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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Almost everyone is underpaid...More on the great freelance writer payscale rate debate...

Sweatshop workers are underpaid. They suffer through miserable conditions making products from which others profit. Sanitation workers are underpaid. They have to deal with your nasty stinky garbage every single week and very few of them live in big houses with olympic-style pools. My friend Mark is underpaid. He runs a top-notch rental car outlet. He scrubs every return until it shines and delivers awesome customer service. The guy works like a maniac and isn't going to be retiring any time soon. My wife is underpaid. She teaches elementary special ed and devotes her heart and soul to challenged kids for a mere pittance. Corporate CEOs are underpaid. They want pay increases every year in exchange for their sage wisdom and guidance. The dude at Wal-Mart is underpaid. He works that register 40 hours per week without benefits. Roofers roast in the sun doing physical labor for less than many of us make in air-conditioned comfort.

Are you getting the gist of this? EVERYONE is underpaid. Just ask around. People inevitably believe they deserve more money. Sometimes it's true. Sometimes it isn't.

The Kansas City Royals had to fork over $55 million bucks to sign Gil Meche, who went looking for greener pastures because he was being underpaid by a few million per year by his previous employer. Gil sincerely believed he was underpaid.

Writers are underpaid, too. Just ask them. Some of them are so underpaid that they want the whole writing community to band together to establish a "fair" base wage to protect them from the oppression of the market system.

It's making me tired to keep returning to the topic of fair wages for writers, but I just can't resist.

The other day, I wrote a post discussing the arbitrariness of a minimum freelancing wage and how those who advocate that solution fail to differentiate between the talented and the talentless. I've discussed my objections to the Freelance Writers Manifesto, whose creators seem to be advocating a $25/hr. minimum wage for all writers.

Yesterday, I found a long and considerate blog post from Jenn at SixFigureWriters.com that takes me to task on a variety of fronts for my criticism of "The Manifesto" (though, to be fair, she did have a couple of nice things to say, too).

The rate debate is the argument that will never die. In a world filled with would-be writers who almost always believe they aren't getting paid enough and are willing to embrace flawed solutions to rectify the situation, it's going to spring up again and again...

Somewhere along the line, it feels as though people are confusing my criticism of some of the arguments proffered by the "base pay rate" crowd as a kind of apologia for buyers who aren't paying writers enough for their work.

That isn't the case.

Today, I'm going to address some of Jenn's comments from that SixFigureWriters post. That will be the entry right after this one, in case you're interested. I think the discussion will help explain my position a little more clearly. Hopefully, it will hope to clarify that one can be very pro-writer while being against the idea of Freelancers Manifesto or a writer's minimum wage.

Writers, I love you. I want you to make more. I want you to make more than Gil Meche will make pitching for the Royals. All of you. Well, most of you. You seem like "good people" and I wish you all well.

I believe, however, that attacking the lower paying segment of the writing market as unfair or exploitative is wrong. I believe the idea that a writers' minimum wage will result in a substantial improvement for writers is wrong. I didn't come to those conclusions without consideration or thought. If you could force yourself to read through the thousands of words I've devoted to this topic (and I won't blame you if you don't), you'll find that my position is a lot more than "take what you're offered and shut the hell up."

I want you to make more money, if you feel the need. Here's how I think you can do that:

  • Avoid jobs that don't pay your enough. If you can't make a gig worth your while, pass it up and focus on landing jobs that can.
  • Justify your desired rate of pay. Don't just tell or show someone that you write well. Go the extra mile. Market yourself effectively. Explain WHY you are worth more. Provide value-added services, learn about your clients and their businesses and be an active participant in improving their bottom line. Make yourself more valuable to them.
  • Offer a damn good product. It really starts there, doesn't it?

Go out and get rich if that's what you want to do and if you have the talent to do it. Just don't delude yourselves into thinking that bemoaning your current rate of pay will somehow result in your services being valued more by prospective customers.

Now, onto a revisitation of The Freelance Writers Manifesto... I hope you'll join me there.