Manjula Martin was always curious about how much money writers make. So, instead of tiptoeing around the underreported information on compensation for freelance journalists that already existed, she decided to bust the door open in the spirit of transparency.
In 2012, Martin started Who Pays Writers?, a site that called on freelancers to anonymously divulge how much publications paid for assignments. For example, on April 30, a writer revealed The Sun pays $600 for a personal essay between 2,000 and 4,000 words. A day earlier, someone disclosed that Esquire.com gives $150 for online articles between 500 and 1,000 words. And besides just listing dollar amounts, posters often add tips and instructions about topics like cold pitching, the editing process, and how long it takes to receive a check after publication. Ultimately, the site helps writers assess what publications are worth their time and energy.
Now, Martin’s popular blog, which has been revamped, exists as a companion to Scratch Magazine, a new publication she started with fellow freelancer Jane Friedman, who used to work as the publisher of Writer’s Digest. Scratch gives writers an inside look at how much their peers are making, which fields are lucrative, how fellow journalists live on their salaries, and how to get ahead in the writing world.
Martin, who lives in San Francisco and has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Modern Farmer, and San Francisco Weekly, believes the more than 600 subscribers to her magazine will now feel less isolated. “They’re relieved that they aren’t the only types of writers struggling and struggling to get paid,” she said. “People say, ‘It’s not just me. I’m not alone in this.’ That’s really important to us. We love the idea of creating a community around the magazine.”
The first digital issue, released this past January and titled “Hunger,” featured interviews with writers including Susan Orlean, a roundtable with literary agents, and a piece by Friedman on the reversion of rights clause in contracts. There’s also a personal essay by Martin about her hustle in the freelance industry from 1992 to 2002.
The second issue, posted in April and titled “Faith,” included a discussion with Cheryl Strayed and another contracts article about subsidiary rights. Andi Cumbo-Floyd, a full time writer, detailed her daily schedule and talked about her experiences creating content for online-business managers, executive coaches, and portable toilet companies.
When Martin and Friedman met, they came up with the idea to supply that necessary content to their peers. Friedman says they’re aiming to reach copywriters, journalists, creative writers, and personal essayists. Scratch will be released quarterly online, and an annual subscription costs $20. Individual issues can be downloaded for $6 each.
“Since it’s kind of a taboo subject, a lot of writers don’t talk about how much they earn,” Friedman said. “There are a lot of strange expectations about it. We’re trying to shed light on how writers make a living and how to become more educated about the publishing industry.”
“We’re trying to shed light on how writers make a living and how to become more educated about the publishing industry.”
Despite the fact Who Pays Writers? did well on its own, Martin says the readers wanted more than just financial figures. “A lot of writers need context,” she added. “It’s great to know the numbers because the publishing business is not standardized. There are so many ways people can be writers or freelancers. They wanted a larger conversation around it.”
Both co-founders stress that it’s hard to make a living as a freelance writer for a few reasons: There are more people than ever writing for free, and quality publications like The Atlantic are mostly sticking to their own staff members and not hiring many outside writers.
However, Friedman argues if writers have specialties, can market themselves as brands, create their own websites, and are visible in channels where leads can seek them out, they will be able to make their fair share of “scratch.”
“Writers are really hungry for this kind of information,” Martin said. “I’m hearing that they want more.”
Image via Nick.com