Every once and a while, I hear resentment. Someone’s to blame about why food writers aren’t paid well for their work.
Whose fault is it? Here are the three most common scapegoats:
- Writers who have partners who work. These writers don’t care if they make a living wage because they don’t need the money. They might not work full time or care what they’re paid.
- People who work full-time and write about food as a hobby. They will probably never make food writing a full-time career. And they don’t need the money because they have jobs, so they write for free or for little pay.
- Hobby bloggers. They write for free or little pay too, because they’re thrilled to be asked in exchange for exposure. Like the writers identified in No. 2, they don’t understand that some of us write for money and want to be taken seriously as professionals.
Should those of us who want to be paid well blame or resent these food writers? No. We’re probably part of the problem. Food writing presents a chicken and egg dilemma. It’s so hard to make a decent living that most of us have other jobs to make ends meet: We teach, we consult, we write in other fields, we cater, and we have side businesses. So who are we to judge? On tax day, it may seem like food writing is the “hobby” side of our business too.
If we want to make more money as food writers, there are paths, but they may not appeal or they’re unlikely:
- Write copy and marketing material for ads, food companies, restaurants, product websites, labels, catalogs, and brochures. It’s good pay.
- Become a hack. Crank out tons of pieces every week for whoever asks and make a living based on sheer volume.
- Become an award-winning journalist. Write for the best magazines and newspapers, and get paid the best rates.
- Become a best-selling author. Live off your royalty checks and get asked to write for big magazines.
- Become a top blogger. Live off your advertising, sponsorships and book deals.
See what I mean? The first two categories don’t sound good to most writers, and the second three are nearly impossible to pull off.
I have come to accept that, for most of us, food writing doesn’t pay well. Why not? I have lots of theories, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. We choose to do it, we love it, and we should ask for higher pay at every opportunity. So let’s stop blaming others and get on with what gives us pleasure and satisfaction.
(And if you think food writers are the only writers with low pay, read “There will be no more professional writers in the future”).
Note: This post is adapted from my quarterly newsletter. If you’d like to receive it, sign up here. The next one’s coming out at the end of December.
(Photo courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut from FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)