PWA introduces Carlos Gieseken

I guess we’re doing something right because just a few weeks after launching as an independent organization, we heard from recent PWA member, Carlos Gieseken, a web writer and editor for the Texas Department of Transportation.

Carlos said he wanted to get his creative juices flowing again after four years of churning out inter-office reports on traffic and highway conditions. He expressed interest in participating in any kind of volunteer position PWA needed filled.

Well, with just about 20 unique members — not counting those of you who had been with us when we were just your run of the mill group — we knew we needed someone with character and enthusiam to find Austin writers we were not reaching through the social website popularized by married couples looking for salsa lessons and singles looking for pick-up Scrabble games.

Carlos has been with us for a few weeks and already our ranks have swelled to 50 members.

Here’s a short introduction to PWA’s membership coordinator:

Where are you from?
Binghamton, NY (about 180 miles northwest of Manhattan), also known as “the other New York.”

Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to Syracuse University for undergrad and Boston University for graduate school. I studied English and textual studies and journalism.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Sophomore year of college when I took a writing class that I loved. The next year I switched my major from architecture.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?
I wanted to learn to be a good journalist. And I was really shy and figured that would be a good way to get over my fear of talking to strangers.

What did you do prior to working for the DOT?
I was a reporter at the Stevens Point Journal in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Have you ever hit a huge roadblock in your career and what did you do to overcome it?
During the recession of the early 2000′s I was stuck working for an insurance company for two years after grad school. I just kept sending out resumés to newspapers hoping I would get lucky. Eventually I did.

What brought you to Austin?
The weather. And I’d heard it was a really cool city.

Do you plan to stay?
I sure do. Four years now and counting.

What are your plans as the Membership Coordinator for PWA?
I hope to get the word out about this great organization. Once writers hear about it and see how much PWA can benefit them, I don’t think they’ll hesitate to join.

Did we tell you to say that?
Nope. (And you didn’t tell me to say that, either.)

Riki Markowitz founded PWA in January 2011 and launched it as an independent organization in September 2011. While a city girl at heart, Riki lives in rural Austin with PWA’s official mascot, Marcel Proust– a black toy poodle. Riki is also proud to have designed her own online portfolio without help.

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Why not joining the PWA could make you psycho

Happy Halloween from all of us here at PWA! In the spirit of the occasion, we’re hoping you’ll share your favorite creepy characters from stories and screen with us.

At the risk of revealing myself to be the creep I (not so) secretly am, I think I have to go with Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho. Why? Because he’s dreamy (here’s where the creep part comes in): dark, brooding, sensitive, and in touch with his feminine side.

It’s been said of Norman that he’s the man you think of when you’re in the shower. And what with the taxidermy and the unhinged monologues about those who cluck their thick tongues and suggest things oh-so-very-delicately, it’s not hard to see why.

Not to dismiss blackguard-dreamy (Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights) or bad-boy/lovable-sociopath-next-door dreamy (Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and yes, I’m a creep), but when it comes to Titanic-caliber dreamboats (you know this ship is sinking, but it’s going down in style), Norman is in a league of his own.

Sure, he has mother issues, but who doesn’t? And no one’s perfect, right?

Dear Norman also serves as a valuable warning to the writing community, for many of whom (freelancers, I’m talking to you) isolation is an occupational hazard, at least to some extent. You don’t want to end up like Norman, writer comrades, dreamy though he may be.

This of course is one of the many benefits you have reaped from joining Professional Writers of Austin (or will reap if you’re on the brink of joining PWA): a community of like-minded folks that will help lessen your risk for indulging in murderous rampages while decked out in Mother’s nightgown.

This being Professional Writers of Austin, I would of course be remiss not to mention writer Jack Torrance from The Shining, who notoriously reminded us of the importance of achieving a work-life balance. All work and no play

That’s enough out of me—who are your favorite creepy characters? What valuable warnings do they provide to writers?

Allison Floyd documents the experience of being a newly minted Austinite at Her sinister alter ego documents being a misanthropist in the kitchen at Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in flashquake, The Iconoclast, and the Berkeley Daily Planet, among others.

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How much does good writing cost?

This question seems almost impossible to answer when you first start out in the world of copywriting. There are lots of articles that aim to help you figure out what’s fair to charge a client given your skill set, experience level, the technical difficulty of the work involved, time required to complete the mission, etc., but perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is this: What would make ME feel right?

As some writers will tell you, they don’t get out of bed for less than $100 per hour. Be that as it may, your requirements may be much less grand. Perhaps you’re willing to accept $10 an hour or even $20 an hour. Does that make either of you wrong? Absolutely not!

Maybe someone who says they don’t get out of bed for less than $100 an hour is an insanely experienced writer who only works on super-technical pieces on the subject of nuclear engineering. You, on the other hand, may write blogs about the hardships of parenting, and have just joined the mommy-blogger circuit. There’s clearly a difference between the two types of writing (no offense to either of them), and one clearly deserves more monetary compensation than the other.

I guess my point is this: don’t take jobs where you feel you’ve sold yourself short, no matter what they are, or you’ll regret it. This particularly applies to corporate and copywriting, because honestly, those people can afford far more than you’ll ever ask them for, and any client who claims otherwise is a straight-up liar (or cheapskate—and which is worse?).

To get a fair amount for your writing, here’s my advice: first, ask yourself what’s the minimum amount you’d be happy with on the project in question. Ponder this as long as you need to. Then, double it. Maybe even triple it. And then tell your client that’s the minimum fee. This way if there’s haggling involved, you won’t feel ripped off when they lowball you, and if they give you a truly insulting budget, you can walk away without feeling like a chump.

Some other tips to remember when figuring out fees:

  • $1 a word is pretty standard for corporate and copywriting gigs; anyone who wants to hire you for less should quit wasting your time
  • Magazines will usually tell YOU what they pay, and you can take it or leave it
  • The more technical the writing involved, or the more research required, the more you can charge
  • Non-profits usually get discounted rates, so be a bit generous, but NEVER work for free!
  • Be sure to tell your clients that more than two rounds of revisions will cost them, to avoid finding yourself stuck in a never-ending cycle of edits with clients who are never satisfied

Got more questions about what to charge a new client? Leave your comments below or hit me up with questions at laura [at] buttontapper [dot] com.

Laura Roberts is the editor of the rebellious literary magazine Black Heart, and a writing coach & manuscript consultant at WriteByNight. You can follow her on Twitter @originaloflaura, or check out her personal website.

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Last chance to join a virtual community for freelance writers

Writers, are you tired of earning peanuts? Ready to learn how to make more from your writing?

If so, then PWA invites you to check out the Freelance Writers Den: a virtual community for freelance writers.

The Freelance Writers Den is run by Carol Tice, six-figure earner and owner of the insanely helpful blog, Make A Living Writing.

Carol discovered that she had such a bustling community on her blog that she wanted to do something more for them.

So she created the Den.

The best place to learn about freelancing
The Den is a members-only forum for writers who need a place to learn — through e-courses, forums and live events. Members get support, advice and encouragement from both fellow writers and established experts. They also get a quality job board that cuts out all the low-paying gunk.

I’ve been a member of the Den since Carol opened the doors in July 2011. I can honestly say that I’d be lost without it. As a relative newcomer to the freelancing game, I’ve learned everything I know from the professional training that the Den provides.

My favorite part is the weekly seminar where you can log-on remotely and interact with experts by instant message. These events cover topics of practical importance to the freelance writer, such as:

  • What to charge for freelancing assignments
  • Cold calling for wimps
  • 20 tips to rock your query letter
  • Top reasons your blog isn’t making money (including expert critique of members’ blogs)
  • Advanced marketing strategies

If you miss the event, you can always log onto the Den later and grab the recording.

Carol also offers e-courses about some of the biggest challenges facing Den members. Here’s a sample:

  • Business basics
  • How to break into freelance writing
  • Overcoming fear and finding inspiration
  • All about content mills

Carol is ever-present in Den discussions. I’ve never posted a call for advice where she hasn’t answered personally. It’s like having an online mentor.

But …
But there’s only one problem. Carol closes the door to the Freelance Writers Den this Friday, October 28.

Why? Because she wants to keep the numbers manageable so that she can continue to provide a personal service to her Denizens.

So if you want to join the Den, then sign up before midnight this Friday.

What about cost? you ask.

Well, it’s $25 per month and you can cancel at any time. Think of it as costing less than two Texas martinis per month. Your career’s worth more than that, right?

PWA’s role
PWA is proud to be an affiliate seller of membership to the Freelance Writers Den. If you sign up through us, PWA will receive a small commission that will go towards our running costs.

Learning how to grow your writing income while boosting PWA’s coffers: What’s not to like about that?

What are you waiting for? Sign up for the Freelance Writers Den today.

Questions? Email me privately or post comments below.

Carolyn writes about parenting, health and lifestyle and is working on breaking into the corporate writing world too. She’s been published in the New York Times, The Austin American Statesman and also writes for an Austin-based lifestyle mag. Carolyn has both a professional website and a blog, only one of which is serious.


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Could you do me a favor? Think before you say “no”

Arianna Huffington, founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, launched HuffPo in 2005 as a news, culture and entertainment blog site. It quickly became popular – a difficult feat for any website, especially one that essentially aggregates content from authentic news sources.

Would you write for HuffPo for free?
Few would argue that Huffington’s success is due, in part, to the favors she receives from her many famous friends. You see, prior to HuffPo’s merger with AOL this year, much of The Huffington Post’s original content was provided, for free, by the likes of Bill Mahar, Alec Baldwin, George Clooney, Madonna, Russell Simmons, Rob Lowe and many more entertainers, trendsetters and Hollywood elite.

If you received an email from Arianna asking you to write a blog post, you’d say “yes,” right? Of course you would. Now, if you received an email from anyone else asking you to spend an hour or two writing a blog post for “Insert the Next Great American Blog Name Here,” you may not be so eager to volunteer your time.

And in some respects, you’re completely justified.

You’re busy. You’re trying to make a buck, pay your rent and, frankly, no one wants to work for free. On the other hand, just because a paycheck is not crossing hands today does not necessarily mean you’re being exploited.

Free writing = prestige and samples … or exploitation?
Writers are not the only professionals who are asked to help out a friend from time to time. In fact, if there were a list of professionals who are most exploited in this way, we may not even be in the top three. But it’s hard to not feel used when a good percentage of job listings for writers are for “amazing opportunities” for you to write 500-word blog posts in exchange for prestige and writing samples.

If you’re a recent graduate and have no writing samples at all, I encourage you to write one blog post for free per website and not a single sentence more.

When a friend makes you the same offer, however, there may be just a little more than prestige and writing samples waiting for you at the end of that post that took an hour of your time.

How do I know this? I recently asked a colleague to write a blog post. I never suggested the post would bring him fame or fortune. I couldn’t even promise that anyone would read it. But by writing the post, he was doing me a favor and I re-pay favors.

I’m not suggesting that you take on every pro-bono project that comes across your desk. But I am suggesting that you carefully weigh the pros and cons. When you interview for a job, you’re given a test. It could take you anywhere from a few hours to a few days to take the test. Some companies ask candidates to work on real projects. There’s a strong possibility that a test you’ve taken for a potential job contained elements used by that company for profitable purposes. You probably didn’t see a dime and you may not have even gotten the job.

Writing for free is a networking tool
How does this tie in to providing 500 words to your friend’s blog? Having a good relationship with your colleagues can be the difference between you getting a job lead and someone else getting that lead. In the decade or so I’ve been in this field, I’ve always had a shortlist of work friends with whom I toss work toward and get some leads in return.

I just earned two months rent for two weeks work from a woman I hired to work for me in 2000.

Not every free blog post you write, not every manuscript you proofread, or screenplay you comment on will lead to anything, but it could lead to a lead. If you don’t want to play nice with your colleagues, they won’t want to play nice with you. The person who very nicely, very politely suggested that I contact him in a month when his schedule may or may not free up certainly did not pass up the opportunity to write a Pulitzer Prize winning essay. I can’t offer him any money right now, either. But what I could have offered him was a lead to a freelance gig that he’s qualified for.

I’ve been talking with someone about a paying project that this person is perfectly qualified for. And I want nothing more than for my friends to be successful. On the other hand, I also want nothing more than for my friends to want me to be successful as well.

PWA readers, have you ever done pro bono work? Do you think it’s worth it?

Riki Markowitz founded PWA in January 2011 and launched it as an independent organization in September 2011. While a city girl at heart, Riki lives in rural Austin with PWA’s official mascot, Marcel Proust– a black toy poodle. Riki is also proud to have designed her own online portfolio without help.

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Content farm castaway: a disillusioned writer leaves Demand Studios

Demand Studios is built on the labor of freelancers. Every month, more than 10,000 writers, editors and videographers create content for Demand’s internet properties — popular websites like LIVESTRONG, eHow and

Critics call Demand Studios a content farm, claiming that they stuff the internet with low-quality articles churned out by ‘robots’. Demand Studios prefers to call their writers ‘professional creators [producing] content of the highest quality.’

I interviewed a Demand Studios creator/robot who’d worked there for two years. Recent changes to Demand’s business model means that freelancing at Demand is no longer profitable. He spoke to me about his experiences.

Q: How did you start working for Demand Studios?
A: Before 2008, I used Demand to supplement my freelancing income. Then the economy crashed. So I fell back on Demand and gradually it became full time. Because I was making enough money, I stopped prospecting for clients with gusto.

Q: What was your income?
A: About $25/hour, bringing in $150-200 per day. For Austin, that’s not a bad living.

Q: What did you write about?
A: I specialize in health so I wrote for LIVESTRONG. I could pick ten similar titles and crank them out quickly. I’d familiarize myself with a topic e.g. hypertension, and then claim those titles for months in a row. I became an expert.

Q: Did it feel like a content farm?
A: You know, the whole organization is shrouded in mystery. Emails came only from ‘The DMS Team’ and they didn’t trust writers to know their names even though they knew ours. It was enraging. Also, it was very impersonal. There’s no interaction with the editors; they can reject your article for flimsy reasons, and you don’t get a kill fee. I hate the anonymity and lack of collaboration. So yes, I did feel like a faceless worker down on the farm.

“Demand’s treatment of writers is unethical. They have all the power, share none of the profits and give writers little control over their work.”

Q: You say it’s all over now. Why can you no longer earn a living from Demand Studios?
A: Two weeks ago, I found that all the $25 titles were gone. A message from The DMS Team said that they were reducing duplicate titles but they had also removed all LIVESTRONG titles. I capitalize on duplicate titles. That’s how I could write so many articles per day. Now there are only $15 articles for other clients (e.g. eHow), but it’s not worth my time to write those. I can’t make a living on $15/hour.

Q: How will you earn a living?
A: I may apply to be a Demand feature writer because I know they pay better. Really though, I know that I should start over. I should develop my website, network, look for jobs, get paying work that doesn’t kill me, from people I respect.

Q: Are you ashamed to say you worked for a content farm?
A: I’m hesitant to admit it. People might assume I’m not as talented as I am. I admit making the lazy decision rather than doing the footwork of building my career. Demand was easy to fall back on … but it wasn’t all bad. The writing is interesting, it’s not as spirit-crushing as the ‘writing’ work that my friends who work in offices do. Demand gave me a good income, I got 1,500 diverse clips, I’ve published on big titles like It was just my desire for a more collaborative and personal relationship that hindered the experience.

Q: If the $25 titles returned, would you write for Demand again?
A: Honestly? Yes. That’s why I’m doing this interview anonymously. But I also believe that the efforts I’ve made to advance my career since LIVESTRONG went down won’t be wasted. I’d crank out half the articles per day and focus on finding more fulfilling work. Demand’s treatment of writers is unethical. They have all the power, share none of the profits and give writers little control over their work.  Ultimately, I want to put Demand Studios in my past for good.

What do you think? Have you, or would you, write for a content farm? What should this writer do to get his writing career back on track?

Carolyn writes about parenting, health and lifestyle and is working on breaking into the corporate writing world too. She’s been published in the New York Times, The Austin American Statesman and also writes for an Austin-based lifestyle mag. Carolyn has both a professional website and a blog, only one of which is serious.

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PWA Picks … the best writing on writing

The week of October 14th marks a full month of Occupy Wall Street. It will also be remembered for kicking off our inaugural PWA Picks post – or we can be hopeful. On a monthly basis, PWA will highlight one writer to essentially play media show and tell.

This week I found myself at the tail end of one project and on the cusp of the rest of my life. When you don’t have a lick of work lined up, fear sets in. And when that happens, I start checking out articles on how to write a better resumé, how to market myself, how to charge for what I do, and so on. So here’s what:

Dragging your resumé into the 21st century
PWA member and “Pressing Your Buttons Since 2007” blogger Laura Roberts, took a decade-old article about how to write a writer’s resume and brought it into the 21st century. While presenting your perfectly formatted, 100-percent cotton, wove-finish, watermarked paper resume in a leather binder was so the 00’s, Roberts explains that in 2011, an online portfolio is the way to go. “Clips, like resumés, are entirely digital these days. Potential employers want to see links to the places you’ve been published. They want to see reputable websites, brands and publications they’re familiar with, or at the very least some really well-written content on lesser-known (but not self-published) sites.”

So don’t do this.

What to pay a writer
While at her site, I also checked out this post on what to pay a writer. If you’ve seen Carolyn’s post on October 10, you know that content farms and even some print publications want to low-ball you into submission. For companies that are morally responsible enough to pay a fair wage, this is the page we should all be on. In case you’re wondering how to work with a professional writer, consider some sage advice from Roberts: “Don’t assume I’m free (as in available). Sometimes people will just drop emails in my inbox, saying “I need this by tomorrow night!” And I mean completely out of nowhere. Yes, people I don’t even KNOW (not to mention people I’ve never done business with) are somehow assuming that I will get right to work, dropping everything just because they threw it at me.”

By the way, I’m free. (Call me!)

How not to be a good writer
Now that I’m reading about how other writers work, I started stumbling on how other writers really work and some of it is just plain ugly. A recent article by writer Jim Romenesko reports on a topic that seemingly has no end in sight: internet content producers who think it’s okay to publish someone else’s writing word-for-nearly-every word. It’s not cool people. It’s also not legal or ethical. When I was an editor at one such content farm based here in Austin, I was shocked at how some writers believe it’s okay to regurgitate press release copy, maybe change a word or two and call the article original and unique. I had to school quite a few young people there and needless to say, I was not long for that position.

Does your online presence sabotage your career?
Finally, I came across this Gawker piece about how my online presence could sabotage my chances at landing a gig. It occurred to me long ago that potential employers are probably searching for my Facebook and LinkedIn pages. And they’re not looking to read my writing samples, they want to see how I behave in the real world. This article confirms it. “Nine out of 10 employers report using social media to screen prospective employees. 7 out of 10 report rejecting candidates based on their social media presences—and roughly the same number report accepting candidates based on their social media presences, too.” That’s why, if you go to my Facebook page, you’ll likely be bored to tears. Also, I don’t go out much.

What did you think of these articles?

Riki Markowitz founded PWA in January 2011 and launched it as an independent organization in September 2011. While a city girl at heart, Riki lives in rural Austin with PWA’s official mascot, Marcel Proust– a black toy poodle. Riki is also proud to have designed her own online portfolio without help.

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How to break into travel writing

I’ve long thought being a travel writer would be a swell job; I’ve also thought I might as well aspire to be a unicorn for as realistic a goal as this seemed. As with any type of professional writing, the odds are slim and competition is stiff.  But as a recent college grad with a complete lack of accounting skills, I figured I’d do some research on breaking into the field. To this end, here’s some advice from established travel writers.

Helen Anders, who writes the “Anders Meanders” travel column for the Austin-American Statesman affirmed the competitive nature of the field. “People with decades of on-staff travel writing experience have been laid off and are doing freelance. Few publications will use newbies,” she said. For those undaunted, she advised, “Don’t offer to write free. It cheapens the entire profession.” She also recommended networking: “Find somebody who already writes for the magazine you want to write for. Befriend this person. See if you can get a hookup.”

Tim Leffel, author of The Cheapest Destinations and Travel Writing 2.0 blogs stated, “These days, it makes a lot of sense to pursue one subject area or destination instead of trying to write about anything anywhere.”

Local Texas guidebook authors Paris Permenter and John Bigley agreed. “Whether it’s a type of travel (budget, corporate, family) or a destination, make sure you have a particular niche in the travel world. You can have multiple specialties but it pays to be an expert in one particular aspect of travel so that you’re the person called for assignments, quotes, or expert advice,” they said. “If you are new to the travel writing world, make sure you have some clips to show potential editors. Blog posts, paid or unpaid, are fine but they need to be representative of the type of work you would create for a print publication.” Last and certainly not least, they advised, “Be professional. Starting with spelling the editor’s name correctly all the way to meeting your deadlines, be sure that you’re as professional in your freelance dealings as you would be if you were on a magazine’s staff.”

Texas-based writer Alex Hannaford of the online travel and adventure magazine WideWorld also stressed the importance of developing a portfolio: “If you’ve not been published before, try pitching to smaller blogs, magazines or local newspapers first.” On the other hand, he said, “Ideas are everything. If you’ve got a really cracking idea that an editor just can’t say no to, this can be more important than how many newspapers or magazines you’ve written for before.”  Once you have an inspired idea, you have to form a good pitch, he said. “I keep my pitches fairly short—between one and three paragraphs—and I always answer the questions: why is this idea different and why are we doing this story now? But try not to make your pitches too dry: add some color in there; perhaps a quote. Give the editor a taste of what they’ll get if they commission you.”

Austin-based freelancer Susan Lahey advised, “Propose short pieces for the front of the book—snapshots, vignettes, there’s a greater market for these, and if you can get in with those you’re more likely to get features later.” She also stressed the importance of joining travel writing organizations: “That’s where a lot of destinations go to find people to write about them. You’ll get good story ideas.” She cautioned against accepting freebies, however, as most magazines won’t buy stories funded by freebies. She summed it up with what could be dubbed the Writer’s Anthem: “Be persistent and realize that rejection is part of your job.”

Are you a travel writer?  How did you break into the field?

Allison Floyd documents the experience of being a newly minted Austinite at Her sinister alter ego documents being a misanthropist in the kitchen at Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in flashquake, The Iconoclast, and the Berkeley Daily Planet, among others.

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The Decent Pay challenge for freelance writers

If you’re a freelance writer looking for work, I bet you’ve already stumbled upon that grubby underworld just key-taps away. Search result by search result, your quest for writing jobs has probably sucked you into a dismal place that makes you wonder why you thought it was a good idea to be a writer at all. Here’s an example:

A Craigslist insult

Last week, I replied to a Craigslist ad for a skilled writer to produce factual, compelling copy about Austin’s neighborhoods. I labored over my application. The advertiser replied, saying that each piece must be longer than 500 words, 5-8% of which should be padded with keyword phrases in bold font, plus no fewer than 15 secondary phrases, also in bold font. The example he sent was so riddled with typos, spelling errors and garbled sentences that one suspects his cat had run across the keyboard.

He offered me a royal sum of $20 for each article. He added that I must produce 25 articles per week.

Now, you might think that this isn’t such a bad deal. For 4c/word, you can spin trash in your sleep. You could earn $500 a week without using your brain at all. What’s not to like about that?

The advertiser asked for instant confirmation about my readiness to work, saying he could hire only five writers. I was too insulted to reply but was also discouraged because I know there’s no shortage of applicants willing to work for such pittance.

In my view, that’s not writing. That’s keyboard slavery.

It’s a race to the bottom

And this is why it’s bad news for all writers. Online, there are thousands of wordsmiths willing to chase gigs that pay pennies per word. The dubious jobs you find on Craigslist and on bidding sites like Elance and oDesk encourage the kind of race-to-the-bottom pay practices that keep writers locked in the mindset that 4c/word is as good as it gets.

By agreeing to work for pittance, we reinforce a low-pay culture and, because low pay begets low pay, it creates a spiral that is difficult to escape from.

The Decent Pay challenge

As a member of Professional Writers of Austin, I know that you’re serious about your work. Perhaps you’re already earning well, in which case, congratulations (and please tell us how you got there).

For those who are still new to freelancing, I have a challenge. Can you set a pay baseline below which you’re unwilling to go? Say, nothing for less than $50/hour, or some other liveable rate that genuinely covers your costs?

If that sounds impractical, then successful writers like Carol Tice and Sean Platt might brighten your mood. In this blog post, Carol outlines 7 reasons why you don’t have to work for peanuts. Sean Platt, an online writer who earns real money now, wasted a lot of his time at the beginning of his writing career working for less than the minimum wage.  Carol and Sean argue that you must actively market yourself, be creative about where you look for work and crucially, not work for less than it costs to get out of bed in the morning.

Both writers earn six-figure salaries now so you can trust that they speak from experience.

What do you think?

PWA members, let’s hear from you. How low are you willing to go? Is the Decent Pay challenge realistic?

Carolyn writes about parenting, health and lifestyle and is working on breaking into the corporate writing world too. She’s been published in the New York Times, The Austin American Statesman and also writes for an Austin-based lifestyle mag. Carolyn has both a professional website and a blog, only one of which is serious.

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Justine Tal Goldberg gets jiggy with PWA

When PWA founder Riki Markowitz asked me to serve on the board of her new networking association for writers, I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle?”

She wasn’t sure. I clarified, and PWA was born.

Reborn, actually. By now, you all know the story of how PWA outgrew, picked up and moved to the small but distinguished piece of cyber real estate on which you’re now squatting.

What you may not know is what the heck I’m doing here, and how WriteByNight fits in with PWA’s plan for world domination local community-building.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with the inaugural meeting of the Professional Writers of Austin Meetup group back in March of this year. Thirteen writers gathered at Rio Rita to see what this new and intriguing group was all about. Riki made her mission clear from the outset: to draw Austin’s wordsmiths out of the house and into a community of people who know what it’s like to not shower because you won’t see anyone all day anyway. B.O. aside, it was a productive gathering. I didn’t get to schmooze with everyone, but enough to come to a couple of important realizations:

  1. I was, in fact, not alone in this blessing/curse called self-employment, and
  2. I would never have to feel alone again.*

I left the meeting feeling energized and inspired. To do what, I wasn’t sure, but the feeling itself was good enough … for now.

And here we are again at the moment that Riki asked me to get jiggy with PWA, and I readily accepted. Here’s the long and short of it: By helping to develop this innovative group, the likes of which our fair city has never seen, I have the opportunity to open previously unopened doors for WriteByNight’s audience—sure, we offer programming, but very little in the way of professional networking—and nurture my own writing career—I’m a freelance writer specializing in lifestyle content, and a short fiction writer specializing in complaining about how I don’t have time to write short fiction.

But enough about me.

WBN’s mission: to help writers of all experience levels achieve their creative potential and literary goals.

PWA’s mission: to develop a supportive and informative community for Austin’s writers, editors, and interactive content creators.

Our shared mission: to help Austin’s writers, editors, and interactive content creators achieve their professional goals within a supportive and informative community. Hello, synergy.

I am honored to hold the title of PWA co-founder. I am jazzed to work alongside Riki to promote good will among Austin’s scribblers. I am inspired by PWA’s vision of an existence for writers beyond the solitude and deafening clickety-clack of the keyboard. I can’t wait to shake hands with each and every one of you, and welcome you personally into this community we’ll build together, one writer at a time.

*Professionally, that is. I think we can all agree that existential loneliness falls outside of the scope of a professional association. Glad we cleared that up.


PWA co-founder Justine Tal Goldberg is an award-winning writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction. Her short stories have appeared in Anomalous Press, Whiskey Island, Fringe Magazine, and other publications. Her journalistic work has appeared in the Texas Observer, Austin Monthly, and Publishing Perspectives, among others. She holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College. She owns and operates WriteByNight, a writing center and writers’ service, and official sponsor of PWA.


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