Friday, November 26, 2010

How to make a living as a writer: move

Outsourcing. As a writer, I always considered myself safe from this growing trend. How could someone outsource me? I am creative. I am educated. Someone living halfway across the world couldn't do my job.

Think again.

In her 2008 book, This Land is Their Land, Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out that even local news organizations like were hiring journalists in India. To cover, yes, local news in Pasadena. From New Delhi. I guess Google Earth and YouTube help, but how can a reporter in India really know what is going on in California? Who cares, I guess, if they save the news organization money so that its CEO can earn even more.

Last year, when looking into a blogging job, I noticed that this particular website's Paris writer didn't even live in Paris. Can you blame her? How could she? The site only paid its writers with ad revenue. The worst part is, its readers probably don't know this. If this isn't shady journalism then I don't know what shady journalism is. Oh yeah, Fox News.

All of these trends send a clear message. If we're going to be writers abroad and actually be able to make a living wage, then the place to write from isn't Paris, isn't London, and it certainly isn't any city in Switzerland. No. The place to write from is India.

How else can we afford to write for pennies? According to Dian Vujovich, ten years ago the standard pay for a freelance writer was about $1 a word. Have experience and expertise and you'd get double or more. But now, publications want to pay professional writers 10 cents a word. Or 5. Or, like our great source of local Parisian news mentioned above, they don't even want to pay that.

But there are some places that still pay well, you say. You're right. But they make up for the pay by turning greedy in the rights department, buying rights to your work in media that hasn't even been invented yet. Trying to imagine retaining copyright to your work is like trying to imagine Wal-Mart paying its employees a living wage.

I don't know what the solution is to all of this is, except to make sure you can do something on the side that's still hard to outsource. Like dishwashing.

How do you feel about the way writers are treated? What can we do?


  1. Chantal,

    I have been a freelance writer off and on since 1985, and I was starting to wonder if it was "just me being picky" and not wanting to take jobs that pay 5 cents a word, or I wondered if I was just missing something. It also seems that quality and standards in writing have deteriorated along with the pay. Yet, I know of writers who are making decent livings, and I think it's because they are writing about subjects they are passionate about, and also are adopting an entrepreneurial mindset. As I am writing this, I am realizing that, for me, to keep focusing on what someone else will pay me is still a form of employment, ie, working for someone else. I am meeting next week with a representative of an organization that helps entrepreneurs launch their businesses, and if I get any great insights into all this, I will pass them on!

  2. Barb, no you're not just being picky. I recently stopped writing for a publication that paid 5 cents a word because they haven't raised the rate since I first wrote for them in 2004! And they take all rights. Give me a break. When I was starting out, I didn't know any better and so I hope at least this enlightens a few people.

    Would love to hear your insights if you discover any.

  3. Perhaps with the Paywalls that are being introduced to online publications, the revenue will increase, giving the more discerning publications, at least, like the major broadsheets a budget with which to pay freelancers better money. My union in the UK the NUJ is striking and also lobbying government to make these changes to payment to a freelancer, but I do know publications like The Guardian have been using staff to write extra material for free, the staff are stuck as they need to have a job.

  4. Good to hear about that someone is striking! I think a lot of magazine/newspaper staffs have gotten cut, leaving the remaining people with double the work. It's not a good situation for anyone.

  5. D'you know, this marks the fourth time I've read this post. I've read it during some different stages of my writerly reincarnation this year. In my transition from journalist to literary writer I've dabbled in some freelance projects that were irrefutably deplorable, criminal. Why any writer would work for the wages currently being offered goes beyond me. But then again, I live abroad. My supplement earnings come through teaching English and some journalism, as I get more literature accepted.
    It's important to me to confess: your blog inspires me. I shared it with one of my dearest expat/writer friends today from Peru. The post actually intimidates me, and I'm still trying to determine why: is it because you and I have so much in common that it's like reading in a mirror?; is it because I see you as so much more successful than I? Whatever it is, I shall continue to read your work and pass it on to my friends and fellow online writers.

    Perhaps you too can take a look at my blog:

    Happy holidays!
    Nichole L. Reber


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