In a society where one can have relative freedom on the economic scale (we all need dough), it’s instructive for the writer to think about, well, at some point … getting paid.
I love writing and writers, and it’s so fascinating watching the various agendas and motives involved. Many hundreds of thousands of writers in America alone burn for recognition and wealth … or is it the other way around? One is no. 1 and the other is no. 1A.
But let’s be practical. Let’s say that you have the worthy goal of earning a living as a writer. I do, and say that not boastfully – it all depends on what you mean by “a living,” right, President Clinton? Yes, if one has the opportunity to do this full-time, then I always say, go for it. Hopefully this column will offer some practical advice.
It’s always amusing to hear writers sniff and say such-and-such pay scale is too small for them. How comical. Beggars can’t be choosers, said John Heywood in 1546. Evidently, he knew some egomaniac writers, too.
No, little children, do not scoff at whatever remuneration is offered, at least when you’re starting out. Cash can buy a lot of typewriter ribbons – I mean, laptops.
Let’s say you are offered a gig writing a blog for a particular site. There are all manner of financial terms, including none. In other words, you might be offered a spot for “little to nothing,” as Grandma used to say.
Unless the gig is illegal or immoral, take the offer. Do it for free. You see, there are few rules in the new writing landscape, made possible by all sorts of delicious advances in technology. A great writer has a greater chance of being “discovered” today, simply because he or she can offer something on Twitter and by afternoon, be offered a writing job. I see it all the time.
Many blogging sites will offer compensation in terms of pennies per page views. Such a system has worked well for writers like Rod Dreher. For the rest of us, a modest readership might yield a monthly cup of joe at Starbucks. Still, you’re technically getting paid. Just don’t let the $6.47 checks pile up; use them. Use every advantage, including financial, to further your writing career. Save up those checks and buy a hot camera that will take photos to enhance your blog. Use the money to pay your Internet bill.
Just use it all to keep moving forward.
For other writing jobs, compensation is all over the map. Someone might cough up $75 for a feature (complete with original photos) for an online magazine. Someone else might offer ten times that amount. You have to ready and open for any and all opportunities and, for the hundredth time, don’t despise the small things.
If you are negotiating a fee, ask the advice of other writers or consult a writing periodical. Heck, you can even ask the source what their going rate is. Bottom line: Don’t hang yourself up thinking you are asking a stupid question. It’s all part of your education, and I maintain that in a years’ time, you will be a much more educated writer about such things. If you are diligent.
Also, seek to expand your writing platform to the degree that you can handle it. For example, you’ve been writing for your quilting club newsletter, but find yourself in the possession of an assignment from a national magazine to write a feature on such a “tribe.” Two days later comes an invitation to begin writing a regular blog for some nationally known site.
Don’t freak out over the added responsibility. Embrace it. Budget your time.
But here’s a real piece of advice that many overlook: Just as you shouldn’t despise any opportunity, you should also covet your “first love.”
I think it was Darrell Royal who said to his football team, “You dance with what brung ya.”
In other words, don’t lose sight of your writing roots and, if it is still a good fit, keep your first full-time writing commitment, no matter how “small” the platform.
If you began your career writing a blog for your church, social club or even something at your office job … keep it, even as the sexier offers accumulate. Doing such keeps you grounded. If you one day challenge John Gresham as a novelist on the bestseller lists, don’t forget about the tiny writer’s journal online that gave you your first chance. Following close on the heels of this advice is the one about maintaining professional quality for those lesser stages or platforms. It matters if you’ve written quality, whether the readership is 37 people or all of Manhattan.
Back to pay. You can cobble-together a writing career with the one, two, three assignment jobs. It doesn’t have to be an immediate gig, writing online for the Washington Post. Syndication is something many writers dream about. Just take it easy, relax and rack-up those $400 assignments. And don’t forget to manage an invoicing system that allows you to track what you are owed.
One last thought: with the economy the way it is, make sure you stay vigilant when it comes to services rendered. If someone is late paying, don’t hang yourself or make voodoo dolls of their likeness. Wait a reasonable amount of time and continue to inquire until payment is made. Some people are late paying, many others are not.
If you care to, let me know how it goes with you. I’m always interested in hearing the progress of other writers. Even those dirty, no-good rich ones.