Recently a friend of mine suggested that I join an online freelance community in an attempt to break into the American writing market. Online networking sites, writing forums, and other creative communities can be excellent "workshops" for growing writing skills, and as I was no stranger to getting my inspiration, and some of my writing jobs, from off the web, I signed up to elance with little trepidation. However, my hopes of US domination were quickly dashed. Also dashed was any faith I might have had that writers were at last beginning to be respected as skilled professionals working in a trade that requires creativity, dedication and talent, rather than simply late-risers in unwashed T-shirts bashing off 500 random words before lunch.
It is truly disheartening to witness the disregard some of those seeking providers on elance have for the welfare and skills of writers. Many are offering jobs such as writing five articles each day for a month (that's 150 articles in a calendar month for those of you who, like me, might consider themselves sufferers of dyscalculia) for the paltry sum of $500 (or just $3.30 per article). And, at $3.30 for 500 words that's a measly 0.0066 cents a word, a far cry from The Australian Society of Authors' suggested rates. Even if most of us recognise that the ASA is highly optimistic when it comes to authors' rates, to be paid less than 1 cent per word is surely akin to slavery. What's worse is that not only are writers bidding on these jobs (therefore letting these parsimonious operators believe their ludicrously undervalued jobs are justified) but they're actually doing them!
Are writers living on even less than baked beans on toast and two minute noodles these days or what? More likely, talented and experienced writers are being undermined by those living in countries with low living costs or are being forced out of the market by night-owl college students prepared to hand in a second-rate article in exchange for beer funds. (Not that I'm saying they're not welcome to them, but my point is that experienced writers have to maintain their dignity, and their mortgages, and refuse to mark down their skills and their profession by participating in unwinnable bidding wars only to then use up their productive writing hours on financially unproductive jobs).
High bidders (even those punching below their usual hourly rate weight and putting in bids that are still below the reserve set on the project) are being rejected in droves. Now, we all know the old saying, "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys", and I've no way of measuring the success of some of the "literature" coming out of elance, but some of the examples given of how to "spin" an article are true bastardry of the English language. Invariably, employers seeking monkeys to write their articles, ebooks or biographies insist that "This should be an easy task for someone who knows what their [sic] doing". Oh yeah, if it's so easy, why didn't you do it?
it is unlikely that writers will ever shrug off the unprofessional, dirty T-shirt, living on the breadline image while sites like elance continue to perpetuate the idea that writing is easy, that writers don't need to eat, pay mortgages, or buy new tracksuit pants, and that good writers are expendable.