Two Simple Steps to Avoiding a Bad Gig

Photo by Antoine Beauvillain https://stock.tookapic.com/photos/2803196

Recently, there have been a few articles written about the predatory nature of some of the biggest content producers on the web. Namely, that they prey on marginalized groups to create content without paying them or lock them into contracts that limit their ability to profit from their own work. Although it’s very true that internet outlets certainly have a habit of engaging in these practices, it is also true that creators can protect themselves better simply by doing two things: Reading their contracts and not working for free.

Creators aren’t often taught much in the way of business. Money is a four letter word when you’re an artist. This is true in all creative fields. It is pushed that it is MORE important to do the work and get it out there than it is to be PAID for the work. Which is counterintuitive for something that is a job. So when faced with an opportunity to do something you love and have it seen, many creators jump at the chance with the idea that the rewards will come later.

They won’t. That’s why electricians tell you how much something will cost up front. Not because they don’t love what they do but because they understand that jobs require payment in real world money. Not Exposure Bucks.

Not having a background in business also leads to agreeing to bad contracts. Many creators, young or just new, don’t understand what a lot of legalize in the things they are signing mean or how it will affect them in the long run, if they bother to fully read the contract at all.

The websites that prey on creators are counting on you not to read or question the terms they set out in those contracts. They’re multipage documents that include a lot of jargon which can be overwhelming. But, at the same time, as scary as they are, reading that before you sign is part of your new job. And if you don’t like what it says, DO NOT SIGN IT!

These places prey on your desperation to be seen or heard. They know that you have been conditioned to think the important part of being a creative is to be known but it is not. If you’re doing creative WORK then the important thing is to be paid. The fact that you enjoyed it is a bonus.

You are not missing out because you don’t agree to be taken advantage of. I will say it again, YOU ARE NOT MISSING OUT BECAUSE YOU DON’T AGREE TO BE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF!

So what should you do when an opportunity comes knocking but they can’t pay or the contract seems a bit off?

If it’s the contract, read it, ask questions if you don’t understand something and if you don’t like something, renegotiate it. It’s scary because they might walk away but if the point of contention is something that will harm your career in the long run, it’s not worth it. Remember, you still have to live and support yourself long after their contract is up.

If they can’t pay, tell them to call you back when they can cut a check. Your time and work is valuable. Stop giving it away for free. That old adage “Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?” is a gross, sexist statement when applied to women’s bodies BUT is a perfect expression for working for exposure. Why should anyone pay you if you’re willing to put in your best for nothing?

Stop doing that.

So if you want to not be taken advantage of, follow these two simple steps.

1. Don’t work for free. You’re worth more.

2. Read your contract. The whole thing.

You may get nervous because you feel like you’re going to miss a chance at something great but if that chance will ultimately hurt you and the people you’re working for profit FAR more than you will, then you’re not missing anything.

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Reasonable Becomes Expensive When Cheap Is The Norm

change

Here’s a bit of truth for people who are independent workers: When you offer your work for free or low cost, you’re hurting everyone, including yourself. And I don’t mean just on that one sale, I mean you’re hurting the market and lowering it for everyone involved. When you sell or create for cheap, you’re helping to create an anchor and that anchor is holding down the market.

Last time I talked about the clients/consumers of creative work and called on them to stop devaluing it. This time I’m talking to the creators and calling on all of us to charge what we’re worth.

“Anchoring” is a psychological bias that basically says people will use one key point of information to make our decisions. In this case, that piece of information is “how much is THIS worth?” The “THIS” can be anything. A custom piece of art, a website design, a sweater, 200 words of text. It doesn’t matter what it is, if you happen to the first person that the buyer talks to than your price is the anchor point. Congrats! But you aren’t the only person they talk to. Your rate isn’t the only one they’re exposed to.

They have access to the sea of people who are charging below market value for work. Sometimes this is because they happen to be somewhere where the cost of living is less so they don’t have to charge as much for the same product but most of the time it’s just the desire to make a sale and undercut the competition. At least that’s how it starts. But with the market flooded with free or near free options, it’s unlikely that a perfectly reasonable price will be seen as such. Reasonable becomes expensive when the norm becomes cheap.

And because the vast majority of clients are focused on cost as their main anchor (mostly, getting the most bang for their buck) they likely won’t consider other factors that go into your price.

So if you are a creator and you charge low to “get your name” out there or because you just really need money, I understand. The hustle is real. But also understand that those choices cause negative outward ripples that will affect you long after you gain the confidence/experience/get over the broke hump.

You’ve helped to set the market rate low and it’s an upward battle to correct that. Charge what you’re worth from the door. You’ll never regret getting paid what you asked for.

Creative Work is Hard and Worth Every Penny

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Creative work is hard work. It is not always valued work and this is true no matter what medium you happen to work in. Be it writing, paint, or textiles there’s a serious lack of value placed on it and we as creatives may be fueling that issue by devaluing our own work when we tell people that it is easy. We should stop saying that and instead let people know that it’s only easy after you get the hang of it and getting the hang of it can take a lot of time.

We don’t want to discourage people, we don’t want young artists to give up simply because it doesn’t come to them right away. So we tell them that it’s easy, that anyone can do it. But this isn’t true. Because art, no matter what you do, is hard. Anyone cannot do it.

Not because they lack the ability to string words into a sentence or perform the basic stitches needed to make a scarf but because not everyone has the talent for making a sentence compelling or the patience to repeat the same set of stitches a hundred times to make a scarf. Not everyone has the time or desire.

So as artists, regardless of what your medium is, we have to find a way to balance encouragement and honesty. Yes, you can learn to paint, knit, or write but your first projects will likely not be masterworks. It will take years of practice to learn all of the tricks of whatever trade you’re entering into.

Creative work is hard work. We’ve devoted years of our lives to learning something and that is why handmade goods and custom work is expensive. Sure everyone can do it but not everyone can do it well because not everyone has put in the time in order to do it well.

That is what you are paying for when you hire a writer, a graphic designer, or a photographer. That is what you are paying for when you order a custom baby blanket, a one of a kind necklace, or a piece of art for your wall.

You are not paying for the time they necessarily took to do the job; you are paying for the time they took to learn how to do the job so they could do it well.

So anyone CAN do creative work but not everyone can do it well because it takes time and it is hard and it is worth every. Single. Penny.

So You Wanna Be a Writer: Where to Start

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There are a ton of resources that can help a writer get started in the craft. Most of them sort of push people who write into submitting and getting their work out there. These websites certainly are inspiring but they also tend to be extended sell pitches for materials. I don’t want to sell you anything but I am often asked about “how to get started” with writing in my personal life. So here’s a quick guide. No courses, no future sells, just practical advice.

This is a first of a series of blogs where I will discuss answers to the common questions I get regarding writing.

Where do I start?

This is the number one question that people ask. You start by writing. It’s important to have one or two portfolio pieces that you can send to perspective clients along with your resume or CV. If you’re just getting started then obviously you don’t have much to put on there or any real samples from clients. That’s fine, all is not lost.

Portfolio Samples

Have you ever done ANY writing? For school, for a local newsletter, and extended Facebook note? If you have something that is a few hundred words that isn’t just about your personal feelings (although those are fine too) then it can be used as a portfolio item. Clean it up, make it shine and save it as a PDF document with your name and information on it.

You’re not likely to catch any big fish with your current random samples, but it’s a start.

What About A CV/Resume?

As for your CV/Resume, don’t turn in the document that you gave to your 9-5 boss. Clients aren’t interested in your typing speed, your ability with MS Office, or your driving record. They want to know what you know about. In this case, this document is a sort of quick stop for your experience. If you’re starting from the bottom, your education and topics that you’re very familiar with should go here.

If you were HR specialist for the last 20 years, that should be included. If you worked in Insurance that should be there. If you happen to work with cars for a number of years, that should be there. If you do have any publications, even if they were done for another job, short stories, newsletters, anything then you should list that here as well. This document isn’t about showcasing skills so much as it is about giving the potential client an idea of your knowledge base.

You’ll need both of these things when starting out as you’ll likely want to apply for gigs that you have a background in. If all you have is a short article that you wrote about the Easter parade for your local neighborhood newsletter, that probably won’t land you a job writing about engine parts. But if you couple that writing sample with a resume that shows you have 20 years working hands on in a garage, it might.

Things You Do Not Have To Do

There’s really only one thing that you do not have to do: Write for free.

A lot of new writers think that when they’re starting they have to write for free to get a portfolio built up. You do not. I would not recommend doing so. Unless it’s something you WANT to do such as a volunteer newsletter, some work for a good friend, etc you do not have to write for anywhere without being paid for it.

Writing for free is a trap that people get stuck in all the time. Don’t waste time with it when there are plenty of people out there that are willing to pay you for your work.

Way back when I started freelancing I used excerpts from papers I had written as samples. My first gigs were with content mills. I took a few of the pieces I had written for them and applied to better jobs. Notice what’s missing? Work done for “exposure”.

Next Friday I’ll be posting how to find and apply for writing work.

Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

Hustle

One of the hardest things to do when you decide to become a Real Life Writer is writing when you don’t really feel like it. More than anything, that is what separates working writers from hobbyists. Hobbyists write when they feel like it. Working writers write even when they don’t.

That’s a hard shift to make. When your job depends on your creativity, not feeling like it can turn a piece into complete trash if you let it. You don’t have to let it but you can’t just skip it either. This job means writing even when you feel like your muse is taking a smoke break.

There are going to be some days when you don’t feel like it. That’s OK. Everyone needs a day off now and then but you can’t wait until you feel like it to start again. You have to show up even if putting the words on the page are like pulling teeth. Take a day off, that’s fine, but don’t take off for an undetermined amount of time that’s controlled by your mood.

Every piece you write isn’t going to be a masterpiece. Sometimes it’s going to just be passable. If you’re not running up against a deadline (side note, be better about not procrastinating) then just call it a draft and look at it again tomorrow when you do feel like it. You might find some hidden gems in the prose that you missed when you just didn’t feel like it.

See, the trick is, you can always fix a bad page. If you don’t write anything at all though, there’s nothing to start with and even if you have to scrap the whole thing, at least you know what not to do next time.

Write even when you don’t feel like it. Show up, put the words down. Edit them when you feel better. The more you do this, the easier it will become.

Novels Aren’t The Only Fruit: A Friday Pep Talk For Writers

You're ok.

You’re ok.

Not every writer is a novelist, although many of us who get into the profession hope to be one. This doesn’t change the fact that there are a lot of people out there making money with the written word who do not have books out. Even if you dream of writing a book someday, you’re not failing at this whole writing thing if all you have are articles published on the internet.

When I tell people that I’m a writer and then respond to their question as to where they can find my books, they often lose interest when I tell them I write articles. Even though people consume a great deal of writing in today’s content heavy atmosphere, there’s a sort of disconnect between the articles that we read and share on social media and the novels we read for pleasure. In many minds, a novel makes you a writer. Anything “less”, well, not so much.

I don’t know what people consider the media they read online or in magazines to be but the people who write those things are no less successful or noteworthy than people whose fiction adorn the virtual shelves of Amazon.

In fact, there’s a greater chance that the person whose work appeared on some online journal or even in a throwaway article created to pick up Google spiders made more money doing what they loved than the person with a book on Amazon. This isn’t a jab at self-publishers, it’s hard in that market, this is a statement that some people’s purpose for writing is to be paid rather than to share a story.

Even if you’re writing to turn a buck, you’re still a writer. Maybe not a sexy one, but you’re still doing the job. And that is commendable because it doesn’t matter if you write for magazines, craft novels, churn out content articles, or blog like it’s going out of style, this is a hard gig to be in. Keep at it. You’re doing great.

No More Unpaid Test Articles

Found on Facebook from Tumblr

Found on Facebook from Tumblr

This is the year I stop writing unpaid test articles.

I generally do not put word to page unless there have been agreed upon payment terms. This is just good business sense. But somehow, while in negotiation for gigs when the email comes asking for a free test article comes, I sometimes think maybe? And even worse, sometimes I say yes.

The articles are usually very small, only a few moments of my time. That’s the problem though, it’s my time and my time isn’t free.

In the course of my career as a writer (one that started as moonlighting, moved to part time, and slid into a full time thing) I’ve had quite a few requests for unpaid test articles. I have not done them all, there are a few that I have written but I can only remember ever getting one job from an unpaid test article.

One.

Paid test articles? I’ve landed all those gigs. Unpaid, not so much.

This could be because with the paid ones, they’re invested in me. Unpaid, I’m squeezing them in between paying work. I’m not giving it my all with unpaid articles because they haven’t given me anything at all.

So instead of wasting my time, this year I’m done with doing them and really everyone should be. Sure, some people do land those jobs but really, what are we saying about what our time is worth as writers, as creatives?

I’ve had plenty of jobs in my life and this one is the only one where I am ever asked to do a trial unpaid test run to see if I’m a fit. I wouldn’t have stood for it with any other job. If a manager asked me to come in and work a shift unpaid, I would laugh. If someone wanted me to do an hour in their call center “just to see if I was a good fit” I wouldn’t even respond.

From now on, I’m treating unpaid test articles the same way. No matter how small they are, they still take time and my time is worth more than free.