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Betting On The Write Stuff?

January 21, 2011

One of fellow writing cohorts, Shawnee Rivers, has started her own girlie gambling bog and in her ode to a specific internet marketing services (the services of which I’ve used*), she mentions one simple line that made me nod my head — loudly — in agreement: “Getting paid to write, online or off, is another form of gambling, really.”

Since I’m hidden here, behind the mask of a user name, I feel compelled to expound.

Writing — and getting paid to do so — is a clusterfuck of ethics. You’ve got the push and pull between needing to eat and your artistic or, if you write non-fiction, educational integrity. It was a difficult enough line in print publishing, but the technological advancements of the digital age have stretched and tested them even more.

If you self-publish on the web, you know that writing, producing the content itself, isn’t all you have to do. The written content may be enough for all your SEO needs, but there are all the other management tasks involved in running your own website.

Sure, technology has made much of work easier (especially WordPress and the plugin makers), but there’s no effective way to allocate the tasks of human interaction (responding to emails and comments, evaluating widgets and technologies, handling rates, negotiating requests, and other communication and decision issues) solely to technology.

Just look at what’s involved in one aspect… Say, advertising. Should I have ads? Which ones should I use? Where should I place them? What program or software will make it all easier? How much should I charge? Should I post my rates — and if so, where?

Mind-numbingly maddening when you’re burning with the passion to write. It’s horrific when you’ve got writers block too. At best, it’s just part of the ever-expanding, ever-exhausting to-do list, that is the joy of the self-employed, self-publishing “blogger.”

This is why many professional writers prefer to remove some of this work from their shoulders, keeping their arms more free to “just write,” by getting paid to write for another site. The thought here is that you can do more than eliminate the financial overhead of your own blog or website, you can preclude yourself from most of the decision making — and the implementation of those decisions.

Keeping your pretty and thoughtful head free from all of this is supposed to keep you free to focus on your writing. But this freedom, like all others, has its price.

Now you’ve just replaced the freedom from running your own site and doing what you want to do/say, when you want to do/say it, how you want to do/say it, with an editor or some sort of manager…

This person isn’t just the goofy red pen holding variety looking for typos. (Those have most been replaced by spellcheckers now, you know.) Oh no, now you have to please someone else with your writing. Not merely the grammar; not only in terms of subject matter; not only in terms of tone, voice and style — but everything. Every. Freakin’. Thing.

You see, every decision you relegated to some Paycheck In The Sky has been delegated to a person (or persons) who now evaluate everything you do, your column, your writing, in terms of that site’s success. And while that all may sound like it’s in your best interest, let me assure you, it isn’t always.

First there are the “tweaks” to your writing, your beat, your column…

You were hired to write a column on frank sexuality; now it’s too frank, too sexual. Avoid naming grown-up body parts, please. Or you won’t be paid.

You were hired to be the intellectual satirist; now you’ve got a minimum number of pull-my-finger jokes to make — and a minimum of three fart joke site links to dole out too. If you don’t do it, someone else will…

You were hired to fairly examine the deep rooted issues of our troubled American educational system; but… Could you limit your posts to no more than 300 words please? And lighten it up a bit too while you’re at it. The facts make the sponsors unhappy. They lower site/column traffic stats too. We think if you made it funnier, more urban and hip, we’d increase traffic — and we’d all be much more happy.

If you can roll with those changes (and live with yourself for selling-out your art, your message, even your soul), there’s more to do to earn that paycheck.

There’s additional things on your To Do list. Many sites now require as part of your writing duties that you achieve a minimum number of page views, unique users, links in to your site/column/profile, and other marketing metrics in order to qualify for payment.

These things that you thought you were freeing yourself from are usually part of your writing or blogger agreement. Not only are they a time-suck (and you should factor that time in when you consider your rate of pay), but these policies are always in flux and could be added at anytime (and if you don’t agree, you lose the gig).

There’s also a list of things you are Not To Do. Some of the things I’ve personally experienced are no reporting on actual news stories which could be construed as negative towards the industry the site is seen as serving (and therefore receiving ad fees for) and no links to sites considered to be in competition with the site you are published at or in competition with one of the company’s other sites or projects. Some of these things may not seem unethical to you; they may even seem like “no brainers.” But many of these things are neither documented no-nos from the get-go, nor communicated changes in policy.

Like any unknown hoops you are expected to jump through, you’ll only discover them the hard way, finding out only after you’ve made some egregious error. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an email explaining what you did wrong, any changes they had to make or want you to make, and why. But too often you’ll find out some more painful way, such as when you contact the powers that be, reporting some sort of tech issue that must have occurred resulting in the loss of your piece, you’ll find out it’s no error; your work had been yanked due to something-or-other. (Always best to keep back-up copies of your own writings or they may be gone forever.) And then you won’t be paid as you missed your deadline.

That’s a big price to pay for linking to a site on an invisible list.

If you manage to survive any/all of that, you now have to worry about the paycheck itself.

I don’t mean the first one that may never come because you’re to be paid on a percentage of the profits — when they eventually come in. I mean even when those payments have been coming regularly.

Not counting the lost pay for the writing work you performed which did not meet the standards (be it not maintaining stated metrics or pulled pieces with improper links, etc.), getting any payment at all is an issue. So many websites and companies cannot maintain paying authors for their work. Oh, they’ll continue to pay the techies, the editor/managers, etc. But content? Oh, they figure they can get that for free, so writers are last on the list to be paid. I don’t know whether it’s worse to be informed of such things, or if it’s more insulting for them to deny it; but in all cases, you’re out of money — even if you are asked to stand-by for eventual payment, continuing to write too.

And here’s the kicker — even if you have a contract you could legally pursue, look at that fine print… Look for the line that says something about the contract is filed in, or pursuant to the laws or courts of, X location. That’s where you’ll need to file (sometimes required to be in person) and/or appear. I’ve yet to sign one based in my own state, let alone near my home., so legal action is, if not near-impossible, more money-out to invest in trying to get what’s yours.

Suddenly this whole world wide web thing, doing business across governing bodies, doesn’t seem so sweet now, does it.

Why do we authors continue to put ourselves through this?

I suppose, as Shawnee says, it’s part of our gambling nature; we bet on ourselves to beat the odds, confident that we are skilled enough to do so.

* I have used the consulting and services of Big Mouth Promotions several times in the past six years; but, as I have done so under my real name and will expose neither my name nor my site names, I feel an official testimonial may sound hollow… However, because I took what Deanna taught me and found it profitable (in terms of its direct application and the ability to generate my own consulting fees from it), I do feel obligated to highly recommend the services. Both Big Mouth Promotions, and the new team of U.P. to the D.L.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mira Faraday permalink
    January 28, 2011 12:49 am

    I really enjoyed this mind boggling foray of what we can,do or might experience. It is so great to feel that urge to write and allow of it to be swayed by whom we write for etc that can turn us away from what out first step of the dream/goal was.
    Keep posting here as I enjoyed reading your thoughts you shared.
    Mira Faraday


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