Speechwriter, Respect Thyself

Don't undermine yourself or undercut your colleagues by working for cheap or for free, unless it's for a very good reason.

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A PSA member had a principal he loved, who recently resigned the position. Still a sought-after speaker, the erstwhile boss asked the speechwriter to quote him a rate for freelance work. After consulting with me, he quoted a respectable per-project price. The former boss said the rate was “reasonable,” but chose not to pursue it, saying, “Honestly, these events aren’t worth that much to me.” The speechwriter writes, “I was about to lower the offer and then mentally talked myself out of it. Because those speeches are worth that to me.”

Which put me in mind of a piece I wrote last week, about the importance of getting paid:

As it says on my bio, I have been published in The New York Times, the Atlantic, the Chicago TribuneChicago Magazine and many other publications; and I’ve had my work rejected by other periodicals, ranging from The New Yorker to Modern Drunkard magazine.

Now comes Cannabis Magazine, whose director of marketing is trawling on LinkedIn, “Searching for content contributors! This is not a paid position but an opportunity to showcase your writing talent and industry knowledge on one of the top Cannabis related websites.”

Because what writer doesn’t want to be associated with “one of the top” dope websites? It’s a gateway byline!

In a rare example of people daring to say a discouraging word on LinkedIn, a number of writers pointed out that bullshit doesn’t make for a well-rounded diet, even for writers. “I’m especially impressed,” cracked one commenter, “with the requirement to apply for the unpaid privilege. That takes cojones.”

Of course there is only one response to this sort of nonsense, and it was delivered many years ago by the late writer Harlan Ellison, to a higher class of hucksters than Cannabis Fucking Magazine.

Look, I’ve written without getting paid. In fact, I’m doing so right now. And I wrote a ton of stuff on Huffington Post when the economy tanked, and all freelance journalism dried up dozen years ago. That makes me feel like a bit of a scab; at the time, it made me feel I was staying relevant, and finding new readers. But if you’re writing for free—or speaking for free—you should be able to say in a sentence or two, what you’re getting out of it, or why you’ve decided to give your talent as a gift. (And in those sentences, “showcase” should not be the verb.)

But writing for a weed website as a feather in our cap: What kind of dopes do they take us for?


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