There’s something you need to know.
Whether you’re a seasoned writer or you’re just starting out, sometimes one of the most difficult parts of the job is something completely unexpected.
It’s not the actual writing. It’s not accepting critiques, making changes, doing what’s asked of you.
Actually, it’s something internal.
It’s having the self-respect to assert your needs as a writer.
I’ve written probably one too many times here about how writers are treated by other people (most of the time, it’s not well). I don’t write often enough about how we treat ourselves.
Sometimes I think we forget that, even though all we do is sit in a chair and type stuff all day, things happen. We need to ask for things from others. And we’re often either made to feel like we shouldn’t, or don’t believe we deserve to.
There are many things we cannot change about ourselves. Our attitudes and behaviors do not fall into that category.
In my personal life, I’m not good at being assertive. It’s hard for me to express to others what I want and need. I am a people-pleaser. I would rather sacrifice my happiness to keep someone I love happy. I have been that way my whole life.
But when I started taking my writing more seriously in college, I learned very quickly that trying to make other people happy and not having the courage to speak your mind is the best way to never make it anywhere as a writer. And I think this is an important lesson for everyone who’s just starting out to keep in mind.
In my professional life, I stand up for my rights. When I am frustrated, I speak with my clients about it. When something isn’t working at my job, I work with the people around me to fix it. I am very clear about what I want and need. Especially when it comes to negotiating terms as a freelance writer. It is not because I enjoy demanding things from other people. It is because writing is a business — and it is my lifeline.
People WILL try to pay you as little as they possibly can. People WILL try to get more work out of you than you originally agreed to. Even very nice, well-meaning people. There are people who will not want to give you credit; people who do not respect your time; people who never give you the opportunity to ask questions, or demand a single thing.
This is how the other side works, sometimes. Especially those who are not writers themselves, who legitimately don’t know how our side works.
But the only way we can teach the other side that writers need their demands respected, is by demanding things unapologetically.
In the case of negotiating rates, if they cannot pay me what I need in order to do the work, we do not work together. If my time is continuously wasted, if I am not treated how I should be, I leave. I did not start my freelance writing career out that way, but I let one of my first clients take advantage of me — and to this day, I wish I hadn’t. I should have known better. And I want you to know better.
So keep some things in mind for me:
- It never hurts to ask. If they say no, you have the right to also say no.
- Be very strategic about your rates, obviously. Experience level is a major factor. But if you ask for the price you deserve, and they aren’t willing to pay that — walk away.
- If something in the process isn’t working, say so. Many times, no one else will ever know, unless you bring it to their attention.
- Most people will not think you are “entitled” if you ask for something completely reasonable. And if they do, well, they’re probably not the best person to work with.
- Also, asking for what you legitimately deserve is a very powerful thing. One of your goals as a writer should be to work with people who respect you, your profession, your experience/credentials, and your thoughts/opinions. If you’ve earned it, stand tall.
- Be firm, but be nice. You are much more likely to get/keep writing jobs if you are easy and enjoyable to work with. it’s not about bossing people around, it’s about having what you need to do the best work you possibly can.
- Respect yourself. You don’t have to walk around telling anyone who will listen about how good you are — but you shouldn’t let people walk all over you, either.
I also understand that, sometimes, you don’t have a choice. You can’t just say no or quit, because money and experience are all things we need so we can adult and move up and figure everything out.
To you, I say this: please hang in there. Do not give up on writing just because making a living is hard and people are mean and it’s not fair. I started out writing for free. I then worked 20 hours a week for a year as an editor, making less than a livable wage. Near the end of that experience, I spent two hours composing an email to my boss, expressing my concerns about the situation. It did not go well. (It’s fine, it’s all behind me now.)
But that experience was extremely important for someone like me — someone who worries about not being able to please people. I loved the work I was doing, but I could not continue doing it under those conditions. Out of respect for myself, I tried my best to do something about it. And even though it didn’t work out, I gained confidence knowing the world did not end when I hit send.
I am now in a position that pays, working with people who want me to succeed, who treat me as part of a much bigger whole. And that’s just the 40 hours a week I spend at one job. I went from working for nothing to working more than full-time as a paid writer. It took five years. It is not fun in the beginning, but if you stick with it, it does get better. I promise.
Writers are often in very tough spots. We’re looked down on a lot. But I want to drill this idea into your heads: If you do not respect your work, no one else will. If you do not demand what you need, no one will give it to you. Don’t ever let anyone think you’re not worth what you’re asking for. Unless of course you’ve been writing for a month and you want the salary of someone with five years of experience. Then you’re on your own, dude.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.