Rage Against the Lowballers: A Professional Writer Fights Back
Welcome to Writer Rants–where every Friday a writer just lets loose on whatever the heck is bugging them this week. Enjoy.
A few years ago, I had a potential client contact me. He wanted someone to find articles for him that he could post on his new website. The pay was 25 per article, he said.
And then he said “cents.” He went on to explain that I wouldn’t actually be writing anything, so 25 cents per post made complete sense. OK, I said. I’d like to tell you all that the conversation ended there, but it didn’t. I agreed to give it a try and of course, it was terrible. He hated almost all of the articles I found for him.
I couldn’t believe that I was working for something like $3 per hour.
Actually, I was working for no dollars per hour because I ended up walking away from the “gig” without bothering to invoice him for $6 or whatever it turned out to be.
I felt angry, not with the client, but with myself for agreeing to work for so little and for not seeing that my time was valuable. In the few hours I wasted on that client, I could have found better paying work.
25 cents guy wasn’t the first or last client I’ve come across who wanted to pay a little for a lot of work. Sometimes, my “this is a terrible idea, run! Run!” alarm goes off in time for me not to take a low-paying gig. Sometimes my worrisome nature and the fear that if I don’t take a poorly paying job nothing will come up causes me to take a gig when I should know better.
An Anti-Lowballing Checklist for the Professional Writer
Admittedly, complaining about the lowballers will get us nowhere. There will always be someone willing to work for $1 per 500 words, someone who will agree not only to write a piece, but find images for it and handle all the meta stuff for less than $10, or some writer who will believe that getting a byline is more important than getting paid. But, I’m personally past that point in my career. If you’re not quite past that point, but would like to be, I’ve come up with a little checklist to help talk you (and me) back from the edge the next time someone comes along with an offer that won’t help you put food on the table or advance your career.
- How does the rate this client is offering compare to your minimum hourly (or per project) rate? If it’s nowhere near what you need to survive, it’s okay to walk away. Even if there’s nothing out there right now, something will come along that will meet your professional needs much more than the current offer.
- What does the client want for X amount of dollars? Admittedly, there are times when I’ll take on a cheap piece because it’s very simple to do or because I like someone. But, when a client expects more than just writing for a low rate, that’s when I should walk away.
- Does the client seem like a nice person or is he or she complaining about other writers? That’s always a red flag, especially when the pay is low. When a client complains about other people’s work, he or she is probably going to complain about yours and you don’t need that.
Amy F is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia, PA. Her favorite niches to write about include personal finance, gardening and health.