Archive for April, 2007

Database Instant Hits

One of our members, Michael Maynard, sent me a note yesterday saying within hours of the database going live, he had two inquiries from editors, one of them from The Boston Globe. During that same hour, I received a note from another member saying she had been contacted by an editor with an offer to pay her .18 cents a word. I also rejected a potential job lister this morning because their rates were as low as .06 cents a word and they wanted all rights.

I spent the entire day yesterday away from my assignments fielding calls and emails from editors and freelancers alike. Editors wanted more information on how to find you – the perfect freelancer for their project  – and freelancers who aren’t members wanted to know how to join.

This is all good news, even the members who are rejecting jobs – at least the word is out. Editors and publishers know we are here. And even with the seemingly low job offers, we don’t know when those low-paying jobs might be turned into reprint sales, or if they aren’t too low, when they might negotiate upward. Remember to always to try to negotiate when you are contacted by an editor and take a look at your per hour rate as well to see if it worth your time. Also to always try for FNASR (First North American Serial Rights) on your contracts.

The really good news is that we’re getting many success stories. Stay tuned – and if you’re going to be at the ASJA conference in New York City, stop by and say “hello” to Beth King. SPJ will have a table there promoting our new freelance directory and Beth has done a lot of work to help us promote this.

We’ve already turned in suggestions for a broader search criteria than what is now allowed. If you have any other suggestions for the database, please make a comment here.


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SPJ’s New Freelance Database is Live!

SPJ Freelance Members – The new database is live and ready to launch today! Check it out and let me know what you think! I know Wendy Hoke, the previous freelance committee chair worked extra hard on this, so it’s time to thank her again! SPJ is working hard to publicize the database to editors and publications. If you are a freelance member of SPJ and signed up, thank you for helping us make this a reality, if you haven’t signed up yet, what are you waiting for? And if you aren’t a member of SPJ, this is another good reason to join!

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Susan McKee, Wendy and Ed Cooper, who have all helped me this year in contributing to Quill. Susan had an excellent article on travel writing, Wendy did one on the importance of digital technology to freelancers and Ed will have one coming up on the importance of conferences.

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The Ethics of Freelance Writing Part II

One of the blog’s readers posted a comment with regards to the writer who is wanting to hire ghostwriters to pen non-fiction articles. I thought the issue so important, I wanted to address her questions on the main board. Star writes,

“I did not have the same reaction you did. He was offering 35 cents a word, which is below the occasional $1 we can find, but ballpark these days. No byline? No problem! Exposure is worth nothing, as these columns so often point out. He is responsible for the accuracy of what he turns in. The only way to make money is to have employees and not do it all youself. What are those writing companies besides a version of this? (No, I don’t mean those stupid homework-doing companies.) My question–and I did write him–was where was he getting all this work!!?”
You’re right, Star, exposure is worth nothing. It doesn’t pay our bills. However, I don’t think anyone who started in this business as a freelancer hasn’t worked for the small community newspaper to gain investigative clips, reviews or whatever you wanted your writing specialty to be – for that $25 an article. I’ve never personally said that you’ll die of all exposure, as it is with nature, you’ll only die of exposure if you go outside without proper attire (not getting paid at all) and stay outside in the cold too long (writing for $25 for the remainder of your career- you won’t make it).
I learned the identity of this writer the other day and sent them an email (and no, I won’t reveal the identity as that would compromise my confidential source). I think my email says it all, but if you have further questions as to why not actually writing journalistic pieces (and this person does write for at least one major newspaper) is ethically repugnant, please feel free to post them. Good freelance writers always have more ideas than they can possibly sell, that’s why we are able to make a living doing what we do. And as I point out to our creative friend, there are legitimate ways to hire office assistants while still maintaining ethical and quality standards – our own, as well as those of the publications for which we pledge that the work we are submitting is our own, original work.
Instead of responding to this person’s ad and doing something that might have ramifications for the ad poster, the writer and the publisher, I would be asking myself if this person can get $1 a word, why can’t I?
For anyone who replied to this ad, hoping to get a piece of the action this writer is promising, I would also ask myself, “If my editors found out I was helping another writer scam – and this is what this is, folks, there is no gray area here –  publications, how long could I maintain my business?” If that isn’t enough to scare you off, as it was pointed out on one professional board where this is being discussed, anyone involved in scamming a publication by providing a false byline possibly could be subject to a lawsuit by the publisher.
Here’s the email I sent this writer:
“My name is Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell and I’m a full-time freelance writer. I’m also the national chair for the Society of Professional Journalists Freelance Committee.
I’m writing to you as your Craig’s List ad for ghost writers has made quite a splash on writing and journalism boards – and I don’t mean in a good way.
Your information was forwarded to me because I routinely write about people in the market to scam writers but I’m taking the time to write to you as one of my colleagues thought you might be a person relatively new to freelance writing, and therefore, not fully educated in how unethical that hiring a ghost writer to write non-fiction articles as a journalist really is.
Our profession is constantly bombarded with scam artists wanting to make a quick buck off the backs of hungry and aspiring writers. I’m sure you’ve received plenty of replies to your ad. However, asking other writers to do all your work and then paying them 1/4 to 1/2 of what you’re getting, with no byline, is simply put, a writer taking advantage of other writers.
Besides the fact that it is a terrible writing business practice for the responders to your ad to sell their work for less than industry standard, as well as releasing all rights, it is highly unethical of you to present work as your own, especially when many of the contracts for publications for which you write require that it be your original work.
While your eagerness to use your own creativity to sell articles in this business is commendable, this practice is not. You might want to ask yourself these questions:
  • If my editors were to find out that I’m doing this, what would they say?
  • Many NY editors moonlight as freelance writers, and some of them have likely seen his CL post, as well, they’re probably reading about this posts on various writing forums. If this person found me so quickly, what makes me think editors will not find out who I am?
  • How am I going to ensure the quality of the fact checking of these writers and protect my own writing reputation?
I hope you will take this advice very seriously. This not only could affect your freelance writing career, but if editors find out that writers are pulling stuff like this, contracts are bound to become even more onerous than they already are in our profession.
There are areas of publishing where ghostwriting is a very legitimate and acceptable practice. I can think of two – book writing and corporate writing. But it is not an acceptable practice in non-fiction magazine and article writing, otherwise referred to as journalism. If people cannot trust the byline of the writer, they cannot trust the whole article or publication. There are also very acceptable ways writers can hire assistants to help them with their freelance business. Research assistants, for example, can conduct initial research for queries and articles, as well as do more routine office assistant things, leaving you, the writer, free to write.”
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The Ethics of Freelance Writing: What is Wrong with This Post?

The talk of freelance writing forums this week is a Craig’s List ad allegedly posted by a freelance writer soliciting other freelance writers to basically do his work for him.

From the ad:

Looking for an experienced article ghostwriter that knows how to meet deadlines:

I do the marketing and editing, you do the research and writing. I am an experienced and published freelance writer with credits from more than 20 national publications including Woman’s Day, Oxygen, Business 2.0, For Me, Cooking Light, Men’s Journal, Backpacker, and Robb Report and I can’t execute all the ideas I have. That’s where you come in.

You will ghostwrite some of the articles for me and I will give you anywhere between $0.25 & $0.35 per word. If you dazzle me with your work, you’ll get $0.35 per word. Over time, that fee may increase to $0.40 per word.”

You can see the full ad here:

Now, before any of you say, “Wow, that is brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?” or “Wow! Where do I sign up?” This is at the very least deeply disturbing on many levels and really, violates writing ethics.

  • First of all, here’s a writer who is encouraging other writers to craft articles for way below the going market rate that many larger consumer magazines pay. In the ad, the writer is asking other writers to do all the work and then sign over all of his rights to the writer. The writer doesn’t even gain that all important “exposure” in clips.
  • Second, most contracts contain the pledge that the work is the original work of the person signing the contract.
  • Third, if editors catch wind that this is happening in the industry, it could make contract terms even worse for legitimate freelancers.

There are other considerations this writer should be taking into consideration, such as tanking his career if his editors find out he is violating their contract by sub-contracting the work out. How will he answer fact checkers who call sources who tell them they talked to so-and-so when the article is bylined by someone else?

There are appropriate circumstances when ghost writers are acceptable. They have become acceptable in the book publishing industry (I mean, no one actually believes most of those celebrities can write their own memoirs do they?) and most corporate work.

There are also acceptable jobs for research assistants and interns freelance writers hire – such as doing actual research and some argue that interviewing some sources is ok. However, having someone else pen your work for magazines and newspapers?


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