Fair Pay…or Cruel and Unusual Punishment? By Rich Mintzer

Writer’s chat rooms and discussion boards are constantly flooded with comments about rates for writers. New writers argue that they take what they can get to build a portfolio, while veteran writers argue that you should receive fair pay for your work, adding that you will never be respected if you simply give your work away. Yet, even long-time writers have fallen prey to some less than “acceptable” rates rather than turning down work considering the current economic state.

The question, therefore, becomes; what exactly should you be expected to do for the rates being offered? I’ve seen ads for writers that have a laundry list of duties, responsibilities and expectations while offering low pay. Sometimes I want to bill them for the time it took just to read the ad. They expect to get Superman while paying for Jimmy Olsen.

Do editors, and clients, really expect writers to go several extra miles for what will ultimately amount to a minimum hourly wage? For a $300 article, how many rewrites does it take to go from fair pay to cruel and unusual punishment? For a book project, are the bibliography, index and massive amounts of research factored into the equation or does the clients simply think that those are extra little things they get for their money? While I have been suckered into some time consuming bibliographies, I’ve done many books and have never once given in to doing an index. There are indexers who get paid for their time and expertise.

Today, many people want something for nothing, or as close to it as possible. Unlike writers, lawyers have billable hours down to a science, billing people for everything they do, from a consultation to merely saying hello if you so happen get into the same elevator. And while I still try to show some compassion in tough economic times, I’ve also decided to spell out each and every thing I can think off.

For example, I write book proposals for authors to help them sell their books and potentially, if they so choose, co-write or ghostwrite the actual book. Naturally, since I have a potential stake in the project, I will try to go above and beyond ñ to a point. I do still limit the number of rewrites, assuming that if they expect endless rewrites now, it will only get worse if they get a book deal. Additionally, I write into the contract that I am not responsible for finding them an agent or a publisher. While I am usually quite happy to help them look, it’s time consuming to search for an agent and I cannot always put that amount of time and effort in nor can I guarantee that even a great book proposal will find a suitor in a “platform” and “celebrity” driven market.

I have also found, for blogging, that different folks are willing to pay $75, $200 or $350 for the same amount of words. While $75 is rather low, I look at what they are expecting for the price. For example, rewrites, keyword lists, meta tags and a series of links don’t really fly for $75, while I’m happy to provide more for $200 or $300. It’s not that I don’t try as hard to write quality material, but simply that the expectations become excessive for what they are paying.

Only you can determine what you are willing to do for an hourly or project rate. But it has become more important today than ever to look at contracts closely and set up some of your own ground rules. The reason is that if you are sitting there writing and feeling that you’ve been “taken” or cursing the fact that you need five interviews and a bibliography for a mere $100, you simply won’t turn out the same quality work as you would if you felt you were being paid well for your time.

The punch line is when editors or clients complain that you haven’t given them “enough” or done hours and hours of research. Editors and clients need to understand, “You Get What You Pay For.” And, they will catch on more quickly if, as a writer, you make it clear what you will do or won’t do for a given assignment. Sure, we all have those occasional labors of love where we will write endlessly because we simply enjoy it. But if writing is truly your business, you need to make sure anyone hiring you understands that it is just that, a business.

Rich Mintzer is a non-fiction author, journalist, blogger and ghostwriter. He runs Your Book Your Way ghostwriting service.