Once I was asked to proof-read a 17 page terms and conditions document. I wasn’t getting paid, but at that point I was frantically job hunting, and I had landed a remote journalism internship for a travel website. That was my first task to do. Granted, since then I’ve seen that same internship I go up intermittently on Gorkana, painting it out to be an amazing opportunity, when really, it’s free work for the company on a rolling basis. I lasted just over two weeks.
But that’s not really my point. Although that was tedious, wrong and dull, I was at the stage in my career where I needed all the experience I could get. I was actively trying to build up my CV and I was desperate to start bulking out my portfolio. Personally, I really don’t agree with unpaid internships but that’s a different story.
This is about not paying writers in general. You wouldn’t ask an electrician to fix something in your home for free, even if he was just qualified. You wouldn’t ask a new chef to cook you dinner for free. You wouldn’t expect a newly qualified teacher, who’s just finished their PGCE to teach children for free. So why on earth do so many people expect writers to write for free?
I say this as I see established online magazines, websites, and even print magazines searching desperately for writers, feature writers and journalists. They put the call out for writers and the minute anything is said about rates or pay, they say ‘CURRENTLY we are unable to pay our writers but we are hoping to change this’ or something along those lines. Imagine saying that to a teacher? ‘Urm sorry I’m afraid we don’t actually pay our teachers at this school,’. I think it’s embarrassing and wrong.
And the reason will always be that they don’t have the budget. But if they don’t have the budget for writers then content shouldn’t be part of their business or it should be done in-house. I work for a social enterprise – we are non-commercial, basically a charity without registered charity status. We pay all freelance writers. We pay anyone that actively does work for us and is fulfilling a job and responsibility. So I don’t agree with the fact that people don’t have a budget for it. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be advertising for freelance writers.
There’s a lot of this on job sites, with new or unpaid for publications calling for writers. You see a list of responsibilities of the role and then you’re told its unpaid. But more recently I’ve seen established websites doing the same – putting the call out for feature writers, make it look exciting as this is a rare opportunity, only to find out that they are unpaid.
The only way to get respect for yourself as a writer, creator and journalist is to not write for free. If you’re at the stage where you want to write, not for experience, but because it’s your career now, then that should come with payment. I freelance for several publications and get paid. And I’ve enquired about other websites and said no because I’m not writing for free. If you are saying yes because you love the magazine or website then okay. There was a time when I was qualified, and working full time on a magazine too. One of my favourite female lifestyle websites wanted writers, and they liked my work. They said there would be possibility of payment so I did interviews for them, probably wrote about five features before I realised that this ‘payment’ was a long way off, and the more they asked of me, the more frustrated I became at the lack of payment I was getting.
The more you write for free, the more you will be expected too. The time when you begin to get paid for your freelance writing will probably be the time you starting asking for it. Don’t be afraid to do that.
Be confident and tell people your rates per article or per hour. Don’t feel that your writing isn’t good enough to be charged for. If you’re qualified, and they want your writing, then they should be paying for it. Think back to the teacher – she wouldn’t teach for free.