Last summer, I landed my first job out of college. The pay is good, but I continue to freelance. Why? Because I believe in hustling hard. However, in the past few months, I faced some difficult decisions. I let go a client because 1) I wasn’t getting paid enough and 2) The work was no longer fulfilling or challenging. I felt stifled. My decision to leave paid off because I can now focus my attention on stories I’m most passionate about.
When 2016 rolled around, I set some clear guidelines for myself: 1) Pitch better-paying publications, 2) Do not write for anything less than three digits, and 3) Do not write for free—period. I’m at a place in my career where I want to write smarter. Why write 20 stories a month for $30 each when you can write a fraction of stories for a lot more money?
Since I started writing professionally, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve provided my services for free. Luckily, most of those writing gigs turned into paid ones, but it’s not a chance I’d take today. My time and words are much too valuable.
Today I’m spilling all the secrets (and some tea) when it comes to getting that fetti as a freelancer. Get comfy and grab a notepad because like Bey said, “Best revenge is yo paper.”
- Don’t beat around the bush.
An editor with good intentions will tell you the moment after accepting your pitch whether you will be paid, but don’t count on it. Don’t make the mistake of letting too many emails go by without popping the question. After reaching an agreement about the story’s details, it’s time to get that paper. You can say something along the lines of, “I look forward to writing a great story that you and your readers will enjoy. What is your budget for this story?” Tasteful, but you still get your point across. A legitimate publication will throw out an exact amount. Can’t get a straight answer? Take that as a sign and move on to the next.
- Do your research.
One of my favorite websites is Who Pays Writers? because freelance writers can anonymously post what publications pay writers and if so, how much. Type in the publication you want to write for in the search box and watch the results pour in. Not only can you see how much that publication pays its writers, but you can also find out how long it took to receive payment, the length of the piece, platform (online, print, etc.), the extent of reporting involved, whether there was a contract, etc.
Let’s say you learn that the publication you want to pitch pays $250 per article, but you’re only offered $125. Instead of accepting the first number thrown your way, you can bargain. Who Pays Writers is great because it levels out the playing field between editors and the writers who pitch them.
- Always renegotiate.
Whenever the New Year rolls around, I renegotiate my rates. Lots of folks shy away from asking for a raise. Just do it! The worst your editor can say is no. Not sure how to ask for one? Here’s an example that worked for me:
As a contributor for XXX, I’ve taken on the long-form features that tackle the tough topics, including A, B, C, D, and my most-recent story that focused on E. But, there is more reporting and investigative work required to complete these types of pieces from researching the topic to conducting and transcribing multiple interviews. As you know, I am currently being paid XXX per article, but I’m asking for a raise that XXX’s budget will allow. I’d like to earn XXX per story. Is this possible? Thank you so much for your consideration. I’ve enjoyed writing for XXX and working with you these past couple years and look forward to many more!
- Establish a contract.
Many publications these days prefer to make verbal agreements rather than writing up an actual contract. Why are contracts important? They protect you and the publication you’re writing for. If months go by and you haven’t been paid (this happened to me…I ended up getting paid but still!), at least you can feel secure knowing you’ve got a contract somewhere. Emails are nice, but how well do they hold up in court? I don’t know.
If your editor doesn’t mention a contract, ask for one. It doesn’t have to be long. Most of the contracts I’ve signed tend to be around two pages. Or, draw up your own for a publication you don’t already have a formal contract with using Contractually.
- Look at the bigger picture.
Getting checks in the mail doesn’t mean you’re getting ahead. Without dropping names, I’ll give an example. I once wrote for a publication that paid a monthly $50 stipend. I produced around eight pieces every month and each post was anywhere from 800 to 1,500 words. When you break it down, I was taken advantage of, but you live and learn, right? Always ask yourself: “Is the amount of time I spent writing and researching this story reflective in my paycheck?” If the answer is no, you should rethink your situation.