Why Be a Starving Artist When You Can Make A Living

This is one I wrote for freelance writers and aspiring authors way back when for a writing blog now defunct. As I was grabbing a few old favorite posts to put in the vault, I thought this one was still relevant for sharing.

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Originally written March 7, 2007 by Leslie Poston

Why are writers so afraid to make money? What makes an aspiring writer buy into the starving artist mentality? My colleague at Profy recently wrote about a person who is taking advantage of writers on her personal blog this week. I think any time a writer finds a “client” or “publication” like this they should get the word out like she did – exposing their plundering ways to the world is one way to make it hard for people to keep taking advantage of writers like this, to be sure. I am as outraged at clients and business people who plunder our skills like this as she is, but I also see it with a different point of view.These people can not take advantage of you as a professional writer unless you continue to let them.

I’d like to see a movement in the writing world that has two parts. First, I’d like to see writers who are “purists” be more accepting of writers who are business people. Second, I’d like to see all writers, even the purists, band together to quit writing for free or close to free. Even if you write fiction and are not a person who writes for the corporate or online business world, there is no reason to continue to sell yourself short. Stop writing for “exposure” or for only “a byline” or “to get your name out there”! The internet has loosed the chains of the publishing industry, folks, and they no longer hold you over a barrel like they used to.

Learn how to blog, learn how to market yourself for little to no money online, learn about article writing, sites like Squidoo, Facebook, Hub Pages and ePinions and get your own name out there. Give yourself exposure! Make your own bylines. Stop allowing people to ride on your back to their “success”. Use the internet – it is a powerful tool that many writers underestimate. Can’t get a publisher? Turn that novel into a pdf ebook and sell it on your own web site for 100% profit, no publisher attached. Even Amazon sells ebooks, folks – you are missing out on a great opportunity to sell your work. Publishers even quietly seek out these ebooks for print publication – it works as a tool both ways. Think of it as another way to break into publishing.

Break the chains, stomp the stereotype – be your own best agent and start getting paid what you are worth. What is that exactly? Well it sure isn’t a penny a word! For corporate copy a writer breaking out should be charging by the page (not by the hour, and not by the word). A typical entry level page rate is $10.00 per page if you are a good writer (be honest with yourselves – if you aren’t a great writer, find a great writer you can help market instead). That rate should go up on a yearly basis until you reach your goal. Your page rate should take into account research time, editing time and expenses. It is not uncommon for a sales copy writer with a proven track record of success (as in “When I wrote the sales letter for Widget Co, their conversion rate increased 65% and they received 1500 more page views per day. The graph from Webalyzer is attached.”) to charge $50.00 or more per page once they’ve become established.

Also, have a rate sheet. Don’t change your rates job per job. Pick your page rate for each type of writing and stick to it! If a job would require more hours of research to learn the topic than your $10.00 per page allows for, skip it. Write about things you are familiar enough with to keep your research time lower. Use sources you can cite to the client, and most importantly, don’t plagiarize another writer’s work! If you see an ad for “just a quick rewrite of the blog entries found on XXY Widget blog so I can use them on my own site”, take a pass.

For fiction writers, eschew the publications who offer no money for your hard work. Also avoid those who restrict your submissions and have a long approval wait. It is a blatant abuse of a writer to assume they can afford to wait months between submissions on the off chance they might be published in a magazine next season. If you do write for one of these, send multiple submissions anyway and track them – if one gets accepted, send a post card to the other publications stating that you are withdrawing your piece from consideration. This is beating them at their own game.

Whatever method you use, remember to have solidarity with your fellow writers – if we all insist on being paid what we’re worth, the pillaging of our talent will eventually stop.