Is the Freelance Writing Market in Piss-Poor Shape?

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I came across an article called "The Reason Freelance Writing is in Such Piss-Poor Shape" on TumbleMoose.com. In it, he claims that freelance writing is in bad shape because of sites like Elance where the so-called global market leads to extremely low bidding (making it hard for other writers to earn a decent living). While these kinds of thoughts are common, they're not exactly correct. Here's why:

  1. If you judge freelance writing as a whole based on a single site or type of site, you're choosing to look at the situation with blinders on. There is far more out there -- high-paying freelance writing work at that. But if you rely on it to be advertised and laid out in front of you to bid on it, you're going to be sorely disappointed. That's not how the bulk of the pro-level markets work.
  2. Yes, some writers do choose to "whore themselves out." But why should you care? You shouldn't! (At least not in reference to your own ability to find work.) If you're above the jobs and rates on Elance, then stay off of Elance! It's not that difficult. You need to go where your own target market is (the people who want work in your specialty area, and who are willing to pay within your rate range). In this case, the author's target market obviously doesn't look to Elance when looking for writers like him. When you work as a service provider, it's your job to make yourself visible and accessible so potential clients can find you. It's not their responsibility to throw jobs out publicly just to make it easier on you.

More interesting is that the author mentions wishing he could organize a writer's strike over things like this. Look. If your mission is to help other writers realize there are better options out there, then go ahead and discuss the issue and share other ideas. If your concern is just finding jobs of your own, then a strike will do nothing. Why? Because those clients weren't in your market in the first place. They couldn't care less if you go on strike. There will always be other low-rate writers to replace the ones who leave. On the other hand, to people who actually would pay you higher rates to begin with, you just make yourself look ignorant and you risk alienating the people who otherwise would have been happy to hire you.

If you aren't happy with the freelance writing marketplace you're immersed in, then get out of the pool. Specialize. Choose the right target market. Understand your own value to that market. Focus on building your writer platform. Build your network to get referrals. And if you need filler gigs while you're doing those things, then start looking at other places to find freelance writing jobs. It doesn't take as long as you might think.  Also remember this -- all of the time you spend hanging out in the wrong places (like Elance in this case), complaining, or planning strikes is time wasted that could have gone into making you more visible to the clients who actually matter -- those that will pay you what you're worth!

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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9 Comments

  1. stephanerd July 8, 2009 Reply

    I must admit, I’ve also gotten myself into a tizzy over bidding sites and blog aggregators, even writing my own ranty post on the topic.

    You’ve made an excellent point, though: The people using those sites aren’t my real competition, because sites like those are designed for those beginners who are still used to scouring job ads rather than going after the work they deserve with cold calls and pitch letters.

    I still can’t help wanting to steer people away from those sites, though. Those who don’t know any better assume that it’s impossible to make a living as a freelancer, merely because all they’ve seen are ads with degrading rates and clients with little to no budget!

  2. Jennifer Mattern July 8, 2009 Reply

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with steering other people away from them. In fact, I’d encourage people to do that. One of the biggest problems is that newer writers honestly don’t know there are better options out there for finding decent-paying work. Sometimes it does fall on more experienced folks to give them that wake up call and point them in other directions. What they choose to do for themselves is entirely up to them though.

    What aggravates me is seeing comments like “I may starve for a while, but I’ll keep my dignity in tact and perhaps make a small contribution to putting an end to this despicable smudging of the craft.”

    In that case, it’s just silly. No one has to starve because of Elance. Get out and do something different instead of offering yourself up as a martyr. Instead, he’d do far more good by setting a better example through succeeding via other outlets and tactics, and then helping those other writers do the same.

  3. Ed July 8, 2009 Reply

    I keep hearing this “x is dying” link-bating – and is very successful at raising the ire of whichever community is targeted. For most professional writers, the “freelance writing is dying” argument is like knowing the price of coal in Newcastle – of little real bearing. Elance and similar places, whether they die or thrive, has little consequence to most professional writers. Most pro writers understand the value of niche and specialized knowledge – both qualities that aren’t easily found on the auction block. Until PL people get into the technical white paper business (and I don’t foresee that) I’ve little worry whether “freelance writing is dying.”

  4. Amanda Evans July 9, 2009 Reply

    Wow your post was harsh. Harsh but true though. I myself am guilty of berating sites like Elance and having a rant about low paying rates but you really laid it out here. It’s like the saying “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Sites like Elance work for people starting out and those who don’t mind getting paid very little to write content and I for one started out this way. Mind you back in 2003/2004 Elance wasn’t the low bidding website it has turned into. I picked up some very lucrative clients from Elance many of whom I have continued working with. Today however it is very different and if you are serious about your freelancing career then you need to take action and start looking for the high paying jobs.

    I have to say that your criticism of Tumblemoose is a little harsh and I for one enjoy George’s website and the information he provides writers.

  5. Mary July 9, 2009 Reply

    Sites like Elance are great for beginners to hone their skills. After that, though, you have to wean from the online bidding sites and go after meatier jobs.

    I’ve used Odesk to great benefit. I’ve made a little extra money (without paying a monthly or yearly fee) and learned a lot about working with clients, managing time and getting things done on deadline. Thanks to this experience, I now have a small client list and legitimate samples to share with prospective clients. That is far from “whoring myself out.”

    Now, I am going off the boards and prospecting through direct mail for the kind of clients that will pay enough to let me quit my day job.

    • Jennifer Mattern July 9, 2009 Reply

      Here’s my question then Mary:

      If you could get that same experience while earning more money in the process doing something else, is there any decent reason not to? Yes, bidding sites can give you those things. But so can establishing your platform and learning how to market yourself more effectively, while bringing in higher-paying work in the process (not to mention establishing a platform early means clients will find you much sooner). I’d caution any beginner against these sites. They put false ideas of what appropriate rates are for various projects, cause people to undervalue their time for the most part (trying to compete with people for clients who aren’t in their target market to begin with), and do very little compared to other tactics towards building your professional image in the long run.

      As for being “harsh,” I just speak the truth. If someone offers lousy information to writers (who are already bombarded with tons of crap that isn’t true to sort through), then I call it was it is. Other information he offers may be spot-on. But that post was not. Blogging is often about conversations, including debate. It’s not about making everybody feel good all of the time.

  6. Yolander Prinzel
    Yolander Prinzel July 9, 2009 Reply

    I would change, “harsh” to straightforward. I read Tumblemoose’s blog, and he is a very nice guy, but I had the same reaction to that post as you did and ended up writing something very straightforward about it and the Freelancer’s Declaration of Independence that is now floating around on the net as a result of his post.

    It really all boils down to this, writers need to stop acting like victims. You are not a victim. If you can’t figure out how to make your business work, read, study and ask for help. If you do nothing but complain, you will only fail.

  7. Freelance Writing July 13, 2009 Reply

    Great article… Really appreciate the effort to help realizing the value of writers. Not only the field of writing, i think, everyone should keep up their dignity in their individual area of work.

    thanks

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