Writers Don’t Work On Consignment

I’m an experienced freelance writer, so I’m acquainted with the ups and downs of this vocation.  One of the more challenging aspects of being a professional writer – especially in the aftermath of a terrible economic recession – is that some people expect writers to work for free, or below their market rate.

For example, some prospective clients need help with brochure or website content, but they can’t pay.  One local (Portland metro) business owner recently told me that writing a column for free was, “good for exposure.”  The folks who say or write those things aren’t malicious.  Many times, they are well-meaning.  I am most confounded, though, by those who promise payment only after a writer’s work leads to an awarded grant, investment capital, or a book deal.

This last type of request reminds me of consignment.  Consignment is where you benefit from your work only when the work is purchased – not before, during, or even after you produce it.  Consignment may work for some artists, but it doesn’t work for me, and here’s a couple of reasons why:

Time. 

I have a per-project/per-page/per-hour rate.  It reflects the expertise I’m bringing to my clients’ projects, but it also reflects the amount of time it will take me to work on something.   My goal is to always provide quality work the moment I am hired, whether I am writing or editing a brochure, blog post, white paper, or an entire website. That takes time, which I regard as my most valuable internal resource.  Clients also put their trust in me, and I feel they’re owed my complete attention.

Money.

I don’t focus well on a project if I am paid below my market rate, and I’m worried about things like food, shelter, and office rent.  My family‘s gotta eat, so I gotta get paid for my work, 🙂

With that said, there are circumstances that I would write pro bono.  If there was a non-profit I believed in, I’d consider creating content as a courtesy.  But, for the most part, I think writers should be paid market rates for their work (and “market rate” is the subject for another blog post).

What’s your take on this subject?  

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4 thoughts on “Writers Don’t Work On Consignment”

  1. I agree. Writing is a talent and I think you need to be paid. I look forward to hearing what the market rate is.

  2. Hi Mahesh. I followed your post here from LinkedIn and found the subject interesting. I completely agree with you, but more than consignment, writing is often just another form of commissioned sales. You work for nothing, the expenses are all your own, to be paid up front, and you only get paid once you’ve sold your product or service. As an ex-realtor and residential mortgage adviser, I’ve walked this walk for years. Now I write full time and am doing it again, but at least I understood what I was getting into. Too many writers don’t, then get discouraged when they hit that wall. Commissioned or consignment sales isn’t right, which is why I supported my publisher when she emailed all her authors and said she was upping the ebook price of our books from $2.99 to $4.99. Value is a perception thing, and often the public perceives Free or 99 cents as crap. I consider myself a professional, and I don’t sell crap, no matter whether my services as a realtor, mortgage agent, or writer. Thanks for the great article and all the best.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Debbie (here and on the LinkedIn group page). I totally agree with your perspective. I think the free/99 cent model works the way you describe. This is all good material for my next blog post!

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