Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Money in Words

In the smoky confines of the Royal Canadian Legion, my newspaper editor scrawled a few words on a paper napkin with a black Sharpie. He then slid the napkin across the table and folded his hands on his lap.

"There's no money in words!" the black letters announced.

As much as I wanted to argue the point--due, in no small part, to the warming beer in my hand--I had to agree with his assessment, at least in part.

Writing is sometimes referred to as a thankless task. On that point I will disagree. There is generally more than enough gratitude and appreciation to go around. It's the money that's in short supply.

There seems to be a misconception among non-writers that words throw themselves against the page in the perfect sequence without any effort on the part of the writer. Writing is easy. If you're good enough, and fast enough, you can dash off 500 words in 15 minutes and make the $5 fee seem reasonable.

If you think earning $5 for 500 words is ludicrous, you're right. But try telling that to prospective clients. There's more than enough of them out there, hanging out on sites like Guru where freelances bid on work and hope the clients place more value on quality than on the lowest bid.

I'm not knocking Guru or any other job site. In fact, I just renewed my Guru membership, and I will keep on bidding. I just won't be telling prospective clients what I think of their budgets anymore. (I did that once and got a rather stern warning from the site administrators. My comments, as it happens, were deemed "derogatory" under the Terms of Service.)

The key to bidding on work is to have a realistic view of your abilities. Can you work within the client's budget and still earn a respectable wage? You might be a slow, meticulous writer but a super-fast editor or proofreader.

Your also have to practice the fine art of negotiation. Is the client willing to combine a smaller up front fee with a percentage of earnings? Include that idea as part of your proposal. If the client is still interested, you have some room to maneuver, whereas a straight forward bid within budget would have left you stuck at a lower than acceptable price tag.

I won't tell you what to charge for the work you do. That's up to you, your clients, and whatever the market will bear. Just don't give it away. And remember that your price tag should grow in tandem with your experience.

So my editor was, as I say, partially right. There's no money in words--unless you're willing to fight for what you deserve.


Betty Dobson is an award-winning writer of short fiction, essays and poetry. She also writes newspaper and magazine articles but is still waiting for those awards to materialize. In the meantime, she continues to run InkSpotter Publishing, which has three new books available and several more in the works for 2012.


elysabeth said...

Betty, interesting posting. I tell other writers that there is no money in the publishing of the stories even if they self-publish. The way authors usually make their money (unless they are Stephen King, Dean Koontz or the like) is by doing speaking engagements. It's just part of the process. You have to be really popular with your stories - have a nice group of followers and then you have to speak about the process or your books in order to really see some income from it. - But we do keep on trying to make the money with our writing and thus we keep publishing more and more stories. Thank goodness for the free service from or I'd be so far in debt I'd never see the light of day. Anyway, keep on doing what you do and eventually you will get there. - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of FINALLY HOME, a middle grade/YA mystery written very similar to a Nancy Drew mystery

Heidiwriter said...

It takes a LOT of hard work and a LOT of patience to get to the point of making money. But we write because we love it, not because we want to be rich and famous, right?

Karen Cioffi said...

Betty, it depends on where your looking! There is money in writing for businesses - all businesses need writers to help marketing their products. And, copywriters can make a great income. But, the problem is in finding the 'good' clients.

The problem with content mills, like Elance and Guru, is that the author may get stuck in the setting. While there are some writers who get relatively good clients out of it, most write for peanuts.

Like you say, don't undervalue yourself and your talent/skills. And, learn how to quote prices. In other words, know how long a project will take you. You don't want to quote a price for five hours of work and have it take you 20 hours.

Boy, I'd love to be able to write a 500 word article in 15 minutes!
Even if I'm rewriting one it will take me longer than that.

Magdalena Ball said...

Fiction pays even less, but fiction is, of course, as much art as it is craft, and art never pays. It's always been that way and thank goodness art is still being made. Elysabeth is right that there are other ways to make money out of it than selling the work itself. Business writing is a different story. There certainly can be money in it (see Peter Bowerman for more on that) if you create a proper business, but it's no different than any other business - it takes time, work, and a lot of skills other than wordsmithing.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Hi Betty,
liked the point about negotiating the earnings up by talking percentages. I'd never thought of that.

Unknown said...

Thans for all the great comments!

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