Monday, July 6, 2009

re: Working Writer's Rant

Today a note dropped into my virtual mailbox. Writers Needed Urgently! Great Pay! Lots of Work! it declared. Who could resist reading this? Especially not someone who makes her living writing. So I took a peek and wished I hadn't.
500 word articles required, perfect English, on a variety of topics.
So far, so good. I can do this. And then we came to the crunch:
Payment up to $1.50 per article for well-written pieces.
That's not $1.50 per word, fellow writers, but $1.50 for 500 words.
After muttering a few choice words about how offensive it is to offer so little for professional writing services, and who did this character think he was anyway - the site allowed the employer to remain anonymous - I did some research. My findings were depressing.
The Internet is full of sites offering jobs for writers, usually doing web content, at prices so far below bargain basement rates that you'd wonder who'd want to bother doing the work. When I quit freelancing initially for a career change 15 years ago, I was earning between $250 - $500 US for a 1,000 word article.
When I returned to writing non-fiction a year or so ago, I went into the sheltered world of ghostwriting, travel writing, and using my professional qualifications in psychology. Pay rates go from hundreds to thousands of dollars for this professional writing, often with royalties as well. Sure, when I started out I did a few $10 or $15 fillers for Internet sites, but I needed the clips for my come-back. Web writing had been in its infancy when I had moved on to other things :-)
I know that, if you yearn to be a writer, doing lower paid work - or even occasionally working for free - is one means of getting clips, proving yourself, and earning enough cash to pay for your business expenses and keep your loved ones from being critical.
But who, I wondered, was writing $1.50 articles? Or $1.00 articles?
Looking at the names on some of the bidders, it seems many of them are writers from countries such as India, where the cost of living is lower than here in Canada. Also, some seem to have organised themselves into something like writers' co-operatives, so you have a group of writers taking on contracts of 30 or so articles and no doubt turning them out in record time.
No problem with that.
But reading more closely, especially looking at some of the writing samples offered for these cheapo articles - and bear in mind these are from writers all over the world - I see a disturbing trend. The writing is terrible. It's grammatically poor, unimaginative....and a whole lot of other words that makes the creative writing teacher in me quail.
And it's not just that some applicants are working in English as a second language. Lord knows, if I had to write in Urdu or Mandarin, for example, that would be a pretty sorry sight indeed. But as I said, these are writers from all over the world, many of whom do have English as a first language, but the writing is really, really bad.
Further research shows that many of the people offering this work are insisting on Copyscape checks to ensure the work isn't plagiarised. Of course, for a writer producing ten or fifteen 500 word articles in a day to put food on the table, it would be pretty tempting to plagiarise. Then the web site owner who bought this work can get into trouble. So they run Copyscape.
And the writers' obvious answer is to find similar articles written by other writers and change them around enough, change words and sentences enough that Copyscape won't sound the alarm. It's coyly called 'rewriting'.
But that doesn't mean it's not plagiarism if you look at the word in its broadest sense, because it is still stealing the ideas and research that another writer used.
And the reason writers are forced into this is that the folks doing the buying are prepared to accept poor work done under pressure for rates that professional writers can't afford to work for.
Next time you read web copy or ad copy or an instruction booklet where the writing is so bad that you grind your teeth - well, that probably came from some writer trying to make a living for $1.00 per article.
Having a computer, word processing program and Internet connection doesn't make someone a writer. Many writing professionals have honed their craft over years of working for a variety of media. We're generally a well-educated bunch with a wide general knowledge, no matter where we call home. Most of all, we have pride in our work.
Please, if you are a professional writer, no matter where you live, refuse these pay rates. Complain. Rant. Let the public know that the poor writing quality they complain about is down to sweatshop labour and encourage them to demand professional writing. If you're a business owner, face the truth: saving a few bucks by getting cheap articles that are badly written will eventually turn off customers and you'll lose money in the long term.
Let's see that the value of professional writing, good writing, is recognised and receives the compensation it should.

No comments: