Kristin Luna

What You’re Worth

A few months back, a well-known band came to me via their publicist wanting me to promote an event they’re sponsoring. It was a cool concept, in a fun place, and it would allow me to check another item off my Life List. The kicker? They weren’t going to pay me for my time or my effort.

The sad thing is that I briefly toyed with the idea, and I might have green lit it had it not been for SVV. “You’re a professional. You’ve been working as a journalist for a decade. Your time, your knowledge, your experience—this is all incredibly valuable to a company. You’re not doing anything for free.” I tried to negotiate with them—something that as both a female and a Southerner I’ve always grappled with—but they weren’t budging. Not understanding what social media is about, or even the power of the press, they thought covering my expenses to attend the event—an event that, mind you, I would be working—was payment enough. And so after much debate, I turned down the opportunity last week with some regrets.

But you know what? After a few days to ponder this precarious situation, I’m glad I said no.

When did it become acceptable not to pay for a service? I logged my years of interning, I more than paid my dues, I’ve slowly worked my way up the ladder in this tumultuous media climate, something that was not easy, nor fun at times. To backtrack so much at this point in my career would be a completely wrong move. I don’t write for magazines whose rates don’t make penning a piece worth my time; since when do I spend days on a project making money for other people through promotion, sponsorships, advertising dollars and Lord knows how many other benefits that come cascading down the shoulders (and pockets) of the corporations that drive these things? The short answer: not now, not ever.

And this is where the Internet is at fault and possibly the economy, too. There are so many people out there perfectly willing to give away their talent for no charge—or, nearly as bad, $10 to $20 a post—that a company knows if you say no, there are 10 other writers who will say yes. But that doesn’t make it even remotely OK. That doesn’t mean you should buy into it. Because until enough of us band together and say this isn’t right, companies will continue to think they can exploit our talents.

I graduated from journalism school. Before that, I interned at magazines, newspapers, a TV station. I was a columnist for a publication at the age of 20. I’d worked on my first guidebook for one of the biggest travel brands in the world by 23. I was hired as a researcher for Harper’s while still an undergrad. I started at Newsweek the day after I graduated college. You’ll sometimes see my name in books. I’ve written for more than 50 national magazines and newspapers. I can’t remember the last time an all-access concert pass paid the rent. And what makes any company think that I will work for free, that I don’t deserve to get paid for the exercise?

You wouldn’t ask a surgeon to operate on your heart free of charge (or for front row seats at opera). You wouldn’t expect a plumber to come out and fix your pipes for no fee (or in exchange for a sandwich). Heck, you don’t even allow a server at a restaurant to deliver your food without leaving a tip on top of an already-hefty dinner bill. Why are writers and other creatives any different?

Women, in general, tend to get the short end of the stick, too. It’s a proven fact. In my experience, we’re also not very keen on bargaining, on asking for what we deserve. SVV has gotten four raises in less than four years at his current company; every one of them was because he went to his boss and said (in not so many words), hey, you know what? I’m awesome and I deserve to be paid for my awesomeness. You should give me X amount of dollars more for my skill and expertise. And you can guess what happened next: His boss did just that. Every last time.

I, on the other hand, have worked for some of the same editors for years and have never summoned the nerve to ask for an increased rate. In some ways, I’m just happy to still be able to say I’m a magazine writer. Many of my colleagues aren’t so fortunate anymore. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be so bold in the future, that I shouldn’t make it a goal to work on the power of bargaining. Saying no to the band, something that was far from easy, was a baby step in that direction.

A fellow journalist friend, a male, who was a bureau chief at Newsweek for a decade, told me how a political magazine recently came to him with the offer to write an in-depth, 5,000-word piece for their publication. If you’re not in the journalism industry, you should know: Such an offer is a writer’s gold. We’re never given the space to write the long-form narratives or op-eds we often dream about.

He did the smart thing and responded saying he’d love such a gig, but how much did it pay? “$500,” the editor wrote back, though the friend now thinks, looking back, that the rate might have even been lower than that. $500 for 5,000 words. Ten paltry cents per well-thought-out word. (To put it in perspective, most national magazines continue to pay $2 a word as a starting rate, with more money given to their more established writers, meaning if this was a legit publication, he should have been paid $10,000 for such a story.)

Politely, he declined the assignment—he is after all, a well-known journalist, and to write such a story would take weeks of his time, weeks that could be spent elsewhere on much better paying gigs—at which point the editor shot back a very snarky retort saying that my friend should be honored to write such a piece for his magazine. Really? Is that truly what editors think these days? That well-trained, sought-after writers should be thankful for the chance to earn them money? Hardly.

My point here is to all you bloggers, to all you writers, to all you photographers, to all you creative types out there who feel like you’re not valued, here’s an epiphany: You’ll never be valued until you start to value yourself.

So I beg you: When you’re approached with such an opportunity, weigh the pros and cons. Is it a good career move? Are you getting anything meaningful out of it? What are you actually receiving for your time? Or is the company just trying to use you as one of these “cloud-sourced” money machines?

Whether you’re a beginning blogger with 100 readers or a veteran with 100,000, you’re valuable. And don’t forget it either. Because until you start to see your own self worth, how can you expect others to recognize it, too?

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Comments ( 113 )

  1. Loved this. And you’re right the economy is so what to blame.

    Writing isn’t my dayjob. It just something I love doing AND I’d love to write at least ONE travel writing article magazine. My friends think I should approach every mag out there and beg, AND be honoured to write for free. They say I need the experience or more accurately the references. But I don’t agree. I don’t see why I shouldn’t get paid for something I worked hard on.

  2. You are so right about this! And I am glad you said “no” to the job!!! Hell yeah!! :)
    Viele Gruesse, Kristina

    • Kristina, it seems to be a very American thing. I’ve never been approached by a European company to work pro bono, nor have any of my European friends ever worked for free. I’m not sure why there’s such a dichotomy in wages within the same industry, but I remember how jealous I was to hear what the starting salary was for many of my classmates when I lived in Europe. The solution? Move abroad again, of course =)

  3. Thanks for posting this. As a musician with two degrees in music, I sometimes find myself in the same boat … being asked to sing/play piano at various events with no offer of payment, as though the privilege of performing is enough. It’s frustrating to have invested so much in developing my skills and to be so undervalued at times. Thanks for writing this!

    • Sadly, when you’re born with an innate skill and/or develop a talent as you clearly were–or just work in the arts, period–people don’t seem to always view that as “work,” which is just plain ridiculous. Best of luck to you in your music career!

  4. Good post! I have been accepting even small payment for my writing, because I’m still getting my foot in the door, but I definitely understand your point.

    • Good point, Caroline. Of course in the beginning you have to make compromises, but at some point, you’ll have decide when it’s the right time to say no more, that you’ll no longer write for less than you deserve.

  5. Excellent post! Thanks for writing it.

  6. Restating it simply (I’m an engineer, not a writer, and my way with words reflects that): You are not a full-time charity.
    Easy to say, hard to live by. Even harder is living by that graciously, and gracefully.

  7. Excellent post, as always. You are absolutely right . . . I don’t consider myself a “writer,” so I don’t value myself as a writer. As of yet, I have never tried to get a paid freelancing assignment because I don’t feel like I have paid my writing dues. But, at some point, my perception of myself has to change because I want writing to be my career.

  8. Very good post Kristin. Whether it’s writing or any other skill you’ve worked hard to develop for income should be valued and acknowledged. Certainly in the beginning one might take less than a long term expert and volunteering for the right causes seems good. I’ve given away my skills way too many times but don’t anymore. Thanks for the reminder of our own personal worth.

  9. Let me play the devil’s advocate a bit….

    1) Writing isn’t heart surgery or even plumbing. Any reasonably educated/literate person can write. Everyone might not have the same degree of skill, but it isn’t a skill they same way that heart surgery is.

    As such, the supply of potential writers is enormous. The internet has unleashed the flood gates for anyone who wants to be a writer. The barriers are now zero and there is little separating publishers from writers. If you think in terms of a supply and demand graph, the supply curve shifted sharply to the right, and that dropped the price.

    2) You aren’t worth what you think or feel you are worth. You are worth what people will pay you. You might think you are worth $5/word, but if people are only paying $0.10 that is all you are going to get. Price is what a willing buyer will give to a willing seller.

    This isn’t about the economy. Rates for freelance writers are probably never going to go back up (other than through inflation).

    3) Writers need to stop thinking of themselves as labor and start making the transition to management, in particular, being the publisher of their own website. The decisions you make as a worker are different than the decisions you make as an owner. Writing for free is indeed a bad idea if you are a writer, but can pay off in spades if you are a publisher.

    • While I can appreciate your attempt to play the role of an advocate of Satan, your reasoning is illogical. This might be from your rose-tinted view of writing (and blogging) that developed over the years traveling on the fruits of your real estate sale, but I have to tell you that writing, blogging, photography etc is a skill just as polished as a surgeon’s knife or a plumber’s monkey wrench. Maybe you don’t think so (and that’s okay) but you diminish everyone that has ever worked to learn a craft by saying such a thing. Of course any educated person can write. Any educated person can do ANYTHING with a little effort and circumstance. Can I log onto the Internets and try open heart surgery? Obviously not. However, if you’ve read even a smattering of the chatter that’s out there you’ll know that good writing, compelling writing, is a cherished commodity and that there are dead bodies all round.

      So, to your conveniently numbered points:

      1)I’ve answered the first part. The second? It cannot be denied that the pool of “writers” has expanded tremendously over the past ten years. There are plenty of barriers in place though. Sure, any monkey can write. But who is going to read it?

      2)This is a classic argument for the working class that is perpetuated by the wealthy. Don’t believe it. And I’m curious, how do you know what freelance writers get paid (or have been paid) over the years? Is this a guess? Because rates haven’t changed my man. Competition is more intense, sure. What has undoubtedly changed is the perception that there is this huge pool of writers in the world undermining the industry so I’d better get used to being paid a little less. Creatives with self-worth reject that. Internet start-ups, uncouth editors and publishers embrace the thought.

      3)I don’t know what to say about this one. Many people do not care about management. It’s a valid point and probably the proper route to take for some writers but there is a disconnect here that is starting to resolve itself in things like T-bex and unemotional website promotion. I’m a little worried about it actually. We could end up with a major dilution of content and render the online price model irrelevant.

      • 1) My money didn’t come from real estate, it mostly came from selling an internet company I built from scratch. Thanks for the ad hominem attack there and trying to belittle what I do. Please get your facts straight.

        My rose colored view comes from having started several companies. I come from the business world, not the writing world, which does in fact give me a different way of looking at things.

        That fact that something is a skill doesn’t mean that anyone can do it or that it is in the same demand and people will pay the same for it. If you honestly think that heart surgery and writing are the same, it is you, not I, who is wearing the rose colored glasses.

        2) The classis argument for the working class is true. If you don’t have skills, people will all compete and bring wages down. That is why unions try so hard to keep out competition. So they can keep wages up.

        If rates haven’t changed, then why do so many writers complain about making less money and why are we having this discussion on a blog post where a writer is complaining about low rates and being asked to write for free????? I mean, if rates haven’t changed, why are we having this discussion? I mean, do you really believe that rates for freelance writers HAVEN’T changed???

        The perception that there is more competition is in fact reality. The fact that I’m in this business at all should be testament to that.

        3) Exchanging text for cash is much easier than trying to build a business. Most writers I’ve talked to are very resistant to the idea of trying do anything other than exchange text for cash because it requires more work and the payout is much less certain. Nonetheless, that is the direction things are going.

        • Wow, it appears I’ve touched a nerve. My facts come straight from your website About Me page Gary. Are you telling me it is in error? “Getting money for the trip came from selling my house, so funding wasn’t as big of an issue as it would have been if I was doing this trip in my early 20s..”

          I don’t belittle anyone. That isn’t my place. However, your ability to leave such things as a WAGE aside as trifling matters in the pursuit of a dream is quite different than almost all of us. I don’t know why you’re trying to convince me you created everything from scratch. It certainly doesn’t fit the narrative you project on the web.

          #2 This post is about being hired to do promotion for a wealthy band, being told there isn’t money in the budget to pay for it and then standing up for your rights when a company tries to take advantage of you. As far as word count rates, like I said, it is the competition for the gigs that has increased. Pay is still the same. Ya dig? That there are many other places that “pay” (or in the case of Huffington Post, pay nothing at all) for content in a usurious fashion is another problem entirely.

          #3 I love it when people act like they know which direction “things” are going. Let’s be honest here. You don’t have a clue.

          • 1) Of course you are trying to belittle me, else you would never have brought it up or bothered to dig through my about page to try to find something to use against me. Rather than just answer what I said (which you never really did) you had to bring up stuff about my background.

            2) No, I don’t dig. Newspapers and magazines are closing, journalsits are being laid off and rates are down. In no way shape or form would that indicate that pay is the same. The total pool of money to pay writers is much less than it was 10 years ago, both in total and at the margin. I honestly don’t know what you are trying to say. There is less money to pay writers and individual writers are making less. Pay is not the same. I don’t know if you have a different definition of ‘pay’ or ‘same’.

            3) Events may prove me wrong. That is true. All I can do is point to my track record and say that I’ve done a better job than most people in the travel industry in creating a site and attracting readers, while the industry as a whole is shrinking. I think that shows I have somewhat of I clue. I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I don’t know what you think the alternative is, as you haven’t given any. Even if I’m wrong, at least I’m doing something and I’m willing to adapt to changing circumstances.

            …and if I am in fact wrong and don’t have a clue, just ignore me. Go about pretending that “pay is the same” or “rates haven’t changed” (your words). Lets compare notes in a few years.

            • #1 Someone is uncomfortable with themselves. Sorry to see that Gary. Maybe one day you’ll be a big boy.

              #2 I didn’t realize you were a researcher in the industry. Do you have any hard facts to support these assumptions?

              #3 Your track record? I wasn’t aware you had one. Again, where are these far-reaching and broad stroke statements coming from? Travel industry shrinking? When did that happen?

              I am tempted to ignore you but I can’t. You’re misinforming people because it fits your view. That calls for an answer.

              • 1) I’ve very comfortable with myself which is why I write comments under my own name and have made all the information you have public. You know who I am, I have no clue who you are. Nuff said.

                2) I do have facts:

                – 5 years ago there were 60 full time travel editors at newspapers in the US. Today there are less than 10. I was told that by Spud Hilton who is the travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

                – Newspaper ad sales are at a 25 year low:

                – Over 166 US Newspapers closed since 2008:

                – According to the Publishers Information Bureau, magazines lost 58,340 ad pages in 2009.

                – Freelance rates hit new low:

                That was just from a few minutes of Google searching. There are occasional bits of good news, but for the last several years, the news has been almost uniformly bad.

                3) What information is incorrect? You’ve said that freelance “pay is the same” and “rates haven’t changed”. Where the hell is your data???

                I do have a track record. Your ignorance of it does not constitute evidence.

                • Ha. I actually have no idea who you are other than a skim of your bio. I don’t remember using your record as a rhetorical weapon but if you want to be the victim so be it. You are fun though I’ll give you that.

                  Thanks for the research and I thought you might be onto something with the LA Times article until I read it. The writer uses craigslist ads as a central thesis (and several anonymous sources) to justify the “headline.” Last time I checked that was a classified ad site and not a news aggregate of trends in the marketplace. While the author of the piece might be onto something, a collection of anecdotes does not a convincing argument make.

                  It is well known that newspapers and magazines have been losing ground to the recession and world wide web. There is no arguing that and is the reason I paint houses for a living instead of penning investigative journalism articles. I’m still not sure that makes your case for lower pay to professional writers. Print media in general have had a nice return on investment (upwards of 25 percent) so taking even a hefty chunk out of that revenue due to the recession doesn’t justify the intellectual leap that makes writers the first to bear the burden.

                  It might make sense in theory but I haven’t seen a serious study that proves it. What I have seen are plenty of NEW companies trying new business models to generate media content. And from what I’ve seen and read it shows. Those companies are driving what I call the cheapening of intellectual property. If enough people buy into it we’re into a world of hurt both as a society and individuals.

                  That’s what this is about Gary. It isn’t whether you’re right and it isn’t whether I’m right. It’s about what IS right. And not paying a fair wage for real work is definitely NOT right.

                • There’s no great mystery who either Gary or SVV is. Gary has provided his full name, which links to his website and he is a regular presence at blogging events and conferences. SVV is using his real-life nickname and has linked to his Twitter account, which lists his full name and LinkedIn address. Any regular reader of Camels and Chocolate or the relevant Twitter feeds would know who SVV is to Kristin.

                  • It should also be noted that SVV does have a journalism degree (actually, two) and a journalism background. He no longer works in the field–just doing some freelance gigs and guidebook work here and there–by choice. Simply put: As a journalist, you plateau at a point. I’ve been making the same salary for five years, and I doubt it will ever rise significantly as rates stay stable and don’t increase (though nor do they decline). He wanted to be in an industry with an opportunity for growth in position and wages. That said, he does have knowledge of how it all works, not to mention a keen sense of business.

    • Wow, leave for Disneyland for the day, return to an interesting debate.

      Gary, I think we should address the prime difference up front. You sold a multi-million-dollar company and now travel as a hobby. That’s great; you no doubt worked hard to reach this point. I’m sure there are many envious people out there (this girl included). However, for me, travel writing has always been my profession. I never built up a company like you; in fact, one can argue that’s what I’m doing in building up my brand as a travel writer. Writing pays my rent; it puts food on my table; it pays my monthly insurance; it affords me luxuries like a dog, a San Francisco apartment, honeymoons to Borneo, etc. That’s where our big difference lies. I NEED the writing in order to survive. I HAVE to have the money I generate from my various writing gigs to live. Maybe if you were relying on it as your source of income, we’d see more eye to eye.

      The whole point of this post was to address an issue: free advertising. The band wanted seven posts about an event they’re putting on and three days of round-the-clock coverage. For free. On MY blog. In the years I’ve read your blog, I’ve seen very few promotional posts, if any, and you say yourself that you’re very pick about who you let write on your site. There would be no further pay-off down the road, so why give away content and valuable space for free? I thought you of all people, being a blogger AND businessman, would be behind the idea of turning down such an unfair deal and standing up for other bloggers everywhere.

      In terms of the arguments on rates, I can only speak for myself and say that I’ve made the same salary for the past five years in the media industry, and what I made in 2009 and 2010 as a freelancer was what I previously made as an in-house magazine editor. I don’t like to talk money, but I’ll say that I charge corporate clients $50 to $100 per hour of writing/editing depending on the scope of the project, and I still make $2 a word for magazine assignments ($1 in some cases if it’s a smaller regional) so I actually haven’t found the rates have changed any. That’s what we paid when I worked in house at Time Inc., Conde Nast, etc. Have my outlets changed? Sure. I’ve had to feel out this new media landscape as delicately as the next writer. But that was probably bound to happen anyway with age and a change in location. As far as magazines closing, that’s fine. Other than a handful of obvious biggies (National Geographic Adventure, Gourmet, etc.) that met untimely demises, there was too much clutter in the print world. The quality magazines rose to the top, continued to thrive; the same has happened with writers to an extent as times have evolved.

      If we’re talking newspapers, then OK, I’ll agree: There are so few that are using original content not pulled from a wire service and, even then, the fee for those barely makes the work worth it. Which is why I write for magazines. Which is why I started out in newspapers and left them behind long ago (with the occasional freelance newspaper piece here and there if it’s worth my time). But–and now correct me if I’m wrong–i believe your experience and background is in Web, not magazines. So how do you know what the going rate is these days? For the most part, I don’t write for websites as the pay is oftentimes in peanuts. And that’s where I was going with this post. If they think they can pay you peanuts, they will, and more people are going to have to stand up for themselves if this is ever going to change. For now, personally, I’m going to stick to what I know and to where (more of) the money is.

      “Any reasonably educated/literate person can write.” Sure they can. Any person with an ounce of athletic ability can kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball, as well. But does that make them a professional soccer or baseball player? Hardly. The majority of bloggers I know started sites as creative outlets, as a journal or scrapbook of sorts. They’re not writers by profession, they’re not trying to be. Many of them are doctors or lawyers or accountants or parents, and they simply like blogging for the community. I love that about the Internet. I’ve made so many wonderful friends through having a blog. But I’m still not understanding why writers should be penalized simply because there’s been an influx in the number of blogs and personal sites to show up on the Web. And that IS the point here. If you’re truly doing this to make money, doing this for your career, then the excuse “there are plenty of other writers out there who will do this” is just not a reason for not getting paid what you’re worth.

      • I have been reading all of this with great interest, and trying to boil down to the nutshell!

        For what it’s worth here are my thoughts:

        1. This relates to creative industry in general. It is about how creative industries are valued. In my industry – landscape architecture – pay was always abysmal. It has improved however as legislation has improved to place value on quality urban design and public space. When the legislation said “You need a plan from a landscape architect’ the value increased and we got payed more.

        2. It is about flooding the market. Plumbers are expensive and hard to find becuase there are too few for too much work. If that reversed I am sure the hourly rates would turn down hill.

        3. It IS about what you are willing to be paid. Fundamentally it is about that. You can, in any creative industry do a “love job” where you are consciously taking on work below your pay grade. As a Landscape Architect with X years experience, I expect a certain wage- that is not determined by me, but by accepted standards in the industry.

        However, if there is a really great job going, where I know they can’t afford to pay me that wage – do I consider it? Depends on the job. Am I willing to be paid less than what is established for my level of experience because it is a “love job”.

        The difference is when I KNOW THEY CAN afford to pay the wage – then they are clearly taking the piss, driving the industry down in a race to the bottom. If creatives choose to play ball with that, then they may be doing so at everyone elses expense as well as their own. Not every client is looking for cheap, the smart ones also look for quality, and they know that they might have to pay more for that. So, yes it is about what the market is willing to pay – but which part of the market do you want to position yourself in.

        4. The final point is this, if you are not happy with the accepted standard of wage in the industry the way I see it you (you being anyone in any creative industry) have a number of choices:
        A – Join the association or union lobby to improve the playing field
        B – Model yourself as the industry Rockstar – In my industry that means make yourself into the Diarmuid Gavin, or the Jamie Durie of the landscape design (please not i said DESIGN not ARCHITECTURE…these guys are landscape designers not architects** professional snobbery there) industry, and through notoriety you can push your own wage WAY up
        C – Get out. Side step out or up. In my case I did switch from Landscape Architecture to Project Management. It pays better and there are more options. I still get to play with design and projects, and problems and problem solving and public space…but i sacrificed the everyday creativity.
        D – If you are a professional, and good at what you do, don’t accept less than you are worth – but accept that not everyone is willing to pay for it. This probably means that you will end up with less clients, but these will probably be better quality clients that know your worth.

    • @Gary @SVV Writing is a skill. So is the reporting side of journalism. Maybe not on the level of heart surgery but it’s a myth that everyone can do it.

      As a journalist of 14 years and a freelancer of the past five years, I would second the point that rates have not gone down in general. They haven’t gone up either so I guess they’ve declined in real terms but that’s not quite the same thing. Established magazines and national newspapers pay what they always did – and will likely continue to do so because there is a measurable difference in quality (and in some cases the unionisation for employees has benefits that flow on to freelancer rates). There are two main differences. One, that competition is more intense so a writer can find themselves with less of the well-paying jobs. Two, there are now a lot of websites out there paying low rates, nominally pushing average rates down. However, this doesn’t affect an established writer with good outlets because they’re not writing for low-paying websites unless they choose to.

    • @Gary @SVV @Kristin I differentiate between my blog and my professional writing to some extent. i wouldn’t promote a band by writing an article for another publisher without expecting to get paid for it by someone. I can think of a few scenarios where I might write about it for my blog.

      1. If my blog were a powerful enough commercial platform that the content were truly valuable to me as a publisher. I think this was what Gary was getting at. However, I’m not truly interested in that as I can earn far more income with my freelance writing (because professional-level rates haven’t changed!). I respect people who can make a business from publishing their own blog but that’s not appealing to me. Blogging for money is about SEO and volume output and you also have to spend a lot of time managing the ad sales. I’m not in the business for that. This is also why I don’t generally accept press trips for my blog:

      2. If I loved the band and this were fulfilment of a life-long dream. This would then be a personal rather than business decision. However, there would still be limits. Seven posts and three days of round-the-clock coverage would be more than pushing it. I’m not sure I love any band that much.

      3. If I were a music writer and the level of access to the band meant that I could write some lucrative pieces for magazines on top of my own blog posts. From a business point of view, I would want to secure the commissions from the mags and square that with the band before I would commit in the first place.

      • Thanks, Caitlin. As always, I value your insight, well-thought out responses and, of course, vast knowledge and experience in this industry.

        I think the ONLY band/musician/actor/artist for whom I would be willing to do free promotion in exchange for “fun” would be Taylor Swift. Then again, I’m a total Taylor fangirl and have not-so-secret desires to somehow be her best friend =)

  10. What a lovely article that succinctly says everything I think! As a freelance graphic designer, I am constantly turning down offers to design a logo (or in some cases, A WHOLE WEBSITE) for free, so I can “have the experience” or in exchange for the opportunity to put the piece in my portfolio. Needless to say, I decline these “great opportunities!” and remind them that design is like most other products/services– you get what you pay for. And I am sure it’s the same with writing. There are a million travel blogs out there, but I choose to read this one because I love your writing style. Same as there are certain columnists in my local paper that I follow, and certain authors I always patronize. There is definite value in that, and it is a shame that some people don’t see it. Good for you for standing up for yourself!

    • CJ, I know exactly what you mean. My cousin who designed this site runs into the same problem. People want a great online presence, but don’t want to pay for it. I’m glad you recognize you deserve more!

      Someone sent me this link after I wrote this post. You’ll especially appreciate it, I think:

  11. Hey Kristin-

    Rock on. All of your points are excellent, and definitely motivating. As a fellow blogger, I definitely struggle with the ‘going’ rates and on occasion declining assignments without compensation… But this is SUCH a great reminder of why we work so hard and request return for what we put into our work.

    I will def save this and re-read when I need motivation/struggle to turn down a potential opportunity. I’m sure karma will come around to have something better waiting for you!

    SVV, your counter-Satan argument is phenom.

    • I’m glad I inspired at least one other blogger, Julie! We all have to stick together here on the Internet =)

      (And I definitely like the karma thought…I can only hope!)

  12. Absolutely agree!

    Although it is up to an individual to decide whether to take on free work or not, depending on their personal situations, it infuriates me that the online world is devalued to the point where ‘exposure’ is just as commonly offered as payment by media companies as cold hard cash. Particularly trying is that the free ‘opportunities’ are usually not even decently mentored or run by people who know what they are doing, so there is little chance for the free worker to learn, creating a double whammy of exploitation.

    Anyway, this kind of exploitation is rife in the arts in Australia – I blogged about it extensively last year:

  13. Isn’t doing an internship a bit like “writing for exposure”? I’ve never understood internships either. 
    I agree totally that one should set a bare minimum they’re willing to work for – be it a cent a word or $8 a word – just expect your amount of work to fluctuate accordingly.
    Rates of pay for journalists (both staff and per word), at least here in Asia, have been stagnating and or falling for years. There’s still great contracts going though – you’re just writing a report for some UN acronym rather than a wrap for Harpers (tip the acronym pays more than Harpers ever did).
    The result of the fall in wages is a dearth of quality travel writing online and the only real long term fix is for the true quality writers to go DIY ( which I think is what Gary was trying to get at in the comments above). 
    Sure, you won’t make $2 a word blogging for yourself but, with persistence, hard work and luck you’ll make a living and you’ll be in my bookmarks and a recipient of my perpetual gratitude.

    • +1 for rates falling or at the very least stagnating. Thanks Stuart! Anyone else experience a definitive drop-off in rate of pay?

    • to add- I think it’s a different idea to do an internship or work for free if you are just getting started and need to get established but a completely different thing if you already are established and valued to do work for free, such as Kristin.

    • Stuart, you make some excellent points. I should have clarified that this post was more directed for bloggers who think they have to give away their page space for free, when then should be getting paid for promoting a brand or company, and for people a bit further along in their careers who are told there’s always someone else who will do the work they’re offered for half price and, thus, they should do the same. Of course, interning and doing some unpaid pieces for exposure in one’s career are oftentimes necessary–Lord knows I had to do a lot of that in the beginning–but once you’ve established yourself in a profession, to work for free again would only be setting a bad precedent and leading you down a road you don’t want to travel down.

      I’ve heard that the media market in Asia is especially hurting. Some friends who have written for Vietnamese magazines have had the hardest time getting paid–and even then, the rate is just astronomically low. LUCKILY, it’s not that bad in the US. Rates haven’t necessarily dropped, but page space has decreased somewhat, which is why you hear complaints from American freelancers about the difficulty getting work these days. It’s not so much the wage as the availability. Which is just the nudge I need to perfect my pitches and approach new outlets all the time!

    • Some internships are paid, some aren’t. In my experience, the US is fairly unique in its extensive use of internships. In other countries, an unpaid internship would last a matter of weeks as part of attaining a degree, not months or years or “paying dues”. On the other hand, they can help you get your foot in the door at a good outlet and if you make a good impression it can lead to a job that you wouldn’t otherwise get straight out of college.

  14. As a 25-year-old freelance journalist (who has interned at several major dailies, freelanced for regional and national publications and went abroad for my first full-time reporting gig post-college), a typical response to a pitch I send out looks like this:
    ‘We LOVE your idea. Unfortunately, we can’t pay you. But when can I have it?’
    And you mention the gender thing. I write for the same local pub as a family member of mine who has NO journalism experience. When he got his third assignment, he told the editor he wouldn’t do it unless they paid him more and he had to do less work. Guess what? They paid him more and gave him less work! I also freelance there and have been doing it for a year longer than him. I asked for a an extra $50 on one story once and got a chewing out! It’s ridiculous. Yes, I’m 25 and many people my age are just starting out, but I have been doing this for a good nine years at this point. To pay someone more who has less journalism experience than me simply because they are older, male and will turn it down otherwise makes me so angry! I totally agree that males are much more “you owe me because I’m hot sh*t” while females are much more “I owe you and what can I do to make things easier for you?”
    And like you said, it doesn’t help that this whole Internet thing makes everyone think they are Gods gift to journalism just because some website desperate for content will publish whatever they turn in, no matter what it says/lacks any real reporting.

    OK, I’m done. I could talk about this for days!

    • Kristi, that is absolutely crazy about your male friend! I’m sorry you went through that, but I’m insanely proud of you for asking for more, no matter the response.

      “You owe me because I’m hot sh*t’ while females are much more “I owe you and what can I do to make things easier for you?”

      That statement really hit home. Glad I’m not the only one in thinking these thoughts!

  15. I am so glad you wrote this. I’ve heard a lot of bloggers complain that because of others willing to write for free or too little it has hurt the legitimacy of bloggers being a valuable resource.

    I’m so glad you turned that assignment down- you’re such a fantastic, established writer and I’m insulted for you for their request. Even with a small blog like mine, if someone doesn’t want to pay anything for being promoted then I at least ask for a free gift to give away to my readers. I think there are a lot of greedy people and companies out there that will try to take advantage of people if they can and it’s important to stand up for yourself and protect yourself.

    • Thank you, Danee! I appreciate every last kind word you said. And yes, it’s mainly the bloggers-writing-for-free bit that drives down the rates of Web writing. Which is why, while there are some websites I would be pleased to write for, I don’t and can’t because their meager wages simply doesn’t pay my bills. I can’t fathom writing a 800-word story for $20, I just can’t.

  16. Definitely not a one-size-fits-all kind of dilemma/solution, but kudos for choosing what was in your best interest vs just accepting what is becoming all too common as a standard exchange of “fun” for promo/coverage. :) Did you see the “Should I Work for Free” flowchart that was on swissmiss last week? :)

    • No, Olivia: You’re right. This doesn’t work for all. And it definitely isn’t aimed for people starting out in their careers, people who have to intern/write for free in the beginning (as I did) in order to move up. I was more hoping that professionals already established in their careers who are getting the short end of the stick would start to see their value.

      And you hit the nail on the head: So many bloggers are exchanging work for fun, which I don’t think is right. Was it hard turning down this opportunity? Totally. Am I glad I did it? Definitely. I just wish more people would, so us writers would be better valued!

  17. AMEN. I’m so glad that you approached this from the angle that you did – so many critical posts on “free work” approach it from the standpoint of “so many people are unemployed, etc.”

    I agree with you, as a woman and a southerner, that asking for money is brutal. My work at Christmastime earned a revenue surplus of nearly twice my salary. Have I seen a raise or a bonus? Nope. Have I asked for one? … nope.

  18. What a GREAT post, Kristin. We ALL need to stand up for ourselves as writers.

    Since things naturally ebb and flow, I bet there will be a backlash within a few years or so. Sites built on crap writing will become far less prominent that it is today, and it may be easier for pros than it is now.

    Then again, you never know. It could get worse. But I’m an optimist. 😉

    • Kate, I’ve been telling myself this for a long time…one day, all the publishers of these “sites built on crap” will have to go back to their day jobs, right?

  19. Great post Kristin – caused an interesting reaction as well!

    • Ha, I know. I never thought I’d get an argument out of people by simply stating that professionals should earn what they’re worth. I honestly was intending to inspire, not spark a debate, but well, there you have it =)

  20. As a newbie blogger/ writer/ traveler/ southern/ woman/ what have you, I was cheering along for you in this post! We have seen some rise in traffic and it is amazing how little and then also how much people are willing to pay for ads on a site. At first it was really exciting just getting one person to want to place an ad… and now we have had a few companies come to us with the tag of “exposure” and I just turn them down. Social media is a full time, crazy ass JOB- and it’s worth money!

    • 1) I love your name. LOVE it.

      2) I’m happy for your success and that even early in the game, you recognize the value in your brand. And your words–“Social media is a full time, crazy ass JOB- and it’s worth money!”–are ones I’m going to start living by!

  21. I think the debate in the comments is the best part! 😉

    In all seriousness, you raised some excellent points that I’ve been thinking about A LOT lately!

    • I’m sure you know how it is…I bet there are a lot of people in your world who think, “oh, Andi’s an acupuncturist, I bet I could get a couple free sessions out of her!” when they’re in pain, and that is just not fair to you!

  22. Wow hot topic here. But I would agree although everyone can write, not everyone can write well.
    I’m by no means a skilled writer but even I would write for free.

  23. Bravo Kristin and “hear hear!” I have a friend who is a copywriter who always lecturers writers and bloggers on the same thing. Your bottomline is THE bottomline, you have to value yourself first. It is particularly hard for women to ask for what they are worth and I have been the victim of it myself, but it is important to be professional and charge for your value. Great post, love the debate!

  24. YES. If you don’t take yourself seriously, nobody else will.

  25. I like your general concept, and I would like to be paid more for my writing assignments, but I also want the experience of writing a lot for a variety of places. I am a newish blogger and newish freelance writer, but I have skills equivalent to any writer in a blind test. But if I want to participate, I take what I can get, even if it’s zero dollars. Negotiating is like what you said, easier for them to walk away and offer to someone else for cheap. And I want the byline for now. I value my writing and my skill and would like to be fairly compensated, but I also want to gain credibility.

    • Marci, it’s a slippery slope to walk. Sure, I worked for free (or for very small pay) in the beginning when I was in college and just building up my freelance portfolio. But it’s also a hard hole to claw yourself out of once you’ve established you’re a writer/blogger who will pen lengthy pieces for $20 a pop. Get the experience you need and get out to where the better paying assignments are!

      • I do write posts for $30 a pop – but I’ll only work on them for an hour or so. It’s a reasonable price for an hour of my time, but the website knows they’re not buying the same product as an editor who’ll pay hundreds or thousands for days of my time.

        • That’s a good point, Caitlin. I have a sort of formula I use where I deduce that if there’s a short post I can write for, say, $30 for a legit publication and it’s only going to take me half an hour, then that’s comparable to my hourly rate of $50 to $100 for editing services and, thus, worth my time. I was more meaning that as some of these travel sites that ask for full-on narratives that take hours to write and pay a measly $20 for 800 to 1,000 words.

  26. I love this post. Valuing yourself is so important in order to succeed. I have turned down a few jobs and at first wondered if I made the the right decision. But in the end, I know that in order to remain credibly, I need to pick and choose where I want to be seen and heard.

  27. This is a pretty great post!

    Being paid or not being paid…

    I’m a, well i don’t want to use photographer because I’m not. I haven’t gone to school for photography. I really want to!
    Where I live, people around town are starting to finally notice me as a “photographer”. I’ve been doing more and more photo-shots. I don’t feel like I should ask for money because I’m not a professional.

    This past fall I did Engagement Photos, of course I didn’t charge. When the couple went to print them, they were asked for a copyright. That the photos looked very Professional. I was very pleased… I’m getting to a level that i want. Because I had to give them a Copyright, they paid me. The couple felt it wasn’t fair not to pay me for great photos.

    I still don’t feel right giving a set price now. I am doing a few photo-shots plus a Wedding! They are paying me. That was their choice. It is nice to be paid now!

    • Photography’s another one where people think you should shoot their wedding or party or engagement for free. I’m glad you’re starting to get paid for your work! In the beginning, sure, you have to do some pro bono shoots to build up your portfolio, but eventually there will come a point in your career where you should be getting paid every single time.

  28. Kristin – I think your post is spot on. Our professions (and by extension, our work) are only valued insomuch as WE value them. As a social worker, I hear a lot of “I don’t mind poor pay because I’m *helping* people.” This is similar to the “I don’t mind poor pay because I’m doing what I love” argument…. both of which are crap. Work shouldn’t be done for free – the concept is to do work that you love and/or feel good about AND get paid.

    The one thing you mention that I would question (if that’s the right word for it) is the concept of the barter economy/system. While law (or ethics) might preclude a surgeon from operating for front row seats at the opera, a plumber would certainly fix your toilet if you were an electrician who would fix his shoddy circuitry. Or (as you suggest) if there was going to be a later ROI (say, you were going to suggest said plumber to 10 of your friends). You, yourself, might even agree to a writing gig for, I don’t know – a new set of living room furniture, or dog food for a year, or something that had value to you (which is of course, the real clincher here). Goods and services can have a financial value, but of course, only to the right person.

    • Hannah, you’re exactly right. That’s what I was trying to say in not so many words at the end when I asked what you’re getting in return. For example, I trade editing services with my cousin for his design skills and coding. I think bartering is fine as long as it’s EQUAL. And in the case with the band, a “free trip” (a trip in which I would be working the whole time for them) was just not enough. The scales were heavily tipped in their favor.

      Everything definitely should be determined on a case-by-case basis, but if you’re getting nothing out of it whatsoever, that’s where I think you draw the line. I also think the doing-work-in-exchange-for-fun road that Olivia mentioned above is a dangerous road to go down. The trip DID sound like a lot of fun, but if I begin to set such a precedent, every company is going to think they can “hire” me for no pay but for giving me something “fun” instead. Unfortunately, “fun” while important doesn’t pay the rent. Does that make sense?

      • Absolutely. The thing with this band was a totally unequal exchange. Just because your work might INCLUDE something fun doesn’t mean it is less work. A maid is working, whether she’s cleaning hotel rooms in Pittsburgh or someplace “fun” like Borneo.

  29. I enjoyed this. Especially the fight between your husband and @Gary Arndt. How do you say that name anyway? ARR-NUH-DA-TA? ARNT? If so, Gary, you really need to add an “F” to that bad boy. “Farndt” seems like a classy way of saying “to expel vaporous waste in an internet chat room or blog comments section.”

    Kristin, good work. Your usual stuff just makes me sad and jealous. Seriously, I’ll just print off pictures from your trips and tape them to the inside of a broken refrigerator, crawl inside and then pretend I’m on vacation. I have only the soft purr of an XBox 360 to whisk me off to foreign places. I would trade Master Chief for one of your adventures any day. So, what I’m saying is … screw you.

    /Crawls back into refrigerator with Snuggie, crying

  30. Hi Guys!

    Saw the post and congrats to Kristen.

    I thought I’d step in here and share some thoughts.

    It never ceases to amaze me and I find it interesting how companies bombard me asking me to do things for free.

    Mom always taught me… “It doesn’t hurt to ask”. Right?

    My response and that of my management team’s response is always to the inquirer WHO HAS A JOB: “Would you work for free doing the job you have?” and the reply back is ALWAYS without a doubt 100% “No”- and then their apologies come for even inquiring with me/my team.

    I also find that most who ask share that they embarrassed to do so. I feel for them… but that’s “their JOB”.

    I had a recent conversation with a HUGE person in digital media. She’s on the side of asking people to work for free (on occasion) being on the production side of things.

    Her input was this: ” When influencers realize their power, that many have numbers small cable networks wish for as far as audience, they will stop doing things for free”.

    We all must realize if only one person hears us, we have influence.

    The bottom line: Blogging doesn’t make money with the exception of about 1% of bloggers and when you go to their sites, they tend to be more like “websites” than blogs.

    I always say, blogging is a digital diary.. Do it to create, not to get rich, because you most likely won’t.

    And… that’s ok!

    Also, take a journalism 101 class at a local community college to learn about attribution and transparency- because now bloggers are getting sued for having an opinion about companies/products/people and the FTC is cracking down on non-transparency from bloggers accepting products, trips etc. without mention.

    Just take a class to learn and protect yourself.

    Part of “journalism/writing/having a voice” is about investigation- so educate yourselves properly.

    It’s the wild west folks.

    Now- back to monetizing.

    The only people/companies making $ are the one’s like Google Ads, who take huge stakes from advertisers and pay a blogger pennies on the dollar. I know this because a dear friend ran the digital campaigns for Target and McDonalds at an advertising agency. They paid an average of $2 million to place ads and target mommy bloggers, who in turn made pennies on the dollar for ad placement on their sites/blogs.

    My beef with all this is, if these companies were to place ads in print or on television, it would cost these advertisers literally hundreds if not thousands of dollars in ad space if not MILLIONS for their primetime commercials such as during Superbowl.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the going rate for full page ad space for let’s say Vogue Magazine about $150,000 for a one page color ad with them? ANd that ad only lasts a month, or read time of about 6 weeks. Digital ads can last several years.

    I also have seen where advertisers go to one blogger (a friend of mine) offer them nothing, then come to me and offer me $.

    So there is a game being played out here.

    “NO” or “NOT INTERESTED” is powerful.

    Bottom line: Advertisers have budgets, they have the money to pay you and I don’t care if you’re a blogger, journalist, heart surgeon, or monkey.

    Get paid for your work, thoughts, words, brand.


    Good luck everyone.

    • These reminders are great, especially because most people who start blogs have no background in advertising or marketing. They have to learn along the way, and if no one is speaking up for them, then they’ll be taken advantage of by the advertisers.

      • Dave, you were actually one of the people I had in mind when writing this post, because I’ve so admired the time and effort you’ve put into building up GoBackpacking as a brand and business. Heck, you even moved to Colombia to make it work!

  31. Fantastic post – great food-for-thought for anyone who’s ever entertained thoughts of monetizing their writing. :)

  32. Great points! I know you and I have already discussed this topic before, but I loved reading this and seeing the debate in the comments. I agree that we shouldn’t sell ourselves short. It’s often hard to ask for more, but so worth it. We deserve to have our time valued. I think the pricing debate has a lot to do with experience. Newbies are happy to accept little or no pay, which sometimes is necessary to get a few clips. We’ve all done it, and that’s OK at first. However, experienced writers won’t stand for it, and shouldn’t have to. It just stinks that the crowded market with so many people willing to write for so little has started driving some pricing down and allowed companies to think they can get away with offering measly pay.

    It seems that a lot of people from various professions start up a blog and thus automatically consider themselves writers, so they don’t have a problem writing a $20 article for a website. But it’s very different for trained professional writers who are very skilled and make their living from writing. I also did a few magazine internships in college that required me to work for free. I was the editor-in-chief of a large student newspaper and was paid very little. It sucked hardly making money from those endeavors, but I was a student training to be a journalist and it gave me invaluable experience and great clips to start off with. I also mastered AP Style, which has been the required style of several publications I have written for. But after moving into the professional writing world, no way in hell was I going to work for free. I have written the very occasional $25-$50 article to get an additional clip, and even then I felt very guilty for writing for so little and contributing to prices driving down.

    I have had a steady writing gig with an online publication for three years, and they continue to pay me the same great rate. So like you said, not all freelance pay is dropping. There was another site I was writing for regularly for a long time, and they lowered their payment for writers slightly due to the recession, but not drastically. So the landscape is certainly changing, and it’s daunting to someone like me who is young and still wants a writing career, but I don’t think well-paid writing from skilled writers and editors is going to lose demand anytime soon. And we shouldn’t settle for hardly any pay for our work after getting a few good clips. Good for you, Kristin, for saying no to that offer.

    I have to chime in on Gary’s statement (Gary, you know I love you, just want to throw this out there): I agree that anyone who is educated can write. You have to do that in order to graduate. But not everyone writes well. I’m not sure if some of it is innate or if some people just don’t care enough to learn the basics. At my day job, I work with loads of very educated people. I’m the in-house writer/editor, and I can’t tell you how many things hit my desk with grammatical, punctuation, and/or spelling errors that I have to heavily edit before it can go out. I have edited doctorate dissertations and academic articles from very brilliant people who just aren’t great writers and can never remember to put the period inside the quotation marks. I see many blogs with poor punctuation/grammar/spelling, and despite the quality of the story, it makes it look unprofessional. So there truly is a difference between writing casually and writing at a professional level, and that’s why pay rates can vary so drastically in the writing world. Content farms like Associated Content and Examiner don’t care about quality, so they get away with paying peanuts. High-quality publications continue to pay $1-$2/word because they expect an extremely high caliber of writers.

    Anyway, not sure if it was wise of me to jump in on that debate in the comments–just felt compelled to chime in. Regardless, I’m glad for the reminder to demand what we’re worth! Don’t sell yourself short, guys.

    • You hit the nail on the head with this statement, Emily: “It seems that a lot of people from various professions start up a blog and thus automatically consider themselves writers, so they don’t have a problem writing a $20 article for a website. But it’s very different for trained professional writers who are very skilled and make their living from writing.”

  33. What a great post. I believe that this is also very much a gender issue. As someone who sews (quilting, clothing and some craft type sewing), it is amazing when someone wants to “commission” a quilt. I first educate them about the price of the fabric to make the top (over $225.00 for a queen sized quilt), add that to the backing (about $120.00), think about thread, batting, use of the sewing machine (top of the line machines can sell for $12,000) and then, think about the time it will take me to make the top (and I would charge a living wage of at least $25/hour) – depending on the pattern, it can easily take 40-60 hours to make the top — then I hand sew the binding on, after the quilting has been done. For bedsized quilts, I send them to a longarm quilter to do the quilting (their quilting machines can cost $20,000) and, depending on how intricate the pattern is, a queen quilt can cost over $300. Usually that is when they say they can find a “bed in a bag” at Penney’s for under $100 — and I tell them to go ahead and purchase that, if that makes them happy. I then usually tell them these quilts are usually made overseas and the people making them are grossly underpaid. I also tell them that the fabric may no tbe of the same quality that I would use.

    Why is it that women are afraid to charge a living wage for their talents and skills? SW had no problem asking and receiving the raises he felt he deserved. I wish women were not afraid to ask for their worth.

    I am glad you turned down the “offer” of such a great opportunity. Will you follow the posts of whomever the band did get to cover their gig?

    Redmond, WA

    • I can only imagine what you must go through! My mother-in-law is a very skilled seamstress, weaver, sewer, knitter, etc. She has a half dozen looms, a few sewing machines, several spinning wheels, the works scattered about the house and puts so much time and labor and love into every item she makes. So yes I well know how much effort is involved in such a skill, not to mention the materials. SVV and I bought a backdrop for our wedding makeshift photo booth in the discount aisle of a fabric store and it cost us something like $60!

      As for if I’ll follow the other blogger, that’s a good question. Probably not. Firstly, I don’t think the person they pick (if anyone) would likely be someone I would know already, so it’s not as if the event is going to start appearing on my blog reader at random. Secondly, while I love the city in which the event takes place, I’m not so much of a music person that I would just read about music to pass the time. (To clarify: As I’ve worked many stints as an entertainment reporter, as well, I do enjoy going to and covering concerts and getting paid to do so, I’m not a regular consumer of music blogs or reporting when not working.)

  34. Thanks for sharing! This article is spot on the money (no pun intended) – and I’m glad that you realise your value and don’t settle for anything less than what you’re worth!

    Unfortunately, I am one of those bloggers :-( New to the biz, I actually have NO idea what I’m worth, so I’m sure I’ve been stooged. But I’ll certainly do my research before accepting the next offer!

  35. Thanks for this — it’s an issue with which I struggle as well. I do feel lucky I’ve been granted opportunities, but it’s extremely difficult for me to ask for more from a publication with which I have a history. It’s a fine line — I DO value myself and my time, but also I don’t want to push it too much to the point where I’m not able to write for a particular pub (and in all fairness most of them pay fairly decently, and I don’t ever take something I feel would result in actually me *losing*). You were right not to take that gig — good for you! Honestly, I do not understand why people don’t always realize that even work that’s ‘fun’ is still work! And you should be compensated fairly.

    • If they pay you decently, fairly, then it’s not an issue, I agree. The majority of magazines I write for DO pay enough to make it worth it, so I don’t worry about it. It’s more the contract gigs that I’ve been under for multiple years, doing X amount of work for a monthly salary of Y, where I (and anyone else) should eventually ask for a pay increase. You wouldn’t be a salaried employee in the corporate world for three or four years without seeing a pay raise, would you? It should be the same for us writers.

      But yes, while there is a lot of fun in the work I/we/writers do, there’s a lot of BS that goes with it–as is the case with any job. Just because we’re enjoying ourselves (at least, I hope we are), doesn’t mean we’re not working, that we’re not putting time and energy and skill into a project, as you so accurately pointed out.

  36. Hi Kirsten,

    Great piece and some very valid points. I am not a journalist, nor would I call myself a great writer, but I am starting to place more value upon myself. Just this past week, I put a price on my writing for someone who was requesting I write some articles, and I decided not to budge from that. Now that my blog is having quite a lot of success, I feel I know how to value myself more and I am putting my foot down. My time is precious and I am valuable. I think you are right, until you acknowledge this ten you will take the freebies and will never make money.

    Having said that though, what I am doing is not my profession. So, if something came along that would help further my blog and brand’s presence then I would consider doing it for free. But, it is a different situation. As you said, you have been a professional journalist for years, you shouldn’t start taking on free jobs now.

    At the moment, my teaching profession pays my bills. If someone came along and wanted me to do some free teaching jobs, I would kindly show them the exit door. As I know my value as a teacher, and my experience comes with a high price.

    I think it does depend on what your purpose is.

    There is a bit of discussion in the comments about internet writers. The arguments come up all the time about amateur writers on the internet, destroying the written craft, etc. At times I feel really embarrassed? (sorry trying to find the right word) about this, as my grammar and punctuation suck! I have spent a lot of time working on this this past year. Part of my problem is I grew up with English grammar and then spent four years with American and now I don’t know which is which.

    I am not saying that having proper grammar is not important because it is. And those who are better at it should be receiving higher rewards.

    My point is that a person’s success will be determined by how many readers they have enjoying their work. And if they are amateurs, yet have a large following, then doesn’t this speak something about what they are writing. Maybe through the bad word choices, or the misspellings they may be able to powerfully get a message across that uplifts and inspires others. And I think this is what is important. It’s not the technical stuff, but the message, and some people can do this really well in a basic way.

    Look at the success of Eat Pray Love. I wouldn’t say this was a stellar piece of writing. She definitely overused the words “nice” and “great.” And I am sure she had some editors etc picking up her spelling and grammar mistakes. Yet, we all know what a phenomenon that story became. Her story was able to inspire millions of people. They weren’t reading it for the mistakes, they were reading it for the message of the story.

    If I read a really great piece on the internet; a piece that has inspired me, challenged me, or taught me something, then I couldn’t care about the amateurish quality of it, all I care is that it positively impacted me in some way.

    • Thanks for your input, Caz! I never meant to imply that there aren’t great “Internet writers,” nor was I implying anything about the quality of certain writers. I was more referring to the fact that there are a large number or people writing long, detailed stories for all these travel sites for $10 or $20 who ARE good writers but who are, essentially, giving away a service (as $10 is the same thing as free in my eyes). This is either because they’re newbies to the industry and don’t know any better or because other people tell them they should just be happy to have work in this economy and poor media climate, both of which are BS justifications in my eyes.

      And this is where journalists and writers of kind are in danger. Because once enough publications see that they can get quality writing for free, why will they pay for it anymore? That’s why I encourage everyone who writes in a public space–be it their own personal blog or an established travel publication–to charge for their services. Obviously you can’t bill someone for your own time you put into writing for your personal blog, but you can charge them for sponsored posts or advertising and not be made to feel like you’re the “lucky” one for doing someone else a service free of charge. This isn’t a debate of amateurs vs. professionals or us (print people) vs. them (bloggers); it should be the same for everyone. Just because what you’re doing is on the Internet and not in a magazine does not mean that you shouldn’t be compensated accordingly!

      (And I’ll agree with you on Eat Pray Love. That book was ridiculously poorly written. I had Liz Gilbert as a visiting professor in college, and she’s a superb writer and journalist and has far better work out there than that. I encourage everyone to read her award-winning magazine piece, Lucky Jim, instead!)

      • Sorry, I was more responding to a couple of things said in the comments. I totally agree with what you are saying. I think there are a lot of newbies who really don’t know how to value themselves. It is great to read posts like this so they can learn that there is a value they should be placing on their work. The free things I do are really just guest blogs or compensated reviews, because that is benefiting me in other ways.

  37. Great post Kristin! You know that you are worth more than that! You are an amazing writer, and should always be recognized and treated like that. You are a great example and inspiration to not only other writers, but to everyone who question their own worth and price tag. Thank you. You rock!

  38. Hi Kristin

    You’re absolutely right that until you value yourself nobody else will value you. My mother has always said to me (about many things) “People who pay peanuts get monkeys!”


  39. Kristin, I’m always happy to see this being discussed! Personally, though, I’d agree with Caitlin’s third point. I do sometimes accept blog trips or press trips if I think it will get me access to material that I can then sell elsewhere…It depends upon the terms of the offer. Interesting to see that this has sparked such a debate!

  40. OK – and as a PS, this is priceless 😉

  41. Amen. I started my professional life in creative advertising and got used to the competition meaning you had to work for free or nothing for a long time. And get treated like rubbish in the process. Since I’ve switched careers into media, I was sad to find that it’s not much better for writers. Even with blogging, I find it disheartening that we all have to give our best work away for free. People often ask for advice about this or that since my specialty is community management and social media. Maybe they don’t realise that as a consultant, I actually get paid to advise clients on using social media effectively in business. I’ve learned to never give that advice for free. I think the culture of the Internet is such that people have come to expect everything for free. Someone even wrote a book on this. I read a great article awhile back from a man who did think the Internet is so wonderful because it is cheapening everyone’s efforts and lowering quality. Wish I remembered where I saw it. Thanks for putting issue out there in the open.

  42. Much respect to you for making a hard decision. I’m new to this world, having recently quit my technical/sales writing job of 7.5 years, and I can see both Gary’s and SVV’s points. But I agree that writers must value their work before others will value it. Thanks for writing this.

  43. Oh man I’ve had a conversation like this with many photographers I know.

    I consider myself a photographer. I work for a well known wedding photographer in town along with various other successes I’ve attained. The same applies with everyone thinking they are a photographer with their blogs. The hardest part is getting money for photos in an already flooded market. Due to DSLRs being readily available to the average consumer, people are posting their things online, in the millions, for free.

    Why pay for the cow when you can have the milk for free?

    So here I am, brushing up on my writing skills, so hopefully other doors will open themselves for me.

    • I feel your pain, Erica, I really do. It’s the same for writers and photographers. Having a camera doesn’t (necessarily) make you a photographer, just like having a blog doesn’t (necessarily) make you a writer. At least not a professional one.

      I was at a wedding in Alabama in October and actually felt guilty there with my Canon as the wedding photographer went flitting about. She came over to me and asked what lenses and model I was using, and I made it very clear: “I’m not a professional! I just like taking pictures for fun! I’m not trying to do what you do!” because I know how it is. But like you are brushing up on your writing skills, I’m doing the same with my photography as it having multiple skills in this industry definitely makes you more marketable.

  44. A great and passionate piece, if a little depressing to read… I think the journalism industry has long been in crisis — and book publishing has long relied on writers being so pleased to be published that they will write for spit (£25 per 1000 words, or thereabouts). And I’d agree that the storm of free or almost free linkage on the web is not helping at all.

    The problem is, I guess, that where the writer is the publisher — as in blogging — intermediaries do spring up to mediate the spend, and cream off the vast majority of advertising dollars.

  45. hmm… this is definitely an interesting article and the comments – well they are also fantastic.

    As for the debate above I have to say I can see both side of the spectrum. Really I can.

    Not everyone can write well (even if they are educated) and not everyone can turn a travel blog into a thriving business. I would say, you both have done very well in your respective categories.

    I want to chime in a bit as both a pro photographer and as someone who lives with a professional journalist. When digital hit the scene, photographers were devalued very quickly. It’s just as Erica said above, anyone with a camera could go out and be a photographer and thousands of people did just that.

    You can go on Craigslist and see a TON of people who will shoot a wedding for basically free. BUT at the same time the digital age has also created a total boom for real professionals. For example, 10 years ago people didn’t see the real value in wedding photography, but guess what – the digital age and social media changed that. Facebook, MySpace, you name it – people love the idea of putting up pictures of themselves for others to see. Before wedding photos just sat in an album on a shelf – now you can share them with 200 of your closest friends. Social media has made photography more powerful than ever before. People are now noticing the difference between the $500 wedding photographer and the $5000 wedding photographer because they want awesome photos to show off. Suddenly they notice the details and the most important part is that they are willing to pay for that difference. Wedding photographers make more money now than ever before – even with the insane amount of low price competition out there. The difference? Being really good at what you do, valuing AND selling yourself and being able to change with the tides and provide an experience for people.

    I have turned down gigs before because they didn’t pay well (and I’ve never regretted it) and at the same time I have done gigs for free. It really depends on the situation and what I think ultimately I can get from it – publicity, additional clients, etc. I always try to look down the road for future value and I try really hard to think about that from an ‘out of the box’ perspective. Valuing yourself & time is extremely important for any business owner- so is knowing what is a good fit for you and what isn’t.

    Gary’s argument about being paid what you are worth is accurate in the real estate world. The minute I read it, i heard my father’s voice (someone with over 30 years of real estate knowledge) chiming in: “Your house is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” That’s 100% true BUT it’s also 100% true that real estate is cyclical and the price it is now may not be the price in 6 months or 6 years time. Anyone who has been in the industry for a while knows that. it’s the same in the fields of creative work. What someone is willing to pay you now is not necessarily what they will paid you before or will in the future – it could get better or worse and of course, no one knows. If any of us did we would all be sunning ourselves on our private islands right now. If you are good at what you do, you need to know your value because if you don’t someone else (who probably has no real idea) will be more than willing to tell you what they think it is. People would love to pay $500 for me to shoot their wedding and would love to tell me that’s all the money they have, etc, etc but that’s not what I’m worth. I know that. If I didn’t I would be undercutting myself left and right.

    The key I think for anyone, in any field, is to ride out those cycles in the best way possible and to be even more creative with their avenues for making money. I can see the point clearly about being a self publisher and I think it’s great advice for anyone. I personally feel the same way because I like it better when I am holding my own cards and it makes me feel like I have a bit more control over my income. But that’s just me. My boyfriend (a professional writer) has been struggling with these same issues in his field and is trying to find the next way to elevate his career – is it more ax to the grindstone or more SEO? I think it’s a bit of both but in the end he has to enjoy it. Seeing how hard writers work from the outside though – it’s amazing. I literally had no idea all the work that goes into writing real articles. It’s mind blowing and when I read Randy your post he started laughing, esp. at the 5000 words for $500. Again, that to me really boils down to a future value situation and since your friend didn’t need it – why bother??

    Writing is really tough and honestly I don’t see an issue comparing it to a heart surgeon. Both are highly skilled professions and they both require insane amounts of practice. If you have passion, education and a lot of practice you can do just about anything in this world that you want. If you wanted to I’m sure you could go back to school and become a surgeon and with enough practice a surgeon could also become a real poet or journalist. When I read something amazing and I feel transported into the writer’s world, that stands out to me and I appreciate it. I think there is so much crap on the internet now that it only makes the real writers stand out that much more. Over time as the industry changes and settles down, what has happened/is happening in terms of photography will happen for writers as well. The magazine industry is just having a “holier than thou’ attitude because the floodgates have opened online. But guess what? People stop reading magazines with crappy writing and the people who write well will make the money they are worth.

  46. I once heard someone say, “If you’re a plumber, you’re never going to work for free, so why should you as a writer/blogger?” This is a great piece Kristen and you know how I feel about this :). There’s not much I can add to the post or comments, but at the end of the day, the bar has to be raised back up and that’s not going to happen until people demand more. I don’t want to hear another company or publication bitch about being strapped for cash and that being why you can’t pay writers. That’s total bull shit and if you can’t pay people, then just close up shop because you’re in the wrong business. Also, I don’t like the idea of paying for page views only. There has to be a base of what you’re getting paid for. With paying by clicks, at the end of the day, it’s only people who are good marketers who get paid more when doing that, and it brings down the quality of content.

      • @SVV, and well said yourself the other day. BTW, I’ve had a similar diatribe hurled at me thru much of 2010 by the same subset of individuals as you just experienced, with the same collection of background about themselves – the inference that they understand media better than you because they had this [sic] successful background in business which of course also implicitly means they know more about the value of content now than you do. Of course, you and I don’t know the actual biz background of such folk, that’s top secret but conceivably it could include be a former Walmart greeter that being a “Fortune 500 company” too. Just sayin’ Then there’s the other way old ridiculous attack by Caitlin attempting to call into question your “background” yet again because her linkies are better than yours. Aaaaw, your links just proved you are the Second Coming.

        Here’s the thing, SVV, Kristin, Spence – and anyone else (genuinely) concerned with giving away free content or insisting on fair remuneration for the sale of your rights: that information is out there for anyone starting out in this field. I’d just say educate yourself from credible and authoritative sources – writer’s organizations, writer’s guide publishers, objective sources in a nutshell. Stay away from Arndt, Mance, et al. with one agenda that consistently appear on blogs on this topic to distort and diminish writers in order to forward their self-serving agenda.

  47. You’re definitely right! I know how it feels. I think it’s horrible that some people expect that writers and artists will work for free in exchange for “experience.” They should know that a lot of hard work goes into writing good articles, and that it’s a source of income for many people.

  48. I’m late but I love this topic. Will come back to read the dialogue in the comments.

    Consider me a new subscriber!

  49. Hear! Hear! This is a topic I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately, too, and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    The pittance pay for non-pittance work is so frustrating, and you’re right–for every writer who turns down one of those jobs, there are 10 who would be willing to take it, and often results in badly written content. It’s beyond frustrating in this industry.

  50. Thank you for this, from the bottom of my heart. It’s exactly what I needed to hear, at the right time. xxx

  51. Great post! I admire you for keeping your integrity and valuing yourself. You deserve that. Any other who think otherwise should be slapped with a “no”.

  52. A world of amens! I am adding you to my feed reader on the strength of this fantastic post.

  53. AMEN! Writing photography, music, these are legitimate professions people! Doing work for free doesn’t just hurt the artists who are trying to earn a living, it hurts the art in general as gifted people end up leaving the profession for something more likely to put food on the table.

  54. Thanks for this Kristen. As someone trying to squeeze my way into the freelance travel writing industry, it isn’t easy. There is a ton of very poorly paid work out there and it can be difficult to find the worthwhile stuff. You are actually one of my travel writing role models to I appreciate the pep talk!


  1. […] [3] Kristin of Camels & Chocolate is one of my favorite travel bloggers.  She goes to many of the places that I have been to or want to go to and she is a really talented and experienced writer. She should be, she has been doing this professionally for a really long time. Professionally, therefore a pro, as in she actually knows what she is doing.  Which is interesting to me because people still try to cheat her despite her experience. She spoke about this situation this week in a post that was meant to be a reminder that you should value your talents stand up for what you’re worth. […]

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