This post originally appeared on Content Strategist’s sister site, Freelancers .
Award-winning investigative journalist, author and anthropologist Scott Carney for that writers are getting paid too little. Way too little. His solution? To make publications compete with each other. And after raising $9,307 from 246 backers (full disclosure: I’m one of them) on Kickstarter in May, he’s ready to make that solution a reality with a project two-story project.
WordRates , the project’s first tier, launched Monday and will aim to provide a database of user-submitted Yelp-esque ratings of editors, publications, and boilerplate contracts, along with relevant information system for editors. The second part of the project, PitchLab, is modeled after the book publishing industry. It will recruit advisors to recommend seminars and help journalists shop them for publications to get the best rates and contracts.
For freelancers frustrated with stagnant rates and lack of transparency in the publishing industry, WordRates and PitchLab are exciting opportunities to level the playing field. For more details, we chatted with Carney about the history of the project, freelancers’ poor pitching habits, and how editors have responded to WordRates and PitchLab so far.
What has changed about the project since its inception?
The idea is pretty similar to what I’ve always had. We’ll always build Yelp for editors, and we’ll always match people with mentors — long-time freelancers, often very established people, to become literary agent for magazine writers.
We figured out — instead of advertising directly for one magazine — you would advertise for us and we would have one of our guys advertise for eight magazines at once and try to get the best deal. best possible deal. It could be the person who wrote for The New Yorkers or The New York Times Magazine frequent.
The idea is that even if we charge a commission, we will be able to get more money and better terms. This is the same model that works for book publishing. There’s no real difference to it, except that our mentors aren’t professional agents — they’re journalists.
Why Would a magazine rather get a recommendation from a mentor than a journalist?
Two reasons. One is that we’re basically going through a steep pile. We’ll have a bunch of pitches that we’ll be reviewing, and we’ll represent the best pitches from there. You will get higher quality just because of that process.
But other than that, if we have a great idea and the only way the magazine gets it is through us, they really don’t have much of a choice.
And how much commission will be for PitchLab subscribers?
Fifteen percent. It’s the industry standard.
Recently, I introduced two different websites on the same topic. One of them definitely wants it, and the other asks for more information. I didn’t give them any more information because I went to the first site. Sometimes they change their mind before I send it, and by then it’s out of fashion and the other site doesn’t want it either. Is this the kind of thing PitchLab can help prevent?
That’s the whole problem. I wrote a blog post on market pitch versus pitch , and the problem is that our story goes awry. Your pitch can go awry for not being timely.
If you’re only speaking to one person at a time, you’re putting yourself in the worst possible bargaining position. By the time you get the green light, your pitch is usually eight times older than it used to be. Then you’re really stuck if you only have one offer. But if you have two offers on the table, now you have power.
I think editors still think people recommend one publication or website at a time.
A lot of them even like that. They will tell you that they only accept one idea at a time. But unless they have a contract with you saying that, what they’re doing is very anti-competitive. It might even be illegal, because basically what they’re saying is that they need exclusivity and you won’t get anything in return for it. That is a very bad practice.
Says someone keeps sending bad offers to PitchLab. Will they get a response? What will that process be like?
I don’t have a direct answer for that, but it’s not a service where anyone can submit crap and we’ll edit it and make it awesome.
We are looking for diamonds in the rough. I think we will be very selective and most of the pitches people send in will be rejected, just because there are loads of ideas and we will only represent the ideas that we think we can turn into big money.
So if someone were to send a pitch that wasn’t that great, would they know it wasn’t sent to the editors? Will they get any feedback?
Yeah. When someone submits their idea, they will receive an automatic notification saying it is under review. Mentors will have a list of pitches in the database, and they can approve a story and take it on and represent it, they can pass it on, they can delete it. it’s in the database. When it’s rejected, a writer will receive a letter saying, “Sorry, we can’t represent it.” And if it is accepted then they will work with that person.
When you first started sharing rates through Google Docs there was a backlash from editors, right?
There was some sort of vandalism on Google Docs where people deleted everything, but then I locked it up.
One editor reached out to me and said, “It’s not interesting that you post our rates,” but I have also had editors write to me and say, “We can’t wait. WordRates and PitchLab, especially PitchLab, launch. ” And I’ve also had magazine editors add their own magazines to the list, so it’s been a flurry of reactions.
So it’s not like you’re angering all the editors, just a select few.
The point is we’re not against editors. The editor is great. They make your work better. But we strongly oppose business practices that keep freelancers from making a living, and that ultimately lies with the people who manage those publications.
But I think some people are happy to pay less than $2 per word, especially for websites.
Maybe so, but here’s the problem: Writers often think their work has no value — they don’t know how to appreciate their work.
If they’re working for a $100 million company — and they pay their writers less than half a percent of the revenue — you’re in trouble, even if you personally feel that it’s not. is a good ratio. When I write to Wired and I get $2.50 a word or whatever my current price is, if they sell a page ad to go with the story — an ad is worth $140,000 at Wired . My story might be 10 pages. They didn’t give me a million dollars.
What about websites?
Sites pay more. You have to see what revenue their web traffic generates and what their actual business model is based on. If you look at the book publishing industry — I’ve written two books and I just got a third book deal — they give you about 10 percent royalties on book sales, 10 percent gross sales. collect.
If any of these magazines pay you 10 percent of their total sales, we’ll get a standard rate of $20 per word. You can check out Carney’s calculations here . [/note] Sites that I’m sure will pay at least a dollar a word, more likely three or four dollars a word if you’re making 10 percent of the total revenue.
The problem is that the writers aren’t against it, and we think we’re worthless.
If someone is not a supporter and is just learning about the project, is there a way for them to get involved?
Once the site is live, people can sign up for a free account and start ranking editors and do all the things the site was built for. They can submit pitches and we’ll review them at launch.
Is there anything else about this project people should know about?
I think people really need to understand that a writer’s work has value, and that fighting for the value of your work is not against your interests.
PitchLab could be the way this is going to happen, but even if no one uses PitchLab, I hope people take the message from this project that you have to argue for every contract you get — then I will win. Because we needed to pressure the magazines and realize that writing is a business. It’s not some kind of art that isn’t tied to your own survival.