The Renegade Writer

Why You Should Do a Kick-Ass Job — Even When You’re Being Paid a Penny a Word

photoLately I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff like this:

“I accepted this assignment at a low rate thinking I could whip it out in an hour or so. Is it okay if I just quote from other articles instead of interviewing sources?”

No. No. No, no, no!

No matter how much you’re being paid, if you accept an assignment, your editor — rightly — expects your very best.

Your job is to only accept gigs where you know it will be worth your time to do your best work. So if taking on a low-paying assignment means you’re tempted to cut corners, then you shouldn’t do articles at that rate.

And lest you think there’s nothing in it for you, keep in mind that the editor at an el-cheapo publication may one day be the editor of your dream magazine.

Case in point: Years ago I wrote articles for a printing industry trade magazine that offered pretty low rates. I put my all into the articles, but eventually moved on as I increased my minimum rate.

A few years later, the editor I had worked with approached me via e-mail: He was now the owner of a publishing company that printed books for journalists. He had enjoyed working with me at the trade magazine and was wondering if I had any ideas for a book.

It just so happened that Diana and I had been shopping around The Renegade Writer. I sent the editor our proposal and the rest is history.

Biggest thing that ever happened in my career — and it was because I did my best work for a magazine even though it wasn’t top-of-the-line.

When you turn in an assignment, your reputation as a writer is at stake. Will you rush through the article to make a few quick bucks — or do a kick-ass job that you and your editor will be proud of?

Stick figure by Louise LeRoy. Thanks, Louise!

May 13, 2013 Advice, Money, Motivation, Rants

24 Responses

  1. Danielle says:

    Linda, your stick figure illustration just rock. I love them.

    And may I add: If a piece is bylined, that should be motivation enough. Your name is on it. Do you want your name attached to substandard work?
    The web is a big archive, and most of your work will end up on it, sooner or later. And someone–an editor, perhaps–will Google your name and they’ll find that work because it’s on a high-traffic site or something.
    Do the same great job for your low budget clients that you’d do for your high budget ones.

    • Thanks, Danielle! Feel free to send me some stick figues of your own…I need more!

      I totally agree and should have mentioned that in the post. That’s a great point — that you should do your best work because YOUR NAME IS ON IT!

  2. Haley V says:

    I agree with Danielle, your name being attached should be motivation enough! We need to apply this thinking to everything we take on in life, instead of just skating by. Money will come, but at the end of the day you should at the very least have your pride to keep your warm at night! Great post!

  3. Linda,

    This post brings up a very valid point. No matter what you’re getting paid you have got to give it your all. Don’t accept anything less than you need to get paid. If you accept the assignment, kick ass. Show ‘em what you’ve got!


  4. Terr says:

    First, great article Linda. My viewpoint is that I give an assignment my best, because I take personal pride in my work. Second this post brings to mind one of my most valuable life lessons: Be careful how you treat people, because you never know who they’re going to “grow up” to be, and when you’ll need them.

    I’ve experienced this personally when I needed work from a temp agency years ago. Long story short, the former receptionist became the office manager within a few years. When I came back into town and needed a job, I called the temp agency. She remembered me fondly and told me she was now in charge. I had a good established relationship with her, because I was nice to her in the past.

    Conversely,in my military years, I witnessed a civilian secretary quake in fear for her job, because she was regularly mean and dismissive to a young captain who years later came back…AS HER BOSS.

  5. Stephen K. Shefrin Photography says:

    I do free shoots occasionally, and you never what kind of other gig you can’t get out of something. Not trying hard is just a bad habit to form.

  6. Great post Linda! This should be an eye opener to the freelancer and also to the company who hires them.

    Working hard is always be the keyword to achieve whatever we want to achieve. Having the reputation and credibility in whatever profession we are into is priceless!

  7. Patricia Ross says:

    I agree completely. The idea is to take only the work that you truly love. Like many of us, I’d almost work for free, and will do my very best work no matter what I’m being paid, if I’m doing something that I love. Conversely, if I dislike the topic or any aspect of the project, regardless of how much I’m making, I’m not going to be doing my best work. Great article!

    • I think I can speak for all writers out there when I say that your comment is 100% true. You have to love what you are writing about. I write because I love to, but if I don’t love *what* I’m writing about it’s not going to come out good at all. Good point, Patricia.

      • Thanks for your insights! I kinda disagree with you two. :) I know that in order to make a living, I’m necessarily going to be writing about topics that don’t thrill me sometimes. But I know that even if the topics are not important to ME, they’re important to the editor and her readers, and that pushes me to do my best work. Search this blog for the posts on how to handle a boring assignment and whether you can make a living doing only what you love for more details.

        • Good point, Linda! I, of course, have written on topics I wasn’t thrilled about and made it work. Sometimes you do have to.

        • I should amend my response to say, you can make a living writing articles that are ‘predominantly’ about topics that you like – but yes, you will have to write about some things you find boring now and then too. I think when you’re first starting out or whenever you want to expand your reach as a writer, you will definitely have to take on boring projects. I wrote legal content for almost 5 years because I had 15 years as a paralegal behind me. The money was amazing, and I knew the topics inside and out, but I hated writing about them. I could have stayed in that position forever if I wanted, but at what cost to my happiness as a person and a writer? I can’t see how being a writer would be any different than having a crappy factory job if all you ever wrote about were topics that you hated. What’s the point? I find it saner to seek-out markets for the topics that I like as much as possible, thereby making the less savory topics at least tolerable when I’m forced to take them on. ;)

          • Of course! I always tried to write about topics that interested me. But when I’m writing 4-10 assignments per month, chances are I’ll be bored by at least some of it! :)

  8. I had to practice this recently when doing my last few articles for a low paying pub. I told the editor that I wouldn’t be accepting any more assignment from them, but I really gave it my all on those last articles even though I knew they were the last. I didn’t want to fizzle out because that editor might be able to refer other work, etc. I also wanted to make sure that the writing was great because my name was attached to it! We shouldn’t need much more incentive than that.

  9. Wow. Let me just say your website is a writers candy store. I am so looking forward to getting a chance to read all the articles on here. Linda I agree with you that no one really knows if the editor that you work for today might someday be the editor at your dream job. I believe that we should treat each article with equal importance and put are all into each of them. This allows us to become better writers and it also allows us to get better jobs because of the extra added effort. Or at least I believe this is true in theory because I am working on my graduate degree and have yet to take on any freelance work. However I do plan to do so after I graduate. Thank you for this advice and I look forward to reading other articles on this site.

  10. Your candor is so refreshing, Linda. Thanks for
    telling it like it is.

    I choose to write copy because it’s all about
    the words. How much we get paid fluctuates from
    project to project. The dollars we receive are
    benchmarks along the road to our ever improving
    craft. But doing top-shelf work should always be
    our highest priority. Because ultimately, this leads
    to increased sales, satisfied clients and more
    projects for us. And yes, we can sleep well at
    night with a clear conscience and huge grins on
    our faces!!!

    Thanks again, Linda. Well done as always! :-)

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