“My company is hoping to interest a new client, and we’re looking for someone to work on a proposal. Do you want to write for us?”
So I’m at a friend’s party, and I’d rather socialize than talk shop, but hey, when you say “I’m a writer” to people, they tend to talk shop whether you want to or not.
“Sure,” I reply. “Why don’t we meet up later this week to discuss fees and deadlines? I bill by the hour or by the word, depending on the project.”
Pause, then the knockout: “Sweetheart, are you expecting me to pay you? You should be grateful we’re giving you this amazing opportunity to better your writing skills and get noticed by the right people. The last guy who did proposals for us is now writing for The Times.”
What? No, WHAT???
Flashback to my first few months as a “real writer”. I wrote a few short stories. They got accepted by a magazine, one which didn’t pay but offered bio space and links to authors’ websites. Great, I figured, my story will get read and I’ll get “noticed by the right people”.
It took a while for me to figure something else out: the person running the magazine was earning: a) advertising revenue; b) subscriber/reader revenue; and c) writer revenue ($2 per sample issue).
I was burning the midnight oil to pay someone else’s bills.
Fast forward to the present. This guy wanted me to write a proposal probably worth thousands of dollars to him and his company and I wouldn’t get anything except some experience. Oh, yeah, if I was really lucky, he would tell his colleagues about the stupid writer willing to write for nothing, and I would likely end up with a whole pile of free proposals.
I’m guessing that at some point in your life, someone has asked you to write for free, too. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s only a matter of time until it does. Sometimes your skills even get promised to someone you don’t even know: “See, my boss is looking for someone to edit our PR stuff, and I thought, why bother? I know this fantastic copyeditor who can do it for nothing.”
Explain to these people that you write for a living. (Like, money?) Tell them what rates you normally charge. Name the various publications or companies you’ve written for. Have your usual per hour and per word rates printed on the back of your professional name cards: when someone casually mentions they need a writer, you can whip out your card and say, “Sure. Here’s my contact info. Oh, my rates are on the back.” Let people know that you’re a pro and that they can’t get away with treating you like an amateur.
Don’t be blinded by cheap flattery of your ability (“You’re such a great writer you’ll be able to do this in a second!”) or asinine insults that imply you’re not a real writer (the grown-up equivalent of a kid flapping his arms and yelling “chicken”). Relax. You’re a great writer. There are people paying you money because you are a great writer. Writing for free – even if you manage to somehow do the job in a secondówill not change that.
Some nonpaying clientele can be so annoying that you’re tempted to just take their stuff and tell them at a later date that you don’t want to do it. Or maybe just do a lousy job on their work so they never bother you again. Or do the job and then send them a whopping invoice for twice your normal rates. All of the above are a colossal waste of everyone’s time, and does nothing for you except make you feel bad. (Okay, the whopping invoice might make you feel good if you actually get the money, but you’ll probably just get a lot of angry phone calls.)
Lastly, don’t feel guilty about asking for payment. I’ve heard fellow writers say they feel as if they’re “betraying their art” asking for cash when people hand them free work “because I know how much you love to write”. There’s nothing wrong with loving your job. Never feel you’re not entitled to a fee for a job well done.
Don’t write for free. Stick up for yourself and your work. Setting a price on your writing means it’s good work and, more importantly, that you know it’s good work.
Aline Lechaye is a translator, writer, and writing tutor who resides in Asia. She can be reached at alinelechaye-at-gmail.com.