Why are Writers Frequently Undervalued (and Underpaid) in the Workplace?

Tuesday, 4 August 2015
If Carrie Bradshaw were real, I can tell you right now she would not  be living in a New York City apartment filled with Manolo Blahnik shoes. 

I am a full-time copywriter. I help coerce customers into buying stuff just by arranging words in a fancy way. I gain followings for the brand by making sure what we write in the right tone of voice, and by creating sharable content. So why am I commuting 4 hours a day because I can't afford rent anywhere?

Let me tell you now, I'm by no means horrifically underpaid. I thought I was - and did some research. Turns out, everybody pays their writers like shit. In 1988, some bloke in a meeting came up with the saying ' JUST DO IT.' That slogan went on to push the Nike campaign to the point that sales over the next ten years went from $877 million to $9.2 billion. I have to wonder how much Dan Wieden got paid for that. Writers are frequently underpaid, but why is it that we are seen as so undervalued to a business?

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I have a couple of theories.

1. Spellcheck. Ah, the delightful spellcheck. It squiggles away at anything spelt incorrectly and then fixes it for us. Congratulations - you can spell however you want to spell and the computer will fix it for you. Clever. There's a ton of stuff spellcheck can't do though, which is probably the only reason my job still even exists.

2. There are a shit-ton of writers out there, willing to work for free.  Anyone who has watched Gossip Girl and is an aspiring writer can relate to the eternal struggles of Dan Humphrey. We have become immersed in a culture of unpaid internships and voluntary work being the only way to get a foot-hold into the industry. In fact, there are so many of us desperate to claw our way into the heavens of freelance status that we come out of University bright-eyed and bushy tailed ready to work for free. Five years later and we are still being asked to produce free work and our metaphoric eyes are red, and our tails are limp. Why would they pay me for a few years experience when they can get an el desperado graduate to do it for free? Therein lies the problem.



We deserve to be paid as skilled individuals.

Oh, how I shudder on websites like WorkinStartups or if you search 'writer' on job sites like Indeed. Why? Because this is a typical byline: "Please note this position is not a paid position, but you will gain invaluable experience at a reputable company name.'

Let me clarify for you. ASOS is a reputable company name. Marie Claire is a reputable company name. GQ, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Horse & Hound, Landrover, Nandos, Westfields, Lloyds... Those are reputable names. Your random app that's #127 in the Apple charts? You are not a reputable name, so why should a skilled worker give up their time and effort to email you over a few articles for you to put up on you 200-hits-per-post blog for no fee?

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These are the reasons why a writer deserves to be paid, properly. Not minimum wage. Properly.

1. We respond and adapt to a brands tone of voice, and we do it properly.

2. We work to tight deadlines. We thrive under pressure.

3. We can type really, really fast. (My WPM count is 102 - my only talent.)

4. We are often degree educated, with a knowledge of grammar that no spellcheck could ever replace.

5. We are creative. We think of ideas other people don't think of. (This is what makes us indispensable).

6. We sell things. You tell us to sell your product, we can write in a way that will boost your sales. We are salesmen as well as wordsmiths.

7. We know our metaphors from our adjectives and are pretty much walking dictionaries. 

8. We usually have a pretty good grip on things like SEO - pretty handy.

9. We can make any audience feel a different type of emotion, just by writing some stuff down nicely on paper.

10. We can write a mean pitch, for all those editors we stalk.

11. If you're a journalist, your skills for research are second to none. You need to find the email address for an editor? Give me 5 minutes with your computer and I'll get you her home phone number while I'm at it.

12. We can amass a huge following by creating a voice/personality/story in our writing that audiences can relate to.

13. We multitask and juggle projects, writing ten different pieces of copy at the same time to meet deadlines.

14. We are genuinely passionate about the job, because if we weren't, we would do something else we would get paid much more for doing. This passion will shine through our work into your project.

15. We save your ass from badly-written company emails that end up on Reddit. 

I actually could go on, but to cut a long story slightly shorter - writers should be valued and the general consensus that they don't need to be paid 70% of the time needs to (for lack of better wording), sod off.

 If we have a writing-related degree / have published work / have interned for a reputable name (see above), we probably deserve a wage. And if you don't think we do, we're probably not good enough for what you want. A good writer is worth their weight in gold. People shouldn't forget this.
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