Monsterlovers, there are wolves in our midst. Wait, no, wolves are cool. Most animals are cool in their own way. Okay, there are dickhats in our midst. Dickhats walk among us. A Craigslist ad posted by one such dickhat serves as the nucleation site for this blog post on freelancing, ghostwriting, and the radical idea that your work (yes, yours!) is worth something.
I have preserved the ad in screenshot form, though I won’t be linking it. The internet being what it is, I don’t want to accidentally bring undue thunder down on a simple shyster.
There is a lot of bullshank in those two images, so I’m going to break down piece by piece what makes this a terrible, terrible arrangement authored by a dickwheel.
Maybe you’ve wanted to be an author for a while, but you are afraid of putting yourself out there. Maybe you could use a little extra money. Maybe you understand the challenges of finding an audience and would rather just write and earn a guaranteed income instead of worrying you’ll make your investment back.
“Hi, there,” this seems to say. “Are you insecure? Inexperienced? Controlled by a fear of rejection to the point that you haven’t even started your rough draft? Are you… vulnerable?”
Right away, he targets people with aspirations and no practical experience. He’s looking for people who don’t know what goes into writing a book, what to charge, or even what to expect from a client in a freelance situation. He reaches out for a handful of creative insecurities – aspiration, exposure, income insecurity – and yanks, hard. He’s chumming for chumps and he knows it.
Yeah. I’ve been there. I’m an established best selling author, looking to grow my book income by creating a pen name with ghostwritten books. I already write a book a month and make a nice living and can’t do more than I already do.
Here, he plays a more complicated gambit. First, he relates himself to the struggle of his prospective mark: He’s been where you are, struggling artist. He understands. But now, oh, now. He’s separate from you, higher, Better. He’s a Best Selling Author, you know, and maybe (just maybe), this contrast suggests, he knows what it takes to get where he is. Maybe it’s taking deals like this one. Won’t you listen? Won’t you let his wisdom ooze syrupy and slow into your ear holes and into your empty amateur head? He’s a best seller, after all. He writes a whole book (a whole book!!) every single month, and that just tuckers him out so bad. But he makes lots of money Best Selling and Authoring, so it must be worth it. Surely. Surely. Won’t you read on?
So, if you are willing to write books for a flat fee, which we can negotiate to some extent, then please contact me. Now, if you’re thinking of thousands of dollars, think again. This is why:
1. I’m going to have to edit this book or pay an editor to do it. Chances are, I’ll have to hire someone for several hundred dollars.
2. I’m going to have to have a cover made by a cover designer. Please don’t suggest one of those crappy Fiverr covers. They may be cheap, but they also look very amateur. I pay anywhere from $125-$250 for a cover.
3. I’m going to have to advertise this book. A cover reveal, release blitz, and blog tour cost roughly $135.
Wait. Let’s take a minute to revisit the states flat fee. What was it again? Oh, it was two hundred piddly-piss dollars? Two hundred dollars.
Two hundred dollars.
I’m making an investment here. A major investment. It can take some time to earn a return on this investment. Still, I’m willing to take a chance. Are you?
Here’s what I’m looking for: a romance novel of 50k words or more.
And how much are you willing to pay for those 50,000 words, those 200 typed pages, that entire book that you admitted upstream would take you an entire month to write and exhaust you beyond picking up supplementary projects? How much is a month of work worth to you?
You admit above that doing this takes you an entire month, you admit that you’ll pay just about everyone else involved in this more than whoever bites on this ad. You insinuate that the editing will cost several times what the book cost you because your ghostwriter is just so, so incompetent. You head your foolish freelancer off at the pass: “No, no, ahah. Young fool. No Fiverr covers, don’t be absurd. A Best Selling Author knows better.” You grind presumed worthlessness into the face of this person with whom you want to collaborate with every word you type and act like you’re the one doing favors. And you sit there in your greasy smugness with your flat fee of two hundred dollars. You absolute brigand.
I’m about to tell you something no bottomfeeder who’ll pay you with ‘exposure’ and a part time burger job’s weekly paycheck for a month of work hope you never hear. Your work, your labor, is valuable and any contribution you make ought to meet at least the offer of decent pay. What’s more, there are metrics by which you can determine how much people ought to pay you. Spoilers: At no point should one accept two hundred goddamn dollars for a month worth of writing two hundred pages worth of story.
“But, Cai,” I hear you asking, “What should I charge? I’m a small poorboy with no experience. Surely I am worthless.”
Well, there are a few places we can start, among them the slush piles of any fiction magazine that accepts unsolicited submissions. See, written fiction is usually priced by the word, and such magazines will have their payment rates in their submissions section. For the purposes of the exercise, we’ll be using Shimmer, a good and weird scifi/fantasy magazine that pays short story authors a reasonably modest fee of five cents per word. This isn’t a rate that qualifies authors for the SFWA, but that’s a load of flibbity flee for another dee. Day.
Anyway, to the math. Before you bemoan your lack of mathematical skill, consider this: You can just go to Google and type in ‘5 cents times 50000,’ and get your answer right up top. That answer is 250,000 U.S. cents, which reduces down to $2,500 dollars. That’s over twelve times what this shitsteak is willing to pay.
“But, Cai!” Always with the interruptions. “Surely ghostwriting is different. And there aren’t any resources for that! I’d know, being the optimal mark for this scumbag as someone who’s never got up the guts to do real research into my passion career!”
Oh, Anxiety Strawman, you’re funny. There’s totally a thing for that, and it’s right here. Further, the information it provides paints an even more damning picture of our Craigslist predator. This document compiled by Writer’s Digest lists the low ball figure for ghostwriting without credit at fifty cents per word. Writing 50,000 words, that works out to a bank-busting $25,000 dollars. The lowest reported flat ‘per project’ fee listed? $5,000.
Five thousand dollars.
Hell, even charging the least I’ve ever seen offered by a magazine, 3 cents per word, it’s $1500. A single cent? $500. You’d have to be making a half a cent per word to get down to $250, which is both grounds for throwing your drink in someone’s face and still more than this jackshit is offering.
This, of course, doesn’t address the fact that your time is also valuable. Have you ever tried writing a book? It’s difficult, sure, but it’s time-consuming on top of that. I guarantee you this guy and hundreds, thousands, of dickweeds of his type bank on you not factoring that in. Hell, let’s assume a few things:
- He expects this in 31 days.
- You’re some kind of superfiend who can write 50,000 words working only a single hour a day every single day of a month.
Okay? So that’s 31 hours, and the book is done. Assuming you’re making, say, California’s minimum wage as of 2016, that works out tooooo…
$310. Simultaneously your skilled labor paid at the same rate as a human sandwich board and more than this guy would pay you. That’s horse shit, and it’s not uncommon horse shit.
There’s a pervasive attitude, though it’s not often outright stated, that creative labor isn’t worth paying for. Reading books and looking at art is fun, therefor making them must be fun, and god damn you for asking a fare fee for anything that’s not constantly milling you into a fine particulate of despair and monotony.
Compounding this is the common Creative Anxiety Cocktail of performance terror, a need to prove one’s worth, and the dueling phobias of exposure and insignificance.
These factors, the fear and the low-key derision, swirl together in an awful shit soup situation where we scramble for anything at all in a world that would deny us everything.
Predators know this, and this ad is predatory. Predators know that creative labor incubates as much terror as it does passion, and that those emotions are the easiest to twist. They know that we aren’t valued as labor, they know that we want so desperately to do this that there will always be someone around to do a Good Enough job for nothing at all. We’re fed the narrative of laboring in obscurity as failures until someone extends a tender hand, so we leap at the glittering chance to be seen.
This ad is incredible, really, because it plays so many cards with such disregard for subtlety. It plays to our fear of the action it takes to make a creative career happen, it plays to our respect for authority and experience (BEST! SELLING! AUTHOR!!), it needles the reader again and again with reminders of their assumed incompetence, which, by the way, a creative person’s brain reminds them of at all times. It’s an ugly piece of work, but impressively so.
Exposure and two hundred dollars is less than your work is worth. If you send this dickdumpster a pitch and he buys it, even if the result is ghastly, it’s on him to pay you a fair rate for the work he bought. There should be a contract, there should be an agreement as to how much will be paid upfront before the project can get underway.
Your work? Has worth, despite what you’ve heard.
Your time? Is valuable, even if you suck.
Creation is labor. It’s time-consuming, brain-eating labor that we more often than not wedge into chunks carved out of lives that are already full.
That’s worth something. Arm yourself with that knowledge.