I am a writer. That is what I do. I actually get paid to sit and be creative and write all day, which according to Stephen King, is “an agreeable thing to be able to do”. I love to write and have done so for many years, but I never considered myself a “writer” until I sold. Until that moment that somebody picked up something I wrote, decided that they were sufficiently interested, and transferred a few bucks from their pocket to mine.
It would be a couple of years before I landed a job writing full time (as the Content Director for a company servicing the water damage industry). Not exactly War & Peace, but it pays the bills and beats the heck out of sales. I consider myself extremely lucky, especially when I peruse the freelance writing scene, and never cease to be amazed at how many good writers are selling themselves out for peanuts.
Companies are perfectly willing to pay their CEOs, their IT guys, heck even their custodial staff a decent wage, but for some reason when it comes to getting quality content for their websites, promotional material, press releases, etc., all the rules suddenly seem to go out the window. They want something for nothing, or next to nothing. And of course there is always the crazy first cousin to “nothing” known as “no pay, but getting credit” for the work. Last time I checked, there is not a single bill that “getting credit” would pay for.
Sci-fi author Harlan Ellison commented that amateurs make it hard for professionals, because amateurs are perfectly willing to work for chump change in the vain hope that somehow, somewhere, some day, some way, they will get “discovered” and their hard work will pay off. It won’t happen. As long as writers are willing to work for nothing, companies are under no great pressure to increase their payment offers.
So how to get around this problem? First of all, stop taking any job just for the sake of taking it. Establish what you believe your time and talent is worth, and stick to it. If someone offers you a job writing a 700 word article for $8, calmly counteroffer and tell them your rate is $50 an hour (or whatever you decide on). And hold your ground. Chances are, once they have received a few articles and see what kind of 700 word article $8 gets them, you will suddenly start looking a lot more attractive.
So how do you make yourself appealing? First off, know your business. You can’t be a writer if you can’t…well…write! Make sure what you are offering is well written, concise, to the point, and free of grammatical gaffes or rambling, incoherent content. Learn other talents related to writing. In today’s market place, being proficient in SEO strategies is almost a must. Learning how to write with both end users and search engines in mind is a delicate balancing act (much like balancing a cue ball on the tip of a pool stick), but if you can master the art, you will be a much sought after talent.
Assemble a portfolio. If you don’t have one, start building it now. Online portfolios are especially effective, since you can not only update it as often as you need to, but you can slip the link right into your resume or cover letter. I suggest making your portfolio a sampling of the best of your work from a wide variety of sources. In my own, I have samples of everything from articles to web content to short stories to technical manuals to poetry to screenplays. If you already have any material published prominently on another site, provide the links to that site. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you are good at what you do! Blow that horn!
You can also check out the book Writers Market 2011 to get an idea of the going rate for professional writers. Know your profession and know what you are worth.
Again, as long as writers keep taking on jobs for little or no pay, that is what we will continue to be offered. Don’t be afraid to embrace the power of the word “no”. If somebody wants you but they are not willing to pay for your time and talent, do not hesitate to refuse the job. It is up to the writing community to make ourselves valuable again. Don’t join the ranks of those who are working daily to devalue our profession.
Now, go therefore and write well….and get paid handsomely in the process!