I got offered a writing gig last week. The payout was major.
Mmm-hmm. $5.40 an hour.
Let that sink in for a second.
For comparative purposes, the minimum wage in Rhode Island is $7.40 an hour. Twelve-year-old babysitters, the kid who shovels your driveway and fast food attendants at McDonald's all make more than what I was offered. Me--a professional wordsmith with nearly twenty years of writing experience--in addition to a Newsweek by-line.
I'm not bitter.
The latest in underpaying job offers was for a website, which shall remain nameless, to write 30 hotel reviews: 25 in Providence and 5 in Newport. The write-ups, which did not require an overnight stay, would bank me $15 apiece, with an additional $75 for travel expenses.
This put the grand total of my contract at $525. Pre-taxes. Another perk of freelancing is that I'm responsible for paying my own. So once Uncle Sam gets his twenty-five percent cut off the top, the starting point for this lucrative contract rolled down to $393.
For this assignment, I calculated I'd physically have to hit the road 6 times: 5 trips to Providence and one to Newport. And, because there are not 25 hotels in Providence proper, it's a fair guess that some of the properties were in neighboring communities.
Considering all of these factors, I conservatively estimated travel time for the whole project at 7 hours. The actual reviewing/writing time per hotel? I pegged that at roughly 1.25 hours each, bringing the estimated total for the whole project to 51.5 hours.
And then I needed to consider expenses, including parking and gas, which I tallied at a minimum of $10 per local outing. The Newport trip would be a bit more: $20 gas, $10 parking, $25 lunch and $8 in tolls. The grand expense total: $113.
For those who suck at math, I arrived at the proposed hourly rate by taking the starting contract amount of $393, subtracting the expenses of $113, then dividing the remaining amount of $280 by the total hours worked, 51.5 hours. And there you have it: $5.43 per hour.
The saddest part? There's no doubt someone took this assignment after I turned it down.
And this is far from the first time I've either declined, or even lost jobs, because of rate disagreements.
I certainly didn't become a writer for the money. And trust, while I well understand the importance of generating clips for your portfolio, taking assignments at truly pathetic rates, just makes it worse for everyone. Writers, are you listening?
WE. ARE. NOT. GETTING. PAID. WHAT. WE. ARE. WORTH.
There is this twisted perception among those in charge of editorial budgeting, that writers are not skilled professionals. That any writer will work out just fine, because, well, technically, everyone can write. Blek. I suppose if you're defining writing as the act of string words together, instead of a crafted art, that's true. But the end-product isn't going to be anywhere close to the same.
I wish that more writers would join me in standing up for ourselves and stop taking assignments that are downright insulting. Or put more plainly: Writers, how 'bout we f'n stop selling each other (and ourselves) short? Ask for what you deserve. And walk if you don't get it.
In the meantime, to all of the publications that believe price is more important than content, here's my wish for you: I sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, hope you get what you paid for.