The Value of a Word

“I am seeking a writer to create a 30 page report on green smoothie recipes for weight loss. This will be a VERY FAST/EASY project for the right skilled writer. . . By applying for/accepting this job, you agree this is a WORK FOR HIRE job. I will require a signed contract stating you will neither own nor have rights to the work in part or whole, you agree your name will not appear anywhere on or in the work and that I own all rights to the work. . .The completed project is to be delivered in an unformatted MS Word document no more than 14 days of being hired. The report must have: – 1” margins all sides – 12 point Times New Roman font – Single spacing – No page breaks. . . I am not looking to spend over $75 on this job.” -Job posting on Guru.com.

If a single-spaced TNR page is around 500 words, then thirty of them are around 15,000 words. 15,000 words for $75 shakes out to a half a cent per word.

I’m endlessly curious about every aspect of a job like this–who posts it, who takes it, what the final product ends up being, where it ends up going, and how much money it ends up making for whomever.

I’m even tempted to take one (because there are many like it out there) just to get some of these answers, but it seems to be set up to be sure the writer knows nothing other than to chug out the pages and not ask questions.

More importantly, I don’t think I could finish it on the schedule this taskmaster demands, especially if it requires any serious research. I was going to say “research or expertise”, but I have to believe anyone who actually has green smoothie expertise knows how to get more money for it.

So the existence of these jobs is pretty discouraging for anyone not already raking in megabucks as a freelance writer. It’s said that anyone who takes a job like this harms the entire profession. Not just writing, any profession–witness the storm that raged when a law firm offered a $10,000/year position (and got 32 applications).

Especially in this economy, there will always be “employers” who prey on desperation plus general ignorance. But what do you do when you really do need work that badly?

Well, nothing, because taking a job like that almost certainly makes you poorer in the short and long term.

A substantive post on Copyblogger makes suggestions about how freelance writers can negotiate better fees, and so provides a good starting point.

We’d all like to be paid more for our work, but protecting its actual value–whatever it is or isn’t–is a whole other skill set than stringing together sentences and paragraphs. Understanding this better is the key to beating back the mysterious online hucksters who, as of now, know they can find someone who will work for half-pennies.

I’ll drink (a green smoothie) to that happening once, for all, and soon.

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