Monday, August 16, 2010

Frustrations, and possible solutions

Last week, I asked for insights into the current frustrations facing freelance writers. One Writers' Bridge member, Marilyn Noble, put it very well -- therefore, I'm posting her thoughts here, along with some comments and possible solutions.

Darrell, thanks for the nudge. I think freelancing has become markedly more difficult since I started more than a decade ago. I'm seeing challenges in several areas: Getting paid -- While there are many more markets now than there used to be, the vast majority of the...m pay so little that you can't make a living writing for them. The magazines that will pay a buck a word are few and far between, and a good number of those have seen their page counts shrink with the economy so they buy fewer articles. Magazines demand more rights than they used to and tend to pay later (after publication rather than on acceptance), making cash flow management tricky. Competition -- There are many more people freelancing than there used to be. So many journalists have been laid off and can't find jobs, and many of them have turned to freelancing. And then there are plenty of hobby writers who are willing to write for next to nothing or worse just to see their names in print. Quality -- Many markets, especially on-line, are willing to print almost anything, and they pay so little that they get inferior work from people who are either lazy or don't know better. Content mills seem to be driving this trend. So if you're a professional writer who spends time on research and lots of rewrites before you submit your work, your hourly rate is below the poverty level, while those who can slam out 300-word, semi-literate but optimized blog posts can at least make pocket change while they keep their day jobs. I guess what it boils down to is that good writers and good writing are no longer as valued as they used to be. I'm usually pretty upbeat and optimistic about the world, but I think this is a sad situation for those of us who are professionals. I don't know many writers any more who make a living solely from freelance work -- everybody is taking on whatever projects will pay the bills. A friend of mine calls this "giganomics" -- having to do lots of different gigs to make a living. So that's my take on things. What is everybody else experiencing?

A few thoughts ...

Alas, there's nothing any of us can do about the "content mills" that pay $10 an article. A lot of this is obviously exploitation, but I also know some of the folks in that business who can't afford to pay any more. And while some writers will take those jobs, no one is forcing you to be one of them. Getting mad about it is just a waste of energy.

So how do we, as experienced writers, go about standing out in the crowd with the higher-paying markets? And how can The Writers' Bridge help? I have a few long-term ideas ...

1. I would like to finish building a bridge to the other side, meaning the editors and publishers of magazines, newspapers and Websites. What TWB can do, ultimately, is provide a collective credibility. If we can guarantee as a group that articles will be written as agreed upon, submitted on time, and completely free of typos and grammatical errors, we can break through te natural reluctance of editors to use writers with whom they are unfamiliar. Every success story needs to have a matching validation from that customer. Eventually, word will get around.

Of course, how to build that bridge remains an issue. These days, there is often a "cyber-moat" around the castles of media, and one never knows if a pitch or a query or an invitation ever gets to the right person. It may take personal visits or attendance at editors' conferences, and I'm willing to do that.

2. We need to build our membership. This is obviously essential for me, since that's what pays our bills. But it's also essential for the group as a whole. The more writers we have, in more places, the more chances we have of coming across unique stories that will sell.

3. My goal is to start up at least one magazine, with TWB members as the contributors.

Any other suggestions would be welcomed. My primary reason for asking for freelance problems is to open the door for freelance solutions.


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ivinv said...

Another thought provoking article Darrel. I take exception to which might be who you're referring to when people work for peanuts and job givers exploit poor and bad writer just because they bid low.

I refuse to write an SEO article that's researched, passing copyscape for $1.00. It happens and is shocking!

Susan Lahey said...

Hooray! I feel like I have someone in my corner. I just keep thinking of the words of a friend of mine who is a businessman...not a writer. He says "It's 'at bats'" how many times you send your stuff out and how many rejection letters you collect. I am counting on him being right.