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Are You Nice-ing Yourself Out Of Freelance Writing Profits?

Freelance WritingOne of the unwritten rules I grew up with was that good girls simply had to be nice at all times.

Of course, I wanted to be a good girl so I spent a lot of time learning to be nice. Ugh!

As you might suspect that notion that I always had to be nice often meant I didn’t get paid well, or even at all, in my freelance writing business.

You know how that works. A potential client balks at a price and you immediately lower it. Or an existing client explains they won’t be able to pay you on time and you keep working. The list goes on, all in the name of being nice.

What it took me awhile to figure out was being nice didn’t mean letting myself treated badly when it came to my business.


In fact, I finally realized that it was anything but nice to let myself be abused in the name of some sort of warped idea I had about being polite. Nor was I being nice to the clients by caving.

Here are some of the ways I used to nice myself out of profits and what I did about them:

Taking whatever is offered. Usually when I accept whatever is offered it will be less, and often way less than my hourly, assuming I know my hourly. The first thing to do is work out how much an hour you want to charge, even if you’re using that only for a jumping off place. Then when someone asks you what your charge you’ll be able to state it clearly – a truly nice thing to be able to do.

Accepting work below my hourly. Although I don’t always get exactly what I ask for I know that if I accept work that’s way below my hourly rate I tend to get resentful. The truth is when I’m in that state of mind I don’t do as good a job for the client as I might. It’s far nicer to turn down such work if they won’t meet, or come close to meeting my price.

Agreeing to deadlines that are next to impossible. Although some writers charge premiums for rush jobs, as well they should, I usually don’t accpet such work. Of course, it depends on what’s going on in the rest of my writing life, but generally I find clients who want rush jobs tend to be disorganized and hard to work with because of that. I’d rather be nice to myself and not buy into their schedule.

Putting up with intrusive clients. I avoid jobs that state they want me to be available by instant messaging – and if an existing client asks for that kind of contact I simply say I don’t use it. I like talking with most of my customers about our work and even sometimes about other stuff. But I am not available at all times or even most of the time. I want clients to be as nice to me as I am to them.

Accepting work on the come. I’ve had some good luck with carefully selected revenue sharing, but it’s always been in addition to a base. Other than that if a prospective client wants to share the profits instead of paying me up front I decline. I’ve discovered if I simply say, “I’m sorry. I’m not in a position to write without getting paid,” they usually accept that and look for a more gullible writer. In terms of books, unless they have a contract in place with an advance of at least $100,000, of which I get half, it’s not go. I’m always surprised at how many people seem to expect a writer to write on the come.

There’s nothing nice about letting someone treat you badly, even if they don’t know any better. You can be polite in setting your terms. You can help educate writing clients nicely. Be nice to yourself and earn a profit. You’re entitled!

Have you ever niced yourself out of a profit? How have you let go of that practice?

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{ 28 comments… add one }
  • One thing that has helped me get more confidence in standing up for myself, believe it or not, is making collection calls at my day job. Now this is not one of my primary responsibilities, since I don’t actually work in the accounting department, but I did it to help out my old supervisor (and because I was forced to). The calls I made were preliminary ones– “I’m calling about a past due invoice, when can we expect payment?”–rather than the hardball stuff. But since I also have to call our shipping company when things go wrong, I can practice being firmly indignant without being rude.

    Now I know that if I have to make a call like that to a client, I can do it without fear. It’s money that is owed, and I have a right to say “Hey, you’re past due. I need a check by XXX or this unpleasant finance charge will kick in.”

    I still don’t want to make cold calls. I HATE doing that. Had to do it when I worked for a shopper paper and I hated it so much my boss had to give me a quota to get me to do it!
    Elizabeth West recently posted..Favorite Movies to Watch at ChristmasMy Profile

  • Unfortunately, yes. Once, I had accepted to write for $10/post. It hadn’t seemed like a big issue, as I loved the topic but the novelty wore off as the small fee really put me off. After the project was over, I raised my rates to what should be and didn’t settle again. Although occasionally I still make some calculation mistakes when it comes to figuring out how long the whole job will really take…But you write you learn…:)
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..Balancing Showing and Telling in Writing & Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Can Be Easier in Screenplays than in NovelsMy Profile

    • Sounds like you’ve figured out how not to nice yourself out of profits.

  • I was recently published in a national trade magazine, and one of the people I interviewed for my article (who is well known in the industry and has her own series of blogs as well as her own magazine) asked me if I’d like to write an article for her magazine. I promptly pitched her 4-5 ideas, and she said any of them sounded fine,BUT her magazine doesn’t pay for articles, btw, they would own all the rights, and would that work for me? My “nice” side thought “Well, she was nice enough to agree to be interviewed for my article, it would be good exposure for me and I’d get another clip, but the “real” side won out (thankfully) and I decided, “Hello, she received free exposure in my article, I already have clips, and I was just published (for pay) in her rival magazine which has a much broader circulation and more established than hers anyway.” So after having this little conversation with myself, I pitched those ideas to the other magazine and they asked me to write about one of them FOR PAY. The moral: Be nice if you want, but not at your own expense.
    Jan Hill recently posted..Think Like a ParalegalMy Profile

    • Good for you Jan, this is exactly the sort of thing I had in mind.

      And I love the name of your blog, raised write 😉

      • Thanks Anne! I’ve learned a lot of what I know about freelancing from you (and Carol Tice)!!! Thanks for all the great posts – keep them coming!

  • Meghna

    I have been offered a worse rate – $1 for 100 ‘technical’ blog posts.

    The reason: I am from India so I should be cheap. My reply wasn’t as restrained though.

    “Even in India, I could earn more cleaning the streets, and for that I could just have dropped out of school, instead of slaving to get my Master’s.”

    • Meghna, sometimes we need to do some educating.

  • I think it has something to do with getting older – at least I hoe I’ve learned something in all these years – 🙂 but, like you, Anne, I just won’t go there with the “rush jobs.” It seems my whole Corporate career was one big “rush job.” I may not be on cruise control, but I am sure no Indy 500 racer either. 😉
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Are Your Business Communication Vehicles Driving You?My Profile

  • I don’t mind doing some volunteer writing — but only if I know that’s what it’s going to be upfront!

    The hard one for me is when friends approach and need help on something. I hate to turn them down, but it’s like they just don’t realize this is actually work for me. If I asked them to come over and count pills for me or write code for me or whatever, I doubt they’d be thrilled.
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..My Tragedy of ErrorsMy Profile

  • A big “ditto” on the clients wanting IM contact. It’s bad enough having a single, regular, friendly client who has my mobile number. I think if I had to handle people through IMs as well, I’d go postal. Can you imagine how many “Oh, just one more thing…” contacts you’d get like that?! Aaaaaaaargh!
    Spike recently posted..Christmas Charity PlugMy Profile

    • I can, which is why even though I haven’t come across this yet, my answer will be “Sorry, but I only use instant messaging for personal conversations.” To me, it’s the equivalent of a chat room. That should nip it in the bud, I imagine.
      Elizabeth West recently posted..Favorite Movies to Watch at ChristmasMy Profile

  • Nice will kill us in the end. LOL

    Good post, Anne. I’ve committed most of those sins in my freelance beginnings. It takes just a few burns to teach a writer to avoid the flame….
    Lori recently posted..What Doesn’t WashMy Profile

    • It’s almost killed me in a number of different ways.

  • I’ve had to deal with not one, but two potential clients recently who offered me slave labor wages ($1 per 100 words, or less) AFTER I’d already told them my normal rates, which are at least 50 times higher than than what they tried to offer me. One of them even emailed me back a couple of weeks later asking if I was “still interested.” Um…no?

    My response was — well, I think it was quite restrained. “Sorry, some of us actually have to pay the bills and working for you would prevent me from doing paid work for other clients” is much, much more polite than what I was thinking about saying…
    Julie M. Rodriguez recently posted..Making a Living or Saving the World: Two Sides of Internet MarketingMy Profile

    • $1/100… what country would that work in? Good for you for sticking to your guns.

      • I may have thrown in a “good luck finding writers who will work for that wage” snipe in there somewhere, but I think it was well-deserved.

  • Great line for us all to remember. I may have to print it out and pin it above my desk.

    • If I knew how to make bumper stickers…. 😉

  • I use that line too, Anne, and it always weeds out the non-payers. I find that if someone quibbles about rates up front, it can be a sign of a rocky client relationship ahead.
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Advice on Charging for Writing Blog PostsMy Profile

    • I sometimes suggest these folks advertise on Craigslist… a mixed suggestion since they will probably get swamped.

  • I like that “I’m not in a position to write without getting paid” line. Sadly, I have to learn how to say this more often!
    Flora recently posted..A Shoe Store in BangaloreMy Profile

    • Flora, glad you like the phrase… feel free to use it.

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