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article imageOp-Ed: Freelance writers ripoffs galore — Lousy word rates must go

By Paul Wallis     Sep 20, 2020 in Business
Sydney - If you check out freelance commercial writing gigs online, you’ll see a pattern. From the unforgivable Fiverr to just about any other writing gig, you’ll see lousy word rates. This is the issue, and it shouldn’t be an issue.
The theory is that industry standard payment is 10c a word. That’s $50 for a 500 word article. Please also note that this sum is for quality work. That’s not unreasonable, since most contractors get significantly more. The reality is that you're much more likely to get a princely 1c per word payment just about anywhere.
I’ve been a pro freelancer for the last 20 years. I write all over the world. I’ve made a lot more money than that, simply by not taking gigs at those rates. It’s not worth the time and effort at all, except to build a portfolio to get better gigs. Meanwhile - That’s not “money”, it’s an insult. Check out a few all-too-familiar horror stories I found on Reddit.
There’s much more. Many writing sites expect ritualised pitches for every piece written, using more time, slow editorial responses to pitches, and the bottomless low pay. What’s to pitch, you morons? You should know what content you need. Why are you waiting for someone to tell you what you might want to publish? Or are you just there to keep the furniture company, in case it gets lonely? Just assign whatever it is that’s needed, and stop wasting time. If you actually need pitches, target for your preferred sources, not just “writers”.
If you hear writers bitching about money, the reasons can be many, but are always based on cheapskate rates.
To explain – A 300 word article takes about an hour, including thinking up the content, (usually ignored as an issue) checking, running it through Grammarly, etc. So you’re getting paid $3.00 an hour. That’s $24 per day. Does it sound right? Does it sound like you could live on it or even pay a few bills? Of course not.
To further explain – 1c per word is what writers were being paid in the 1940s. Times have changed a bit. $25 per article is closer to a realistic amount, and $50 is about right.
Now is the time to mention that lousy remuneration is only one of the hazards for writers. The rest of the problem is at the receiving end, where some contractors don’t even seem to know what they’re paying for, or why.
A quick list of freelance writing obstacles
The usual range of contract problems for writers includes:
• El Cheapo contracts paying far less than actual market value are symptomatic of lousy business models and practices. This is supposed to be “smart”, by the way. You run out of writers the minute they get better money somewhere else. It’s exactly like a hostile workplace, and about as productive. Any amount of money won’t pay for the stress.
• People who live to engage in idiot procedures. This includes obsession with style guides, (utterly useless, unless the end publisher uses AP style, and it’s a publishing standard) punctuation, dogmatic insanity, and general nitpicking. AVOID.
• Uncommunicative contracts. I have actually seen a deranged cow sending work to people, then saying it wasn’t up to scratch, and never even describing what was wanted. This is the sign of a 100% loser in content terms.
• Overly communicative contracts. If you have a contract where every word will generate hours of nitpicking emails, become a hermit. You’ll make far more money, too.
• Godawful CMS. Lousy Content Management Systems aren’t quite as common as they were, but they still exist, even in new do-everything apps. They’re full of obscure ways of uploading documents, and other useful assets which waste time prodigiously.
• SEO mystics. These guys are supposedly SEO experts, but don’t seem to realise that SEO is based entirely on relevance, not obsessing about keywords. All you need are a few good keywords, not a damn dictionary.
• Unrealistic deadlines and workloads. This is a sign of true, dedicated, incompetence in a contract. There’s no excuse for missing deadlines, but there’s no excuse for putting ridiculous timeframes on people with too much work, either. ..Particularly when you’re paying chicken feed.
Now think of this as a global environment in which you're being paid almost literally nothing as well. Does it sound like fun to you?
To show the other side of the coin as a writing environment – One of the better gigs I’ve had was in New York, working for a finance site doing tight turnaround posts. The guy was saying I’d put in too many links to an article on the Petro China stock float. He got back to me about 2 minutes after it was posted, and while we were still talking links, he came back saying, “Congratulations – We just got sourced by the Wall Street Journal”. That was the end of the discussion. That’s a good contract - No fuss, we had fair-minded communication, and no nonsense about payment.
Now, the market values
Pay peanuts, you get monkeys? You optimist. Not with writers, you don’t. Pay peanuts, you don’t get writers. At least, not good or experienced writers. The reasons are obvious from the writer’s perspective, but there’s more to it.
Some people seem to overlook the fact that writers provide information which their clients need. This is the make or break of sales. Lousy content means nobody will bother to look at you. People vote with their clicks, as well as their money.
If your content doesn’t sell to readers, you don’t have a business. Doesn’t matter whether you’re selling weapons or candy, information or gossip, that great big personal Off switch is always ready to go. Every single word you publish IS your public face.
Most people have seen commercial or news content which simply does not appeal. They can’t be bothered reading it. Even if it’s a subject they care about, they won’t read it.
Consider these headlines for a commercial purpose:
Huge game changer in personal security coming to ABCDEFG soon
ABCDEFG personal security update coming out in June
Not too hard to see which article will get the attention, is it? That’s commercial writing 101. THAT’s what you’re paying for. Not nitpicking rubbish about commas, terminology, or obscure syntax issues. Nobody reads anything online vigilante-like with a style guide in hand, either.
Every single word, from the headline to the last, has to deliver some value. Nobody has to read anything online. To be read at all is a bit of a compliment, a sort of vindication.
The most basic principle of advertising and sales is to simply attract attention. That attention drops off pretty fast if your content limps along, saying little and achieving less.
How much value do you get with good B2B content? A lot. You get actual business out of it. How much value to you get with plodding text that simply states the obvious? None. Nobody could even get interested, because you’ve got some insane set of so-called quality controls that actively prevent quality writing.
So pay decent rates!
Any pro writer can give you core content, evergreen content, or content that performs minor surgery if required:
Some advice, unwanted or not:
• Don’t expect people to put up with horrendous payments; it won’t happen.
• Don’t expect quality when you disincentivize every damn job.
• Don’t fossilize your content with mindless, time-expensive procedures if you can avoid it.
• Don’t cheapen your own business with cheap rates for lousy content.
When you’re working with freelancers, remember we’re businesses in our own right for the purposes of courtesy and getting things done. From aardvarks to zygotes, simply be clear about what you want and how much you’re paying for it, and that's what you'll get. How much simpler could it possibly be?
Pay decent money, no problem. This Paying Writers With Insults thing has to go, right now.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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