I was accustomed to not making anything for my short fiction. Within the ten year period that I've been writing seriously, markets have gotten tougher to break into while the pay has dwindled to little or nothing. Ludicrous as it is, I accepted that more and more publications tacitly required those three little letters––MFA––after a writer's name––a cost of thousands of dollars to appear in journals, the majority of which still paid little or nothing. But when full-time writers wanted to make enough dollars to at least get by on, there was always freelancing.
Sure it was hard. Freelancers had twice the stress of creative writers because, before every great article, there had to be a great query. Unlike fiction writers, article writers needed to know––really know not just vaguely know–– what they planned to write about in advance. They needed to line up interview subjects before they even got the green light to write the article. Then they had to research meticulously, cite sources, know how much quoting was fair use. It was a slow grind, but once they'd been at it for a while, freelancers often developed a stable of clients who standardly accepted their queries or that came to them time after time with assignments. Sure, it might be Fence Post Manufacturers of America or a request for an article comparing dental floss, but in the end this writer received a nice reward in the form of a fair sized check. With the discipline to query and write regularly, it could turn into a pretty good living.
Not anymore. Now even that market has gone down the tubes. These days my formerly professional freelance writer friends are lurking around pay-per-click and content for sale sites, sometimes posting several articles a day for which they often make less than $10 apiece. They take on pen names because the requirements and editing are often so bad, they don't want their names associated with it. They torture their sentences into adword phrases to earn more revenue from trashy looking Google ads. Often they sell full rights, losing that other freelancer benefit, reworking the same article for several different markets.
These articles are posted on sites like e-How and About.com and the numerous other sites advertising "expert" advice on a variety of subjects. Just how "expert" can an article be that is written in less than an hour? I'm not condemning the writers for lack of research. When you have to produce five articles to make one half of what you used to make from one, sounding like an expert rather than becoming one is the name of the game. This is what writing and by extension information has become in the age of the Internet. It's writers paid pennies to produce cheap trash that sells more cheap trash through click ads. And some of these sites have the nerve to prefer a journalism degree.
Writing is one profession most people take on because they enjoy it. No one expects to get wealthy these days. Writers are accustomed to living modestly, so they can work from home and enjoy a certain amount of autonomy. But when it turns into a sweat shop with little pay for long, boring hours, what's the point?
Maybe it is time to walk away. Maybe it is time to call a strike.