Who do you write for?
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.
There's no shame in being a successful writer who writes for herself! Although, yes, I do see the eyes light up when I say who I have written for (Mashable? Neat! They don't pay so whatever). It depends on what your goals are, really. I've started (finally) getting paid more BECAUSE of where I've written, so sometimes those low-paying and no-paying gigs pay off. Not always, but sometimes.
Carol CainSusan Payton
Susan -Exactly, we have to think long term to really measure the overall value of our contributions and partnerships. The right partnership can be rewarding in many ways that go beyond payment and it might be worth your time. But being able to simply drop a name or hang out with the cool kids just isn't all that worth it on its own.
Carol, you are the Bomb dot com. This is great. I've really put more value this year on writing for my website and it really being up to par. When organizations/publications started putting things I wrote on their "press" pages, I knew I had to make sure I was serious about my shit.
Finding the right value is so key. I've quit a few of my gigs because I was receiving so little from it. I do some things for websites/publications, but have actually started to write more for actual travel brands. It's often less time to do the work, while I am given freedom to write what I want, and it pays better, because they are companies that are making money off of products they are selling and not text links, ads, and so on.
The big thing I thing is for writers to stop selling themselves so short. As writers value their work more, the quality goes up, and the pay goes up. That's at least how I see it.
Carol CainSpencer Spellman
Absolutely Spencer. It takes a while for us to learn to not be influenced by the glitter.
I read your writing because I want to – the same reason you write . I enjoy it and it's apparent so do you! I think you write for more than yourself because you strive to connect to people like me and many others. I work with media – both traditional and "social" and it's important to me to hear what you have to say as a writer from the perspective of a blogger and contributor of content. I appreciate that you always have an open ear and eye for me as a publicist and more — you are kind, thoughtful and funny . Keep writing – and I'll keep learning from you and your colleagues how to do my job better all the time. Symbiotic – you have stories to supply and we have stories to tell. Win/win when we do it right . Have a great weekend and in Yiddish – A Zeisen Pesach (Happy Passover!).
Carol CainBarbara Pflughaupt
Thank you Barbara!
What's wrong with writing for ME anyway? ME is an awesome mf-er.
This MIGHT be my favorite post of yours ever. EVER.
xoxox Thanks Melisa!
Found this from Melisa on Twitter. Great blog post and right on for many of us in the same situation. Writing is a growth thing and as a freelancer will all go through growing pains to discover who or what type of writer we need to be. Writing for yourself is always the answer. If you do that well, everything else falls into place, eventually….Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Mike for your comment and for stopping by : )
It's so true – you can't always look at the dollar figure when choosing assignments, especially when you also have to edit and promote your article on their website.
Great post! =)
My friend Michelle tweeted this post and I am glad she did! Loved reading it and identified with it in so many ways. Thanks for a realistic, common-sense look at why most of us write. 🙂
Carol CainJeff Wetherington
Thank you so much Jeff!
I really couldn't amen this enough. It's just not possible. I've been at this travel writing thing for far less time than you and far less time than most. Yet already I know I have to be doing it for me first before I can be satisfied doing it for anyone else or have any pride in what I do. It's not enough to write for someone else. I've experienced it in photography too, used to be working for a studio was the thing. Now, working for oneself as a photographer is THE highest honour. Money is important, but not betraying oneself is far more important.
Thank you Carol, for the usual inspiration. MAD LOVE to ya.
Thanks Kirsten! Everyone's situation is different and I know I am fortunate to have the freedom of choice, but I chose to leave a good, reliable paycheck behind to embrace my role as mom, wife, and to pursue my dreams in writing through blogging. It's so easy to loose that perspective, and I hope that my having found my way, helps others focus on their own journey as it best fits their own dreams.
MAD love back girl! xoxo
Very Interesting. I want to publish my work one day, when I gain the courage. You definitely gave me food for thought. Thanks for sharing.
L.A.C.E. – These gigs are often really great if you want to get out there and sort of see what works for the audience of your choice, and they help to warm you up to the profession of "writing for publication", like how to work with editors, other publishers, other time lines and deadlines beside your own, etc. So, in this sense, they can be helpful to gain the courage to later pursue more worth wile and rewarding gigs.
I totally agree. I write for one other blog for peanuts but love the small team and its and area I needed help growing in. But it's the best feeling to simply rattle of my own site to people. I think my blog name/address helps because if nothing else the name makes people smile or they realize where I came up w/the name and it's not that blank stare usually. I hate that blank stare!
Ana L. Flores
Yep. It feels the more you grow with your blog the more the big bragging opps come along–and you get all excited about them and start getting all wrapped up in commitments–that the thing that got you there is neglected.
It's hard to keep your focus and your ground. Keep doing whatever you are doing because the perception of Carol is amazing
Carol CainAna L. Flores
Thanks Ana! xoxo
An excellent perspective. Thank you so much, it's a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.
Thank you Mardi!
Barbara | VinoLuciSt
I'll tell you what…for $50 a post I'm tempted to hire you! That's obscene considering the time element involved. So I am now asking myself why and it's complicated. I don't do it just for me but sometimes I do it for my children, sometimes for readers and sometimes I just do it because it's a part of the history of a dish, but I admit, I'm not a writer. I'm a cook and I write about my posts…so it's all me; weird, quirky, made up words and all. If I were hired to write differently I would be in big trouble. With a capital T.
Tonya - What's
Great post! I've struggled with this as well especially since I do some freelance print work. It's hard for me to justify expending much energy to research, write, edit etc. a post for a blog for $50 or less when I could be getting getting 5x (or more) for doing the same work (or less) for print.
Carol CainTonya – What's
Thanks Tonya! And I totally agree.
so many good points here. as someone who writes my own blog, but also on a lot of other blogs, it's hard to figure out what's worth it (and what's not)
I completely agree Anna, a lot of elements need to be considered when trying to assess it all.
Well, I do feel better that you're still struggling with these issues 3 years in. I don't feel so bad asking myself these questions at this point in my "career". And like Barb said, for $50, i'd hire you in a heartbeat for all that work! Thanks for sharing Carol.
Thanks Ethan : ) That's the whole point, is to share with others who might be struggling with these same issues, no matter at what stage in their career.