Saying No to Writing for Pennies! By DeAnn Rossetti

As freelance writers struggle to make a living during this “Great Recession II,” we’ve all seen the “writers wanted” ads on Craigslist and elsewhere that outline — in great detail — the hefty amount of work, the long hours and the many qualifications for a particular job.

They say something like this:

XYZ Startup is seeking talented writers and bloggers to create content for our newly-designed website. In addition to articles and essays for the website, you’ll need to write our marketing copy, as well as keep up our social media with Facebook, Twitter, and daily blog posts. Our startup needs to be your priority, so you’re available to work more than 40 hours a week, on evenings and weekends, willing to put your heart and soul into making us the most popular website in existence.

Writers will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in communications or journalism and 5-10 years of relevant experience. You will also need to be more interested in impact (social good) and/or possibly fame (as a writer or editor or communications director), than in immediate good pay–you are a fellow risk taker. The pay will be very low until the website gets impressive press and investor money.

You soon discover that Mr. XYZ Startup, who has already hired and paid top-notch web and graphic designers to set up the site and the content management system, is willing to pay these talented writers who will create all his content a few dollars per article, far less than minimum wage, for supplying all the brilliant content that is supposed to bring his website fame, fortune and investors.

It’s enough to make your blood boil, and it was enough for me to write the following letter in response to probably the 100th such ad that I’d responded to with my resume and writing samples, only to be offered pennies for my skills and experience.

Dear Mr. XYZ Startup,

Thank you for finally getting back to me, but I can’t live on “impact” and “possibly fame,” neither of which pays any bills.

It is my opinion that if you can’t afford to pay the writers who will create content for your site, you shouldn’t start a business at all on the Internet.

Professional writers need to be paid a professional rate for their work, just like any other skilled profession, such as doctors or dentists.

DeAnn Rossetti
Freelance Writer/Reporter
27 years of award-winning copy

I did not add, but should have, that this guy isn’t asking writers to take a risk, he’s asking them to give their work away for free on the ephemeral hope that the website does well. When, and if, it does become ‘famous’ you can be sure that any writer who allowed themselves to be scammed by this guy wouldn’t see a penny of the profits, because he has no respect for professional writers or their work.

A freelance editor friend of mine wrote the following in response to an ad asking for his talent and years of experience for pennies.

Dear Hiring Manager,

Your payment rate is so low, it is insulting to an experienced editor. You should also know that my clients are paying me for my skills and talent as a writer and editor, not my heart and soul, which are not for sale at any price.

I have also responded to the low/no paying by explaining that my rates for articles start at (for example) $75 per 200 words, and my hourly rate ranges from $25-$50. I also mention that I will charge a late fee if I don’t receive payment within 30 days of receipt of the work.

Writers shouldn’t have to explain to real businessmen and women that writing is a profession that requires years of education and experience to develop the skills and talent to be a professional writer/editor. Writing is hard work, and writers need to be compensated fairly for that work, not treated like their creations have no value.

Writers need to stand up for themselves and not let these low-paying scammers steal their work for pennies. Tell them that you will accept nothing less than fair market value for your work. If freelance writers refuse to accept these low paying jobs, we can earn a livable wage and garner respect for our industry at a time when it is being devalued by content mills and startups looking for free content.

DeAnn Rossetti is a freelance writer/reporter with 27 years of experience writing for websites, newspapers, magazines and newsletters. Armed with two BA’s and an MA in Writing, she has won 12 awards for her work from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband and 12 year old son, and struggles with Crohn’s Disease. As a bibliophile of 45 years, DeAnn loves to read and review books on one of her four blogs, when she’s not busy bargain hunting or collecting purses and pens.