I’ve been looking to build a side business of freelance writing. One of my 2014 goals is to get published in new outlets, instead of just the ones where I have existing relationships.

Looking through Craigslist last night was depressing. As was my perusal of most of the other freelance writing job boards out there. All these outlets are desperate for great content, but they’re not willing to pay for it. In fact many of them think they can get away with offering nothing, or at most, 1 or 2 cents per word.

This is unacceptable.

Finally, I posted a Craigslist ad of my own. Under the headline, “Writer Looking for Fair Compensation, Respect for His Craft” I just let my thoughts and feelings flow.

What came out was this:

I’m a writer.

I’ve been doing it a long time. Since I was a kid, really.

There was the time I placed second in the bumper-sticker contest in grade school, or the time I won the all-school fiction writing contest in the fifth grade, earning me a trip to a major publishing house to see how the big leagues work.

I won the school spelling bee in 7th grade, and went on to the regionals, even if I never made it all the way to DC.

The journals I wrote while travelling Europe in college were circulated far and wide after I emailed them home. A letter to the editor of the school paper turned into a weekly column, by far one of the most popular during my time there.

After graduation, I worked for a company that did marketing for a non-profit dedicated to stopping the drug dealers destroying communities and the lives of teens. The founder of that organization had lost his son to a drug overdose at a party, and my words captured the depth of his emotion in a way he didn’t know how to express. After reading what I had written, he looked at me, a strange, pained expression on his face, and asked how I could know what he felt so clearly.

I’ve ghostwritten for executives at one of the largest corporations on the planet, authored thousands of blog posts on topics ranging from religion to robots, been published regularly in two international outlets and had my work picked up by major newspapers after their editors saw it online. I’ve written copy for businesses and non-profits alike, crafted emails and announcements designed to handle highly delicate situations, and created the first communications plan in an organization’s 60-year history.

I have been solicited by a publishing house to write a non-fiction book, and I’ve just completed 50,000 words of my first novel draft.

I am a writer.

I have never worked full time as a writer. I have never been able to simply put this title on my resume. But it is what I am, what I have been, what I always will be. Since the time I was old enough to write letters in pencil with a faltering hand, I have written. Told stories. Communicated beauty with words.

And I am not alone.

Please don’t ever insult a writer by telling them that you can’t pay them, but that they can have the pleasure of featuring the work they do for you for free in their portfolio.

Please don’t ever think that a writer is dumb enough not to realize that anything less than five cents a word is slave wages for a hard-earned skill that you do not possess. Please don’t think we’re ignorant enough to think that anything less than ten cents a word is fair pay.

If you are taking advantage of a writer because you know how hard it is to make a living in this line of work, because you know that we’re hungry or can’t afford to pay the heating bill or need gas to get to that retail job we’re working so we can continue to focus on our craft — if you are doing these things, it will come back to you.

There will always be a desperate writer. There will always be a starving artist. There will always be someone so insecure that they don’t recognize how much more they are worth than the insulting offers that you make to them.

If you prey on those people, you are a predator. If you give them opportunity and fair pay, you build a relationship with someone who can supply you with the words you need to compete and succeed in a world where it has become impossible to do business without storytelling.

We don’t come here posting ads asking for a job where we don’t have to supply any work but get to sit in your cozy office while you get to be “a part of the career of an up-and coming writer from the ground floor” and tell you smugly that “we can’t actually do any work for what you’re paying us, but we’ll give you great exposure and you can put our name in your portfolio of employees.”

Give it a rest.

All we ask for is some decency — and some good, honest, paying work.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up. Feel free to share this if you agree.

UPDATE: In my original post, I had set the floor on “slave wages” at 10 cents a word and 20 cents a word for “fair pay.” I was ranting and not doing the math (I’m a writer, not a mathematician.) I’ve been paid 20 cents a word as part of a regular gig, and it’s certainly decent (and what I was thinking about as I wrote it). But I get paid about 6 cents a word now, and it’s worth my time to do it if I can turn it around quickly. That comes out to $50 for an 800-word post. If I can do that in an hour (alas, I rarely take less than two hours for a piece that long) then I’m earning minimally fair compensation for my trade.  At 10 cents per word, a two hour post nets me $40/hour. It’s low, but it’s acceptable.

Since I’m going on about fairness, it seemed to be only right to update this post with what I realized are more reasonable expectations. The original Craigslist posting has been updated as well.

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