A few months ago, I discovered the Tumblr blog Who Pays Writers?. It’s a fantastic anonymous resource that offers the inside scoop on pay rates at dozens of publications including Glamour, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Parents.com. (NOTE: Organizations like Mediabistro.com, FreelanceSuccess.com, and ASJA also make some similar information available to paying members but it’s sometimes outdated or not as complete.)
By checking Who Pays Writers, I can see if it’s worth investing the time in a pitch to Magazine X or if I should try to negotiate a little more money from Magazine Y because I know other writers get $1/word. Granted, lower pay doesn’t automatically mean I won’t pitch that publication. And at some publications, certain writers command higher fees because they’re a big name or have a longstanding relationship with the editor or the publication. Still, it’s nice to have a ballpark figure on what to expect paywise.
The website or blog’s funding sources can also offer hints at the potential freelance budget. Is this a major brand hiring a custom publisher to manage content? An established financial institution investing in content marketing? Or a self-funded startup with big visions but little cash? These can also help you estimate potential pay rates. (Of course, as this Australian woman’s story shows, a big name doesn’t always mean big paychecks.)
In talking to a colleague recently, I uncovered another strategy I’ve been using for awhile but haven’t fully articulated. Let’s call it the Blog Test. Now, I know of blogs that pay well and websites that pay peanuts, but generally speaking, when an editor or client says they want contributors to blog for them, they’re expecting bloggers to dash off something snappy in about 30 minutes or less and get paid $15 a pop, maybe more if they’re lucky. In some cases, they might even expect the blogger to write for the sole pleasure of links and (empty) promises of fame. In a few rare instances blogs pay real money but that’s often the exception and not the rule.
When an editor or client says they want journalists to write articles for a website (and the distinction between a blog and website is often murky at best, maybe even a semantic difference), they’re likely picturing something longer and more developed, often involving real reporting, expert sources, and more complex topics. In many cases, they understand that this type of writing takes time and that solid reporting is worth paying more than a few cents a word. They care about quality, not just quantity.
Now, I can already hear some of you protesting that you’re really efficient so you can crank out at least two $15 blog posts an hour and still earn a decent living. But think of how many $15 blog posts you write per year to cover your rent (or mortgage), your computer, your health insurance, and your Starbucks habit. Think of the extra time you take on each post, not just writing but finding appropriate royalty-free images, resizing those images, formatting the post in the client’s content management system, tweeting links to your blog posts, responding to comments, keeping track of invoices, and who knows what else? I’ll sometimes do these things for articles, too, but since the pay is often higher, I don’t mind the extra work.
I’ve done the $15 blog post gigs, and I can tell you that things are a whole lot rosier on the other side. Nowadays I get most excited about new potential gigs when the client refers to their content as articles rather than blog posts and their online home as a website rather than a blog. It’s a subtle distinction but in my experience, it often means more money in my bank account.
What about you? How do you decide if a publication (online or otherwise) is worth your time? Have you noticed this phenomenon too? Leave a comment and let me know!