Working for Free and Being a Shmoo

Working as a full-time Mercenary Writer in creative fiction is never easy.

When you’re starting out, you almost always have to have another job on the side, or at the very least dabble in other streams of writing, like articles and web copy to generate enough cash to live on.

If you’re expecting to start off as a creative writer or switch careers cold turkey for lack of a better term, you’re in for a rude awakening. Not that I would discourage anyone to follow their passion–just be ready to implement plan b when those $10,000 royalty checks don’t start rolling in.

In order to break away from the writing hustle–which coincidentally looks very much like the dance from Kung-Fu Hustle (google and watch if you haven’t seen)–you need to land one or more of the following.

  1. Name Recognition
  2. A Large Fanbase
  3. Good Consistent Direct Sales
  4. A Breakout IP

These are all long term goals.

Fully realize until you land one of those, life as a Mercenary Writer is a grind.


Aspiring/new writers often ask me about setting page rates and writing for free or cough, cough “exposure”.

My advice here is pretty simple.

Money = Time.

And no one’s time is completely worthless.

Any legitimate “opportunity” will come with pay.

All exposure jobs without pay are bullshit unless they are official intern positions at major companies. Even then, from what I understand, a lot of interns get man-handled and then released back into the wild when it comes time for a salaried position… but to be honest I’ve never had one so you’re probably better off asking someone else about that.

Anyway, it really comes down to how much you value you time, which is checked and balanced by what client’s are willing to pay for your work. This latter part of the equation is out of your hands. Clients will judge your work and determine what they’re willing to pay (more on that in a second).

In order to know your worth (and set your page rate), you need to first know what a professional charges. You need a real-world, real-market benchmark.

Amateurs, moonlighters, hobby writers – they’ll work for anything… a lot of times for free for the “exposure.” You can not base your rates based on those cats.

This capture from bleeding cool is one of the better rate breakdowns I’ve seen to date.


UPDATE: Since posting this article, I’ve put together a full budget/rate article.


A few final tips on being a freelance comic writer and setting your rates.

1) If you’re getting every job you go after, your rates are probably too low.

2) If you’re not getting any jobs you go after, your rates are probably too high.

3) Law of attraction exists.
If you work on a bunch of $5/page jobs, you don’t suddenly attract $50/page jobs… You attract more $5/page jobs.
(Coincidentally, I’ve found this applies to subject matter to. Work on a lot of fantasy, you’ll get fantasy projects.)

4) Be professional all the time.
Reliability and professionalism earn you more dollars per project and bring in more work.

5) Look at your work impartially–know your strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve said many times before, successful writers are impartial and objective when it comes to their own work.
When you have your rate, set it and forget it (Somebody should trademark that for an infomercial). While client’s (the market) will decide what they’re willing to pay for your work, don’t fluctuate trying to appease it (see tips 1 and 2).
Keep a steadfast rule of not dropping below your minimum rate, and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches.

6) The proof is in the pudding.
Pedigrees and experience are great for opening dialogues, but your writing is what people are paying for.
If you don’t have a solid portfolio of work. Make one.
A good sample script that you’ve made for yourself, that’s never gone anywhere, is just as valuable as a showcase of your ability as a script published by some unknown publisher.

And truth be told a poorly executed script can do more to hurt your chances of landing a project than help it. Editors are VERY good at separating script from final art–many clients are not.

7) Raise your page rate as you gain experience.
If you’re afraid to ask for more, you’ll never get more.
Look for the clients who are happy to pay for quality. They’re out there.
Just make sure you deliver. 🙂

And last but not least,

8) Don’t be a Shmoo.
Have confidence in yourself.
Put your ego aside and always, keep learning your craft.
Hot shot fly by night–work for peanuts–writers can’t compete with artisans who spend thousands of hours perfecting their craft.

Plenty out there will try, one or two might get by… usually you’ll just get hired to clean up their mess.

Be great at what you do and believe me the work will come.  ▪

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.

For more tips, bookmark the writing craft page. For all the tips buy the book.

Show your support by sharing the writing craft page on your social media.

5 thoughts on “Working for Free and Being a Shmoo

  1. That’s fantastic advise thank you for sharing. Love these industry tips. You’re how to write books combined with these industry insights are invaluable.

  2. Thank for your insight. Independent comics seem to have more writers than artists,and working for free means a lot of bad comics are going to be produced. The talent pool will dry up.

Comments are closed.