Earlier this year I began working with a sophisticated home cook and sometime cooking teacher who wanted to start a blog, write for publication, and later on, write a cookbook. That wasn’t the order, but I told her it would work best that way.
She launched the food blog, and it’s coming along beautifully. For clips, we brainstormed a few story ideas for newspapers, which would produce results much faster than magazines. She pitched several weeklies in the state, with two responses. It wasn’t pretty. Here is the first, from the paper’s editor:
“All the articles are volunteered. We have no budget for freelance, or for anything else that matter. Everybody does it here for love. Still, we recognize that many freelancers who query us are hoping–and needing–to sell their articles. If that is the situation with you, of course we will understand your not being able to place it with us. If on the other hand, you are in a position to donate the piece, it would be our pleasure to run it.”
Around the same time, a second reply arrived. It came from another paper’s copy editor (in the past, a copy editor would be way too junior to respond to story pitches, but this is today’s economy). It said, “This story sounds fun… However, we are a struggling paper (as most are) and would have to know how much you would want for the story before we say yes or no.”
Oh wonderful. She would have to guess how much the paper would pay. And if she guessed wrong? Still, I suggested she go with the second paper, because at least they were willing to pay something. I’m not a big fan of working for free. I suggested she ask for $100 for up to 500 words and two recipes. She went along with it, except she suggested up to four recipes. Then she got the reply:
“Unfortunately, we are a very small paper dealing with intense budget cuts (most of our newsroom is out on furlough today). We can’t afford to pay freelancers $100, we usually pay around $50 for a 700-word story. Thanks so much for your offer, good luck with the story!
Great. $50 for 700 words. You know what that is? It’s 14 cents per word, for probably 6 hours of work. And to top if off, the copy editor blew off the writer because she didn’t guess the right amount.
Unperturbed, the writer went back to the first paper. She’s submitting a 500-word article with 1 recipe. “If people want more recipes, they can go to my blog,” she concluded. Now, this writer can afford to submit a piece for nothing. She wants a clip. After she told the editor she was “in a position to donate it,” he said, “I’m looking forward to your first one.” He can already see that she’s good, and he wants more. For free, of course.
So dear reader, we can all agree that this situation stinks. But let’s discuss. Is she on a slippery slope? Should she have agreed to write for free? Should she continue to work for this guy for nothing, to build up her clip file? Or should move on, looking for payment for her hard work? Is $50 much better than free? What a time we live in.
(Thanks to Nancy Leson for the idea for this headline.)