One of the myths about freelancing that irks me the most is the one that claims that beginning writers have to writer for free (or for ridiculously cheap, as in a couple of bucks per article) in order to get started. It makes me angry because 1) it's not true, and 2) many beginning writers get taken advantage of because they believe that it is.
What's more, many employers perpetuate this myth - which makes me even angrier. I don't know if they are intentionally taking advantage of beginning writers, or if they truly believe that writers who are just starting out shouldn't expect to get paid for their time and effort - but either way, those employers deserve a swift kick in the butt.
Here is a perfect example of a client who seems to think that not paying her writers is a perfectly reasonable way to treat them: Greta Gavrisheff, who recently posted an ad on L.A.'s Craigslist. She is looking for web content writers for her sites, zedcards.com and industrystuff.com.
The ad offers virtually no information, but the payment line does say "TBD." To my mind, that means that there will be payment involved, just an as-of-yet undecided amount. However, when I responded to her ad, I received a form letter that included the statement:
For the first couple weeks, as I see how the articles come in, they will be for credit only, however, I promise you.... we do have the funds and will pay for those who really fit with the company and grasp the concepts we are looking for...so stick with it!
I really hate "employers" who say this - and, if you browse Craigslist regularly, you know that there are a lot of them. "We're not paying right now, but we might be able to pay in the future, if your work is good enough and our site really takes off" is a common statement in freelance job ads.
Well, let me ask you something - what do you think your doctor or lawyer would do if you told him you weren't going to pay him for the first few visits, because you first want to find out if he would "stick with it"? Even your plumber wouldn't put up with that. So why should writers?
Naturally, as an opinionated writer and vocal championing of freelancers' rights, I wrote back to Greta and told her what I thought of her payment arrangement. Her response:
I will pay them, however, not for the first two weeks. I need to see who is going to follow through, and who actually wants it...
Not shame on me. I have written for credit a number of times which is why I am where I am.
Oh, but it gets worse. After sending me another email telling me never to email her again (I hinted that she was taking unfair advantage of beginning writers), she accidentally sent me several of the form letters she is also sending out to interested writers. The first one contained this statement:
I need as much content as possible for the launch... I apologize for the short notice, but I promise that if you follow through, you are going to be thrilled/stoked at the results when you see the site.
Basically, not only is she refusing to pay writers for their first two weeks of effort, she is also trying to get as much work as possible out of them during that time.
Does this sound like an honest business proposition to you? I think not...
Beginning writers, you do NOT have to write for free. I can't stress that enough. When I was just getting started, I never wrote for less than $15 per article. Don't let anyone - whether writer or employer - tell you otherwise!