One of the biggest barriers I face as a woman writer of color, is being undervalued for my skills. In the United States, women of color make less money in their fields compared to white men and women in the same positions. I have approached many clients who did not think that despite having an MFA in writing, my skills were worth paying for. I’ve had clients tell me that because a project was their idea, and that my writing was just a way to get their idea down in a useful format, they didn’t feel that I needed credit or compensation for my work. I’ve also experienced small and large companies offering me “internships” which were basically glorified “volunteer-ships.”
It took me time to learn because all of these were things I wasn’t taught in school. I wasn’t taught that the freelance world will treat me differently for being a woman of color. I wasn’t taught that even after being a master of my craft, I would still be undervalued in the industry for it. Luckily, one of my professors did teach me about internships. She told me to be careful when applying for internships because they are often a way companies try to get free labor. The U.S. Department of Labor has strict guidelines as to what constitutes an internship. An internship cannot directly financially benefit a company and it cannot be work that it supposed to be done by a regular employee. Also, in the state of Georgia, an unpaid internship has to be for class credit. If you are doing an unpaid internship and it isn’t for class credit, you are just a volunteer in this state and a few other states around the U.S. I saw many of my classmates and friends get taken advantage of with these “internship” opportunities. These were things I had to learn the hard way.
I’ll be honest with you, I have over $100,000 in student debt because of my MFA. For me, it was worth it because my undergrad degree was free and my MFA allows me to do things that you can’t do without an MFA. It took me some time to realize that my $100,000+ debt means that I am worth over $100,000. This degree was an investment in myself that increased my worth in the market and I can’t let anyone tell me otherwise.
Now you don’t have to have a degree to be a writer, you just have to write everyday and get good at it. If you don’t have a degree, you have to calculate the number of years you have put into the writing profession to realize how much you are worth. Even if you are just beginning your writing career, don’t let clients low-ball you and squeeze more work out of you for less pay.
It has taken me months to learn my worth. For some people it takes years. So, I consider myself lucky. I’m still trying to figure out how to show my worth to clients, but I have noticed that once I quote a price and stand firm on it, many of the cheaper clients disappear. This leaves more room for clients that do know my worth. In the beginning this means I get less clients, but over time it means I end up with a portfolio full of clients that all know my worth. It’s a work in progress but, knowing my worth as a professional keeps me from getting taken advantage of by clients or companies that offer unpaid “internships.”
So please, ladies, don’t settle for clients who try to squeeze every last penny out of you and then some. Don’t let clients tell you that your job is not worth credit or compensation. Don’t let clients tell you that anyone can do your job because they can’t. That’s why you were hired. Writing is a skill that takes years to develop. Not everyone can do it well.
Know your worth as a writer and a woman of color.
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to share your perspectives on this topic in the comments below. I’d love to hear your experiences within the industry as a woman writer of color.
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