Before I saddle up my high horse, I’d just like to say this: a good writer is a skilled professional, and deserves to be respected as such. The ability to create well-written, relevant, engaging text is something that should be – and usually is – valued by most business people who wish to appeal directly to their target audience.
Why, therefore, do I see so many appeals for writers in the ‘jobs’ section of various websites, offering work that doesn’t pay? Do they assume that the flattery of being selected is more than sufficient? Or do they undervalue the role of a writer to the extent that paying for their services wouldn’t even cross their minds?
As a writer and editor, I’m quite often casting a glance through the latest freelance jobs offered on employment websites. This can be an eye-opener, and not always in a good way. Many employers need a proofreader or editor far more urgently than they realise.
I’m shocked at how many adverts appeal for writers to submit their work for free, in exchange for the dubious compliment of being published on some nondescript website. The skill and creativity involved in writing good copy, appropriately edited and tailored to a specific purpose, seems to be lost on many would-be ‘employers’. And as long as there are writers who consider their abilities to be worth nothing, this state of affairs will continue.
Then we have the scenario of being asked to submit sample text to a prospective employer, usually because they wish to narrow down their shortlist. These tasks vary in purpose and detail, but they always involve a good few hours of intensive writing or editing, sometimes to a set deadline. The result is a piece of professionally-finished copy which you are now submitting free of charge, and which the employer can do what he wants with to promote his own business.
Let’s compare this with the art world. If, for instance, you wanted to commission a painting from Colin, would you approach him and say, “I’d really like to buy an original, but I’m not sure about the quality of your work. Will you do me a pencil drawing for free, and I’ll get back to you?” (If you know me or Colin, please don’t get any ideas right now. My sense of humour has gone walkabout.)
But this morning, my indignation has just leapt to a whole new level. Take a look at this extract from an advert urging writers and journalists to submit their work for publication on a news website:
“The best part is that we do not charge you a penny for our service. It is entirely FREE. You write for us, and we will make your content look professional, market it to a HUGE worldwide audience…”
So we’re supposed to be pleased that we don’t have to pay to have our work published?
And, apparently, the in-house editors are willing “to personally edit your article fixing grammar, spelling, punctuation and general English to help make your work look more professional.”
If you expect the text to require that much work, why the heck are you asking for professional writers and journalists?
There are further horrors in this advert, but I’ve now quit the site to save myself from the consequences of my own outrage.
Let me get a sense of proportion here: there’s so much injustice in the world, and so much suffering, that I’m already out of order for getting cross about this. Some writers may feel that the joy of seeing their words published online is payment enough. That’s their prerogative. But if you value your skills highly enough, for goodness sake don’t respond to requests like these. The pen, they say, is mightier than the sword – don’t swap yours for a blunt instrument.
I’ve got down from my soapbox of morality now. If you’re a writer – amateur, professional or aspiring – or even if you’re not, I’d be interested to hear your views.