Today I was offered some work at a risible rate. It left me feeling angry but also queasily ungrateful. Money is such a tricky subject among freelancers. We all tread a fine line between wanting the work, wanting to appear to be reasonable – to be reasonable but we also have to pay our bills.
So when I named my price, having checked the going rate, and how long the job would take, feeling confident that I was offering a pretty good deal, there was silence at the other end of the phone. I have been doing this long enough to recognise the pattern.
Trick 1: The disapproving silence.
Passive aggressive tinged with embarrassment. Oh God – it’s too much money! Quick say something! Like ‘No – just joking! I’ll rewrite it for 50p and a pork pie.’
Trick 2: Empty flattery.
The person that I spoke to knows me well enough now to know that I was brought up Catholic and therefore the Guilt Button is always there, just under the surface so she sighed again and then ladled on the flattery – they really like my style and they really wanted to work with me yadda yadda.
Ever tried to pay a bill with flattery? I haven’t got any actual money Mr Mortgage Company but your 3.4% fixed rate makes my heart go all fluttery wuttery.
I hate negotiating money. If you have an agent they do all that stuff for you but as an independent, all you can do is check out rates with places like the NUJ and The Writers Guild. But I would suggest also that you remember that as a freelancer, you are not getting any benefits such as sick or holiday pay or maternity pay. Also you have to factor in heating, lighting, office expenses so hiring you as a freelancer means that for every £10 a full timer gets, you are getting about £9.
Trick 3: Say something vague about the recession and how everyone has to tighten their belt.
Right, so does this mean the business you are working for has cut their prices? You are a business too. And as such, you should not be giving your hard earned skills away to another business.
So often I’ve thought of the millions of other freelancers out there and panicked at the thought of being ‘difficult’ when really I was just afraid to be assertive. But what I saw as being ‘nice’ may have been interpreted as ‘a walkover’. Like the online publisher who wanted ‘all rights’ for an article I was writing. This included (I didn’t know at the time) moral rights – the right to be identified as the author of the article. Or the publisher who wanted me to write an A-Z of dieting and offered me £50 for a 2000 word article! When I said ‘no’ she accused me of being ‘grandiose’ and it only ‘involved a little bit of research’. Twenty six ‘little bits of research’ in fact if I managed to find some sort of diet with X in it. I turned it down and she came back to me three weeks later with three times the amount (still a shit fee but hey -) but by then I was busy on something else and really couldn’t do it.
I don’t know what can be done about offering writers appalling rates. Is it that everybody in the world wants services as cheaply as possible – not just writing but all services? Is it that good writing looks easy? Or that because writers tend to work alone and are worried about seeming ‘diva-ish’ or ‘difficult’ so they accept bad or non-existent rates.
I was contacted by a company a few weeks ago who were offering writers the chance to write for their website for free! Isn’t that great? And whatever you wrote for that company then belonged to the company – i.e. the copyright was no longer yours but theirs. And yet they claimed they were a company who promoted and supported writers! If you want to write for free start a blog but don’t provide content for a website too lazy or cheap to write their own. And by the way – click per view is not pay. Unless you count £2.89 per month as pay.
Trick 4: The Biggie. Yours is the most expensive quote we’ve had (said in mournful voice)
Ah – the implicit threat. You’re not the only writer in the world. Well you're not. Still doesn't mean you have to accept shit rates.
If you have to have the work well it’s your decision and I totally get that sometimes you have to do it – bills need paying. But writing something suffused with resentment that you are being ripped off is just horrible. And it drives down the price for everyone else. Don’t do it! Think of the long game and respect yourself enough to research and stick to a fair price.