Friday, September 6, 2013

Why They Don't Pay Us the Big Bucks (or Please Please Stop Writing for Free)

There are A LOT of writers around these days thanks to a democratic internet made up of people with time, keyboards, and increasingly, platforms in the form of blogs. There's nothing wrong with that. I like that more people are taking writing seriously. I like that there are talented hobbyists with amazing followings and pros who are making themselves more accessible to the rest of us.

What I don't like is that there are huge groups of writers who want to be taken seriously who are willing to work for pennies... or even for free. You see, working for free is why "employers" like Eat Boutique can post want ads like this one without anyone taking them to task for it.

It's cute that they call their unpaid part-time job an 'apprenticeship'. That's totally in keeping with their artisnal, DIY, seasonal, feel good, huggy - yes, huggy - feel. It's not an unpaid internship! It's not squeezing 20 hours a week worth of free labor out of some poor sucker. It's an apprenticeship! Just like in the olden days when everyone made their own pâte brisée!

Sweet, right? Except just like in the olden days you'll be working your rear off for, well, nothing. At least the apprentices of way back when sometimes got room and board. 

Here's what Eat Boutique's apprentice will be doing for 20-25 hours a week according to their Craigslist ad (which will eventually expire):

• Prepping blog posts and coordinating work by other writers
• Writing maker stories and finding photos

Updating the website
• PR outreach
• Writing blog posts

• And newsletter articles
• Posting on Eat Boutique's Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook accounts
• More writing for the blog
• Creating copy for marketing materials
• And so much more, including cleaning up after events

Don't you just love how they threw in the cleanup, too? Apprentices have to be put in their places, after all.

Now maybe the ad doesn't rankle your rear like it does mine because you're one of the folks who thinks experience is as good as cash - and if that sounds like you, please take a look at this. But consider that barring the cleaning the position they're advertising sounds a lot like my last job, which if nothing else paid the kind of money a single person could use to party it up in the big city without going totally broke. That is A LOT of work to give to someone under the guise of an apprenticeship considering that this isn't 1349 and nowhere in the ad does it even mention room and board.

Here's the thing, though. I know some poor young schmuck - sorry, meant to say young schmuck with access to mommy and daddy's money - is going to look at that ad and get really excited because OMG experience. They're going to look at that and see their ticket to a real job. The poor young schmucks, however amazingly talented, are going to take one look and get discouraged because it'll be the ad that finally convinces them that the writing and editing world is only for people who can work for no pay for four months.

How sad is that?

The best advice I got as a young writer was "Never work for free." I took that one step further and did my best never to let anyone devalue my work to the point where sitting down to get the job done wasn't worth my time. Have I worked for party money? Sure, but I'm proud to say that I've never gone on sites like elance and debased myself by bidding for work against people who are willing to write a batch of 100 blogs for $100. There are people out there who believe in their gifts but are nonetheless mentally weighed down by their own inexperience to demand even minimum wage for their work.

And how sad is that?

Maybe the saddest part is that these are the people who empower companies like Eat Boutique to create "apprenticeships" that are really unpaid positions. My guess is that people - those who have the means to take a position that pays diddly, anyway - have replied to that ad in droves.

The takeaway, particularly for any young or aspiring writers who might be reading this, is stop giving away your heart and soul to get experience. Experience should come through work and work should be paid for. Note that barter is okay sometimes. And by all means, pour your passion into your blog or website or the novel you're writing in your spare time and feel free to do it gratis. But when it comes to your career, even if it's just a fledgling one, demand pay. Not in the form of a byline. Not in the form of a possible future position. Not in the form of exposure. But in the form of money that is at least equal to minimum wage and hopefully even more than that.

Because, seriously, you're screwing things up for the rest of us who actually support ourselves with our words. And you're screwing it up for your future self, too.


  1. Ugh! That was some of the first advice I got too. "Don't work for free. Frankly, you don't suck enough for that." Thanks, I think?
    With all of the work involved in this ad, a person can apply all of that work to their own blog and actually make money off of it.

    1. Great point! Instead of working for them for free, creating a solo project and invest that time in it! A kick-butt successful solo project would look ever better on a resume anyway.


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