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Let Them Keep Thinking Writing is a Dead-End Game (More for Us…)

A reader recently sent me a link to an interesting piece in The Week, entitled “Is Writing for the Rich?” It was written by the editor himself, Francis Wilkinson, who concluded that the future of freelance writing is mighty bleak, and that, given the unfortunate current financial calculus of the craft, it’s become a field only for those who don’t have to make their living from it – trust-fund babies, those living on Daddy’s money, heirs, etc.

I just LOVE reading stuff like this. Makes me laugh out loud. I mean, when the editor of a prominent national publication is saying this, it’s clear that the commercial writing field, by and large, is flying completely under the radar. I should have left well enough alone and let him spread his “Abandon-all-hope-ye-who-enter-here” message unimpeded. But I was torn.

On the one (greedy) hand, the less people who know about our field, the less competition we’ll have (though, that said, you do have to work hard to get established in commercial writing, and that’ll weed out most people right there…). On the other hand, I firmly believe there’s enough to go around for all of us. And I DO have a few books to peddle…

So, I wrote him a note (email me if you want a copy), essentially cluing him in about our field, which can be a most refreshing financial oasis from the otherwise sad and sorry freelancing paradigm. Addressing some of the inane “talk” about the commercial copywriting field, I wrote: “I’ve heard it all (‘sellout,’ ‘going over to the dark side,’ and other assorted and sundry head-scratchers – as if the only ‘writing’ that’s pure and acceptable is that which provides the writer with neither pay nor respect. Sure seems that way sometimes.

Never heard a word back. Big surprise. And that’s fine. I went on record. Meanwhile, the carnage continues out there. All I hear these days is about how tough it is in “freelance writing” right now – magazines paying nothing, asking for assignments on spec, $10 articles for web sites, all the “how-can-a-writer-make-a-living” talk. Meanwhile, many of us in the commercial field are doing just fine, thank you very much.

Part of the problem – and what I say to anyone who asks what the answer is – is that straight articles (especially for the web) are a “commoditized” project type – meaning there are zillions of writers who can write a decent article. As such, it’s a buyer’s market, and rates fall to nothing. It’s when you get good at project types NOT everyone can do (that’d be us…), and hence, are competing with far fewer people, that you’ll start making more money. As long as you’re in a BIG pool of interchangeable skills, it’s tough to make a living.

What do you think when you read articles like the one in The Week?

What would you have said to Mr. Wilkinson?

Are you hearing a lot of wailing and caterwauling coming from straight freelancers these days?

Any other comments?