Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I swear I'm not bipolar: I'm just a freelance writer

Trying to break into a difficult field like freelance writing is a rollercoaster. One minute you're up- over the moon excited over polishing off the perfect query letter, or having an article purchased- and the next you're down and someone is kicking you. Repeatedly. In spots that are already bruised.

The smallest accomplishments are gigantic milestones. The highest visitor count ever on my blog (27 visitors in one day, woo hoo!), or getting a hit from some far off country (this blog has been read in Australia, China, Lebanon, Latvia, and numerous European countries!) get me excited. When I sell an article- even if it's for ten bucks and it took me two hours to write- I celebrate. It's a little sign of success, hopefully a harbinger of more to come.

The downs are nasty, though. An article, thoroughly researched and edited with a fine-tooth comb: rejected. Losing out on a gig that seemed like it was created for you- or never hearing back at all on proposals and queries and applications. It's tough to keep pulling yourself up, brushing yourself off, and starting all over again on another project: but I do it. I have to keep reminding myself that I knew what I was getting into when I chose to take this step. And I know that everyone else out there, trying to do the same thing I am, is meeting the same obstacles and pitfalls.

The latest round of blows are related to my recent, jubilant posts about two blogging gigs I had scored: or, to be more accurate, *thought* I had scored. Yup, I'm back to square one now, more or less. I blogged too soon.

Job #2 had sent me a writer's agreement which I reviewed and signed. I (incorrectly) assumed it meant I was getting the gig and would be helping this individual out with various writing tasks. The day after I triumphantly posted here about getting the job, I received another email, telling me that he'd chosen to go with another writer and that I was on "standby." Oops. However, he did assure me that he'd be needing a second writer in the coming weeks, and that he'd be in touch soon about work. So not a total loss, I guess. Just a small blow to the ego. At least I still had job #1, right?

Ah, Job #1. The NEXT day, I get an email from Job #1- the real estate blogging position. He informs me that he's found a company that can provide him with 700 blog posts and 200 SEO-rich articles for a very low price with very short turn around (in other words, a content mill). But, he assures me, they still want to work with me. The content I will produce for them must be top of the line, "must read" content, that will keep the readers coming back for more. Also, he has decided, I need to provide them with "my very best price" for the privilege of producing these masterpieces for his company. This of course is after he'd already suggested AND agreed to a very reasonable (reasonable FOR HIM- much less than an experienced, established writer would agree to work for) rate.

Basically, he wanted my best work for the lowest price I was willing to work for. He wanted me to lowball myself and work for third world wages to produce winning content to sell his site. To be honest, I felt insulted by this. There's a reason that freelance writers haven't been put out of business by content mills: you get what you pay for. He wanted professional quality with a cut-rate price tag. His reasoning for this was that "the site is not yet producing income," but this is undercut by the fact that he'd sent me a link to his company's press release which stated they would be investing ten million dollars over the course of three years in advertising. If this were true, then obviously they have the funds to pay me $100/week. Seriously. He could pay me, at the originally agreed upon rate, for 1,923 YEARS with ten million dollars. So whether the press release was accurate or not: it's an unethical company. Either they lied in their press release, or they are trying to take advantage of me. Either way, that's not a company I want to work for.

The other reason I was uneasy about this assignment was because my contact was unable to articulate his expectations for my writing clearly. He kept talking in circles in our several emails, ignoring the questions I asked in an attempt to clarify exactly what they were expecting from me. Like any person pursuing writing as a career, I'd like to think that given the right tools/information and very clear guidance on what's expected, I can write about anything. But without clear communication from a client, it becomes near impossible to do my job well.

I reread his email a thousand times. I stewed. I researched. I talked endlessly about it to my husband. I reached out on Twitter for advice. I forwarded the email to my mom and a blog friend for their reactions. In the end, I turned the job down. It feels terrible turning down paid work, even if the pay is dismal, when you're not getting paid much at all. However, I think I made the right choice.

So, my excitement from two posts ago has once again morphed into disappointment. But, in the freelance writing business, at least I know that there's probably another 'writing high' around the corner. Actually, I've had a few small victories in the intervening 24 hours since I first got Job #1's email- but this post is long enough already. I'll save those for another entry. : )


JR Moreau said...

Every time you make a wrong decision or encounter a jerk trying to screw you over for cheap work, you learn a bit on how to handle them and more importantly yourself in a crappy situation. I'm guessing that if you're getting noticed for your work now, you'll continue to get noticed and convey the value of what you're offering to someone ready, willing and able to pay you what you deserve.

JR Moreau said...

The highs and lows are tremendous, eh? If you are a creative, you are manic. There's no way around that!

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