As a freelance writer one of the best advice you will ever receive is to stay connected with your industry peers and leaders through the vast networking opportunities provided. Often times in doing so, you will inevitably be asked one simple question that will, in some people’s mind, determine where they can fit you in their value spectrum. The categories often are that of a 1) serious/legitimate writer or 2) not really all that big of a deal, and then these lead to the subcategory of you being 3) someone they need to know or 4) someone who doesn’t matter.
I have fallen prey to the pressure of wanting to impress not only other writers but industry representatives as well. For a long time the question of “Who do you write for?” was one that brought me to my knees mentally. I would frantically go through my mental Filofax of places where my writing has been published trying to find the biggest name to drop that would impress the person or company and hopefully give me some status of worthiness or even, possibly, consideration for a job.
As a blogger – though honestly many traditional journalists are struggling with this as well – I have chosen to write for many sites, often for no or very little pay, in the hopes that this new gig, this notch on my belt, would not only lead to exposure (cause there is always that) but also the bragging rights to gigs, popularity, and a great response to the whole “who do you write for” thing.
But after being in the game for almost three years now I have learned one very important lesson: responding with “I write for ME (and here’s my card)” is nothing to be ashamed of.
Now, granted, you will get the blank stares, and cordial, “Oh” or “Huh” followed by “that’s nice” before they move on to the next person, and maybe, depending on where you are in the stage of owning and valuing your work, it might sting a little, or make you feel a tad uncomfortable. However, it can be extremely empowering and even more rewarding then writing for others, which in many cases is writing for A LOT of other people just to be able to come up with enough cash to pay the rent.
I came to this realization after breaking down the value of my time and work and measuring it up against sites that offer tons of bragging rights but very little else. Now, before you read on, understand that this may not be the case for you, and there is nothing wrong with doing it differently, or being happy with any choice you may make as a writer that differs from this. I like to eat, and find the roof over my head quite comfortable. I also am not the primary bread-winner in my home, and I have three kids and a husband I like to spend time with. All these things impact the choices I have made, and the thought process involved in the breakdown below.
Let’s say you have been contacted by a site that boasts having over a million or so visitors a month. They focus on the subject you are interested in or at least would like to grow in. When they contact you, or are looking to recruit writers, they will brag about this audience to gain your interest, and will present you with the option to being exposed to them for your own growth and benefit.
In addition to millions of readers, they also offer you pay (this is the best). The average pay for writers on sites, in my case travel sites, is about $15-$50 per post. The requirements in length often vary as do the requirements in minimal amount of postings per week/month.
So you are now a contributor for site “I am awesome because I write here” and they are paying you to write and potentially be viewed by millions. You figure out what that writing for them adds up to, let’s say $400 a month for a two posts a week at $50 each, and that’s just one site! Great.
But here’s where it gets tricky, you realize that in addition to writing you have to research beforehand, you also have to link to their site in your post, sometimes more than once. So now that adds to your working time on this one post, which you are still getting paid only $50 for.
Then, because most of these sites have plenty of editors but no one to really copy edit your work, you have to be the one to take the time to do so. Now we are down to the same $50 for researching/writing/linking/copy editing.
It doesn’t stop there. After researching, writing, linking, and copy editing, you have to post it on their site. If you are lucky, you just have to pass it on to the editor who will post for you, but this is rarely the case. In addition to posting, you have to add original photos, most of the time your own, and credit appropriately. If you don’t have your own photo you now have to add time to find a photo with the appropriate rights that would allow you to use it. I would say this process alone can take a good hour.
So now it’s $50 for researching, writing (providing original content), linking, copy editing, designing (through photography placement, usually your own collection if not digging around the Internet for one you can use), and publication.
Post is up. It looks great. Photo is amazing. No typos because you are perfect. You are done. Right? Not quite.
You have to promote it. To your audience. The ones that you have grown and connected with through your writing on your own site. The audience that for some illogical reason when in a networking setting with your peers and industry leaders, just don’t seem to matter enough to be proud of.
So you Tumble, Tweet, Stumble, Facebook, and on and on and on and your audience is guided to awesome content, from you, on somebody else’s site. That’s ok though because you are also accessing over a million of their readers too, right?
Well, maybe. If they are also Tumbling, Tweeting, Stumbling, Facebooking, and on and on and on, then sure. But chances are they are not. Because in my experience, this rarely happens too. It is your responsibility to promote your own work, in doing so you bring your audience to them. Now, if you get front page placement on the site, and don’t get buried under the content of the many other tabs, categories and writers who have also provided content, those millions will see you. But the chances of them finding you, without any promotional support from the site you just contributed to and then them clicking back to your website, are small.
Of course, if you add more time to your work allotted for this $50 project to brainstorm on a catchy title or subject header, then you stand a chance of being noticed more. But, you’ve already been working on this for more than two hours, have redirected your audience to someone else, taken time and creativity away from providing content to your own site, not to mention time away from your family, for a total of $50.00.
There are always the bragging rights and the opportunity to say you write for “I am awesome because I write here”. You might even get to hang out with other “I am awesome” writers, which adds to the whole perception of how much you rock. This might even get you a gig or two. But, you are tired and not really all that awesome in the larger scheme of things because you are having to write for 10 other similar sites to even make rent this month, while your own site grows lonely and cold and your brand starts to falter while the “I am awesome” brand grows.
With all that in mind, “I write for me (and here’s my card)” may not buy me a latte this week but I sure as hell love it. The quality of life and the well-being of my self-esteem is worth it.
Of course I crave to write for other entities that I love. Of course there are places I would feel incredibly proud to be featured in. But I don’t devalue or take merit away from this site and I continue to work hard to grow it as well as my writing career elsewhere. No matter where I write, I can’t ever stop nurturing and giving value to my brand.
Working hard at writing for yourself and growing your brand, making those connections and selling it to others is labor intensive and exhausting. It’s definitely not going to bring you that quick dollar you crave, and it sometimes lacks the bragging-rights luster.
But at some point you have to decide what your priorities are and what answer works best for you next time someone asks you, “Who do you write for?” Then think if it’s really worth it.