To Earn More, Get in Touch With Your Inner Writer Bitch

After more than three years of helping writers grow their income, I’ve learned something: Lots of writers are just too nice. Too deferential. Too insecure and shy.

The problem? To earn well as a freelance writer, sometimes you need to get a little bitchy.

Not when you’re writing or pitching editors. Just when it comes to how you’re treated. Especially, when it involves how much and how quickly you’re paid.

Example:

I recently got an assignment to write an 800-word article for $800. It all went great…except for the part where I was made to substantially rewrite, re-report, and lengthen the piece until it hit nearly 1,400 words! Talk about your scope creep.

Now the meek-writer thing to do in this situation is to crawl away quietly and reflect later on how you kinda got screwed there.

But that’s not me.

Instead, I presented the situation to the client.

Hey, you commissioned 800 words but really wanted 1,400.

I think I should get paid more money. How about $300?

Pretty bitchy, huh?

But they countered with an offer of $200 more. Just for asking about it.

In this biz, sometimes you’ve got to stand up for yourself. Draw some boundaries. Make things happen.

And that takes a half-ounce of bitch.

For instance, an editor doesn’t mention sending a contract, so you have to bring it up and make sure one gets sent. Then, you negotiate to get paid on acceptance instead of publication.

Maybe it’s a little bit bitchy. But it needs to happen, so that you get paid, and not six months from now — or never.

I once made an extra $2,000 by simply responding to a client’s price offer with, “Hmmm…but it’s rush work?” They immediately increased their offer.

How to be a successful writer bitch

Of course, there’s a right way to be a writer-bitch and a wrong way.

Bad writer bitch attitude is disrespectful and rude. It burns bridges and ruins relationships. You’re seen as pushy and demanding.

Good writer bitch simply presents the situation in a factual, polite, professional way. It’s all business. Nothing personal. If your request gets turned down, you make a calm decision whether you’re willing to take the deal or you’re walking.

The irony is, when you stand up for yourself as a writer, my experience is that good clients will only respect you more. You’re a pro, out getting what you deserve. They do that too, so they get it.

Have you had to get bitchy with a client lately? Leave a comment and tell us how you handled it.

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50 comments on “To Earn More, Get in Touch With Your Inner Writer Bitch
  1. Rhonda Grice says:

    I say instead of worrying about what words Carol used that we should just look at the lesson she was trying to teach us.

    I hate it when people try and pick something apart that was really meant to help. If you stop and think about it and you’ve been on this site before you know Carol is a smart, nice person.

    All I can say is grow up!
    Rhonda Grice recently posted…Use Ghostwriters โ€“ The Gurus Do!My Profile

  2. Craig says:

    Just curious, is there such a thing as a average time frame to get a article done?

  3. Jan says:

    What a timely post to stumble upon!

    I just finished walking away from a negotiation. The guy approached ME, ate up a total of 8 hours of my time pitching the product (I know, I know…meetings, discussions, etc.) promising a good split between up front fees and back end royalty payments. After careful consideration of his product, his audience, and the time frame he wanted, I pitched my standard rate plus a fair royalty at the end.

    His response floored me: “You’re obviously a very talented writer, and worth every penny of that rate. So here’s what I’m going to do: You’ll charge me half your rate, then when the product sells, you’ll make up the other half in the back-end royalties.” Insulted doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings.

    When I objected and reiterated my rates, he said, “Yeah, but I can find plenty of people on for less than half of what you charge…blah blah blah.” I smiled sweetly and wished him well, saying “I’m sure you can! Good luck with your project – and let me know if I can help you in the future.”

    That was 5 days ago. I was on the verge of reconsidering, but my sounding board spouse and expert negotiator neighbor told me “don’t you DARE.”

    Checked my email this morning, and there the guy was…asking for my bid on a different project. (But with the caveat that he has “budgeted” only 3 hours for the project, would I send him a bid?)

    I’m winding up for the “bitch.”

    hehehe

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Jan –
      I can top that — I once not that long ago had someone take nearly an hour of my time discussing his amazing project, only to conclude with why I should write it gratis! Because he’d been able to talk others into it, and it was just going to be sooo neat of a project.

      Try not to let anyone eat that much time without hiring you! I have a firm rule that around 45 minutes, I let them know my free consult time is up, and they can pay for my advice about their project, or send a deposit to get me started.

      I also find there is a high correlation between people who need 8 hours to explain their project and people whose project will be a NIGHTMARE…so the longer they babble, the less interested I get.

      I also try and do a ballpark budget check at that point to avoid this much time wastage, as in, “This is sounding like in the neighborhood of $2000 worth of work to me. That in keeping with your budget?” If they’re way under me, I want to move on and fast. Your story shows just why — 8 HOURS — man, that’s like lighting $800+ dollars on fire around here.

      I say you needed a little MORE bitchiness in that transaction! But good for you in resisting that old “you’ll make millions on clicks” sales pitch.

      A long time ago, I was a movie-industry secretary, and I can tell you promises of back-end participation rarely materialize into actual dollars.

      • Carol, thanks for this post. I am not offended. I am learning to call up that inner “bitch” as needed. I started the business in the style of Mother Theresa and now understand I must value my own worth and clearly project a professional persona. Nice doesn’t pay the bills. I worked with one client over a period of three weeks to develop a sales script and staff training project. Because the business moved, the process was in limbo. However, I walked in one day to find the preliminary document in bound form on the counter for staff use. My problems are these: I become too excited about projects to assess them properly; or, I have not done a similar project before and bid too low. Finally, sometimes I know the client personally and personal/business boundaries become unclear. A little over a month ago, I stopped working for an editor because the pay rate was too low. He called last week and told me to name my price. I should have gone higher! Thanks to you, I am getting there.
        Marcy Orendorff recently posted…Free Business Listing Sites: Top Ten for 2011My Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          That is the rub of it — nice often doesn’t pay the bills.

          But sounds like you’re working your bitch and moving up. And that’s what it’s all about.

          I personally try to avoid working for people I now personally…I have just heard too many horror stories there!

  4. Jeanne H says:

    I am (sometimes) a bitch, because I have to be. Tasks aren’t completed, deadlines aren’t met, if one is unwilling to use thumbscrews at times. It’s a sorry fact of life that being the “nice” girl/guy will at many times get you nowhere in a work situation. If being assertive, demanding, and intolerant of lame excuses and lies makes one a bitch, then so be it.

    I find the offended reactions a bit amusing, I admit. If it makes one feel better, then you can ‘get in touch with your inner jerk/a-hole/mercenary/Martha Stewart’. I save my niceness for my spouse, the folks at the checkout counters of the world, my family, and my dogs.

    I am (sometimes) a bitch, and I like this post. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Carol Tice says:

      Thanks Jeanne!

      It’s a sad fact of the writer’s life, that if you aren’t pretty assertive, some clients will really exploit you. It’s up to you to set those boundaries and make people stick to them.

  5. I’ve been following your advice and trying to be more assertive with clients. In October I asked 2 clients for a raise, approximately 30%. One said no and we’re no longer working together, though the split was amiable. The second said yes immediately-making me think I still wasn’t charging enough.
    I find it hard to be assertive because it’s tied to me… a self-worth thing. Though I know full well I’m worth it, etc…. But, nonetheless it’s challenging. I look forward to being at a place in my career we’re talking in the $800 range!
    Thanks for sharing this experience. It always helps to have a little nudge
    Walker Thornton recently posted…When Marketing a New Product-The Right and Wrong Way to Get a Good ReviewMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Walker!

      Sounds like it worked well both ways you got rid of a client that wouldn’t pay appropriately and kept one that is willing to come up. You may still not be high enough…but you can always try to raise it again next fall. Hopefully by then you’re ready to walk on THAT client if they don’t come up even higher! To me that is just a natural cycle in freelancing, if you’re marketing and doing well — each year you are able to look at your schedule and drop a few clients who are your lowest (or slowest) payers.

  6. edna says:

    I agree that the word has negative connotations, however I used to be really passive and nice and let everyone walk all over me. Now I’m more assertive and have been called the b-word to my face a few times over the last 6 years or so. I take it as a compliment and say thank you. Its taken me years to find some middle ground where I don’t want to yell and tell them off and burn bridges. And that includes getting my car worked on and ripped off at the dealership “because I’m a girl and I don’t know anything about cars” syndrome.

    My partner has been very helpful also. He’s a tough negiotator, he’s an architect, in a guy’s field and he’s great at this kind of thing. So I’ve been learning what to say and what’s fair and that my rates were way too low for way to long for my level of experience. Tough to hear but very neccessary! I joined the Den for the same reason, to learn more from Carol and other professional writers about being assertive and asking for what I’m worth as well as a list of other issues.

    Thanks for all the comments and discussion!
    edna recently posted…Georgia develops food hubs to strengthen local farmsMy Profile

  7. Jarod Online says:

    This is a bit funny and quite offensive, but true. After all, it’s about coming to an agreement that fits both you and your client’s needs.
    Jarod Online recently posted…My first time designing an iconMy Profile

  8. Karen says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I spent 3 hours on Thursday agonising and trying to formulate a professionally, diplomatically worded message to a client to try and get my 23-days-overdue payment. Needless to say, I was angry and wanted to let rip, but I deleted the bitchy stuff (btw, I think people are overanalysing the usage of the word in this thread) and just presented the facts and said: “Surely you expect your clients to pay their invoices on time and I expect the same from my clients. I trust you understand that as a business I need to manage my cash flow properly.” I was scared that I was going to lose the client but they wrote back immediately apologising profusely and saying I’d receive payment that day. Then they asked me if I was available for work next week! I think they definitely respect you more if you stand up for yourself (no matter what word you want to use to describe that behaviour).

  9. I good post on being assertive Recently, I had a man want to pay me if a blog accepted the guest. It smelled like a skunk so I went with it. I turned it down.
    Freelance by Sasha recently posted…Sasha’s Weekly Round UpMy Profile

  10. I must admit that I was initially a bit put off by the title of the post, but I moved past it and read on. I’m glad that I did as you make some very valid points regarding negotiating pay for projects. Thanks for the tips!
    Deirdre Jones recently posted…Expanding Your Horizons (Income Potential) As a Freelance WriterMy Profile

  11. Bite_Me says:

    I’m a bitch.

    No, really.

    I’m a technical writer in a male-dominated field. If I’m not a bitch now and then, I either get walked over or patted on the head. I don’t take well to either.

    And I agree that word reclamation is problematic, but it really comes down to what’s more important to you, being liked or being respected. I mean, they’re muttering it behind your back anyway sometimes. So, you can scuttle away seething at the unfairness of it all or you can turn around, feminine force at full throttle, look them dead in the eye and say “I heard that.”

    This works especially well when they didn’t actually say it out loud. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I also take my inner bitch out for a stroll blogging. It saves wear and tear on the boys.

    Love your articles. Lots of great ideas.
    Bite_Me recently posted…Gabriele Amorth, Vatican Exorcist, Says Yoga Is Satanic!My Profile

  12. Victoria says:

    I like where you went with this article. It is so true. We do have to step our feet down to get ahead in this career. However, that will come out with losing clients and gaining clients. But, once the client base builds up a ton of money will be made.
    Victoria recently posted…Novemberโ€™s BreakdownMy Profile

  13. Megan Hill says:

    It’s always tough to walk the line between demanding more for your writing and avoiding stepping on toes so you don’t burn bridges. It’s risky, I think, to stand up for yourself when there are probably 20 other people who would do the job for crappy pay. I work mostly with nonprofits, so there’s also a guilt factor, too…many of them simply don’t have buckets of money lying around. For the most part, though, I feel good about the rates I quote and I don’t take on work that pays 1c per word, etc. and most of my clients aren’t demanding more than I can handle.

  14. Ruth Zive says:

    The use of the word bitch doesn’t offend me. There are far worse words and more disturbing stereotypes, in my opinion (being perpetuated by popular, mainstream bloggers).

    Nonetheless, I don’t think that you are describing particularly ‘bitchy’ behaviour. Negotiating or insisting on fair pay isn’t ‘bitchy’, it’s smart business.

    But if your use of the word ‘bitch’ jars people into establishing standards and demanding reasonable compensation, then I think you’ve done us a service Carol.
    Ruth Zive recently posted…4 No-Fail Strategies for Delivering Corporate Content That SellsMy Profile

  15. Lara Stewart says:

    Based on your Facebook post, I was coming in here ready to defend you against a horde of oversensitive prudes. But, reading your piece and the reactions, I’m going to have to agree with the other commenters.

    Negotiating isn’t being a bitch. Asking for fair terms isn’t being a bitch. No one would describe a man that way. Instead, he’d get called savvy and assertive.

    Word reclamation is a tricky topic. “Bitch” is nearly exclusively an insult for women. When it’s applied to men, it’s to observe that they are meak or submissive or, in some other way, undesirably “womanish”. I feel that, even if you are describing behavior you approve of, “bitch” is demeaning and objectifying. It is making actions that any smart businessperson should make into something a little precious and different because it’s a woman. In the end, with this word, it just doesn’t work, because women asking for equal and fair treatment is still some over-the-top action, not a matter of course.

    I do, however, agree wholeheartedly with the recommendations of the post and hope that readers will not lose the message because of the words.
    Lara Stewart recently posted…Why fresh content is more important than everMy Profile

  16. Debra Stang says:

    I had to laugh when I read your article. I’ve gotten bitchy recently, and in almost exactly the same circumstances. Commissioned to write 500 words, wrote more than 1000 words plus two extensive revisions. Asked for more and got it. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Debra Stang recently posted…How Many Hats Do You Wear?My Profile

  17. Jean Gogolin says:

    I agree about the inappropriateness of “bitch.” That’s a stereotype that should have died a slow and painful death a long time ago.

    Further, if your original agreement was $800 for 800 words, 1400 words should have meant $1400, yes? Instead, you settled for $1100. Doesn’t sound like a big win.
    Jean Gogolin recently posted…Writer’s Clinic Gets Liebster Award!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      True. But I didn’t think the extra work that took it to the additional wordcount was like doing the article nearly all over again…so I did consider how much more time it took to expand it a bit more than the straight wordcount. It was probably maybe a couple-three more hours of work, so I wouldn’t expect another $600 for it.

      When you’re going back to a client for more money, to me you have to be a little realistic about what you can get in the situation, which is often different than how you would have bid it if you’d had those parameters at the outset.

      I am surprised to see how people are offended by the ‘bitch’ usage…thought we were big enough to play with that word by now, but apparently I am wrong, at least for some.

      • Lara Stewart says:

        It’s not a matter of being “big enough to play with the word.” It’s that it means something different than you are saying here. I’m a little surprised that you are reading people’s measured and eloquent objections as being pissed off and offended.
        Lara Stewart recently posted…Have a blog? You know something most Fortune 500 companies donโ€™t.My Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          Well, that first one seems definitely like they’re offended. We’re keeping it polite here because those are my rules for comments, which I appreciate people respecting. And I’m happy to debate those who disagree.

          In my defense, I talk about needing a “quarter-ounce” of bitch. I’m not saying really be a bitch. Just sort of a little bit like that around the edges.

          Really bitchy writers get fired a lot. I’m saying, be in touch with the part of you that doesn’t lie down for client B.S.

  18. Amy Gutman says:

    I’m struggling with this issue AS WE SPEAK. I am doing a rush project for a new client. I’m getting $50 / hour. (As Carol suggested, when pressed to give an hourly rate, I gave a fairly wide range–I said my recent going rate was from $50 to $100. When the offer came–after a few hours of conversation, three separate phone calls, it was for $50. I demurred, but they stuck firm–while also intimating the rate could go up if I stuck with them a bit. (The idea is that this is potentially a longterm relationship). One more thing: The $50 also came with hourly constraints. In other words–$50 an hour and this project should take you three hours. Okay, I just finished the first (of two) projects and it took me 3 hours & 45 minutes. Now about to go eat lunch before embarking on my next “three” hours.

    What would YOU do?
    Amy Gutman recently posted…Searching for meaning in Plan B NationMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sounds like you painted yourself into a corner here with the project bid. When we underbid that way we have to suck it up.

      But why would you give your BOTTOM rate to someone for RUSH work? That gets my top rate. I probably would have passed if that’s all they offer for rush. Why would the rate go up later for non-rush work? I’d suspect it won’t go any higher.

      But there’s no use for bitchiness here — you agreed to this rate and time estimate. As long as the project size doesn’t change, I don’t think you have a case. In my case, the client asked for way more work than they originally commissioned, so that opened the door in my mind to renegotiate.

      PS – try not to let initial conversations go on for hours! I try to allot a half-hour max. Beyond there I tell them I’m happy to give them some $100 an hour consulting time to help conceptualize their project, or they can send me a deposit on the project. Or I send them a questionnaire they can fill out to clarify their project…have to beware of all the freebie startup time. If you count that in, your rate is way too low now, yes?

      • Amy Gutman says:

        Carol, I would agree with you if I had other work in the pipeline, but if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be writing an upaid blog post. $300 for six plus hours work versus zero $–I really don’t feel like I made a bad decision. (Plus I am going to ask them to pay me for the extra hours–I’ll tell you how that goes.)
        Amy Gutman recently posted…Searching for meaning in Plan B NationMy Profile

  19. I had to lay it down for a client once – it turned out that I had the wrong contact for billing. It took me only a couple hours to straighten it out and the man who paid me felt completely bad about delaying payment and miscommunicating with me. I had payment the next day, and he still likes me – he will call again in the future.

  20. Lori says:

    Good for me to read. I’ve been distancing myself from rude comments from an editor who pays less than minimum wage. The issue for me is that I love the industry and I see this gig as a stepping stone. I want to tell him off, then realize that though I’ll feel really good initially, I don’t want to burn the bridge. So, I trudge with my tail between my legs. Maybe if I thought I wrote amazing articles, I could come in and make demands, but with his sometimes rude comments, I seriously have doubts about what I turn in for him.

    Thanks for the article, it definitely pushes me in the right direction.

    • Carol Tice says:

      In a situation like that, the appropriately bitchy thing to do is politely LEAVE ASAP. Telling people off is always bad bitch — never turns out well for your career.

      I’ve had editors who never seemed to like anything I wrote, and you want to lay tracks out of there as soon as possible, before they suck your soul out like dementors in Harry Potter. Need to stay away from negative people.

  21. Anne Baley says:

    I understand the point you’re trying to make, but I don’t understand why you feel the need to perpetuate a stereotype in order to make it. Being assertive, standing up for yourself, insisting that you be treated fairly and not passively allowing others to take advantage of you is not “bitchy”, and the view that women who act this way are bitches is decades old and still offensive. Would you describe a male writer who exhibits these same behaviors as a bitch? Or would he be assertive, a go-getter or simply good at business?

    As a writer you should know that words have consequences. Using a decades-old stereotype of business-savvy women who stand up for themselves as bitches does many of us a great disservice. I’m offended and disappointed that this view is still around, 40 years after I and others began fighting against it. I’m offended and disappointed that you, a writer I respect, would use it to cheaply make a point.

    • Linda says:

      I’m not offended, but I was taken aback a bit with this one. After rereading the post a few times, I have to say I’m glad I didn’t totally give in to my resistance to the message in this post. You make a really valid point. I’m one who consistently gets in trouble with jobs because of an ingrained tendency to be too nice. I certainly need and want to become more assertive and proactive in this department. That being said, the professional, courteous “bitch” you describe really isn’t a bitch at all. I agree that we need often need an alternative word, since bitchy and bitch really push buttons. It is definitely my goal to become more and more kick ass, but not more bitchy — even “good” bitchy.
      It’s good that your blog has an edge and hopefully it will get people talking!

    • Carol Tice says:

      As a big-ass feminist myself, guess I thought we were at the point where we could play with and reclaim this word in a productive way — sort of like what’s happened with the word ‘gay.’ Sorry if you found it offensive.

    • Ritu says:

      Anne,

      I see your point and agree with everything you said.

      BUT (did you see that coming?),

      The only thing I’ll point out is that Carol, after reading a lot of stuff, is furthest away from being any sort of bitch (online, anyway:)).

      In my opinion, the word in question was used purely for shock value to get readers to open the email. Looks like it worked. I will add, however, that although it’s great to flirt with the boundaries of such language, I can totally see how it can be perceived as wrongful usage. It is, after all, 2011 and certain female stereotypes are better left in the past.

      Ritu
      Ritu recently posted…โ€œIโ€™ll have what sheโ€™s having!โ€My Profile

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