People who write as a pastime that brings them pleasure and a better understanding of their life and times, and perhaps public recognition through blog or newsletter inclusion, may eventually bump up against the possibility that their work may be worth something in hard cash. Initially this might come from winning a writers’ contest. On occasion that leads to acceptance of a written piece for inclusion in a magazine, short story collection or poetry anthology .
When this happens it is natural to wonder whether writing couldn’t be a potential source of income, even if only in a small way. Freelancing can be a route to employing creative energies and recreation time enjoyably. However getting paid for being published is getting less and less of a sure thing.
At the macro level receiving an advance from a book publisher however large is now restricted to only the already famous, while stories and opinion articles printed in many magazines are all too often pro bono. In these difficult times for local newspaper survival, they place severe limitations on paid content from third parties. There are enough of us wannabes looking to get into print that even major daily newspapers often no longer believe they need to pay for opinion pieces and stories not prepared by their own employees.
For example the ever-popular back page feature ‘Facts & Arguments’ in The Globe and Mail has not paid contributors for some years now, yet it continues to entertain. Friends ‘phoning to say they saw your great story ‘in the paper’ must be a nice buzz, but a cash-positive addition in one’s monthly bank statement is surely a better one?
As single individuals freelance writers, full or part-time, are in a weak position in a world where we strive ever harder to get noticed. The market for good writing is larger and more diverse than it has ever been, yet the rewards continue to decline.
An interesting development this month is New York City passing a Freelance Isn’t Free ordinance. Under this new legislation, clients of writers will have to use contracts when working with a freelancer, and will face double damages, lawyer’s fees, and other penalties for nonpayment. This is designed to put some balance into the freelancer-publisher equation, where the expectation of ‘free’ in the ‘-lancer’ has become all too common.
Individually we writers can be our own tribe’s worst enemies when it comes to appearing in print without payment. We are so excited that someone has accepted us, and are over-inclined to buy the as-yet unproven thesis that any evidence of being ‘in print’ adds to the possibility that one day someone will actually pay us for our work. Good luck on that one, myself included.
a writer’s opinion by Ian Keith Anderson