WARNING! This article will contradict itself. But that’s okay, dear reader, because it contains the wit and wisdom, if not a little wisecracking, that makes it worth consuming like a glass of fine wine. Ok, maybe not that fine a wine, but good wine. Let’s just call it better than convenience store brands. But I digress.
What’s up with all the charity work?
So many freelancers are writing for free. Where did we go wrong, allowing ourselves to become bovine wordspinners populating the vast green fields of the Internet and being constantly milked without even the offer of a little green in return? So many content-generation sites seek to offer us the chance to be “published” without so much as a sixpence tossed as thanks for a job well done.
Now, I regularly tell students and aspiring writers that one of the tried and true avenues to freelancing is via Al Gore’s Info Superhighway and that not getting paid for their work is not such a bad thing. It creates bylines which give the writing world the building blocks of credibility for future assignments. I know a professor at Central Florida University who requires her writing students to get published – by any means – at least three times by the end of the semester. She understands the value of creating a portfolio of work to show to prospective publishers, but somewhere between that declaration and the sweat and tears of developing articles for consumption, many freelancers have lost a key component in the transaction – the “business” side.
Creative folk are a cagey lot and business administration is often a skill learned by creatives through much sweat, tears and sometimes, actual blood. But it is crucial, not just for oneself but for the freelance community at large, that writers not give away the precious syllables which constitute the daily bread and butter. Instead, writers must demand compensation for their work.
It has become to common a trend, even in the adolescence of the Internet, to simply take content from writers with a glib smile and the promise of traffic to a specific site or worse, the “you’ll get your name out there” promise. The names should be out there, but those names should indicate that a writer poured skill and soul into an article which deemed it worthy of monetary compensation. Otherwise, what makes the working freelance community more professional than the average Joe Writer?
This is not to say that Joe Writer won’t one day ascend to the Show, to so speak, where the pens are made of gold and writers are treated like star athletes. Ok, so that’s stretching the glamour of the work, but there’s never been a writer who did not receive that first check for a work, no matter how diminutive the amount, and float on air for the next 24 hours.
More than for the personal satisfaction, though, is the purpose of getting paid for work done. Content sites that sell the gratis works of writers are simply creating virtual sweat shops where writers turn out quality goods and receive no real reward. Some sites will tell you that the articles will be reprinted in local and regional newspapers, thereby pushing traffic to a writer’s web site. But consider this? Who is the reporter? You. Are the newspaper’s other reporters paid for their work? Of course they are. So why not you? If a site wants to buy a writer’s content and resell it, so be it. At least the writer had the chance to negotiate a fee and keep themselves on the professional road.
The written medium is a fleshy animal that many times seems tough to get one’s hands around, but it is a commodity. The future of that commodity, however, is to be decided by the community of writers. Consider the multitudes of modern publications – if they can easily stock their pages with open articles found on free sites, what is the impetus to continue paying legitimate fees to writing staff?
What sets the freelancer apart is the ability to turn a phrase, to research a topic, interview sources and produce strong, thought-provoking content. These talents may be inherent but most are learned through practice and most important, through time. Writing pulls us into a secret world where we leave our families and homes behind to venture out into an electronic frontier. That time could be spent with families or working on other projects. Do those precious moments not have value? If so, then join the ranks of those authors who refuse to work for free and keep your talents garnering a financial reward.