Friday, October 22, 2010

Freelance writing - Fame, Perhaps, but Seldom Fortune

Once in a while, I visit Waterloo's independent bookstore because they have a very eclectic selection of magazines and books. Earlier this month, I picked up a copy of the Ryerson Review of Journalism. One of the articles, "Battle Ready," is about the struggles of freelance writers for magazines. I use the word struggles advisedly. You won't get rich writing for magazines, you might, with luck and hard work, manage to subsist. Here's some of the info in the article that I found fascinating. In 1980 (using a phone, typewriter and tape recorder) - Typical rate for a feature article in a major magazine: $1.00 per word, Gold National Magazine Award value $1,000. In 2010 (using phone, computer, more software, printer, scanner, photocopier, digital recorder, transcription software, online services) - Typical rate for a feature article in a major magazine $1.00 per word, Gold National Magazine Award value $1,000.

And then, to add further insult to the already injured and probably impecunious writer's lot magazine publishers want writers to sign away more of the rights to their work. "Even when they pay writers reasonably for print pieces, some publishers are demanding digital and cross-platform reproduction rights without additional compensation." But wait - there's more (shades of those horrid gadget commercials) and it's even worse. Transcontinental Media which publishes some leading Canadian magazines introduced a document "that basically stripped contributors of virtually any control over their work, gave the publisher almost unlimited opportunity to reuse material -- and worse, would apply to all future pieces" (for them).

Some Canadian professional freelance writers have banded together to try to improve the situation. That will be a hard uphill battle since magazines often struggle to survive and there are many writers who are willing to take less for their work and cede all rights, just to get a foot in the door and their by-line in a national magazine.

As an occasional freelance writer who doesn't write for magazines, I am fortunate to have a specialty and to have a client who insists on paying me a good rate for my work, when she needs me. I'm also fortunate that I have a small but steady income from other sources. Once, I was solicited by an online publication similar to Suite 101 but I decided against it. Sites like that pay the writer a pittance only if the site generates advertising-friendly traffic. I agree with Kim Pittaway (very experienced freelance writer and writing teacher) who says "...with the students I teach, I tell them that they are better off creating their own sites and doing work that is distinctive and engaging to them and their readers."

It's an article well worth reading in full.

Now, I should probably get back to working on my short stories.