Why Freelance Writers Should Stop Bitching About Crappy Pay

Complaining freelance writerBy Linda Formichelli

I keep reading posts in writing forums where someone will say, “X company wants to pay $15 for a 750-word blog post. Why do they think that’s a good price?”

Or “This content mill thinks it can get away with paying $10 per article…why, why, why?”

Cue outraged comments from dozens of writers who spend their time contemplating and bemoaning the state of the writing industry.

It Doesn’t Matter

The thing  to remember is, these conversations get you nowhere as a writer. Frankly, it doesn’t MATTER why the low-ballers think they can get away with it.

Maybe they’re knowingly taking advantage of writers. Maybe they don’t know how to run a business. Maybe they think it’s fine because, hey, they’re getting lots of applications from writing hopefuls, right?

Who cares?

All that should matter to you is that you spend all of your precious time engaged in activities that will bring in well-paying work.

And if you’re spending your time complaining and ruminating to your friends and on writing forums, that means you’re not going after top-paying gigs.

It’s Pointless

Some writers craft angry responses to businesses seeking out writers on Craigslist or oDesk, proudly claiming they would never take on work with such crappy pay, and here’s why.

We call that “tilting at windmills.” You may momentarily piss off one of the low-pay culprits, but it’s not like they’re going to say, “Oh thank you, writer, I now see the error of my ways. From now on, instead of paying $15 for a 1,000-word article, I’ll pay the much more acceptable rate of $300.”

These crappy clients are not going to change their rates, especially when hordes of writers are banging down their doors to accept them. So you may as well focus your efforts on finding well-paying work.

It’s Better for YOU

And consider this: The more writers who go after the lowball jobs, the more high-paying work is left for you.

The Craigslist ads, bidding sites, and content mills are not meant for writers of your caliber. So let the dabblers fight over the scraps while you go after the filet mignon of assignments.

I don’t ever like to see writers falling into the low-pay trap, but they’re doing it in droves — so you may as well see the positive in the situation.

Pros Don’t Bother

To an established pro who’s used to making big bucks from her writing, these content mills, bidding sites, and bottom-feeder clients are not even on the radar. They don’t matter. They may as well not exist.

Pro writers complaining about low-pay gigs is like top-rated chefs complaining about the crappy pay at McDonald’s. You can bet your burger the top chef at a four-star restaurant doesn’t know or care about how much the fry cook jobs in the local papers are paying. Because he’s not looking there.

Those low-paying gigs aren’t going away any time soon. Take the time you would have spent kvetching about them, and use it to bring in gigs from top clients.

Have you moved beyond venting to action? Leave a comment and share how you’re moving forward.

Linda FormichelliLinda Formichelli has written for close to 150 magazines since 1997, including Redbook, USA Weekend, Writer’s Digest, Inc., and Fitness. She also runs the Renegade Writer Blog. Check out her e-book Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race…And Step Into a Career You Love.

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73 comments on “Why Freelance Writers Should Stop Bitching About Crappy Pay
  1. Victoria Cayce says:

    First, I just want to say thank you. The reason being is that three years ago, after walking out of an abusive relationship that spanned two decades, your blog gave me hope.

    What’s more, you gave me practical advice that I used to create my own freelance lifestyle. After building my own client list, I have started a 501-3 aimed at helping other women coming from abusive situations and disabled vets. ( Both of which often face barriers to work.)

    Now I am teaching others to write for a living. Granted, many cannot or will not be up to the challenges, but for those who are, the sky is the limit.

    in fact, I pulled up your article today to share it with a group I am teaching. (Our first class!!) As for the article, you are spot on! We do not have to waste time with people that do not know our worth.

    There is plenty of work out there, no matter your skill level. You have to be willing to improve, keep looking and keep learning. Besides, endlessly complaining takes away our power.

    So again, thank you, thank you, thank you. It has been a struggle, but I am so glad I took this journey. Now it is time to give back.

    Sincerely,
    Victoria Cayce- Proud Freelance Writer

  2. Briana says:

    I once ATTEMPTED to write an article for only one or two dollars on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. They rejected my work. I researched, gave references, and proofread. I was thinking, “REALLY?! You want better quality than I am giving you and you only want to pay a mere pittance?” It’s not happening.

  3. Sophia says:

    I am so glad I found your website!

    I just lost my job and decided to try some freelancing with the hopes of becoming more independent.

    Unfortunately, my inexperience made me fall for a trap, and I accepted a job that offered the most ridiculous pay ever. At first I was very confused, and I thought it was a way of “paying my dues” to get a great first review and start getting better assignments. However, as I was completing the first part of the job I thought this really wasn’t right, and I began researching more about freelance writers. I finally found you and after reading your advice and the advice of other writers I decided to just finish up the first half of the project (5 articles) and decline to continue with the rest (another 5 articles).

    This was an eye opening experience, and I’m glad it took me less than a day to learn from it. On a positive note, I plan to use those articles as part of my portfolio.

  4. Carime Lane says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for referring me to this article. Before I started out, I was unaware of the many publications that do not pay (or pay well) for writing. But after this and other articles from The Renegade Writer, I have found some references (funds for writers and another similar one for Canadians) listing so many places that pay. Can’t wait to receive my first paycheque from writing! 🙂

  5. Natanael says:

    Where would you guys recommend a fiction/short stories writer to look for job? Most publishers dont pay well and are overcrowded with submissions which allows them to pay less because there a lot out there who would be happy to accept the pay, supply and demand. So, what alternatives would you guys, the top chefs, recommend, what do you guys do?

  6. Tamara Douge says:

    “So let the dabblers fight over the scraps while you go after the filet mignon of assignments.” Loving this. Thank you for posting this motivational post. I am so glad that I found this website. I recently saw a site offering freelancing jobs and could not understand why some writers were charging as low as $5 and others as high as $75 per hour. Such a difference is discouraging if you don’t persevere and do more research. For me knowing what you are truly worth without lowering your standards is the key. I will admit at time one needs to lower certain standards in order to compromise, but this is not the case. This is your bread and every effort must be paid accordingly. Why do rich people get richer? It is because they continue to work hard and don’t accept anything less but the best. Don’t settle for less when there are so many opportunities.

    • Carol Tice says:

      There’s usually a big difference in the caliber and type of writing work between $5 assignments and $75 an hour. What you want is to develop the skills and focus on the niches that earn well. Obviously, writing key word SEO quickie articles is never going to pay well…and soon may well not even exist as a niche, thanks to Google.

      So smart writers are busy repositioning themselves to go after better markets.

  7. Ben Leah says:

    Great post – I’m not a writer myself but a freelance designer – an industry where much the same trend applies. There are plenty of online networks offering relatively large projects for sums like ‘$15’… It is a lazy way of sourcing work and I leave those commissions to those unwilling or unable to source work themselves!

  8. Riley Banks says:

    How timely that I should read this now. I’ve recently started going back after freelance roles, and have been annoyed at the amounts people expect writers to work for. In fact, I think it is even beyond journalism, and goes into authoring too, with thousands of books being given away for free, or sold for 99c. Far too many people give away their work, which in turn leads others to devalue the craft of writing.

    Anyway, your post was the kick in the pants I needed. I will no longer waste my time bemoaning it.

  9. Hi,

    I’ve been following this blog for a few weeks now; I’m starting a new career as a freelancer and it’s given me hope that there is real money and satisfaction out there.

    I’ve been part of the content mills for a month or so, and on the subject of low pay, recently came across this gem:

    “Hello,

    I need writer(s) who can creatively write daily blog entry.

    I need at least 1 – 2 posts done daily with at least 1, 000 words.

    This project is about 10-posts/articles.

    1$ for 1 article. Lower bidder can have this job.

    Topics vary from gift ideas to holidays.

    Copyright of all written materials will be mine after the submitted. so you cannot use them at any purpose (e.i. Sample of work, portfolio, etc.)

    Thank You”

    Yes, that’s 1$ – maximum – for a 1000 word article. Or, in UK money, 60p. This is not a one-off, there are hundreds of jobs like this. In some circles writing seems to have lost all credibility as a skill, and the assumption is that anybody can string a sentence together.

  10. Thanks for this, Linda.

    I learned a long time ago that if you don’t want to spend your evening with drunks, then you don’t sit in a bar all night praying to be rescued by sober people. Sounds like low-paying gigs work on the same principle! I’m grateful that I didn’t know what a content mill was until I was already earning a fair rate.
    Sophie Lizard recently posted…Freelancing Takes Balls [And Yep, You’ve Got a Pair]My Profile

  11. Okay, After all of these upbeat, positive comments, it’s confession time for me. I recently got ticked off at an editing agency web site that I was signed up to (they are kind of the content mills of the editing world) because they fined me for taking too long to respond to a request for a free sample. I wrote them an angry email telling them exactly why they were crap, that I was not paying their ridiculous fine, that their business model was terrible, that my work was more than what they would pay, and that I was going to be warning other freelancers about them. I then asked them to deactivate my account. They deactivated my account. That’s it. No other response. I guess they took the high road on that one. It doesn’t make them any less awful (they are!), but it sucked my time, made me angry, and just made me look like a ranting lunatic when they weren’t worth my time in the first place. At least it was a lesson learned.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Dang. But since we’re confessing…I’ll tell you I have burned a bridge here and there in 20+ years as a writer. Told off an editor now and again who I thought was doing something moronic. And I’ve paid the price.

      We’re not all perfect…but it pays to get the reminder to walk away. Because you never know where the agency lackey who was on the receiving end of that email will end up in the future, where it might have been great to keep that connection.

      But all you can do is dust yourself off and vow to keep it professional next time.

    • I know where you’re coming from. I haven’t ever told off a client, but even though I try to take the high road in Internet spats, there have been times where I just went off on someone — like the guy who wrote a 400-word comment on my blog to complain about two typos. It happens! Move on and try to do better next time.
      Linda Formichelli recently posted…Are You Ready to Write Your Way Out of Your 9-5 Job–And Into the Career of Your Dreams?My Profile

      • Wow, if you seasoned pros have done it, I’m sure everyone has. It may have been worth it to keep the connection, but I doubt they would have remembered me in the sea of editors signed up to their site anyway. (It would have been a bit like keeping connections with content mill staff.) I figure they were probably just good to learn on. At least if I had to go off on someone, it was someone I probably shouldn’t have been wasting my time on anyway. 🙂

        Linda, I don’t blame you for going off on someone for ranting about a couple of typos in your blog…

  12. Holly says:

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more.

    I also see the low-paying job offers and am truly shocked by them! However, I’m not in a position where I have to take those jobs so I just shrug them off. Instead of being angry, I just focus on doing a great job on my recurring jobs so that they…..stay recurring =)
    Holly recently posted…Cash Money: $6,350 in September Income and Blog UpdatesMy Profile

  13. Penny Taylor says:

    So true. However, the high-end of the low-end market is where I got my freelance start. After a couple of low paying jobs with satisfied clients who left praise for my work, I was comfortable asking for more and started getting it. This month I made more in two weeks than I used to make in three months. But I can’t see wasting time writing angry letters when there’s so much more out there to write about.

  14. Rhonda says:

    I admit that I have a list of a few low-paying journals that I am preparing pitches for. However, I’m not complaining because there is a method to my madness – I want clips!! Once I have a few clips that focus on business and marketing, I will use them to leverage my way to better paying work. So, while the per word pay may be painfully low, there are other payoffs that will be even more beneficial in the long run.

    But, this isn’t the same as writing for content mills. I agree – why bother complaining about them. I prefer to ignore them altogether and spend my time advancing my career.
    Rhonda recently posted…Yes, I Really am Giving My E-Book About Writer’s Block Away!My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I consider getting publication clips a smart strategy — yes, the pay is low, but at least you’re building your portfolio! With mills often you don’t even get a usable sample.

  15. Mark Brinker says:

    Great post, Linda. I totally agree with your view about how to deal with low-ballers. Basically, don’t deal with them.

    In a comment from earlier today, Carol mentions the “parallel universe” phenomenon of clients who pay poorly vs. the clients that pay real rates. That’s so spot on.

    When you have the confidence to set your rates to what you feel you’re worth, even if they’re a tad higher than some of your competitors, it often results in a better caliber of client because they understand you usually get what you pay for.

  16. Jon Patrick says:

    Great post, Linda. Sounds like you had something you wanted to get off your chest! 🙂
    Getting online and complaining (and we’re all guilty of it, I bet) makes you feel ‘good’ or ‘important’ for a moment, but it’s not productive.
    The good-paying gigs require professionals. Those who write 500 words for $5, while I won’t do it, there are tons of people who either 1) don’t value their time as much as I do or 2) are overseas where that is a good amount of money to earn.
    Those aren’t my competition, so just move on.
    JP
    Jon Patrick recently posted…Make Lists, Earn MoneyMy Profile

  17. Amy says:

    Very nice! I agree. I am relatively new, having started a freelance practice after “early retirement” several years ago. I just recently raised my prices and had to handle it gingerly with some clients. This is what I consider a good problem. The one I was the most worried about told me, “I completely understand. I am in business for myself also, and I will find a way to work you into our budget.” Wow!

  18. Steve says:

    Carol\Linda —

    Thanks for tag-teaming on a great subject.

    Steve

  19. John says:

    Hey Linda,

    Great insights as usual. I figure these people will get what they pay for and the clients that actually pay for professionals, will get results that only professionals can deliver.

    John

  20. Thank you for writing a fantastic perspective on those low caliber jobs. I started freelancing after making it big as a staff writer, and while I did not waste my time bitching about sites like Craigslist and Elance, I always secretly wondered if other professional writers had my same low opinion. I am so glad I am not alone! I have always believed that peanut paying gigs are simply a sign that I don’t want to be working for an organization that doesn’t understand how to treat writers in the first place.

  21. Linda,

    This was an excellent and honest approach to a long, complicated debate. I agree, wholeheartedly, that it simply doesn’t matter.

    The best advice I received when starting out was work overtime to build your consultancy, even if you’re working the content-mill cycle.

    It was rough, but it paid off. I only wish a post like this were available to me all those years ago.

    Great post and thank you for sharing!

  22. I completely agree, Linda. Taking action and moving the other way without looking over your shoulder–the best way to deal with it all. It’s such a huge time-suck to even dip into the mills that I no longer even look out of curiosity–I’m too busy writing web copy, editing brochures, and updating my travel blog!

    Thanks as always for your mission to help other writers make a great living.

    EWM
    Emily McIntyre recently posted…Tongues Tangle in ArcataMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      You know, back in 2010 I did an analysis of my marketing and where I had gotten my best clients. And that’s when I stopped looking at Craigslist ads, forever.

  23. Dear Linda,
    Super article! I LOVE the picture. It really caught the attitude.

    Thanks to you and Carol for helping me get my thinking up out of the mire of the sweatshop mentality.

    Since I’ve been with the Den I’ve gotten an amazing client. I’ve done two jobs for him rewriting website content. He’s very happy. He paid me very well and I did great work for him.

    Thankful to be a Denizen!
    Rita

  24. Janice says:

    Thank you so much for outwardly expressing this thought a lot of us freelancers have floating around in our thought bubbles! I was once guilty of doing most of what you’ve mentioned above…realizing that the only positive action was that it got me some Facebook “likes” from fellow writers, but not much else. It feels so much better to find and go after those worthy jobs, rather than complain about the lack of them.
    Janice recently posted…Respect your authority and creativityMy Profile

  25. Rob says:

    I really liked your top rated chefs complaining about the crappy pay at McDonalds analogy. There are a lot of writers out there who don’t even know Craigslist or the bidding sites exist. The only market they know is the well paying market, so that’s where they focus their attention. Those of us who do know should take a cue from them and pretend they don’t exist.
    Rob recently posted…The Rise of Humanism in Advertising, Copywriting and JournalismMy Profile

  26. Mandi Pope says:

    I’m an artist, but this advice works for me, too. Thank you for posting this; I need to be reminded from time to time that I am WORTH what I’m asking for and I DO NOT have to take insulting pay, and the best thing I can do is just ignore the low ballers trying to get something for nothing. This article is empowering and well written – thank you for sharing it with us.

    Much love,
    Mandi Pope

    PS – The commenter above, me, Luana, is my mom. 😉

  27. More than complaining about these low payers, I like to scoff at them with my friends and my fiancé. For example, I recently ran into a blogging gig that paid $1 per 100 words, so I told my fiancé: “LOL! As if I’d do that. They can write those posts themselves as far as I’m concerned.” We had a good laugh at it together, then I moved on and pitched someone else. 😛

  28. “Tilting at windmills.” I love that expression.

    Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the windmills from the giants. And sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between helping people escape the mills and flailing blindly at an invincible foe. My rule is “Never post an insult.” They only make you look like a negative person, which isn’t what you want prospective clients to see.
    Robert Jennings recently posted…Epic Content Freeze: How to Write When You Can’tMy Profile

  29. jordan clary says:

    Good advice for life as well as writing. When I read this I had to ask myself how much time to I spend bitching about my ex, my car, my dog from hell? It’s really counterproductive. I try to catch myself and every time I start to complain, turn it to an expression of gratitude. So instead of whining about driving long distances without a working radio, I think about how grateful I am to have a car that runs well and takes me where I need to go. Same with writing. Instead of putting energy into the content mills, we should appreciate the good clients out there.

  30. Good post Linda,

    I rarely worry about low paying client markets–I just don’t have the time anymore. I have a rate that I know I will not go below, and I don’t.

    Fortunately, there really is writing work out there that pays well. In fact, there’s more work than new writers realize.

    The best thing to do is build up a good portfolio and strong web presence. Then, approach companies and magazines who are likely to pay more.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on — I tend to think of it as the Underworld of freelance writing. It’s a parallel universe of crummy assignments that pay poorly that exists apart from the world of real companies and magazines that pay real rates.

      If you choose to live in the underworld, what do you expect?

      But many writers prefer to vent than to take the effort to climb up to the daylight.

  31. Daryl says:

    I agree.

    There will always be low-balling clients, in every sector of every business.

    People have a choice: go after the low hanging fruit or pursue the gigs that actually pay decently.

    Nowadays, I don’t even look at those low paying client markets, so they don’t bother me too much thankfully.
    Daryl recently posted…My Monthly Freelance Writing Income Report – September 2013My Profile

  32. As you know, Linda, it’s only natural for rookie writers to bitch about low-paying gigs – because, when you first start out, these are the ones that are all too easy to find.

    But sooner they read blog posts such as this then the sooner they’re gonna snap out of it.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…Help! No-one ever comments on my blog. What should I do?My Profile

  33. Great post! I ran into this exact issue yesterday and I am proud to say that I took your advice.

    I don’t usually troll job boards anymore since I have a full client load, but I occasionally check LinkedIn and replied to what I thought would be a high paying bit of ongoing work (writing website content for law firms). I had a phone interview with the marketing firm last week and she told me that they paid $40 for 400 words. I emailed her yesterday with a very professional email and told her that I was declining the job because the rate was too low to meet my business goals. She responded back with a somewhat snarky email telling me that her rates were competitive and that I didn’t know what the job actually entailed.

    I have to say I was very tempted to send her a ranting email about her rates, but I didn’t. I realized that I had a ton of high paying work on my plate and that my time would be better spent making money. So, I just deleted the email and moved on. But I have to say that I was very tempted!
    Jennifer Gregory recently posted…3 Secrets to Finding Long Term ClientsMy Profile

    • Good for you, Jennifer! My M.O. is to set phasers to “ignore.” You’re not going to change her mind because there ARE a ton of writers who will write for that. Let them have it, and move on to something better.
      Linda Formichelli recently posted…5 Signs it’s Time to Quit Freelancing and get a “Real Job”My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Once people are being nasty…I try to have a policy of never responding further. You’re no longer really communicating, and no side is going to convince the other to change their position.

      I actually just went through this with a Den member who reported me to Paypal as providing “Substantially not as described” merchandise, the first complaint I have EVER had in that category in 2 1/2 years running the Den. Not “Opening a dispute” “requesting a hold” or any of the other less innocuous options Paypal gives you for complaints.

      This was from someone with an MFA in writing, by the way.

      Then in the description she said, “I don’t mean to be a jerk…but I’m destitute and so I need a refund! Really, the Den is great.” Not understanding that that text message won’t be what Paypal holds onto, just that I had a complaint in that category, which hits my reputation with them and threatens my ability to do business with Paypal…on which my whole business relies.

      Obviously, I really saw red on this one. I wrote her an email subject lined, “You don’t mean to be a jerk…but you were one.” Then I calmly explained all of the MANY other ways she could have asked for a refund, some of which are clearly stated in the Den Orientation Guide and on the Den sidebar — we have a help email you can always use. And how willingly we give refunds to anyone for any reason within 48 hours of a monthly payment going out. And how doing what she did damaged the reputation of the Den with Paypal, which wasn’t cool.

      She wrote back that she could not find ANY other way to report it. And that I was being unprofessional with my response.

      I certainly could have cooked up a smokin’ hot response to that…but I just moved on. This person thinks I’m the jerk in this scenario, and I could write 10 more emails and sit feeling angry and keep stewing about that and ruin a whole work day and accomplish nothing to change her opinion, or I could drop it.

      Really a lot like the whole scene with expending energy venting about low payers…you’re just sapping your own strength on something utterly nonproductive. I probably shouldn’t have even responded at all.

      • A client of mine referred me to another business owner who then emailed me a very bitter diatribe about how he couldn’t find a good writer and wasted a bunch of money in the past paying a writer, only to have to then pay someone else to write it again and then having them do a poor job. He needed a two-page press release. I asked him how much he paid and he said $20-$30. However, all the writers he had found were “college graduates.” I’m guessing these poor schleps were very recent college graduates. With 12 years of PR management experience and three years as a freelancer, I offered to write him a press release he only needed to pay for ONCE, for my going rate of $125 for two pages; which I think is very competitive. I keep them cheap because I can write press releases in my sleep. I don’t, but I could. He declined. I imagine he’s probably spent well over that $125 on inexperienced writing by now. I kept the email very professional, wished him the best of luck after he declined and allowed him to figure out himself that you get what you pay for.
        Kimberly Jones recently posted…Get Greedy: How Working For Free is Killing Your Small BusinessMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          Yes, complaints are epidemic from companies using lowball writers! My favorite is when their ads start to sound desperate — “We need several writers to start right away!”

          Yeah, buddy, I bet you find it very hard to keep anybody in your stable since you don’t pay a living wage.

          Yet on they go, dealing with the timewasting and chaos of having to be constantly hiring. Well, that’s their choice.

          I do keep it professional, and say “I’m sorry your rates are lower than my bottom rate I would accept. If your situation changes feel free to contact me again.”

          Every once in a while, one of them does! They finally figure out if they just paid even $50 a blog post, the quality of what they’d get would be completely different.

        • One word: Sheeeeeeeeeesh. (Okay, one long word.)
          Linda Formichelli recently posted…Are You Ready to Write Your Way Out of Your 9-5 Job–And Into the Career of Your Dreams?My Profile

    • You’re a better person than me, I’ll tell you that right now. If I’d gotten that email yesterday, my snarky response would have been, “Competitive compared to what?” Then I’d have deleted it. Today I’d have simply muttered that question under my breath as I deleted it without answering.
      D Kendra Francesco recently posted…Permission GrantedMy Profile

  34. What a great post, Linda! Thanks for clearing the air about this – it’s like responding to a spammer and telling them in detail why you’re never going to buy their product and that you’ve blocked their messages. They don’t care, and it’s not going to do anything other than get you upset and waste your time.

    • Carol Tice says:

      So true — and I need to stick to that with agencies that pitch me that their “team” should write all my guest posts, people who want me to review their products for pay in a blog post, and all the other scammy offers I get. I so want to dash off some snarky response to them but have to remember it’s not. worth. it.