The Injustice Of The Pay-Per-Word Model


Writers’ fees vary hugely, and the debate about how much writing is worth continues to be a hot topic with no easy answer. I set my fees based on the work a job requires, and I’m always open to discussion and negotiation with my clients, but I’m at the beginning of my career, and as such sometimes have to accept work that doesn’t pay me fairly. At the top of my list of grievances as a freelance writer is the pay-per-word model.

Pay-per-word as a concept makes me angry. I’ve done it, and I’ll continue to do it while I have to, but it makes me cross how much it devalues the art of writing. You’d never pay an artist for the number of brush strokes they used in a painting: the idea would be ridiculous. The brushstrokes are the components of something much greater, the creation of which has taken time, planning and creative energy.

Writing an article – which is the sort of piece you normally find paid for by word – takes research, planning, crafting and editing. 800 words are not quickly chosen at random and flung onto the page; they are not berries weighed in a punnet after picking. If it were that easy, then anyone could pick the 800 words – you needn’t pay a writer at all if you don’t believe any craft is required. And if you do believe that craft is required, then you should be prepared to pay for it. 800 random words can be written in maybe 15 minutes. 800 carefully chosen, well-researched words, tailored for a specific audience and purpose, and then edited and reworked for impact, cohesion and clarity might take several hours. It is not the same thing, and it makes me really angry how little writers are expected to work for under the pay-per-word model.

We don’t pay for cakes by the number of ingredients in them: we accept that talent and skill has gone into creating a whole item. The idea that a piece of writing should be any different is baffling to me, and it devalues the work that has gone into it, resulting in unfair pay and writers working for far less than they are worth.