Pay Up or Shut Up

I’ve been writing professionally now for the best part of ten years. I love the diversity of my work – every day is a little different, every client or editor has different needs and every project is unique.

I love the fact that I get to write novels, stories, articles and chapters; and that I get to edit the same kind of pieces for others as well as CVs and other professional documents. And I get a real kick out of mentoring new writers and helping them to craft their work and get the very best out of it. There are now people out there making a living through writing or getting published because of me. I’m quite proud of that!

I’ve learnt to ride the ups and downs of getting paid and I know how to allow for those months between the work being completed and the pieces being published when you finally get paid. I don’t panic when money hasn’t come in for a couple of months and I don’t go nuts when six months of fees all come in together. I got budgeting correct right from the start!

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

But there’s one thing I hate about this writing game – and it’s waaaay more annoying that the traditional pet hatred of writers, namely, friends and relatives who don’t think you have ‘a proper job’. The thing I really hate about the writing game is this: People who try to get something from you for nothing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve been the penniless writer who has called on his friends in time of need to help out. I’ve had book covers designed by professionals who were friends for minimal or no fees (sometimes despite me trying to give them money which they refused!). I’ve had friends act as ‘beta readers’ to proof my drafts for the sheer ‘love’ of reading my work. But notice that this has all been with my friends – not strangers. You can take liberties with friends. They understand; the love you; they want to help you.

Likewise, I’ve done waaaay more than my fair share of giving back to the writing community. I’ve written countless articles for free for newspapers and magazines. I’ve waived fees and given the money to charity for others. I’ve reported on charity events, written reviews for nothing but expenses (often not even that). I’ve worked on professional websites for nothing and I’ve given free mentoring to several writers. I still do, in a few cases, for people I know well and (usually) love dearly. Seriously, I’ve done my bit.

But my days of editing, writing or mentoring strangers for free are well and truly over – and have been for several years now. My client list is extensive and I don’t have time to take on work that isn’t going to bring in income. Nevertheless, I still make sure that every paying client gets far more than their money’s worth. This is especially true for my Asian clients – for whom I charge a fraction of my usual fees for western ones as the cost of living in Asia is, generally, much lower. Many of them are writers just setting out on their careers and I do my best to give them as much support as I can. It is a privilege to do so – but they still pay something! If you pay for two hours of my time, you’ll get four. I never short-change.

The fact is, when you get something for nothing you tend not to appreciate it. It seems to be human nature. If it cost you nothing then it must be worth nothing, right? That’s fair enough (perhaps) when you’re starting out in the business. You need the exposure and the practice. You write wherever and whatever you can to get the credits to your name – and rightly so. Getting paid is just a lovely additional bonus. But what they don’t tell you in ‘writing school’ is that there are some out there who will always think they are doing you favour to write in their paper, edit their book or create that powerpoint presentation for a business meeting for nothing. Take my advice: Such people do not value your work.

These days, it just annoys me. Clients who have been with me for a long time know I’m worth the money and that they get good service as a result. But I’m fed up of the number of times I have emailed, messaged or spoken with a potential client extensively only to realise, after a while, that they are expecting me to complete work for nothing or for very little pay, or they are otherwise trying to wheedle out of parting with a penny. It’s such a waste of time and effort; it’s soul-sucking and energy-draining.

If you’re a writer who has credits for your name but you’re still just in the early stages of your career then my advice is this: Know your worth; determine your price; then tell prospective clients to ‘pay up or shut up’. Don’t be conned by promises of paying properly ‘next time’ or of more work in the future which they’ll pay you lots more for. Believe me – I’ve heard it all.

So to finish, let me state here, clearly, for the record: If you want someone to edit your book, write your CV, proofread your articles, write a review/chapter/article or mentor you through your writing career, and you’re not ready to pay a reasonable fee for it – then don’t come this way. If you want quality writing and editing, and personal service that is (if you don’t mind me saying) pretty damned good, and don’t mind paying one of the most competitively priced fees on the market…then welcome to the family. Let’s get some work done.



Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!

Sign up for Ken’s new writing project – ‘The Pukur’ – at Patreon.

Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.

D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at


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