Monday, August 13, 2012

Value of a Word

Words ain't worth much.

At least that's how it seems. Just about anyone can string words together into a sentence and most folks don't like to sully up their day with too much reading anyhow, so why should words cost anything at all?

But everywhere you look - be it in print, online, on advertisements, storefronts - the written word can be found. And there's a good chance that somebody, somewhere, at one point or another, wrote those words.

But is that worth?

Not much by the sound of business owners who need written work - advertisements  product descriptions, employee handbooks, reviews, mission statements, blog articles - and think so little of the worker holding the pen that it is all they can do to disdainfully throw a few pennies at the diligent wordsmith.

If my opening foray into the wild, seemingly unregulated world of freelance writing has taught me anything, it's that people truly don't give a crap that you know how to string a sentence together without sounding like a drunken six-year-old.

"If you are a good writer, this should be EXTREMELY easy for you" says the client seeking a 50-page manual on forklift operation for a the extraordinary price $50 USD. 

Easy? Yes, if you want the work to sound uninformed and be without any form of grammar check or time spent on proper diction. Good writers produce good writing when given TIME - and time is indeed money. Time spent not only writing but also spent researching, and less compensation offered for that time, the less time is spent on a particular piece. Because yes, strangely enough, writers also need to eat.

Let's do a little math, shall we?

Let's say an average page is about six hundred words, no, five hundred words - to make things easy. Okay, now let's say someone wants fifty pages of five hundred words each. Sure, 50 X 500 = 25,000 words. Alright, that's a decent-sized project. Even if I'm a good writer and the work is relatively easy, it's still going to take a good amount of time. At 25,000 words, your $50 compensation works out to exactly $0.002 a word or two-tenths of a penny...

But, words are easy right? Why should they be worth more than that?

Some more math (bear with me).

Even if I was a reasonably fast writer (which I'm not) and could come up with about 1,000 words of perfect copy each and every hour, at the rate of $0.002 a word, I'm still only making $2.00 an hour.

What kind of sweatshop bullshit is that?

Quality pay = quality work

The above is an extreme example. Most clients offering work are more reasonable than this fellow, but not much more so. It's one thing to offer work up at (a fairly standard) rate of one to two pennies a word (far better than being paid in fractions) but it's quite another to then lay down a list of extremely unreasonable and contradicting instructions and expect hours of research poured into a 500 word article that will ultimately net the writer a whooping seven dollars - if it's accepted.

Though the basic act of slapping down words is relative easy and requires no heavy lifting, there is something of an art to making that mass of words first readable, then comprehensible, then interesting. Not to mention all the work that must go into actually making sure the words say something relevant to the real world and aren't a delicately-spun web of fabricated nonsense (which, by the way, is actually my specialty).

And all of that takes TIME.

In other words, the less you pay me for my time, the less time you get back, the less value you get for the words you paid for.