Rate Shaming

As long as I have been freelancing as a writer (since September 2009) I have encountered writers who feel it's important to offer unsolicited advice about rates. The problem is it rarely comes off as advice but more like judgment and disapproval. In the industry we call it rate shaming.

Fewer things irk the shit out of me than people who make others feel badly about the rates they're charging. I just don't see the point and frankly if those who do it claim altruism is behind it, they're full of shit. It's about one thing: feeling superior.

I belong to many women's writing groups on Facebook. They're private and secret and only for women: trans, cis, non-binary and gender non-conforming. Our goals are simple: help each other succeed in an industry dominated by men. This can be in the form of offering advice when asked, giving the name of an editor at a publication, making suggestions to improve a pitch to an editor at a publication, being a cheerleader when we're plagued with imposter syndrome, and on occasion, commiserating when things in one's personal life are up in the air or even crumbling.

See what I did? I didn't mention anything about making another writer feel badly for the rate she/they is/are charging. It shouldn't even be part of any group that touts itself as a place for support. Rate shaming isn't about support, it's about feeling superior.

What is Rate Shaming?

Rate shaming happens when for whatever reason the topic of rates is raised and suddenly it's a shit show of comments about how low a writer charges for her/their work. As an example: an editor posts a call for pitches for her/their publication and lists a price. Let's say it's 10 cents a word, which is the minimum in most of these secret writing groups.

As soon as I see a post like this, I prepare myself for the shit show: the onslaught of rate shamers. Sometimes it happens as soon as the post is live and sometimes these rate shaming writers wait until someone comments with, "Oh, thank you so much! This is right up my alley. I'll pitch you now."

Let the shit show begin! "Oh my god! That's a very low price. Nobody should work for that," "What's wrong with these publications offering such a low rate?" and "I would never work for that amount of money, and neither should you."

And it's not one rate shamer. Unfortunately once one starts, the pile gets higher and higher of rate shaming so-called veterans. It's like a mob kicking a writer when all she's/they're trying to do is earn a fucking living. Oh it makes me fucking sick to my stomach when I see these comments.

As one writer phrased it, "Female-centric writing groups on Facebook are almost without exception extremely white, extremely of a certain class background, and extremely full of women who had a lot of hands up the ladder. I can't even describe the number of women I see raging about someone writing a 500 word essay for a parenting pub for $50 because they themselves have a J school degree and "don't get out of bed for less than a dollar a word."

The Damage of Rate Shaming

This same writer also added: "I'll tell you who isn't [ashamed to take 10 cents a word]. The person about to be homeless. The single mom with the sick kid in a home where the dad walked out because he got tired of the kid being sick. The contractor with that federal paycheck that suddenly stopped coming in that is freaking out. The woman who has been denied twice for disability and can't get "a real job" and is at the end of her rope living in a shared room in someone else's house. The older woman who kept going back to school to get more degrees and now is told she's overqualified for every job she applies for and is trying to decide if she should buy food or her meds this month."

We have absolutely no idea what's behind a writer raising her/their hand to say "I want this job," this same job the rate shaming veterans just slammed as being too low. We don't know others' circumstances. And as another writer told me, "It's great that some publications are willing to pay me 25 cents, 50 cents, a dollar or word or more but many don't pay for four to eight weeks after publication, which could be anywhere between a few days and a few months from acceptance of the article. In the meantime, my 10-cent-a-word jobs just paid my electricity bill and stocked my refrigerator."

So while getting those rates is fantastic, if the money isn't in hand, bills don't get paid.

Why Do Writers Rate Shame?

Other than making themselves feel superior, I don't know. I know the reasons they give and I think they're all bullshit.

If you charge 10 cents a word, you bring the industry down. Bullshit! There will always be cheap as shit clients, regardless what we charge. Conversely, there will be clients who pay well no matter what cheapskates do.

If you charge 10 cents a word, you make me look bad! Seriously? I live in Puerto Rico. You live where you live. Other than the post where you trounced on a writer for accepting that rate, you don't know her/them. That's as idiotic as a conservative Christian insisting if I have an abortion it has some kind of impact on her/him/them. Unless you had aspirations to raise my child, bullshit.

Why I Get So Pissed Off at Rate Shaming

I have been writing professionally since September 2009, which means we're talking about  almost 9.5 years. I came to freelancing from the brick & mortar world. My last job paid me an excellent salary. I made more money as an administrative assistant at Amgen than I did as a marketing manager in smaller companies. Amgen pays extremely well, but even admins work their way up. I started out making around $48,000 as an admin. By the time I left there I was making a lot more than that. I knew when I started freelancing, I couldn't assume I'd make a dollar a word.

In fact...

My first writing gig paid me well south of 10 cents a word. I made a penny a word, and guess what? I was fucking elated to make that because I had never been paid to be a writer. I'm still excited and sometimes astounded people actually want to pay me to do something I love doing.

I made a penny a word and was happy doing it because I had to start someplace. I couldn't tell a client I wanted 10 cents a word, let alone a dollar a word simply because I felt I deserved. I didn't deserve it. I had to pay my dues and further, I had to cut my teeth. I had no idea what I was doing when I started and I had to learn. I had to learn how to structure an article and the more I wrote, the better I got, the more confidence I had and the more brazen I felt about raising my rates.

Now that I am making between 25 cents and a dollar or more a word (depending on the publication) have I started rate shaming those who take less? Fuck no! Why? Because I'm not a hypocrite for one. For another because my job as a mentor is to lift up not tear down.

And when I say lift up, I don't necessarily mean lift up to a higher rate. I mean encourage her/them to be the best writer she/they can be. My job is to encourage new writers to continue writing despite the rate shaming veterans, the clients who go in for scope creep and an extremely competitive industry.

And the other reason I hate rate shaming is we women, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming have a difficult enough time in a male-dominated industry. We don't need other women tearing us down.

And still another reason is that I would sometimes prefer to write for 25 cents a word for a really cool client or editor than a dollar a word for an asshole. I haven't actually encountered any asshole editors but I have encountered asshole clients. And if a publication doesn't have the money but has their heart in the right place or I want to support a woman of color editor or client, I'll do it.

So please stop with the rate shaming! It's tacky, ugly and completely unnecessary. If you won't crawl out of bed for less than a certain amount, fabulous. Keep that shit to yourself, okay?

I started freelance ghostwriting in September 2009. A little late by some standards, given my age at the time (42) but I was reinventing myself after serving a 20 to life sentence in corporate America. I didn’t have any professional writing experience when I started and I had to do a lot of on-the-job training. Every time I learned something, I made note of it and tried not to make the same mistake twice.

While I was registered with Elance (an online bidding platform that matched clients with freelancers that no longer exists) I was very active and visible. I was a member of their 10-person panel they tested new features on before they rolled them out site wide. I wrote a regular column for their blog designed to help freelancing newbies.

I established my content writing agency a year after I started freelancing and went from a freelance force of one to an agency owner.

None of this means I'm an expert. It just means I have many years' experience as a freelancer and I'm hoping some of my advice can be helpful to you.

If you have a question ask here.