Friday, October 07, 2011

You Get What You Pay For...And That's The Problem.

I am registered at umpty-ump job sites for writers; some of them are overall better for prospecting and actually getting hired than others, but over the past couple of years on them, I've gotten some pretty good gigs.

That being said, however, one question still has to be asked.

Why is it that people think writing and editing should be cheap work?

It's like living in an alternate universe to encounter the pay rates that some people think are justified for a profesional writer. It is not uncommon at all to see things on job bid sites like, "Please bid on the amount you would charge for 10 articles, 500 words each...our budget is no more than $2 per article. If you want more, don't bid."
Or another of my favorites:
"I've written a book of ______ pages (anywhere from 75 to 300+) and want a good editor for it. Just go through, clean up spelling errors, make it read smoothly, etc. Budget is $50."
(Good luck on that.)
Or, the final favorite:
"I've written a fictional novel (sic) that is 65,000 words. Please bid on how many hours it would take you to edit this and get it ready for publication."
And then it's followed by an estimated budget of $100, if that much.

So maybe it's time for some straight talk here.
1) No one, and I mean no one, with decent English skills should be expected to produce 500-word articles on every subject under the sun for $1 or $2. I don't care what country they're from. I don't care what every other article mill pays. If you want quality, you ought to be willing to pay for it. The very minimum a 500+-word article should command on any site is $10. (Even that's low for decent writing.) You say that to these people, they laugh you out of the house. Trouble is, I've also seen what they get for $1 or $2, too. Unfortunately, the joke's on them.

2) No one, and I mean no one, should expect a professional to edit a book for $50. That's a nice price to pay for an initial consultation to see if you and the pro editor should work together at all. It's a nice kill fee, although it's a little low for even that. But that's barely one hour's pay for a freelance editor in some of the smaller markets; to expect an entire book to be edited for that money is an insult. Unless, once again, you really don't care about quality. Trust me. I've seen what a $50 edit looks like. You don't want it.

3) No one, and I mean no one, should put one sentence into an ad describing a book and then expect  an editor to give an intelligent bid on the hours it'll take to edit it. Frankly, I have no idea how long it will take me to edit your book until I see some of it. Yes, that's right. I actually need to see if you can write before I can tell you how long it'll take me to teach you how to do it right. :-) Once I see a couple of pages--or, better yet, a chapter--then I can give you some ballpark figure of potential hours involved. Remember those old standardized test questions where one of the multiple-choice answers was, "There is not enough information here to solve this problem"? Guess what? You've just written another one.

4) No one, and I mean no one, should ever, ever, ever, ever EVER think that it's correct to begin an ad with, "I've written a fictional novel." If you don't know what's wrong with that sentence, your work's not going to be worth the time and blood it'll take out of me to edit it. Period. There are no exceptions. No, not even you. Maybe especially not you.

Does this sound like the ranting of an embittered editor? A wonky writer? A person who's just not familiar with the "global marketplace" and thinks everyone should be paid "inflated" American pay? Or are people in the marketplace just so totally misinformed on how rare really good writers and editors are that they are willing to take schlock and publish it, as long as it fits their budget? Are we really so ignorant about what it takes to write well that we don't know the difference when we see it?

The world at present may be awash in more "information" on the Web than ever before...but the great majority--I don't think its exaggerating at all to say probably 80% of it--is almost unintelligible, it's so badly written and/or edited. You've got so-called professional writers' sites full of typos or mistakes in word usage. You've got people applying for gigs that want "experts" and "native speakers"...only their test scores show English comprehension skills of 17%. And these people get hired...because they're cheap.

What's wrong with this picture?

Apparently, it's a matter of a massive number of potential hirers out there who've never heard, or believed, the phrase "You get what you pay for." If you pay schlock...that's what you'll get. And it must be said that part of the problem is many of the employers involved are so illiterate themselves that they have no way of telling schlock from scholarship.

It's worth remembering....
Just because people can speak English doesn't mean they can write it well.
Just because someone's taken an English test that proves he can write a sentence in English doesn't mean that sentence will make any sense, will flow, or will be something someone actually wants to read.
Some people know the difference. They're worth paying for.

But until the prevailing mindset accepts that, takes a deep breath, notches its belt buckle in by one, raises its bar, and decides to pay good writers what they're actually worth...the cycle will continue.
 
There is a better way. It's sitting here, right in front of you. It looks expensive at first. It's not.
Because quality things always are worth what you invest in them.
And investing in good writers, like me, is the only way this cycle will change.
Don't be cheap.
Be smart.
Go for the good stuff. :-)

Thoughts?
Janny

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