OK — I get it. I really do. You write because you’re a writer. Inside you there is a passion that has to be sated. As Catholic writers we see our writing as a vocation. Priests, nuns, and monks have vocations. Marriage, motherhood, and fatherhood are also vocations. These all have something in common — they require money to accomplish their mission!
Most freelancers have an alternate source of income: a job, a pension, or an employed spouse. But many dream of the life that would result if their writing could earn enough to pay all the bills. They could stay at home or travel with their laptop, their income provided by the freedom of being a financially successful writer.
So what’s stopping you? Often it’s the fact that writers have no idea how much they are being paid. Not true, you say? You know you were paid $100 for your last article. Great! What was your pay per hour?
Today the minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour here in Pennsylvania, is a hot topic of debate. Without getting political, ask yourself, “Am I at least earning minimum wage?”
That $100 article you sold — how long did it take you to write it from start to finish? Two hours? Five hours? Twenty hours? Add up all the creative time, the research time, and any additional time needed to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.
If your answer is two hours — congratulations, you earned $50 per hour. If you needed five hours, you did good by earning $20 per hour, but you are still below the median income for writers (about $28 per hour). But if you needed twenty hours, your hourly rate is $5 per hour. Surprise — you are working below the minimum wage.
Yes, it is your life, your career, your choice. If you are content with your income from writing, then carry on as you are. But please be realistic. If you hoped to put a new roof on your home with your writing income, how many hours at your rate will that take?
The rate you accept also has an impact on other writers. When editors can find a person who works for pennies per word, they are less inclined to hire others who ask for higher rates. That’s assuming the quality of the writing is comparable. There are editors who pay a good rate because they believe you get what you pay for and also adhere to the concept that the worker is worthy of their compensation. In other words, they’re not into hiring indentured servants.
The rate you accept also has an impact on the quality of your life and your family’s. If you need to earn a certain amount each month, working at a low rate per word, per page, or per hour will require more time away from family.
The rate you accept can also impact how you are seen by the editors hiring you. There are thousands of writers desperate to see their name in print. For the editors it is a buyer’s market. When you agree to accept a low rate, you risk becoming a commodity as opposed to a partner in a creative enterprise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for writers is marginal, with an anemic growth rate of 2% predicted to occur between 2014 and 2024. For writers, the time is past due to stop accepting exposure as their compensation.
Of course, some outlets can be given more leeway than others. Small organizations that exist to provide charity to those in need are good candidates for your best writing given to them gratis. Unfortunately, some of the largest, most well-heeled outlets feel their fame is sufficient recompense. The only way to change this is to refuse to give your services away for free.
Also consider how many years of experience you bring to your writing. Are you now pursuing a writing career with a concentration in your professional field after working more than thirty years? With thirty years of experience, would you accept minimum wage or less as your compensation?
It does not have to be work outside the home, either. Parents who have successfully raised their children during the past eighteen or more years have much wisdom to impart. That wisdom is hard-earned and should not be frittered away as Esau did with his birthright.
As a final thought, our ability to write is a God-given gift. If we value it too lightly, what does that say about our gratitude for the gift? There is a place for donating our time and ability to write, but that is not in the marketplace where the intent is to earn a profit on the part of the outlet or the writer. In setting the rates we accept, some prayerful discernment is called for.