Last time I checked, my landlord didn't take "warm fuzzies" or good will, or inspiration in payment for rent. In fact, no one takes anything but cold hard cash in exchange for their skilled services. Yet many writers and those who hire them, think great writing should be free or close to it. When I have told some clients their demands exceeded the scope of our agreement they've become highly offended and angry. For God only knows what reason, they thought they could offer me a couple of hundred dollars for a blog post, and expand that 800-words into a full-length book. Go on Upwork.com and look over the job postings. Some clients expect a "GUARANTEED blockbuster, best-selling novel for $50." See the Upwork ad below for example. This person truly expects to get a 150-page BOOK for $50. And he owns all the copyrights. He says "Ignore price, it will be negotiable," but that usually means he'll go as high as $150.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a writer's retreat where Jane Friedman spoke about "The Business of Writing." I looked around the barn (where the retreat was held) at the many talented men and women who wanted to make a living writing, dreamed of being a "successful author" and who struggled with the shame of charging money for their talent. I think the majority of writers have been there - having something incredibly valuable to offer, but not knowing or believing in their writing enough to charge for it. And, the public senses that. That's why job boards are full of offers like this:
While the $50 budget is "just an estimate," the reality is this client will most likely balk at the $20,000 cost a book this length would cost. Why so much? A 150 page book is 37,500 to 39,000 words (based on an average page of 250 words). At only .10 cents a word, that's $3,750. Good writers, those who get .50 per word, are looking at about $18,000, rounded down. Then there's editing and proofreading, about $7 + per page. At 150 pages that's $1,050. What goes into writing involves more than sitting down at a keyboard. There's research on the topic - and not just reading what other bloggers have said. There are papers, experts, fact checking and interviews to do if you want to do it right. Many writers simply copy, paste, and rewrite or spin existing content for books like these. They don't bring any insight, research, new points of view, solutions, or true advice to the book.
Two years ago I was asked to write a 300-page book in ten days. It was on a complex, controversial scientific topic that should have taken six months to a year to write. But the client wanted it NOW, and was only willing to pay $500. I laughed. I could make more money asking, "Would you like fries with that?" in one week than I could writing his book. He insisted the exposure would be invaluable. Only, my name would be nowhere on the book, and he had no plan to tell others about me or get me more work. In the real world, "exposure" (as in to the elements) kills. The same is true for writers. Exposure does not pay the bills.
Here's another add. The "client" wants someone with a business background, experience, expertise, insight, and knowledgeable about ecommerce and entrepreneurship. He wants some semblance of thought leadership and professionalism, and he wants this talented, skilled writer to write a full-length book of about 200 pages. He "needs it urgently," but is probably not inclined to pay rush charges. The $300 he's offering wouldn't cover the cost of EDITING the book, let alone writing it. Yet some poor writer will bid and win this "job" and earn all of .02 cents an hour to write it, then get nothing in return. Ghost writers don't get royalties. They rarely get bonuses. And if they do, it's in the $25 to $50 range.
The evil evil people who perpetuate this MYTH of making millions off of hiring ghostwriters for pennies, are the people who run get rich scams. They tell the people who pay $500 and up for their "courses" that they should go on Upwork and say, "For someone who knows what they're doing, this won't take any time." Uh. No. That's NOT how it works. Usually the BETTER a person is the less time it takes to do something. True, but that doesn't mean they should be paid LESS for being faster. It means they've invested, time, practice, work, and training to get to be fast and should be paid MORE for that expertise. When I first learned how to change the brake pads on my car, it took me almost five hours. By the fourth time I did it, it took me less than an hour (mostly because I'm old and slow). But I knew what to do, what steps to take, what to look for, and HOW to do it accurately and quickly.
I write fast and effectively because I was a journalist for 23 years, freelanced for 33 years, and have ghostwritten for 10. I am efficient and skilled. I should be paid MORE to do my job. It would take three times the money I charge to hire some newbies working for $20 an hour to do (or try to do) what I do. My brain is trained. I can process more information and in ways new writers can't, simply because I'm experienced. That's what clients pay for. They pay for the value, insights, connections, and concepts I can bring to their project. They're not paying a typist. They're paying an expert. You may be happy getting your medical advice from WebMD for free, but I can guarantee that if you were diagnosed with Stage 3 or 4 cancer you'd pay more than you could afford for a specialist and an expert to treat that cancer. Why? Because you want the best.
Here's another example of a client gouging writers. Successful romance writers can make six figures and up, per year. If you're a good romance writer you don't need to write a $750 book for someone who will turn it into thousands of dollars for themselves. Yet writers do it all the time - wanting that $750 (minus the 20% fee or $150 Upwork takes off of the top) rather than write for themselves. Look at the level of expertise this "client" is asking for:
They're offering $50 for a "trial" piece of 5,000 words!! That's INSANE!! That's SLAVE LABOR! These people are the pig shit of the literary world. Greedy, ruthless, evil bastards.
If you're a writer, and you VALUE yourself, your time, your intelligence, and what you have to offer the world, don't do this. I did it for years, and suffered, always at the edge of becoming homeless or starving, just to have work. Then I learned I didn't have to do that. I could ask what I was worth and people who valued that WOULD pay for it, and they do. I now make enough to "help" those I think have a great concept for a book, but not the money to pay for it. But it's MY choice. And I don't do it often. It's a journey. What helped me was talking to other writers who charge full value for their work. Reading about money helped too. Here are the resources that helped me turn things around:
These are absolutely the most valuable books I've ever owned. The Pumpkin Plan alone doubled my income in 30-days. I went from charging $15 to $20 an hour to $50, working less and having more satisfying clients. And, Mike tells anyone in any business (not just writing) the step-by-step process. HIGHLY recommend it. Whether you're a copywriter, or a fiction writer who wants to know how to market your book, you should own The Everything Guide to Writing Copy. It was recently named one of the top 10 copywriting books of all time and it's deserving of the name. It's amazing. Easy to read, easy to follow, and just applying a few of his tips will boost your sales. Ilise Benun, author of the Creative Professionals Guide to Money was personally recommended to me by both Bob Bly, and on the phone with Ilise herself. This past weekend Jane Friedman (Former Writer's Digest Publisher, who now teaches at the University of Virginia, and writes for Publisher's Weekly) also highly recommended Ilise. The books do contain an affiliate link - which means Amazon pays me a tiny percentage (a few cents) of the cost of the book, but there is NO extra charge to you. You pay the same price whether you use the link or not. But by using the link you support another writer.
It's easy to get caught up in the trap of reading and attending conferences and shying away from writing, but there are times when you really do need some insights to break out of the rut you're in. So, take an hour, a day, or a weekend off to really think about whether you want to make your writing a business, something you earn a living at, or if you just want to write for the joy of writing. If it's the former, get serious about making what you do a business so you can make a living. Don't settle for crumbs. Pull a chair up to the table of professionals and feast. You'll be glad you did.
What do you want to know about the business of writing? Comment below! Ask! I'll answer or get answers!
Consistency Matters More Than Talent
You don't have to be talented to succeed. You do need to be consistent.