Monday, July 21, 2014

Transparency

This, as the kids used to say. Writers writing about writing not paying. Shall I join in? Places I've written for as a freelancer tend to pay between $50 and $100 an article. This can be parlayed into other things, and something is absolutely better than nothing (which is what my first regular post-college writing gig paid, back when I was too naive to know one was meant to ask for payment), and it's probably a different story for people who establish themselves on staff various places and then switch to freelance (I'm thinking of someone like Jessica Grose)... but it does say something about the viability of full-time freelancing as a career.

What the article unfortunately doesn't mention is how what "writing" consists of has changed. Yes, if you wanted to be a poet or novelist, this was always going to be a struggle if you didn't come from money or hit it big with something you wrote while still in high school. But now, anything however tangentially related to publishing or journalism likely won't pay. I do repeat myself on this, but it's important: The day job has become, for many, an unpaid, no-insurance-providing "dream job." Work that isn't particularly artistic (sorry but that first episode of "Girls"...) is somehow The Arts.

I could try to analyze this further - is this about places marketing themselves cleverly in order to get clerical work done for free? - but I want to make the most of this enormous stamp-card mocha and get some other writing done.

6 comments:

Flavia said...

I've been very curious about this. I was invited to write something substantial (~3500 words) for a general-audience print venue that wound up not taking it, and in some ways my greatest disappointment is that I *still* don't know what they pay upon publication! I received $300 as a kill fee, though, so maybe it's $500 for publication? $1000? In any case, not enough to live on if it takes a month to write a piece...

Phoebe said...

A $300 kill fee's pretty good! As is... getting a kill fee, period. Which is another transparency issue, now that I think of it - we hear when people we know publish something, but not when they almost do, so there's no sense of how that's supposed to go. It is (she says, from one frustrating, memorable experience) possible for a place to want a piece, have you fill out payment forms, ask for edits, receive said edits... and then change its mind months later, and pay... nothing at all, because there was never technically any reason for them to do so, given that the piece was never actually scheduled to run, so, no kill fee. That particular story ended well enough for me - somewhere else took a version of it I liked much more. But it doesn't say anything good about the economics of freelancing!

Anyway, the pay (for things that do run) seems to depend on whether something's print or online-only. The several-hundred-to-a-thousand-dollar range, in my experience, is mostly limited to print. But, as you say, the higher fee is likely to be for something that can't be written in an hour.

Miss Self-Important said...

You peeps should become conservative. They pay a lot better than this.

Phoebe said...

MSI,

Not necessarily! The now-defunct conservative online mag where I was a/the token liberal paid a nominal sum per blog post.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes, that was a noble effort, but obviously they did many things wrong since they are now defunct. It's true that high pay is not across the board. A certain flagship magazine paid me zilch once for - ironically - an article on the imprudence of unpaid work. Very displeasing. But other places have paid between $200 and $2500. I never ask in advance what the pay will be, so when the sum is closer to the latter, it feels like you've won the lottery when you open the check. One of the journals that paid that much is also now defunct though, so maybe that too is a kind of error.

Phoebe said...

"A certain flagship magazine paid me zilch once for - ironically - an article on the imprudence of unpaid work."

Ha! I too was once paid nothing for a piece about the problems with unpaid work. Somehow I bet a lot of people share this predicament.

As for why places fold, I have no idea. As for being surprised at how higher or low a fee is, I too tend not to ask ahead of time, and have stories I will share with you offline.