Hi. This is an old, unmaintained blog. You may find these sites more to your liking:

Carson Brackney: This is my primary site.

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Ad Astra Traffic Team: For those who'd like to get writing gigs with Ad Astra.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Freelance content writer rates and snobbery...Again...

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was about how I refuse to consider myself some sort of lesser being because I am willing write web content. One of the first posts to receive a great deal of commentary was one that provided a defense of what one might term lower-paying markets for writers, like web content.

Today, I revisited a few of those posts subsequent to a request for their permalinks, and decided it was a great time to take on the issue of writer snobbery again.

Before we get to the meat of the argument, let me do two things to make my position as clear as possible. First, I want to provide a little bit of background about myself and Content Done Better. Second, I want to clearly define the attitude to which I take such exception.

I write web content. I produce original, readable, informative, factually accurate material at prices that make sense. That isn't all I do. It is one of the things I do. I also write sales letters, other ad copy, press releases, ebooks and more. However, a significant percentage of my business involves writing what I term "straight content" for my clients. I have writing aspirations that don't involve either copywriting or "straight content" work. Those more literary pursuits inform my approach to content writing, as does my educational background, experience in other industries, etc.

I have been doing this for a few years now, and I have stumbled upon an approach and a business model that works for me. I would never claim that anyone who wants to write should "do it my way" or that all writers have identical skill sets making any portion of what I do a great fit for everyone.

The attitude with which I take exception is one frequently espoused by others who make a living writing. They look down upon content work. They make arguments about who should be allowed to carry the mantle of "writer." They immediately associate all content writing with churning out low-quality crap. They criticize those who work at lower per-word rates as being traitors to the writing cause. They profess their absolute inability to understand how or why anyone would ever write for "burger flipper wages."

I mention that because I don't have a beef with everyone critical of straight content markets. There are those who have argued it doesn't work for them and that they feel they would prefer to focus their time and efforts elsewhere. I can respect that. I might disagree with some of the thinking that leads them to their conclusions, but I don't feel compelled to argue with them.

It's those who are so quick to climb atop a high horse and to cast aspersions upon those in the content writing field that irritate me.

Here is a synopsis of why that is the case.

  • By and large, they aren't any more talented than the content writers with whom I have worked. For all of the blustering and snootiness, I rarely find their work that impressive. These "writers should demand more" people are often responsible for some of the lamest things you will ever read. Of course, they don't recognize that. They would undoubtedly disagree with my assessment, too. I won't claim to be an objective critic, but I do think that I can say with a high degree of confidence that they aren't really quite as hot as they might believe.
  • They substitute their view of value for that of the marketplace. There is a reason why straight content carries a particular price tag. It has to do with market forces. There is a supply/demand imbalance that currently pushes prices to a certain level. It is then incumbent upon the writer to either work within those market limitations or to offer something that warrants and increased expenditure on the part of content buyers. That extra "something" might come in the form of performance guarantees or persuasive explanations of why a more expensive investment will actually yield greater returns than will lower-priced materials. Many of the snooty crowd have this bizarre idea that everything they write is automatically worth a fortune. That kind of back-patting might make one feel good, but it doesn't reflect reality. Those who are critical of writers working within certain lower-paying markets are merely disregarding market forces and are making the erroneous assumption that buyers are "bottom feeders" who don't understand their business models.
  • Too often, these attacking characters are actually netting far less than those who are willing to stop griping about the fact the sun comes up every day than are those who are working for a living. All of that high-mindedness and they constant surveying of the contours of one's long pointed nose doesn't put food on the table. Meanwhile, those of us who have found ways to make the straight content industry work to meet our needs are either making or supplementing a real income that dwarfs theirs. I am not saying that as a way of bragging. Instead, I am pointing out that the elitist pity for those poor unfortunate souls who "don't know better" and who are working for "slave wages" is misplaced.
  • The criticisms of the lower-paying markets are often stuffed with those kind of comments, too. "Burger flipping wages," "a few measly bucks per hour," "slave wages," etc. Of course, that isn't really the case. They make that argument after first building a strawperson argument built on job bid board prices that may not be reflective of the actual rates of talented content writers (and this is a volume business in which a penny per word does have a huge influence on profitability). They take more egregious examples of lower rates and hold them up as representative examples. They also fail to consider that many of us actually land jobs at rates a little higher than those posted at Rentacoder.com and elsewhere because we know our clients' business and how to make a decent pitch. Additionally, if one actually dares to do the math, those seemingly weak per word rates can actually add up to a fairly hefty sum. A person can make a living that way. People like me can use content jobs to fill scheduling holes, profiting in the process. I suppose it would be easier to bemoan how damn tough it is to make a buck as a writer, but I prefer cashing checks to commiseration.

I think that's a good start as to why the holier-than-thou attitude exhibited by some people is so irritating. There's probably more, but I will leave it at that for now.

I do want to add, however, that there IS a real argument to be had about all of this. I don't want to present my viewpoint as some kind of unassailable gospel truth. However, the real arguments about the issue are rarely raised by those who prefer to attack lower per-word market segments with snotty insults.

If you are a writer and think that what I would term "reasonable rates" are actually "slave wages," that's fine. I'd like to hear your argument. We could exchange ideas on the subject and try to reach some sort of conclusion about what constitutes a reasonable rate and whether it can be achieved at various per-word price points, etc. We could discuss how value for writing should be determined and what remedies might be in order if writers truly are underpaid. There are all sorts of neat things about which we could debate and and that we might discover. I'm down with that.

If you are a writer and are making that "something stinks" face as you read this post and are currently thinking of the snottiest, elitist response you can possibly concoct, don't waste your ultra-valuable finger-time. Elitism bores.

If you are a content buyer and have wondered why so many writers have been so obnoxious in response to your offers or who can't believe that so many writers don't have a grip on the nature of your business and what constitutes a fair rate, take heart. There are many of us who do "get it."

Oh... Am I a hypocrite for decrying snottiness while mocking those would spit (or worse, take mock pity) upon those of us who aren't above grinding out a living writing "straight content" at market prices? Yeah, maybe so. Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, though, right?