Can WordRates Help You Earn More Money as a Freelance Journalist?

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Ever feel like you’re in the dark about how much you should get paid by a particular publication or what you can expect from the editors there?

This week, a new service launched to change that. WordRates, funded by the writing community via a Kickstarter campaign, is designed to bring transparency to the industry and help writers connect with better-paying gigs.

Sounds great, right? Maybe. Although WordRates has a lot to offer, some writers worry its self-described mission to serve as the “Yelp for journalists” could cause more problems than it solves.

Let’s take a look at what WordRates hopes to do for freelance writers, and whether it’s likely to achieve its goals.

How WordRates got started

WordRates was created by author and journalist Scott Carney. As he explained on his blog, Carney came up with the idea because he believes many major publications are shortchanging freelance writers:

According to their own figures, magazine publishers like Conde Nast and Wenner Media pay less than 2% of the revenue they make from advertising to their writers. Meanwhile, publishing contracts have gotten worse and made it increasingly difficult for writers to get fair terms on the film rights, reprints, translations and book deals that have long been important revenue streams for creative professionals. WordRates envisions that a little transparency and some healthy competition will change that.

He used Kickstarter to fund WordRates, a project he’s hoping will solve two major problems in the media industry: “1) The inability of journalists to assess a market for their work before they pitch a story. And, 2) Our general reluctance to negotiate for favorable rates and contracts.”

A lot of us have encountered one — or both — of these problems when deciding what to pitch and when to negotiate. Is WordRates the answer?

After exploring the site and talking to the founder, I think it might be an answer for some writers, but not for everybody.

What WordRates offers writers

The main WordRates site is divided into two major sections: WordRates and PitchLab.

The WordRates section lets writers share their experiences with various editors and publications, as well as the rates they received from those publications, much like Who Pays Writers.

At PitchLab, writers submit their pitches for mentoring and opportunities to have the WordRates team help them get their pitches into major publications.

WordRates

At WordRates, users are invited to submit pay rate information for various publications, as well as rank individual publication editors with up to five stars.

This information can be submitted anonymously, which is one of the biggest issues I have with WordRates; we already know online reviews can be easily manipulated or falsified, and allowing anonymous reviews might encourage writers to embellish the facts.

When I asked Carney how he planned to ensure the anonymous reviews were legitimate, he said, “I’m going to have to wait and see if this becomes a problem or not. At the moment, we’re trusting. I’m keeping an eye on them.”

Community members can up- and down-vote editorial reviews. “If somebody’s being totally unfair, I’m trusting the community to do their part, and just like on Reddit, you’ll downvote something into oblivion,” Carney said.

PitchLab

PitchLab aims to match freelance writers with “mentors” who function in much the same way as literary agents. The writer gives PitchLab their pitch, the mentors sell it to a publication, and PitchLab collects 15 percent.

For those of us who have been pitching successfully for years, the idea of giving up 15 percent of our income from a piece might sound like an automatic dealbreaker. But PitchLab thinks it’ll be worth the mentor fee to get our stories into high-paying markets that might otherwise be difficult or impossible to break into.

As the site explains:

Our team of mentors will take your idea out to the market and find it the best possible home. We oversee the business side of the publishing process, negotiate the contracts, and process the billing so that you can focus on what is really important. PitchLab aims to develop new and established writers into world-class journalists. We work closely with several literary and film agencies in New York and Los Angeles to ensure that every story we work with has a path to grow into a book, TV show or film.

How many of us could turn a story into a TV show or film on our own? Not that many, right?

So PitchLab could be a useful tool for freelance writers, if in fact we’re ready to sell that great story to the high-paying publication.

Who is WordRates for?

The last big question I have about WordRates — especially the PitchLab component — is whether this service is for all freelance writers, or only for writers who have worked their way up to a certain level.

Carney strongly implied the latter in a conversation with the Columbia Journalism Review:

I’m not accepting every pitch that comes into PitchLab. We’re only looking for the best stuff. We may never be anything but a boutique place, but I think even if that’s the case and, let’s say, we only sell two stories a year, the idea is that we’re still putting upward pressure on magazines.

That gave me the impression that the service isn’t really for beginners. I asked Carney about what types of writers he’s hoping to target with WordRates, and here’s what he told me:

“I would guess that the basic user is someone who really understands the business and wants to be better at it,” he said. “They’re already landing at least dollar-a-word features, or they aspire to dollar-a-word features, and they’re taking the business side of things seriously.”

Since I recently got my first $1-per-word gig — though it’s for ecommerce writing rather than feature writing — I might be at the level where I could benefit from joining WordRates. I could even sign up for a paid membership, which costs $35 for six months and $50 for a year, to take advantage of WordRates’ additional features.

Carney showed me some of the benefits available to paid members, including email and contact information for editors and an in-depth discussion of how to read and negotiate a writing contract. This type of business information could be useful to me at this point in my career.

“There are things that we need to worry about as writers,” Carney explained. “Can you reprint your story, how do you reprint it, do you have the right to do it? Are you getting an indemnity clause here, so if the magazine gets sued for libel, you personally go bankrupt? These are important questions that we have to think about.”

Right now, anyone can sign up for a WordRates membership, whether they choose the free or paid option. Although writers at all levels can benefit from exploring the site, I feel like WordRates could be more transparent about who it’s for and how difficult it is to land high-paying writing jobs, since it’s being transparent about other elements of the writing business.

Because that’s the truth of it, as Carney stated above: Breaking into the high-paying markets is hard. PitchLab might only be able to sell two stories a year, even with its team of connected mentors.

But it’s still a step in the right direction, and WordRates is barely a week old. I’m curious to see whether the writing community continues to support this site now that it has launched.

What do you think of WordRates? Would you rate your editors anonymously online? Might you consider sending a pitch to PitchLab?

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Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance, and her work has also appeared in The Toast, Yearbook Office, and Boing Boing.... .

Nicole Dieker | @hellothefuture

Nicole Dieker
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Comments

  1. Nicole, I’m glad to see you tackle this topic. I was approached by WordRates as well, and was very skeptical about their model. Most writers make so little to begin with — and now they’re going to give up 15%?

    I’m having a hard time seeing how these well-connected mentors make enough with that cut to make it worth their time, too.

    Also…why would top pubs want to be pitched by WordRates mentors on behalf of others? I would think editors might find that real annoying.

    And then there’s the anonymous review problem, too. Why not just make people verify with Facebook or something, at least?

    I’ll definitely be following this site closely. Solid piece, Nicole!

  2. Thanks nicole.

  3. Thank you Nicole for sharing. Its a great insight.

  4. Hi Nicole,
    Thank you for raising and addressing some of the very questions I had about WordRates / PitchLab. Initially, I thought this would be in line with what the literary agents do for the writers. It is difficult to understand how can one think of putting an “upward pressure on magazines” just by selling only “two stories a year”. For a writer, the chances of having his / her pitches reviewed and feedback received seem to be as great or slim as from pitching directly to the magazine editors. That said, this may still be a step in the right direction. I sincerely hope this works at least to a reasonable extent, not only for a better payment rate, but also to have a more streamlined process for the magazine writers.

  5. Guy Riessen says:

    Hmm. The most fundamental concept of transparency means there would not be anonymous reviews. What next, “War is Peace?”

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