Monday, March 21, 2016

Stop Settling for Less and Demand What You're Worth

I've been a professional writer in one capacity or another for almost twenty years. I love the craft, the power of words, the ornate architecture of stories. But, after two decades and nineteen published books, I'm ready to change careers and explore new paths.

The discount culture is forcing people like me out of the business. Huge media corporations like the Huffington Post, for example, don't pay their writers, did you know that? They expect their writers to allow their work to be published for free because of the "exposure" they'll receive. They aren't alone. I submit to freelance forums daily. This used to be a good way to receive legit work. This past Saturday someone calling themselves a "financial firm" looking for a "staff blogger" called me for an interview. For the grand total of thirty dollars A DAY they wanted me to interview CEOs and other financial personnel, research the nitty-gritty, and write a five hundred word post three times a week---for the grand total of thirty dollars a day.

Readers want free books and complain about paying anything more than $3.99--which nets the author a little over $2 per book--yet I have people looking at my resume, which is stacked full of accomplishments, and question why I'm looking for other jobs to help pay my mortgage and support my family. What do they expect? My bills don't pay themselves with "honor" or "exposure."

My life is one of constant hustle--and I'm not complaining. I like working. I like having a purpose. I enjoy feeling productive. But I really hate feeling like I'm not valued and that my efforts aren't being recognized. Wouldn't you? Would you go to your work as a banker or engineer or whatever you do and expect to work for pennies on the hour--or for free--simply for the privilege of being seen? I doubt it. Who would do that? Well, that's what people expect writers to do.

The plot thickens when your own peer group can't be trusted to unite and demand quality. There are authors who churn out tacky books every month simply to have a constant new release while they lower the quality bar even more. They offer their books for ninety-nine cents or permanently free so they can achieve a false best seller status. They cheat the system by trading reviews with other authors in the Kindle Unlimited program to appear more successful than they are, and--what makes it really sad--is that they are driving good, hard-working, honest authors out of the industry while they dwell in their bubble of delusion. 

My editing business--also based on twenty years of experience--is also becoming too much of a burden to bear. Writers haggle with me over fair prices I've based on knowing how long particular projects will take.  Contracts are ignored and excuses are rampant. There are people out in the world claiming to be editors who don't have my experience or skill set--who think editing consists of proofreading and nothing more, who don't understand the concepts of character development or voice--so they charge a fraction of my price. Cheap doesn't equal better. I'm actually closing the doors on my editing business after April 30 to focus on e-Courses and nonfiction how-to type books. Does this mean I don't love editing? Quite the opposite. I love it--and I love working with authors (those who honor their contracts) and my clients have all loved me in return--it's simply not economically feasible to pursue anymore.

So what does all this mean for the future of quality in this culture of free and easy? It's not pretty. What's scarier is that experience is seen as "baggage" or something to be feared--or even as arrogance simply because there are some of us who have already paid our dues and know a few things.

Can it be changed? Is there a solution? I'm not sure. It appears that some writers are okay with writing for free---perhaps it is their hobby or maybe they have a spouse supporting them? I don't know. I honestly don't understand the culture of "I want you to perform this professional service for free." What's worse is that I don't understand the writers who give in to it, who are okay with volunteering their time--over and over and over again. When is it enough? I have over two hundred and fifty published articles, nineteen books, and am a damn good editor--yet people think I should be honored to work for free or wait for payment on services rendered?

I know it's not just the writing industry--I know other people my age who have to give up the careers they've built because of downsizing or other factors where their "experience" is actually seen as a detriment. I also know women who were stay-at-home mothers whose kids have left home for college who want to reenter the workforce and are encountering ageism bias--employers, it seems, don't want to hire someone who reminds them of their mother or anyone who may actually know more about something than they do.

So what is the solution? What's wrong with being experienced? What's wrong with being good at something and caring about quality? What's wrong with expecting to be paid what you're worth? What's wrong with being older and responsible? In the culture of free, easy, and youth-worshipping, apparently all those things are cardinal sins.

I am standing my ground and saying "no" to working for free. I am saying "no" to being disrespected or expected to downgrade my experience to make someone else feel better. I am disconnecting from authors I see abusing the system and weakening an art form I've loved for the majority of my life. I am boycotting the Huffington Post who is rolling in money from advertisers yet pay their writers nothing. NOTHING! I am owning the fact that I have a lot to offer the world and am not accepting mediocrity as the "new way of doing business." Until enough of us stand up and demand to be recognized as the professionals we are, however, then the culture of free, easy and crappy will continue.

1 comment:

Meg said...

Absolute truth in what you say. Sadness. That's all I can say.