I don’t know if Scott Carney’s WordRates/PitchLab site wil increase the rates freelance journalists earn for their work.
But I can hope.
Carney, if you don’t know, is the investigative journalist who thinks the freelancing journalism market is broken. He laments the fact that writers with a valuable property (a great story idea) still typically pitch it to one magazine at a time and to the editors they’ll work with — putting themselves in the worst possible negotiating position.
This, he thinks, is why talented writers earn far less than they should.
Carney hopes to disrupt that dynamic by launching the WordRates/PitchLab site, where mentors — already upper tier magazine writers — will not only help you polish your pitch, they’ll use their connections and negotiate on your behalf. On the WordRates.com site, Carney says:
At this point, it’s no secret that writers get a pretty lousy deal in the publishing business. Every day, someone asks me if there’s a way to fight back. In fact, there’s one common practice that writers take on that hobbles them from the very start, and it’s our fault that the problem exists at all. Most journalism schools, editors, and old-time-freelancers advise new writers to only pitch one magazine at a time when they are trying to sell a story. In turn, most editors assume that pitches are exclusive material and will go as far as to say that they won’t even consider an idea if another publication is reviewing it as well. This is called “silo pitching”, and it’s the surest route to penury for a writer.
If you’ve got a killer, timely story for sale, there’s no reason several publications shouldn’t bid against each other for the rights.
Leverage is rare in the writing world, so when you have it, you should apply it — but it’s a lot easier to do so when you’re not the one wrenching on an editor.
(Carney also suggests writers support each other via Paired Pitching.)
And it’s not just about negotiations; WordRates also hopes to become Yelp for writers by encouraging writers to review and rate magazines and editors.
The Sweet Spot
I’d suggest the writers who are looking to emerge from the pack and “level up” their careers could find WordRates/PitchLab immensely useful.
Breaking into the upper tiers of freelance journalism is not easy. But advice from mentors who have a financial interest in your success — and connections to the editors you’re trying to reach — can’t be a bad thing.
Letting writers rank magazines and editors could also become popular, though I do wonder how many writers will risk burning bridges by leaving detailed negative reviews, even anonymously.
(On the other hand, a “Yelp for writers” feature would be handy for copywriters, who could warn each other off the serial abusers in the copywriting world.)
Ranking publications will absolutely prove useful when it comes to contract details; Carney has pointed out that magazines are now reserving rights writers used to enjoy (movie rights, republishing rights, etc.).
The magazines pulling this kind of crap absolutely need to be called out publicly.
Let’s hope it happens.
Disclosure (And I Urge…)
Even though WordRates has little application to my career, I signed up when it was still in the Kickstarter phase.
It’s a Freemium gig, but at $50 per year (and 15% of any stories sold), I’d be hard-pressed to understand why an ambitious freelance journalist wouldn’t register for the premium service.
As I write this, the site has over 800 members, an extensive list of mentors, and a truckload of promise.
Publications and clients have used the power of the market against freelance writers for decades. I think Carney’s right; it’s about time writers flipped that dynamic.
The idea that talented, ambitious writers could see their earning climbing over the coming years is an enormously appealing one; let’s hope it actually happens.
Keep writing, Tom Chandler.