Just who do you think you are, exactly?
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. For a university student who juggles ever-increasing piles of homework with yoga classes, bills she’s barely able to pay, and all kinds of entrepreneurial ventures, freelancing is just about the perfect job. I’m paid for curling up with a cup of chai in between lectures and writing about the things I’m most passionate about. I choose who I write for and when. I pitch my own ideas. Through work-related research and travel, I learn about the world around me. Freelance writing is my dream job.
We need to talk about a huge double standard in this industry, and babe, it’s you who’s the problem.
Say I pitch you an idea. It’s creative and unique, a fresh angle on a topic that fits your site perfectly. Interested, you get back to me and we negotiate an appropriate price. I then go about my work, research till my eyes are sore, hold interviews, and go out to gain real world experience on the topic if I can. Finally, I sit down and write you a witty, authoritative piece, the summation of my hard work. This is what I’ve agreed to do. This is what you expect of me. I manage my time and my energy, and submit the piece by our agreed date.
“Excellent!” you say. “Wonderful job! We’ll publish this soon. Send in your invoice.” Relieved, assured that you plan to treat my work with some level of respect, I quickly fill out an invoice and send it over. Weeks pass. The deadline by which you were supposed to pay me is long gone, and my rent bill is looming over my head. I contact you repeatedly. You stall repeatedly. “We’re having a timing issue right now,” you say. Or, “Can you verify that you actually wrote this for us?” Or, “Sorry, we’re short on funds, but we’ll pay you in a few months when we can afford it.”
In the words of Firefly character Jubal Early, “Does that seem right to you?”
Do you know what would happen if I told my internet provider that I was, “on a tight budget, but will pay in a few months”? They’d shut my service down. And so they should, because I would have violated an agreement. My service provider agrees to provide me with reliable internet, and I agree to pay a monthly fee. Why is it so hard for you to come to terms with how that system works?
Maybe you’re laboring under the (incredibly annoying) assumption that freelance writing isn’t a “real” job, and therefore that you don’t need to pay me. Let me set you straight. I work for you, I write my heart out, I get paid. End of story. It’s not up to you to determine whether or not my work is legitimate or “real.” Is the finished product sitting in front of you, ready to be published? Newsflash: if it is, I put billable hours into it. It follows that you owe me money in exchange for those hours and for the resulting product. If my work isn’t valuable enough to you to begin with, don’t tell me you’ll pay me a reasonable fare. Don’t promise me money and then lead me around until I have to threaten you with legal action.
And don’t even start with “exposure.” I’ve been doing this for years. I started selling my work before you founded your little online travel website. What do you think would happen if you asked a dentist to fix a crown “for exposure”? He’d laugh in your face, I think. Would it surprise you if I told you we freelance writers do the same thing, usually? I say “usually” because most of us are getting more and more exasperated and are becoming more prone to writing long rants than we are to laughing it off.
I deserve respect. If you promise to pay me, do it, and do it on time. I have bills to pay. I need the apartment to stay warm this winter. I need to eat, like everyone else. Just because I’m a freelancer does not mean I will work for free or put up with your arrogance with endless patience. Treat your writers like professionals.
A Fed-Up Freelancer