endearing fashion, as he really hopes to be able to make thousands of dollars together, just like happened with the previous desperate person who won the right to be a Wikipedia ghostwriter.

I applaud anyone who takes this job, and it actually seems like a decent business idea, although it sounds like the type of writing that might be called propaganda in another time. But think of the poor writer who has to work for this person. Years of schooling and experience put to use composing a Wikipedia profile detailing the exaggerated accomplishments of a CEO in charge of a small candy company nestled in southern Alabama. The writer submits the piece and waits. Someone who writes 132 words with a single period judges the work.

A writer's self-esteem can be shattered as fast as it takes a spouse to say, "I like it, but I'm not sure that part works." Now they might hear from this employer, "Listen, love the profile, but the writing style needs some work. My apologies." Strike that. The rejection letter would read, "Listen love the profile but the writing style needs some work my apologies"

Receiving a rejection from The New Yorker's Shouts & Murmurs section is one thing. Being rejected by James Joyce's bastard grandchild is altogether different. For those freelance writers still debating whether alcoholism is the best way to deal with the current job climate, this should let them know that, yes, it is.

They're looking for writers who "can consistently produce articles. We would like to have a minimum of 3 articles a day. The articles will be 400-450 words. Each article will pay $1.40 with occasional bonuses for good work and consistency."

Pay is on a per-article basis. A buck forty. A standard rate for articles is a dollar per word. Bigger places pay more, 2, 3 dollars per word. An offer of fifty cents a word used to be seen as a lowball offer. Now you're getting $1.40 for a 450-word piece, writing about a vague subject that's basically inconsequential, as long as the text is "consistent." Consistent to what?

Ads like this and countless others ask for and demand professionalism from writers or journalists while rubbing their faces in wages that are more disgraceful than disrespectful. It's always been like that, of course, even though it's more noticeable in today's media environment. Writers hone their skills through years of dedication and experience, but they're often paid a salary a panhandler would find insulting. Bobby Knight once said, "All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things." It's a view that should be expected from a man who hated the media nearly every day of his adult life, right up until the point he became a part of it. But it's now apparent that many others - especially those offering jobs to writers - have a similar view of a writer's worth and knowledge.

I'd say these employers will get what they pay for, but that's probably not true. They'll get work that is much more professional than they deserve, simply because for too many writers today, $1.40 is somehow still better than nothing.


RainyDaySaver said...

I was just reading a similar commentary on MediaBistro, where they pointed out in particular a writing job that paid $4 for 450 words. But $1.40 for similar word count takes the cake.

I think the difference nowadays is that anyone can publish content (read: Internet) and therefore, anyone who can string a sentence together (even a really long one) can become a "writer." Makes it harder for all of us who are trained, career journalists, because there are minimal legitimate freelance writing opportunities out there.

Shawn Fury said...

And everyone is used to all media being free now, so of course those looking for work from writers take that to the next level and expect them to work for free.

Guess there's always law school. Or the Peace Corps.

Jerry said...

It is not just publishers who are cheap and get what they pay for - that statement could apply to many many industries.