Writing for peanuts?

Linda Formichelli at the Renegade Writer blog posted an interesting piece on “writing for peanuts“: freelancers working for sites like Associated Content and… um, Examiner.com.

Interesting discussion of some of the arguments and bad logic about freelancers who sell themselves shows and work for pennies. She does an effective demolition of many arguments many freelancers (myself included) use when publishing work for cheap, or nothing. One pretty biting line:

Take my word for it — no editor of a market with decent rates is going to take a clip from a content mill seriously. There are no barriers to entry — practically anyone can post their writing — and even if you write a stellar article (which I’m sure you will), it will be surrounded by lazy reporting, bad writing, and unprofessional presentation.

Her argument resonates with me, especially since I’ve recently cut back my efforts writing for examiner.com. It can be fun and make a little money, but ultimately, the hourly rate for the work is close to nothing, and the upside of exposure is very limited. I’ve done some work there that I’m proud of, but over time, it’s not the most productive venue to write.

Time and effort is better spend pitching bigger markets.

Point taken, Linda: aim higher.

Dan Baum and the half-empty glass

Dan Baum, a writer who’s worked for Esquire and The New Yorker, talked with the Renegade Writer blog about freelancing and the future of the magazine business.

A couple things caught my eye. First, I always feel a bit lost when I’m working on a freelance piece and someone I’m interviewing asks me who I’m writing for. I always feel a bit sheepish saying it’s a freelance article that doesn’t have a home yet. Baum, a big advocate of writing a piece for a specific target magazine, has another approach:

When you are calling people and you don’t have an assignment yet, how do you convince them to talk to you?
I say, “I’m working on a story for The New York Times Magazine.” Or “I’m working on a story for Wired magazine.”

So you don’t let them know you don’t have the assignment in hand?
No, I say I’m working on a story for Wired magazine and I am. My relationship with Wired magazine at that point is none of their business.

What do you do if they ask when the publication date is?
I say “I don’t know, that’s out of my hands; it’s above my pay grade.”

He also has some bleak things to say about the current state of writing for magazines:

Do you worry about competition — other writers coming in and horning in on your gigs?
No. For one thing, we’re kind of out of magazines. I think in a way, it’s over. I think the days of being able to make a living as a magazine writer are rapidly coming to a close.

That is so sad.
It is. I’m not boasting here, but I should be able to get work, right? I was on staff to The New Yorker for 3 years, I worked for Rolling Stone for a long time. I have written for the biggest and most prestigious magazines out there and I can’t get work. Magazines are closing, they’re shrinking, they’re going from 12 issues a year to 10 issues a year, and they’re going from 300 pages to 140 pages.

Anyway… interesting, motivating, and despressing, all in one tidy little article.  Check it out.

Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.