If you’re being offered peanuts…

As a freelance writer, from time to time I come across ads where companies proclaim this is a great opportunity only to read the details and wonder what illegal drugs were consumed before the ad was written.

The typical ads for this kind of stuff require you to write on a specific topic or around keywords, write original work, write anywhere between 200 to 500 words. For all this, they offer to pay you the grand sum of Rs. 45 to Rs. 100 per article, sometimes offered in dollars, as in $1 or $5 per article. I’m not kidding about the money.

Today I received an email with one such ad (payment Rs. 50 for 300 – 400 words), where the points that stood out were the following:

  1. We may or may not write publish articles under your name
  2. Once you give us the articles, it becomes our company property. You cannot use it, refer to it or take help from it, in future.

If anyone tells you that they’ll use your work but won’t give you credit, you should hear alarm bells clanging. There are ghost writers who write books and other projects but those writers, from what I hear, are usually paid well.

The second point is essentially saying that you should sell the company all the rights to your article. Again, if any company or publisher asks you to do this, they had better be paying you enough and more to compensate you for taking away all the rights to your work. (In this case, the terms are so bad that you probably won’t even be able to use your work as a writing sample.)

You may write for corporates who won’t give you credit for a brochure’s content and will take away all rights, but they usually pay really good rates. (Really good translates to Rs. 3/4/5 per word or even more.)

My concern isn’t for the writers who know about rights and rates; it’s for those who don’t and are probably slaving for companies who are reaping the benefits. An experienced writer would laugh at these rates. Even if you are a writer who is just starting off, you should sprint away from such projects because you are being exploited.

Doing the math

The amount of time it would take for you to write an original article of about 300 to 400 words could be anywhere between 3 to 6 hours depending on the topic, your writing speed, and researching skills. That’s not even considering rewrites. So, if it takes you about 4 hours for an article, you’re basically getting paid Rs. 12.50 an hour. To give you an idea of what that means, to earn Rs. 5000 per month with this kind of rate and writing output, you have to work 400 hours per month, approximately 13.5 working hours per day. Digest that while we talk about something else.

The ad I was telling you about also mentioned this (emphasis mine): There are people who have even quit their full time jobs and are working at home for us and earning Rs 30,000 a month.

To make Rs. 30,000 a month, you have to write 600 articles (=30000/50) a month. That’s 20 articles a day in your average 30-working-day month. Assuming that the writer’s getting oh, say 6 hours of sleep and 2 hours for everything else (hardly realistic I know), you have 16 hours left in a day. That leaves you with 1.25 hours per article, hardly enough time for a 300-400 word article.

I’d like to meet these writers who are earning such grand sums every month writing for such companies. Most likely, these writers live in cuckoo land where the road is paved with Toblerones and where they have ice-cream fountains.

The point of this long post is to warn writers (or indeed any other freelancers) about accepting projects where you are being ripped off. You are really selling yourself short and you are doing the freelancing community a great disservice.

So, if anyone offers you peanuts, point them to the nearest zoo and tell them what the primates there can do.

P.S. For more on writing, freelancing, rates, etc. check out Writers Weekly and Writing World, two sites which have a ton of information.


2 thoughts on “If you’re being offered peanuts…

  1. Craigslist is LOADED with ads like this, in the “Gigs – Writing” section: Write for “exposure” for a start-up e-zine for no pay… I don’t know what kind of “exposure” you can get out of a start-up that probably won’t be around in a month. There was a blogger called “Craigslist Curmudgeon” who used to skewer these ads, but he hasn’t posted in about a year.

    Writers Weekly is a great resource. You might also like to check out the Writer Beware page at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site, lots of information. There’s also Preditors and Editors at Another Realm.

    Good luck out there!

    • Yeah, Craigslist does seem to have a lot of these kinds of ads. I wonder if there are people taking up those kinds of assignments.

      The “write for exposure” stuff always gets me especially when nobody is asked to “write software for exposure”, etc. Somehow it seems that it is okay to ask writers to do their work for free.

      Thanks for the other resources; I do know about them. I thought mentioning just one or two sites would keep things manageable for people who were new to the profession.

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