San Francisco Tumblr Keeps Tabs on Who Pays Writers What

The Tumblr Who Pays Writers was launched in December 2012 by Manjula Martin. It grew innocently out of a Twitter conversation the San Francisco-based freelancer was having with some friends.

“There’s been a lot of talk lately about how publishing is changing,” Martin tells FishbowlLA. “Whether or not everyone agrees with that, it inspired a question for me: How can we as culture workers navigate this industry – or help it evolve new models – if we’re not talking openly about its economic realities?”

“I had been thinking about this a lot as a freelance writer and editor who moves between copywriting, consulting, journalistic work and “creative” writing,” she continues. “Then one Saturday morning, I was having a conversation on Twitter with some other writers about how a lot of publications don’t pay at all, and it seems like that’s not common knowledge. I had been making my own running list of rates I knew about, and I decided to ask others to contribute to a public listing on Tumblr. The response was much larger than I anticipated, which is great.”

The site is growing fast and has already inspired two offshoots: Who Pays Photogs and Who Pays Indeed. Her for example is the information currently listed for the LA Times:

Report: $400 for 900-word book review/feature (2012)
Report: $.50 a word
Report: $200 for an Op-Ed (Dec. 2011)

The only surprise here is that Martin, who has worked in the publishing industry on-and-off since the late 1990s, has no real horror stories of her own. Maybe that’s because – listen up, newbies – she never works without a contract that specifies when and how she will be paid, as well as what the late fees will be if the employer misses a compensation deadline.

“I also follow up quickly on late payments, and have learned to make friends with the people in accounting and receptionists,” she explains. “My worst experience not being paid was actually when I worked as a waitress at a small restaurant on St. Mark’s Place in New York City. I was offered $2 an hour plus tips, and at the end of my first week working 12-hour shifts the owner said I wouldn’t be paid for it because it was “training.” I found another job ASAP.”

Who Pays Writers is entirely submission-based. When we asked Martin if she ever writes for a third-party publication for free, she said yes. “It’s sometimes more valuable to me to place the right piece in the right publication for that piece; personal relationships with editors and publications also factor into it,” she says. “And I make the bulk of my living as a copywriter and communications consultant, so I’m not relying on my creative or journalistic writing to pay the bills.”

“Every writer has different financial needs, different motivations for their work, and different relationships to the industry.”

Martin has received some nice media coverage so far, and says that the bulk of her traffic comes from Twitter. “There is a really engaged writing community there,” she notes. Check out Who Pays Writers here.

[Photos: luxorphoto, Ralf Kleemann/]

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.