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Podcast Episode 68: Working for free and the myth of ‘exposure’

Writers, stop working for free, and certainly never pay for the privilege!

if your business plan includes free content

We see it all the time, and it seems to be getting worse: business owners and media outlets put pressure on writers to work for free. Is there any benefit to this, or is the fabled ‘exposure’ they promise not worth a thing? In this episode, Lorrie and I look at the facts and share some rather strong opinions on the topic!

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Transcript

PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 68 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me’, the podcast where two freelance writers tell you all the tricks of the trade. We talk about the highs, the lows and the no-nos of successful self-employment, saving you from mighty embarrassment and mortifying mistakes, and guiding you to the very top of your chosen profession. Freelancing is a funny old world, but that doesn’t make it easy. Tune in to the podcast every week, and if you go to allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, you can subscribe from links on that page to ensure that you never miss an episode. We’ve made it really easy to sign up, whatever your favourite podcast technology is, and you will also find there any links we mention in the podcast, our own websites on social media feeds, and the frankly awesome A Little Bird Told Me Facebook page, too. I am Philippa Willitts…

LH: … and I am Lorrie Hartshorn, and today Philippa and I are going to be tackling one of our most loved and loathed topics. I think that’s fair to say, isn’t it?

PW: I think so.

LH: Today we are going to be talking again about working for free, because this is something that just won’t die. It’s getting worse almost, I would say.

PW: Yes. One of earliest episodes – was it episode 4?

LH: I think so.

PW: I will link to it in the show notes.

LH: All the way back.

PW: — was about working for free. And sadly, it’s not only not disappeared from freelancers’ radars, it’s if anything becoming more of an expectation.

PAY

PAY (Photo credit: tind)

LH: Yeah. And we are not happy about it, so brace yourselves for our latest episode in which we are going to cover all the things that we’ve noticed recently, all the trends that are going on in which sneaky people are trying to get you to work for free, and our thoughts on the situation, and how you can avoid getting sucked into that kind of exploitative working relationship.

PW: That’s it – how to handle it, really, how to handle these requests. And the idea for this episode’s topic came from an email that I received last week. Now I won’t name the company in question, but for the sake of this podcast Lorrie has helpfully named it Keith. And what Keith did is exemplify something that I’ve been seeing increasingly lately and it’s a worrying trend. The culprit – Keith – were a website that is pretty high-profile in its field, and its niche is one that I’ve been writing in a lot recently. So I’m on their email list, and I got an email from them entitled ‘Would you like to write for us – Keith?’ And I thought, “Well, yes, actually. Yes, I would. So I opened it.” And rather than it being full of details of how to apply or how to pitch, I found myself instead looking at a quite disheartening message. It says, “I’m looking out for talented writers who can contribute to our website. Contribution is free of charge –”

LH: [laughter] Wow.

PW: “We do ask for the article to be audience-focused, centred on fundraising, and not directly promoting your organization.”

LH: That’s generous.

PW: How kind of them. They don’t charge people.

LH: I know, wow. You don’t have to pay.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Amazing. I mean, I can understand why they said it in a way… There were still loads and loads, and way too many writers out there who will knock out rubbish guest posts in some desperate attempt to gather backlinks. I mean, you and I receive guest posts offers all the time, don’t we? You know, “I can write an amazing article for your website on – subject.” That’s like, “Wow, no thanks.”

PW: All I want in return is two do-follow links.

LH: Yeah. So I can understand trying to tell people that it shouldn’t just be promotional, but then to act like they’re doing you a favour by not charging you, that crosses the line by quite some distance, I’d say.

PW: Yeah. They want you to write for them. They’re not going to pay you.

LH: Already a bit of a warning sign.

PW: Well, yes. And they’re going to make it clear that while you’re not going to have to pay them for the privilege of providing them with free content, [laughter] we’re all very much to see that as a favour on their part.

LH: That’s lacking in self-awareness, I’d say, is about the kindest thing I could say. You know… No, it’s just silly. I mean, I had another incident of this recently. It was a for-profit company that I followed on Twitter. They put out a tweet asking for professional bloggers to get in touch urgently. Now being a professional blogger I did so, and I got an immediate and really enthusiastic, very cheerful email from them chirping about what a life-saver I was, and how they desperately needed content for their website straight away. And I said I’ll sign absolutely, but when I asked what the rate of pay was I was told that, ‘Unfortunately…’

PW: [laughter]

LH: It’s always unfortunate, isn’t it? The work wasn’t paid, but that I’d get great exposure, because they get a lot of traffic to their website – I didn’t get any figures – and they could tweet about me – Pip, brace yourself – to their 3,000 Twitter followers. Yeah, that’s just…

PW: Yeah. We, at the A Little Bird Told Me nest have long warned people against doing work for free if it’s going to be exploitative, and, sadly, writers and other freelancers being asked to do this is still incredibly common. And then this extra idea of paying others to publish you – if that becomes a sign of a new pattern emerging, then it’s one we’ve got to look out really carefully so that we can be armoured if it comes towards our general direction.

There’s a famous internet marketing forum that I occasionally check up on to keep an eye on what the latest is, and there’s a long thread recently where someone had explained his plan to set up a website that anyone could contribute to, and he was asking on the forum how much the readers would be willing to pay to have an article published on his site that, bear in mind, at this stage didn’t even exist.

LH: That’s ridiculous.

PW: And the awful thing was that people were responding to his question suggesting the different amounts of money they’d be willing to pay in order to get the backlinks associated with writing for him. So I responded that, you know, I don’t pay to write for people’s websites, I get paid to write for them. But the general discussion carried on. And while that site wasn’t planning to target writers, it was still promoting the idea that populating other people’s websites with something that we should be grateful for…

LH: I don’t understand it. I really, really, don’t. Because I don’t know if it’s wilful ignorance or what – backlinks from a website, they’re okay, they’re helpful, and they’re a good part of your content marketing strategy, but it’s not a one-way ticket to the top of Google.

PW: Well, no. And paid backlinks are against Google rules, so if they spot you, you’ll be banned.

LH: Awesome. Page 134 on Google.

PW: Exactly. And it will be clearly a site designed to put backlinks on rather than anything that Google will —

LH: How would it be good for your site?

PW: Yeah. Another situation that I came across a few weeks ago is similar, if not worse. I saw a tweet that said something like – I wonder how this conversation went. Client: “We want you to design us a logo.” Designer: “Great. What’s your budget?” Client: “Well, actually, we thought you might pay us.” Now, obviously, I was intrigued, so I clicked the link, and sure enough this was a company who had opened a competition that designers could enter, and they would use the winner’s design as their company logo.

LH: Okay. [laughter]

PW: Now many freelancers would object to this already. Designers in particularly are often under a lot of pressure to do this kind of spec work, where they create a complete design as an entry to a competition, and so it’s very much spec work on the off chance of a very small chance of eventually getting work. And so many designers see that in a similar way that Lorrie and I regard writing for free or blogging for free. It’s rough.

LH: You’re creating a finished piece of work. It’s like one of us writing a report.

PW: Exactly. It’s rough on the writer and the designer, but it’s also rough on the people trying to get money for what they’re doing, as well. But it got worse than that, the competition has an entry fee.

LH: [laughter]

PW: Designers have to pay them $25 for the privilege of having their work considered to be the logo for the Centre for Architecture and Urban Design in Los Angeles. Just everything is wrong with that.

LH: Yeah. There’s nothing right with that at all anywhere in this situation. That’s ridiculous.

PW: And despite a big Twitter backlash, I checked the site this morning and it’s all still the same.

LH: That’s outrageous. And the sad thing is you get a lot of people entering that competition.

PW: You will, because everybody wants their big break, and you just think, “Well, if I could spend a few hours and then get a really big gig, like being able to say that yeah, I designed the logo for the Centre for Urban Design and Architecture, that’d look great on my CV.” But the reality is there are other sites, like 99Designs, which work on a similar basis. You post a budget – they at least don’t pay to do the work – you post a budget and say what you want, and then as many designers as you want can submit an idea and then you pay the one you like best. And it’s the same thing with that. You can work full time submitting complete ideas and never getting paid for any of them because yours is not chosen.

"Your logo here"

“Your logo here” (Photo credit: jystewart)

LH: It just seems like pure laziness and just exploitation on the part of the client, really, because when you get in touch with somebody you talk to them about what you need and then you have discussions, you have initial discussions about how you’ll get a logo or an article or whatever you want to get.

PW: Exactly. Because I used to think – with a site like 99Designs I used to see the appeal of saying what you want, and then getting, say, 50 logos, and you could choose the very best one. And I used to really see the appeal of that. But now, like you say, I see it very differently, where actually the way to get exactly what you want is to work with somebody who can give you exactly what you want rather than —

LH: And to actually put some hard work in, rather than just sit on your butt and get other people to spend their time for free. I think it’s this kind of ‘if I can’t see it it’s not a problem’ attitude.

PW: Yeah. That’s it. And so we’re fully aware that it’s not just writers suffering this. The last time we talked about this on the podcast we’d mentioned it on Twitter, this topic, and we’d even heard from a woman who was a professional cake decorator.

LH: Oh, I remember her, yeah.

PW: Do you remember? And someone said to her, “Well, if we bring you flour and eggs and sugar, will you do it for free?” And that really highlighted how unreasonable a request this is.

LH: Yeah. I mean, when you put it in those terms rather than words and sentences and paragraphs, but cakes?

PW: Yes. And you instantly go, “Well, clearly there’s more to this than flour.” She’s clearly very artistic and this takes skill. But actually that’s the case will all of us.

LH: That’s outrageous, honestly. It makes me so cross. I’m struggling to stay not crossed right now.

PW: That’s one aspect of working for free that we’re aware of as a potentially rising trend, which is being expected to work for free and pay for the privilege. Now in a while we’re also going to talk about your more common-or-garden working for free, where at least it doesn’t cost you. But we also want to look at this ongoing issue of writers being expected to write for incredibly low pay. We’re not talking about being argued down by a couple of pounds. We’re talking about someone wanting 1,000 words for $7 – very low pay.

LH: Yeah. I was doing some research when we were planning this episode, and I came across something that I found really quite shocking. It’s a forum called Absolute Write Watercooler. It’s Absolute W-R-I-T-E.

PW: Of course.

LH: And on this forum there is actually a ban on criticizing unpaid or poorly paid work. It’s a writers’ forum.

PW: Now if that’s not defensive behaviour I don’t know what it is.

LH: Yeah. Now on one particular thread that I had a read of is a couple of years old now, but one poster on there is actually told off by a moderator for questioning a roll that’s described as part-time or full-time, has a turnaround of 24 hours for 3-4 500-word blog posts, and pays $5 per article. So the commenter is a user called Shadow Ferret comment —

PW: Obviously. [laughter]

LH: Obviously, of course it would be. It wouldn’t be something like Dave Smith for the sake of the podcast. No, it’s called Shadow Ferret. He comments, “I’m always intrigued by people who want something written but won’t pay professionally to get it.” $5 per a 500-word article and expecting 3-5 articles a day. That’s nearly full time work, and all you can expect to make is $25 a day. So it’s basically the same point that we’ve just made. Now the reply from the moderator is swift and in my opinion really shocking. It features excerpts from previous posts from the then owner of the site. And it reads, “I can understand your point, Shadow Ferret, but discussions like this one are the reason the Paying Markets Board was closed to comments for almost two years, and why we now have a rule against such discussions.” They’re really engaging with the topic then.

The post continues. There’s a really predictable history on this board, and these are the excerpts. Someone posts a low-paying job. Lots and lots of people post complaints about the low pay. It’s tiring. Now you’d think they’d take the hint instead of assuming that lots and lots and lots of writers are just stingy arseholes. But I suppose not. Instead, they’re besieging writers who are offended by low pay to just not apply and not say anything, because it obviously solves the problem of prices being driven down to a level way below living wage.

PW: Yeah. The problem isn’t people complaining about rubbish pay. The problem is rubbish pay.

LH: Exactly.

PW: And this whole thing about “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t apply” is the same argument as if you complain about racism in a TV programme and then someone says, “Well, if you don’t like it, don’t watch.” But it’s bigger than that. It doesn’t solve – there’s a bigger problem.

LH: Yeah. It doesn’t solve anything. And now the person that I’m quoting in these excerpts is the former owner of Absolute Write, and this is a ghost writer named Jenna Glatzer. And I did a little bit of looking around. On her Twitter profile Miss Glatzer claims to have written Celine Dion’s authorised biography.

PW: Wow.

LH: On her website she also states that she writes regularly for celebrities, and she states in her FAQs that “I charge a flat fee for ghost writing proposals, and I warn you that I’m not cheap.”

PW: Right.

LH: And not only does she actually charge for her ghost writing services quite rightly, she charges for proposals. And if you can bet your ass it’s not a $5-fee.

PW: No, she seems very clear that she doesn’t work for low prices.

LH: Funny that, yeah.

PW: Isn’t it.

LH: And back to Jenna’s comments on Absolute Write, she continues, “Please, if a job doesn’t pay enough to make it worth it for you, just don’t apply. There’s no need to post a complaint about it. If there’s something dishonest about the job, or if you want to raise other questions, that’s fine. But please, enough with the posts just to say, ‘Wow, that pay stinks.’ That almost never changes anything.”

PW: To be honest, if I run that forum it might change something because it might change my opinion of posting jobs like that in the first place.

LH: Yeah, especially if you’re a self-proclaimed not a cheap writer working for a variety of multi-millionaire clients.

PW: That’s it. Other circumstances you’d want to say, “Good for her. She’s made it. She’s doing very well.” But it’s just that enthusiasm’s dampened, isn’t it?

LH: Well, it’s like climbing up the ladder and standing on the heads of other freelance writers, because this forum that she owned has now been sold to somebody else, and I’m pretty sure that she didn’t sell it for $5.

PW: That seems unlikely.

LH: So Jenna goes on. “Complaining about pay rates only serves a few purposes. It scares off others who would post jobs here, and it makes hobbyists and new writers feel bad if they take low paying jobs, and it makes me grumpy.” Apparently, writers still weren’t happy with that, which prompted —

PW: Fairly enough.

LH: Weirdly enough – prompting Glatzer to ban what she called “snooty writers” from complaining about low rates. Because she deleted their posts and changed the commenting options on the job boards to announcement-only with responses only allowed by moderators. Now fast forward by two years and she comments, “We’re giving you all another chance. Please don’t abuse it and make us go back to announcements only.” So complaining about unfairly low pay rates, which the founder of the forum won’t personally accept is abuse. And what really sums this up for me, what really is the cherry on the cake, on the free cake.

PW: [laughter] Freely decorated.

LH: I know. What really sums it up for me is this tiny little comment in the middle of all of it, which reads, “Note: Absolute Write is a low-paying market. I’d really rather not feel like I can’t post our needs on our own board.” So Absolute Write can’t protect the writers that use the forum from exploitative employers because they are one.

PW: It’s so bad, because I know freelancers when they’re starting out really seek out blogs and websites and forums, to give them confidence and to learn about the trade.

LH: To reduce isolation of the job, because this is a very isolating job, and I think a lot of confidence issues with freelance writers come from the fact that you’re on your own and you’re handling it all on your own.

PW: Yeah. And so I lucky, many people were lucky in that they found actually the great blogs to be reading in that niche, and things that told me and know in certain terms I was entitled to decent money for what I was doing, that I was entitled to not be earning £4/hour when I broke it all down. And with that expectation and belief I was able to negotiate good deals for myself. I hate the thought of someone instead finding a site like that and thinking, “Oh, this site is about freelancing and they pay. Let’s have a look. Oh, they pay $5 an article.” But then thinking, “Well, this is obviously how it works.”

LH: Yeah, because she’s a freelance writer. This one is a successful ghost writer. Apparently this must be how you do it. And ordinarily I would feel torn about criticizing another writer so openly, and I’ll be honest, especially a woman, because it’s not easy. But I’m pretty much getting to snapping point with the attitude that writers are unreasonable and greedy and snooty for wanting to be paid for their work. I cannot see any reason that anybody that expects decent money for their own services to encourage other people to work for pennies or even nothing. It’s not acceptable.

PW: Yeah. And one of the ways that people often try to get people to work for nothing is the suggestion that if you write for us for free you’ll get great exposure. Hurrah! Now there will be the very, very odd occasion when it might actually be worth writing for free to get exposure to a particular audience. However, what you need to remember is that despite what people tell you in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases it is not worth it. Most of these opportunities won’t give you any exposure at all, and even those that do… Exposure isn’t the same as money in the bank.

LH: No. And if you get exposure for writing on a well-known platform that doesn’t pay all you’re doing is exposing yourself to people who go, “Oh, they write for free.”

PW: Very true.

LH: Awesome. More free clients, yes!

PW: Carol Tice, who runs the blog ‘Make A Living Writing’ —

LH: She’s great, isn’t she?

PW: She is. And that’s actually one of the blogs I was talking about earlier, one of the ones that set me up to demand decent prices for myself. — wrote a blog post recently that I linked to. She looked at the websites of three different people who had approached her offering her the exciting chance to write for them for free.

LH: [laughter]

PW: Now Carol Tice is, amongst other things, a very successful journalist who writes for Forbes magazine. She knows what she’s doing.

LH: She’s like one of the most popular online freelance writers out there. Every article she writes has hundreds and hundreds of comments.

PW: Yeah. She’s got the magic.

LH: She has. She’s great.

PW: Yeah. So she’s looked at these three different people that approached in different ways – I think one on Facebook, one by email. And she found that each of the sites that they were offering her the exciting chance to write on got not traffic, whereas she has a mega-successful website. They don’t, and yet they think they’re doing her a favour.

LH: Is this short-sightedness, isn’t it? Because with a lot of these free opportunities for exposure is part of the business plan, isn’t it? I will have lots of free content and then my site will make lots of money, and then I will get lots of advertisers and hurray, ching-ching all the way to the bank.

PW: And this whole thing of putting you in a business plan has got to such a ridiculous degree that I pitched the magazine and they liked my pitch and wanted my feature, and I asked about the fee, and they said, “Oh, you know what it’s like. We’re start-up. We didn’t budget for it.” Do you remember this?

LH: Yes. You’d just been to that content marketing show, haven’t you?

PW: Yes, exactly. And this was a magazine! And the magazine’s business plan hadn’t budgeted for writers.

LH: Amazing. [laughter]

PW: So no surprise that other businesses don’t budget for them if the magazine thinks that, obviously you try to then persuade me to do it for exposure, and then eventually ask my fees, interestingly.

LH: What a joker.

PW: Yeah. But there’s this thing of not putting email in your business plan. If you’re going to need something on your website or on your brochure, or on a leaflet, then it doesn’t come out of the air.

LH: Yeah. If your business plan doesn’t work without free content, your business plan doesn’t work. It’s a rubbish business plan. If you need content – I’m pretty sure you do, if you’re going to have an online business – and you don’t budget for it, then you might as well just upload an empty website – ridiculous.

PW: Yeah. You’ve messed up your planning, you need to start again.

LH: Yeah. Plan fail. Go and find yourself some funding from somewhere. Go and work a job somewhere for a while, dip into your savings and fund some bloody content rather than expecting content for free.

PW: And the content is what’s going to bring people to your website, is what’s going to persuade people to buy from you.

LH: It’s everything. It’s what’s going to appear on Google.

PW: It’s not incidental. Yeah, it’s not incidental to your success or failure. It’s business.

LH: No. it’s not just optional. Well, I’m going to talk about an example that happened to me recently. And one point that I wanted to make before that, though, is that when people offer to publish you for exposure – and that sounds like a good thing to you – what comes into my mind is that the best way for a freelance writer to become well-known and get real exposure is for them to market themselves properly. You don’t need to appear on some chump’s website for free, It’s ridiculous. Don’t bother wasting your time making money for somebody else.

PW: Yeah. Marketing is all about getting yourself out there.

LH: Absolutely. So get yourself out there. Promote your work properly, have a decent website, have an active, engaging social media feed or two, and you will have absolutely no trouble getting plenty of exposure.

PW: And if you decide that part of your marketing plan is to do some strategic guest posting, then do that on the basis of making your own choices about where to approach. Don’t do it on the basis of some chancer dropping in your email box and saying, “Do you want to write for our factory seconds shop?”

LH: Yeah. I mean, have a look at popular sites that match your interests and your expertise.

PW: And where your potential clients hang out. That’s the thing.

LH: Yeah. Absolutely. So if you’re a trade and industrial writer like me, you might go in and have a look at the trade and industrial publications, and see if they’re taking any guest posts, or see if they welcome features from people.

PW: Because they’re not going to be checking out Mr Factory Seconds’ website, just in case there was a good writer on there once.

LH: No, it’s bloody ridiculous. It’s completely stupid. Plus, most of these start-up businesses, they’re not going to get anywhere, especially if they’ve got a rubbish business plan. So you’re just going to throw your writing into the ether, sit there on some rubbish website that’s possibly going to get blacklisted.

PW: And it’s certainly less popular than your own if you’re doing something right.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. And this is what made me laugh about that stupid printing company telling me that they’d tweet about me to their 3,000 followers on Twitter. I’ve got 2,700 followers on my own account, plus another hundred or so on my Facebook. Plus we have this podcast, plus we have the Facebook page for it, plus I promote myself via newsletter and other means. There’s no way I need some random chancer with a load of bots following him to tweet about me like it’s going to transform my business into a FTSE 100 Company. Naïve at best.

PW: Exactly. I mean, we’re doing alright. The key is all Twitter followers of which we both have a good number, they’re interested in what we do, whereas your printing guy had Twitter followers interested in printing, presumably, which is hardly your target audience. We’ve got podcast listeners, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections. And the key to that is that we worked hard to maintain the relationships on all of those platforms. So in order for work for exposure to be significant enough to take our time out of doing that someone would need to offer significantly more than a few tweets.

LH: Way more.

PW: There was one instance when I did write for free. I think I’ve talked about it on the podcast before, and it doesn’t sit well with me because it was for a profit-making company, whereas my free writing is almost exclusively for non-profit. But I made a decision in that instant that it was worth it, and it was for a national newspaper with a very good readership. And even with that audience I didn’t do it for this mythical exposure thing, because even with that volume of audience it didn’t lead directly to any work or even any contact. However, I decided for myself that it was worth it so that I could add that newspaper to my list of places I’ve written for. A one-off piece of writing to improve my quotes indefinitely, that’s all it was. And for me it was a tough choice, but it was one that’s worked, although it still doesn’t sit comfortably with me as I said. I fundamentally object to writing for free for anyone who makes a profit. However, there will be times when it seems like more of a tempting offer, and for me that was one, but do bear in mind I wrote for a national newspaper and the exposure didn’t do anything.

LH: And I think a key point it to remember, as well, is that you wrote about something you’re passionate about.

PW: Yes.

LH: You led on the subject. You weren’t dictated to. It wasn’t please write X, Y and Z. And you wrote about something that you write about for free for non-profits, as well, so it’s really an area of expertise for you. I mean, it is a tough line. I wouldn’t necessarily criticise you for it. I can see why it doesn’t sit well. But in an ideal world, which should be a fairer one for writers, it wouldn’t have been a choice that you had to make, because a national newspaper which comprises all necessarily content would actually pay for content.

PW: That’s it. And I made that decision knowingly, and I am still glad to be able to list a paper in my quotes, but I do also feel resentful that they don’t pay their blog writers, and I hate having contributed to that. Plus, it bears repeating. Even writing on that platform didn’t expose me to more work. So if it’s jumped-up fellow with an empty website and a vague idea for a business it’s really, really not going to get you any work.

LH: Yeah, I think, you know, like I said before, I think the topic is an important one to you, and I think it was good for you, as well. You know, one of the benefits that you got with being able to express those thoughts and opinions to a wider audience and raise awareness of that. So I don’t think it was an entirely cynical thing, knowing you as well, but… It’s difficult, isn’t it? And it’s a slightly different thing, but again, one more reason to laugh at this printing mogul – I was asked by the owner of Bizitalk – and that’s one of the most popular business hashtags on Twitter – whether they could re-share one of the blog posts that I published on my website. So I said fine. I had already posted the work, so it was really no effort for me. I just had to say, “Yeah, that’s fine.” So they tweeted it numerous times an hour to an interested audience of business owner. And I write for business owners – that’s who my clients are. And they’ve got about 150,000 followers, so it’s slightly more than 3,000, and that’s not counting their smaller satellite accounts. And they posted a link to that blog for days on end. I’m talking numerous times an hour because this is what they do, they’re advertisers.

PW: If it’s one thing Busy Talk are very good that it’s self-promotion.

LH: Exactly. And they prefaced the link with the fact that I’m their top blogger. They got record traffic for my article, and basically the bee’s knees. And they even gave me a mention in their monthly newsletter. I got literally no work from it. And I’ve got an active social media profile, I’ve got an updated very nice neat website, I was interacting with people. I interact regularly on Twitter, Facebook, whatever. I got nothing. I go a few new followers, but that doesn’t count for anything.

PW: Exactly. And we both offered that work for free, we both made a considered decision to do so, and while I don’t regret it, and Lorrie doesn’t regret it, it does go to show that you’re just not going to persuade of the exposure will pay the bills. It may serve other purposes for you and you’re always entitled to make your own decisions on this stuff. And as we said, they’re not always easy decisions, but don’t be seduced by the idea without thinking it through realistically.

English: University of Cambridge. University Hall

English: University of Cambridge. University Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LH: No, absolutely not. There was a case, too, at the end of last year here, in the UK, and there’s a novelist, critic and journalist called Philip Hensher, and he was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize a couple of years ago, so he’s a pretty decent writer. And he was asked by an academic at Cambridge University – and it’s fair to say it’s one of the wealthiest educational establishments in the country. He was asked to write a preface for this academics book for free or, as it later transpired, in return for books. Because we all know that books can completely be used to pay the gas bill. But when Hensher refused to do that he was dubbed “priggish and ungracious” by this professor of German, Andrew Weber.

PW: Because, of course, think of the exposure he’d have got having written a preface to someone else’s book.

LH: I know. Obviously. When I’m looking to hire a writer what I do is I go and look at books, and then check who wrote the preface…

PW: Unless they haven’t written any prefaces, then off the list.

LH: Yeah. It’s no good, is it? But going back it, it smacks of pure sulkiness to me, it smacks of infantile sulkiness. If you want a Man Booker Prize shortlisted novelist and write a preface for your book because, frankly, who wouldn’t? It’s because it’ll look awesome to have someone introducing you, but what a cheek! What a pure cheek to suggest that you should get something that you really want and something that will really benefit you for free, just because you want to. I mean, it makes no sense.

PW: And it’s not even just that they expected him to do it for free. It was that when he refused, which is fully within his right to, they insulted him for it.

LH: I mean, talk about a lack of self-awareness. He must have been so… It’s Andrew Weber, I think, professor of German. He must have been so comfortable in his position so his entitlement to this free work from somebody he’d never communicated with before, who had nothing to gain from it, except a few books. He was so comfortable with that he called him “priggish and ungracious.”

PW: So rude.

LH: That is so rude. And again, it’s worth noting at this point – let’s go back to Jenna Glatzer – that according to The Times Higher Education the average Cambridge professor can you guess what they earned in 2011-2012?

PW: Well, it wouldn’t be fair if I did, because I can see it on our notes in front of us.

LH: Got it. Wow, listeners, they earned £79,022 on average.

PW: They’re not typical starving academics, then.

LH: No, I’d say not. And I’m guessing they’re not paid in books, as it’s quite common for everybody else than writers, it seems, in the currency of the realm, i.e. cash.

PW: There was a brilliant blog post that did the rounds years ago, where a man wrote to British Gas and said that he couldn’t afford to pay his bill for £62.67, and so would they please instead accept his drawing of a spider which he had valued to be worth £62.67, and they refused and sent it back.

LH: That’s so ungracious and priggish.

PW: And it was all – I will link to it if I can find it, because it’s a long ongoing interaction that ended up very funny.

LH: It’s good that they sent the spider back, though. That’s fair, I suppose, rather than just keeping the spider.

PW: We’re going to look now at a few reasons why you shouldn’t work for free. We’ve looked at why it’s not especially healthy to your business, but there’s plenty more reasons why actually it’s something you should avoid, and the most obvious reason that you shouldn’t work for free is that you presumably have bills and you need to eat and clothe yourself and keep a roof over your head. It’s the same reason that anybody with a job has a job.

LH: Yeah. I mean, you wouldn’t just get up at 7:00 AM on a Saturday and go into the office for nothing.

PW: That’s it.

LH: Yeah. I mean, one thing that gets me about working for free and allowing businesses to maintain this idea that there are people who deserve to be paid and people who don’t deserve to be paid, and that writers are firmly in the second category, is that it means that writing is only a profession for people who are already well-off. I resented it when I read it on the Absolute Write forum when it said “hobbyist writers.”

PW: Yes. That’s such a demeaning term, isn’t it? It just dismisses any professionalism you may think you have.

LH: And let’s be honest, it’s bollocks. I’m getting really cross, but it’s complete bollocks. Who for a hobby writes up to 5 500-word articles a day for $5 each on topics like software and the healthcare system, which is what this random – it was basically an article distribution service. So you’re looking at all kinds of industrial, commercial, you know, topics that people don’t write about as a hobby.

PW: Yeah. So all of which need research and writing and checking.

LH: Yeah, it’s not a hobby. It’s such bullshit. And basically saying “hobbyist writers” is the same as writers who work for free. You know, a hobbyist, my God! It makes me so cross. And we’ve all seen those magazine internships in the US being auctioned off, and I think there was one that was unpaid, obviously. It was an editorial internship at Teen Vogue, and it went for $85,000.

PW: And these unpaid internships are ruining it for everybody, frankly. I know people trying to break into various aspects of TV and radio broadcasting, and even if you’re not having to pay to get an internship, you still need to be in a position where for 3 months or 6 months you can cope with no income.

LH: Usually it’s people who’ve got mommy or daddy on the end of the phone, and that’s not their fault.

PW: Yeah. They move back home or their parents will pay for it, but most people don’t have that, and so they are automatically excluding a massive number of people because they don’t have 6 months of living expenses in the bank.

LH: Absolutely. If you can’t live for free and just get say your sandwich and then your travel paid for, then apparently you’re not committed enough. And there are plenty now of professions where, unless you’ve done unpaid internships or just internships – I forget to mention the unpaid generally.

PW: It’s always the same.

LH: Yeah, those are completely the same. They don’t care whether you were paid or not. Unless you’ve done internships, you’re no good. So things like fashion, broadcasting, as Pip said, radio, things like that, editorial, publication, you know, things like that. It’s ridiculous.

PW: Actually thinking about that thing of whether internship meant the same as unpaid internship – I think it must do now because I’ve seen on Twitter recently a few charities and non-profits saying “apply for our paid internship.”

LH: Oh yeah, they specify the other way around.

PW: And “paid” is in capital letters, with big exclamation marks, because it’s such a novelty.

LH: I always retweet those.

PW: I do, too. And I refuse to retweet unpaid internships, no matter how good the opportunity or no matter how good a charity. If it’s a charity…

LH: Do you know who is offering an unpaid internship recently?

PW: Go on.

LH: Simon Cowell.

PW: [laughter] ‘Cause he’s skint.

LH: Isn’t he a billionaire?

PW: Oh, at least.

LH: At least. What is he, a trillionaire?

PW: [laughter] Gazillionaire. Another reason that writing for free causes problems is that it devalues what you do, devalues what we all do. If you’ve got somebody who has a gang of writers happy to write whatever they want, just in case they get a mention on a website, then why should any of those people, be it the commissioning person or the writers, actually value what writers do? There’s no motivation in there at all to take what we do seriously, and to ever get in a position where you can earn a decent wage from it.

LH: Yeah. The number of times I’ve gone on these websites and seen something that appear to have been written by a five-year old with an access to a keyboard is ridiculous. You’re looking at work that’s been hammered out in ten minutes. It makes no sense, half of it has been ripped from somewhere else, it’s plagiarised and… To be honest, I get really cross, and I mean really cross when I see so-called professional writers on business forums say, or social media platforms, snapping up or even creating and offering opportunities where they will work for free for business.

PW: She’s not lying, because she then emails them to me. She is incredibly cross and I join her.

LH: I’m so cross because I want to shake these people. Honestly, if you were a writer and you are out there thinking, “Yeah, I’ll write for some company or some for-profit company for free” I’m cross with you. And all the business owners I see swarming around them like flies – it’s nauseating, and it shows off the worst of human nature, to my mind, expecting something for nothing and being sulky and rude about other people wanting to pay their bills.

PW: Yeah. I use an Android phone app all the time called Bus Scout. I will give it a little promo because it’s marvellous. Wherever I am in the country it uses my GPS to find me and it shows me the nearest bus stops, shows me which buses go there, where they go to, when it’s due. And I use this app all the time.

LH: That’s brilliant.

PW: If I’m in a part of town I don’t know, or a place I don’t know, I use it to find out how to get from A to B. If I’m getting my usual bus home I use it how far away that bus is, because it will say “3 minutes away” or “8 minutes away”, whatever, so it’s brilliant. And I use it several times a week and have done for a long while. And then a few months ago a popup came up when I used it. And it said, “Service is guaranteed to remain free, but one aspect of it, which is if you want to click through to the timetable of each bus that we list, we’re going to have to start charging for because the server costs are too high.”

So I thought, “Okay. Well, I’ll see how much it is and then make a decision.” So I click through and this guy wanted $2.99 a year.

LH: [laughter] Steady…

PW: And I thought, “Well, I use this app all the time. I do use the timetable function, and $2.99 a year – I can do that, that’s fine.” So I instantly subscribed. I was happy to, and I felt good that I could support presumably some lad in his bedroom who’s created this thing.

LH: Brilliant app.

PW: Yeah. That I use all the time. And so I thought, “I value the app. I’m happy to pay that amount.” But then next time I looked at it in the Play Store it suddenly got a load of negative reviews from people going, “I can’t believe you have to pay for this. It’s outrageous, it’s disgusting. I used to think this app was great, but I’m uninstalling it now.”

LH: Scumbags.

PW: And I’m thinking, well, first of all, most of the app is still free. It’s fully functional. You just can’t access specific timetables, but also he wants $2.99 a year. Now if you really think it used to be a great app, then it’s still a great app… And so I made a point of leaving positive feedback for the guy, in particular mentioning what a great bargain it was that actually, too. And this is the same entitlement, isn’t it?

LH: Yeah.

PW: People want it, they want it now, and they want it free.

LH: It’s outrageous. It’s so disappointing, honestly. You kind of feel betrayed by other writers doing it. I remember I was on a business forum, and I was there working hard and stuff, and talking to people, and doing all this relationship marketing that I don’t enjoy it. I like being with my books and my words, and my writing. I don’t particularly like chin-wagging to people about business. It’s just part of the job that I have to do. And there was this writer on there, and he started this thread saying, “Who wants free articles?” And basically he was offering free articles on any subject to business owners in return for backlink. And the business owners – honestly, it’s pathetic – they were all awed.

PW: I can imagine – scrambling for the scraps.

LH: It was so nauseating. I can’t express how disgusting I found it. They were all like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. DM me, DM me. Email me, email me, email me.” And I’m like, “You people are advertising the fact that you have no idea about content marketing.” Not the businesses, not the writers. And that’s the writer who one day will feel ashamed of being such sell-out.

PW: If I was looking for a writer, an online writer – these days online writers need some SEO basic knowledge. Even if you’re not looking for an SEO writer, you still need to know the basics. And so if you’re thinking, “I need a writer who knows the basics of SEO,” this guy clearly doesn’t. So he’s doing himself no favours. He’s going to give out a lot of work that’s going to be half-hearted because he’s not getting paid for it.

LH: Probably badly written.

PW: Probably the people who receive it aren’t going to value it because all they had to do was reply to a forum post.

LH: What are they going to do with it? Just bang it up on their website? That’s going to look awesome.

PW: Yeah, they’ll throw up somewhere on their site that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time. And then he’s not going to get any of those businesses come back to him and say, “That was so good. We’d like to pay you now.”

LH: Why would they? It makes no sense.

PW: Exactly.

LH: But what they’re also not going to do is come to me and pay thousands of times more for the writing that I’m going to do for them than the £0-writing that he’s going to do.

PW: Yeah. I have a regular client that I do a few blog posts for a week, and when I was first negotiating with them – or not negotiating even, you know, just talking with them about —

LH: Bashing things out.

PW: Yeah, what they wanted and what I could offer. And Andy, who I was speaking to on the phone said, “Well, ideally what we’d like is a few kind of test articles”, which if you’ve done freelancing for any amount of time, that pulled alarm bells, isn’t it? It’s like, “Oh, test articles…” Because there are businesses who will go around getting two test articles off every writer they find, and then they have a complete website. It’s inconsistent and it makes no sense, but it’s complete. And so, of course, my alarm bells instantly went off. But he said, “Obviously, we’ll pay you for the test articles, and then we can see how they go.”

LH: And an angel started to sing around you.

PW: I know. Exactly. But I didn’t even have to say, “I don’t do test articles for free.” The fact that it was him that suggested that he would pay me for them – I knew from the start that he considered what I did valuable. I knew that he respected what I did and so it was the start… And it worked. They liked my test articles which they paid for.

LH: Yeah. And I bet you put a lot of effort into those test articles, as well.

PW: Of course I did.

LH: I mean, knowing you, you put effort into everything.

PW: But yeah, it continues to be a very respectful and equal relationship, whereas if it had started off with me offering a freebie in return for a backlink, how could that ever be a proper professional relationship?

LH: No, it’s ridiculous. I had an email from a freelance writer and editor who wrote – I’ve kind of mentored her a little bit. She got into it after I did, and I did my best to look out for her, because, like I said, it’s an isolating career and…

PW: We’ve all been there.

LH: So anyway, she emailed me the other day, and she said, “Can I just get your opinion on the below?” And there was an email thread below. And, of course, I didn’t mind. And I looked down. To her credit, actually, because I’ve never known this to work for anybody else, she had contacted a guy, an owner of a small publishing independent publishing house, and said, “I’m a professional proof-reader. I’ve had a look at your website, and I’ve noticed it’s full of mistakes. Would you be interested in my proofreading services?” And he got back to her – and that’s where I’m saying, “Wow! It’s never worked for anyone else I know.”

PW: Yes. I know we’ve both done that, and it’s never happened.

LH: It’s never worked. So he got back to her, and they had a little to-and-fro and he said, “Actually, I’m just trying to get the website up at the moment, so I would just stuck whatever on there.” And she said, “Well, you know, that’s not going to do your reputation any favours, because people are going to read that content. It’s badly written.” And they got talking, and he basically said, “Do you do book editing, as well?” And she said, “Yeah. Absolutely.” And she has some brilliant experience. And she said, “Yes, I do do book editing.” And he sent her over a chapter of some stupid sci-fi novel to do as a test edit. This is when she got in touch with me and said, “What do I do? Because he wants me to edit this for free, to see whether I’m any good.”

And I said, “Well, I wouldn’t edit it for free. I think he’s a complete chancer, and if he wants his book editing, he can bloody well pay for it.”

PW: Yeah. I remember you had a situation a year or two ago with some translations. And you did some test translations, because it’s kind of – with editing and translation it’s kind of hard to show what you can do because it involves a before and after and that kind of thing. And yeah, I remember you did some test translations, and then they never got back to you, because they never got back to anybody.

LH: No.

PW: Because they had got everything done as a test. And it’s so easy to fall into.

LH: Yeah. And immediately I advised this woman to get back to him and say, “I’m happy to edit it. This is what it will cost you.” I was like, “Don’t make a big thing of it. Just work out the fee, and tell him you’d be happy to do that. I’ve got some space next week, and this is what it will cost. If you have to go ahead, I’ll do that for you, and you can see what you think.” And all of a sudden the project was on hold. That was it. Immediately she got response: The project’s on hold. Thanks very much.

PW: I got an inquiry a week or two ago by someone who should have been a really good fit. I should have been a really good fit for them. They should have been a really got fit for me. The site was health related, which is one of my areas, and it was all looking really promising until I mentioned my fees, at which point – and this is what-, they just disappeared.

LH: No.

PW: That’s what makes me angry. They didn’t even say, “Sorry. It’s out of our price range at the moment”, which I’d have some respect for. They just disappeared, and it’s clearly the fees. My fees, listeners, aren’t extortionate. They’re also not cheap. They’re right place.

LH: They’re reasonable.

PW: They’re where they should be.

LH: Yeah, absolutely, completely reasonable for a woman of your skills, experience and expertise.

PW: That’s it. And I have much more respect for another who got in touch with me last week asking about press releases, and I said how long a press release takes me, and therefore I explained the price. He got back to me and said, “I fully understand your workings out. It makes a lot of sense to me. However, for my clients at the moment that’s not a fee I can work with.” And he wasn’t expecting me to drop my fee. He was just letting me know…

LH: It’s just not a problem, is it?

PW: Yeah. And that’s absolutely fine. You’ll get several inquiries for every client you end up landing. Part of the job is just dealing with inquiries, and you know that most of them or at least some of them won’t go anywhere. But be straight with somebody. If it’s too expensive don’t try and talk them down. Just say, “Sorry, at the moment, I can’t stretch to that.” It’s not hard.

LH: Yeah. I mean, just as you’ve experienced this, I’ve had prospective clients basically smack down perfectly reasonable fees suggested by me for being far too high. And again, it’s this entitlement thing. I’m like, “No. I know what a reasonable fee is.” And you work out, and they want a writer with a degree and a masters, and 12 years’ experience in freelance writing to work for something like £5 an hour. It’s utterly ludicrous. When I see other writers pandering to this it really does get my goat. Because we both know it’s hard, we both know it’s hard to get started as a freelance writer, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and I will keep saying it – I never had to work for free to get my business going, nor did I land on my feet, nor did I have mommy and daddy paying, nor did I have a safety net. I went out and I found paying opportunities, and okay, I earned less than I do now, but it was still paid work that helped me to live.

PW: And we’ve both been in the business for long enough to have tales of when we frankly screwed ourselves over.

LH: Yeah, of course. Especially with like long manuscripts and things.

PW: That’s it. By miscalculating or not appreciating how much a piece of work was worth, or even just not having to —

LH: I think we’ve all done that, haven’t we?

PW: Yeah. Just not having the confidence. We’ve been there, we’ve done it. And we know it can be really hard, especially if you get established. If you’re in a position where you’re doing very, very low-paid work, you’re in a cycle that’s hard to break out of.

LH: Of course.

PW: Because you have to do such a volume of it in order to get your rent paid that you don’t have time to do the stuff that would build your business ordinarily.

LH: Yeah. You don’t have time for the marketing, and you don’t have time just to actually put real thought into the work that you’re doing, and take considerations like SEO seriously.

PW: Exactly.

LH: And to really work well because spending time on a piece of writing helps you to improve your skills.

PW: Definitely.

LH: You know, the better you get, the more you can charge, obviously.

PW: Yeah. And so it’s not that we don’t appreciate that it’s a real trap if you’re in it. If all your clients are from Elance, and you’re just bidding your lowest cost for every piece of work, we’re not underestimating how rough that is. However, you need to break out of that consciously, and with care and with determination, because if a client’s paying you $5 today, it’s not going to up it to $50 tomorrow.

LH: No. Knock your cheapest clients on the head and spend that time doing something better.

PW: Yeah. Finding 50 other ones.

LH: Yeah. Because a lot of writers that we see who are reaching that, “Oh, my God. This is never going to work,” and they’re thinking about letting for-profit companies take advantage, they haven’t even done everything they can to try and make a go at things. This is what’s frustrating: you’ll find that they’ve got an infrequently updated Twitter account with no calls to action and no real oomph to it at all; you’ll find that they’re not on Linked In, and they’ve not tried things like uploading an hourly, like a fixed-price job to people per hour. And I think it must be the culture of freelance writing and the forces that we’re exposed to, like those greedy businesses. Because there seems to be this real defeated attitude sometimes, like this real, “Ooh, no!” when it comes to charging a fair rate that you can actually live on. And if you stick to your guns people will have no choice but to pay you or bugger off.

PW: Yeah. Your $5 client isn’t going to pay you $50. You need an entirely new client base. And then you’re not going to find them in the same place, and so you need to expand and, like Lorrie says, spend some time – set yourself up in a position where it’s possible to leap from and get the better stuff.

LH: Keep your eyes focused on the fact that is not a reasonable rate. And when it comes to setting your freelance writing rates, a lot of writers I see make the mistake of basing their fees on what suits their clients. And it’s the wrong way around, isn’t it? It’s 100% the wrong way around.

PW: Yeah. If you’re having to write three blog posts an hour to break even, then your writing’s not going to be very good.

LH: No.

PW: And so you’re not going to entice people.

LH: Absolutely. And if you are finding you are working your ass off and you’re earning very little, it’s not you that’s the issue. Pip and I did a series of three episodes on money issues quite a while back now, where we discussed how to set your rates properly rather than just plucking figures from the sky, how to calculate rates based on your needs, your living expenses, your costs, and how to increase them if necessary. Because think about it. I mean, if you went into a shop and everything was too expensive – say you went into a nice independent boutique on a high street, everything was too expensive – you wouldn’t expect the shopper to lower the prices for you.

PW: Well, I want a cardigan and I have a 20p. It would be really good exposure for your shop if I’m seen wearing it.

LH: [laughter] I’ll tell people where I got it. You’d leave, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t do something so stupid. You’d leave and you’d go somewhere you can afford. And while it’s okay to be flexible with your pricing, say if you’ve got a client that’s very long-term, or they give you loads of regular work, or you have pay rates where you’re having complete dry spell, then dropping them to something ridiculous isn’t going to work. But being flexible is okay, but being ridiculous isn’t going to do you or your client or your fellow freelance writers any favours at all.

PW: And this relates very closely to our next reason why you shouldn’t write for free, and that is that the time you spend writing for free could have been spent attracting lucrative work. If you spend two hours on a blog post for free, just think how many companies you could have researched and emailed in that time? Think how much more information you could have added to your website or your Linked In profile. Think how many phone calls you could have made to local businesses. It’s almost always going to be the case that that amount of time will be better spent being proactive about your business than writing for free. Because when you think of it in those terms you can get a lot done in two hours.

LH: You can set up a website in two hours. So at the end of the day it is absolutely possible to get paid and get paid well for freelance writing. It is. Pip and I are fitting here – other sides of a mountain range, but we’re both fitting, I imagine. And we both make a full-time living out of writing for money, and we tackle a variety of topics from the relatively boring to the not so boring. And I know writers who get paid very well for blog posts on feminism, women’s rights. They review novels, they make commentary on sport, and there’s a wealth of other interesting and sought-after jobs that are perfectly achievable and attainable. And while a certain level of commitment and determination of flexibility is needed to achieve success in these more competitive markets particularly, that doesn’t extend to hocking your skills for free.

PW: I think hopefully what you’ll have got from this episode is that not only do you not have to work for free to make it as a freelancer, it can actually be downright detrimental to your progress.

LH: Yeah. It doesn’t work. And, as Pips just said, it’s not only that it doesn’t work, it prevents you from doing things that do.

PW: Yeah, exactly. And so we would love to hear what you think. Head over to our Facebook page and tell us – do you work for free? Do you think it’s useful for you? Is it something you wish you could go like a bad habit about? Or do you thoroughly refuse? And how does that go down? We want to know.

LH: We do. So come over to Facebook.com/freelancewritingpodcast – we’re easy to remember – and come have a chat with us, because one of us is always there. Not always, obviously. If you catch us overnight we’ll probably be sleeping, but we’ll get back to you. We do like having a chat. We’ve got some good links going on there, so come and have a nosey because it’s all extra good stuff. Because freelance writing, as we say, it can be isolating and it can be hard. And it can be hard when you get yourself caught in a situation, and you might be setting their thinking, “Well, they’re really harsh. I don’t want to work for free, but I kind of have to because of my situation.” You, come and talk to us about it, because we don’t it, so there must be a way out.

PW: And if you comment on posts we put up on our Facebook page, you can also interact with other freelance writers who comment, and so it’s not even just like come talk to Lorrie and I, but come and post —

LH: No, we’ve got some lovely listeners.

PW: Yeah. And other listeners will see your comments and so it could be a really useful little forum.

LH: Definitely. And we will not encourage you to work for free.

PW: We’ll actively discourage it.

LH: Definitely. So if you’ve got any questions at all, come and have a chat with us, and you can find all the links to our social media feeds and websites and things, at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com if you don’t fancy Facebook.

PW: And so now it is time for the Little Bird Recommendation of the Week.

LH: Ta-da-da!

PW: In which Lorrie and I share something we’ve spotted that we think you might enjoy. And so my recommendation this week is kind of in the spirit of the topic of this episode. It is a blog post from a website called Success Works – all about SEO copywriting. And it’s a recent post, only a few days ago, called ‘Freelance writers: how to tame the client from hell.’

LH: [laughter]

PW: And much as Lorrie and I are always advocates for being flexible, being responsive, dealing with your clients professionally and respectfully, sometimes we don’t get that back in return.

LH: Nope.

PW: And this post has some very good advice about dealing with those clients that are frankly making your life a misery. They don’t show up for meetings, they change everything at the last minute; they want you to do things that you don’t normally do, that you didn’t agree to. It’s a short post, but it’s just got some frank talking, basically, and some advice about what to do.

LH: It looks really good because it looks like it tackles the kind of negative aspects that your clients can display, even when you’ve been in the business stages. It’s the kind of stuff that will never go away, unfortunately.

PW: Sadly, yes. So some ideas about charging for meeting time, and though this is something that Lorrie and I have discussed perhaps not on the podcast but amongst ourselves.

LH: It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Because I’ve considered it, and sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t, because it’s rarely well-received.

PW: I think something that both of us have semi-decided on is that to a degree anything should be free, but if it’s getting pushed and pushed, then there is certainly a case for charging.

LH: Yeah. If it’s regular meetings I’ll charge. If it’s an introductory meeting I won’t charge.

PW: That’s it. And so, like with everything else, it’s not a simple yes/no, but this post just gives you suggestions, sings like that, and almost gives you permission really that this is something you can consider – you can charge for meeting clients, you can ask for more money for a rush job, and that kind of thing. So it’s a great little read, and it’s a site that I’m not very familiar with, but just from looking at their post titles, I think I’ll definitely be subscribing myself.

LH: No, it looks really – apart from one thing on it. Can you guess the one thing that’s putting me off the website?

PW: Is it going to ask for free posts?

LH: No. I’ve not actually checked that. It’s the sexy cartoon woman.

PW: Yes.

LH: At the top, with her legs crossed. Ugh!

PW: Yeah. That could be better.

LH: It could definitely be better. But apart from that, the joking aside, the blog post looks great. And, like I say, it’s the kind of stuff that – because we’ll always take on new clients. We’ll never always just have the same old clients again and again and again. And each time – especially with this culture of entitlement at the moment – each time we take on a client, you do often have to tackle these things. And the best way really is to be quite firm.

PW: And it’s so much easier to be clear from the outset than it is to try and change the parameters when you’re in it.

LH: Brilliant recommendation.

PW: Well, thank you very much. And what is your recommendation, Lorrie?

LH: My recommendation, Philippa, is from inc.com, which I like for small business advice. And it kind of goes – it counters the opposite tack to yours, because we all know you can have clients from hell and exploitative clients and stuff. But you can also be a bit of a chump yourself. We’ve all done that. We’ve all been a bit of chump sometimes.

PW: We certainly have. Probably several times today already.

LH: [laughter] Well, speak for yourself. I don’t think you’re a chump. And it is an article from – alright, maybe I do.

PW: [laughter]

LH: It’s an article from Inc. and it’s about productivity, and it’s called ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People.’ You know me, you can tell what sort of mood I’m in, and I’m in that kind of…

PW: Take no nonsense.

LH: Take no nonsense; tell it like it is, lay-it-out kind of mood. Because I feel frustrated with writers when they insist on working for free and working for pennies. Often, when people ask for advice – “Oh, I just don’t have time. Oh, I don’t know about this, or I don’t know about that.” – often I’ll find that there should have been much, much more thought put into building that business from the start and running a business. And that that business isn’t being treated like a career, it’s being treated like a hobby, and that’s where the problem is. So I feel cross. And this is a good post because it goes through seven habits that you might think will make you more effective, but actually, according to this author, won’t.

At first I was kind of surprised. I thought they were quite useful, but it does go down some very interesting points, and it talks about things like always making sure that you finish your task list and always answering the phone when it rings, and doing things immediately – answering an email as soon as it’s there, or signing some papers as soon as they arrive, or posting something as soon as you need to.

PW: I like this because I feel less inept for the fact that I never finish my task list.

LH: [laughter]

PW: I don’t always answer the phone. And yes, it’s quite nice to get a little boost for the fact that it’s not always efficient to do everything on the list, and it’s not always efficient to do everything straight away. I like that because, as Lorrie suggested, it’s constantly being drummed into us that this is what we should be doing.

LH: Yeah, definitely. And it’s not just kind of, “You muppet, you’re not being very effective.” There’s plenty of tips in there and plenty of reasons behind, and they’ve got quotes from people like Marissa Mayer talking about why this kind of thing doesn’t work for them. I really think, honestly, sometimes I want to shake people when they’re like, “Oh, do you have any tips for new freelance writers? Not going very well.” And you can spot like 50 things immediately that they’re doing that are completely daft, and you’re like, “Oh, God, I wish that we didn’t work in a sector where we’re encouraged to screw ourselves over.”

PW: And what I like about this post is that it’s not being 100% prescriptive. It’s not saying “never answer the phone.”

LH: That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

PW: Yeah, never finish your to-do list. But what it’s doing is kind of countering almost the popular wisdom.

LH: Yes, the myths, isn’t it?

PW: Yeah, with some facts. Like one of the things they suggest is a sign of being inefficient is blocking all interruptions. And that’s the kind of thing that some days I really need there to be nothing other than my work. Otherwise I can’t make progress. But other days having a radio on in the background or staring out the window for a few minutes —

LH: Hours.

PW: Yeah. – can give me a boost. And it says interruptions can work like fuel for your brain, and that’s exactly it. And so it’s not saying “never do these things” or “always do these things.” It’s just presenting an alternative view point so that you could question the authority of these rules.

LH: Definitely. And I think it’s helpful, as well, to have a list like this for people who might be running around like scalded cats because they’re working too much for too little. Because if you’re in that situation you do need to be as effective as possible in order to carve out a bit of time in which to reform your business as a profitable fair endeavour for yourself. And if you’re being ineffective as well as overworked and underpaid, you’ve no chance, of course. So that is my recommendation.

PW: I like it very much.

LH: Thank you very much. I like you, too.

PW: [laughter]

LH: So that, listeners, brings us firmly to the end of A Little Bird Told Me episode 68. I really hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. I’m genuinely hoping that the advice that we’ve given will be taken in the right vein, because it’s a very emotive topic, and it’s frustrating not only to see businesses exploiting writers but to see writers being complicit in that, either wilfully or just through desperation.

PW: And this conversation that we’ve had on the podcast is a conversation that we’ve touched on at least once a week between us, isn’t it?

LH: It is, isn’t it?

PW: And so this is – I think it’s about 18 months since we first did an episode on working for free.

LH: 64 episodes have gone past between. So we’ve limited ourselves.

PW: And so this has been brewing for a long time. So if we sounded more scathing than you might expect, do take it in the spirit in which it was intended, which is that we don’t like people getting screwed over, and we don’t like people being exploited because we think that if you can write well, then that should be recognised and that can include monetary recompense. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

LH: No, it isn’t. And I think that’s one thing that we do want to say, is that you can feel guilty for charging fairly for your work, and you absolutely shouldn’t. You absolutely should not.

PW: And so thank you very much for listening. I have been Philippa Willitts…

LH: … and I have been Lorrie Hartshorn. And we will catch you next time.

Podcast Episode 67: An interview with Lucy Hay from @Bang2Write about screenwriting, script editing, social media and other Ss besides

 

Podcast interview with @Bang2Write #scriptchat #amwriting 

 

0ae00e10-a654-44f2-9f8c-cfea0c0e9cb6 (1)Lucy Hay is an expert in all things screenwriting. A published writer, script reader and organiser of the London Screenwriting Festival, she also runs the massively successful Bang2Write website. In this podcast episode, I interview Lucy and we cover everything from her work with J.K. Amalou to helping to give women opportunities through London Screenwriting Festival, funding and investment for films, why some films work and some don’t, how much to disclose on social media, Twitter hashtags, cyber bullying and teenage pregnancy.

During the discussion, I also inadvertently came out as gay. It was so thoroughly underwhelming that it was only on editing it that I even noticed I’d done it.

A must-listen for anyone interested in making it in the film and television industry as a screenwriter, and anybody who just wants to know more about different types of writing career.

"The very fact that anyone gets their creative work down is kind of miraculous, really"Show Notes

Find Lucy Hay on Facebook and on Twitter. Her writers groups are Bang2Writers on Facebook and on LinkedIn. Lucy is also on Quora and Pinterest.

 

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Transcript

PW: Hello, and welcome to episode 67 of ‘A Little Bird Told Me,’ the freelance writing podcast that tells you all the tricks of the trade. You can find us on the web at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and from there you can find links to subscribe, whether you are a fan of iTunes, RSS feeds, or Stitcher. In that way you can make sure that you’re the first to hear when we have a new episode come out. On that page you can also find the link to our Facebook page. You definitely want to like us on there. We share all of sorts of interesting and relevant news and blog posts, and just helpful pointers for freelance writers.

I am Philippa Willitts, and today I am bringing you a very exciting interview with an amazing woman called Lucy Hay, who is the expert in all things screenwriting. So listen in to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about writing for films, why some films work and some don’t, how films are funded, how much to disclose on social media – that’s always, always an important issue, whatever kind of writer you are – how to use Twitter hashtags, and everything else from cyber bullying to teenage pregnancy, and giving women more opportunities to be heard. So, without further ado, here is the interview. Enjoy!

So, I am here with Lucy Hay, who is a script editor, script reader, and she runs the amazing website Bang2Write. She is also one of the organizers of the London Screenwriters Festival, and she has a wealth of experience in all areas of screenwriting. She has written two non-fiction books and writes young adults fiction. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, she also runs writing workshops and schools addressing social issues, as well as writing skills. So, Lucy, thank you for talking to me.

LH: Thank you for having me.

PW: I’m really aware that screenwriting is something that we haven’t covered at all on the podcast, and so I’m really glad to have the opportunity to chat to you, really.

LH: [laughter] Well, thanks very much.

PW: So, could you tell us a bit about your own career, how you got into the area you’re in?

LH: Absolutely! Well, basically, I always wanted to be a writer, and when I was much younger I wanted to be a novelist. And then I — basically, a long story short was I became a teenage mother, and I became absolutely convinced that all of those dreams were all over for me, and I was going to do the normal kind of things that you’re supposed to do. And, basically, a friend of my mother’s gave me £20.

PW: All right.

LH: And I was really not well-off at all at the time, but she said to me I have to spend that £20 not on the baby, not on foods, not on nappies. I’d just spend it on myself. And I went into a bookshop, and there were two books in there, and one was called, “Teach Yourself Novel Writing”, and the other was called “Teach Yourself Screenwriting.” And I bought both of them. And I read them both.

My baby was extremely grizzly, and all it did was cry. [laughter] Literally, all he did was cry for about first six months of his life. So I remember reading these two books, baby crying 24/7. I lived in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a field, so I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t have any friends, I only ever saw my parents. So I read these books really, really quickly, and I thought, “Oh, I want to be a screenwriter.”

And I looked in the UCAS handbooks. Of course, it wasn’t even really the internet in those days, given this was the ‘90s. And I saw the Bournemouth University had a Screenwriting for Film and Television BA. “Oh, I’ll go for that.” And so I did and I got on the course, and I just got really into screenwriting in general.

I thought, “Oh, I still can’t really make a career of this,” because, of course, you can’t make a lot of money a lot of time, and I thought, “Do I want to be a literary agent or something like that?” But I didn’t really want to move to London. And anyway, I ended up on a work placement with a literary agent, and he took me to BAFTA.

PW: Oh!

LH: No! It wasn’t the actual BAFTA Awards, but it was the BAFTA place. And there was this big thing going on, and people were coming up to me and saying, “What do you do?” And I didn’t want to say, “Oh, I’m a student and a single mother.” [laughter] I said, “Oh, I read screenplays.” Because, I mean, it wasn’t untrue. I was reading these screenplays for the literary agent. And they said, “Oh, will you read my screenplay? I’ll pay you.”

PW: Oh!

LH: That was like, “Oh, okay.” So I kind of fell into it very randomly, really. And from there I started doing other work placements with various initiatives and screen agencies and things like that. And then I got paid jobs at screen agencies, and for production companies, and things. And I was reading these scripts from home. By this point I had graduated, and I was working at a supermarket at one stage.

And I knew I wanted to set up my own business, so I built that into the ethos of the company whilst I was doing my production company work or working for the literary agents, and then reading for private clients on the side. Because in those days — there’s a lot of script reading companies around now, but I suppose this was, what, 2004, something like that, and before Twitter, before Facebook, before the blogs. All the screenwriting blogs were really getting going. And I realized that, you know, most script reading companies were extremely expensive. You’re looking at about £100 for a report – 10 years ago, by those standards, that’s even more than it is now.

PW: Sure.

LH: And I thought, well, I could actually do a no-frills kind of script reading service, and as a result got a very loyal fan base of clients, to begin with, and then it got bigger and bigger. And I got a lot of the blog, as well, and things just kind of spiralled from there, really, in a very organic way. And I was very fortunate that people wanted to kind of get on board with me. And I think it’s because I didn’t bullshit them. I said, “This is what’s wrong with your screen play,” or “This is how you can improve it, but it is up to you.” it’s about you and about what you want to do with your work. I’m not going to give you some kind of magic formula and you’re going to be so successful. It’s all about, you know, personal growth as a writer, as well. And I think people appreciated that. They liked my honesty, and they liked the fact that I wasn’t going to bullshit them. But equally, I wasn’t going to be nasty to them, either. Because in those days the script reading services were very, “This is crap, whatever,” and as a result would be very demotivating. And I’m not about demotivating. The very fact that anyone gets their creative work down is quite miraculous, really, to be honest.

PW: And then to send it off to somebody else.

LH: Exactly! I mean, it takes a lot of guts. You’re kind of putting all your dreams on paper, and you’re kind of offering it up to someone to potentially rip to pieces. I think that’s brave, and I think that always needs to be remembered, I think so. I’m always about —

PW: Yeah, definitely.

LH: very careful to kind of support my writers. And I think the vast majority of my writers like that, and that’s why they come back to me so much.

PW: So what’s the role of a script reader? Is it to kind of just give a general assessment of — a third-party view of a script? Or tell me more about what it is you actually do when you receive a script, say.

LH: Okay. Well, I mean, it depends what a writer wants me to actually do. I mean, if they want me to just literally read their screenplay, then they’ll probably hire me to do like an overview report, which is basically an assessment of how that script works on the page. And so I’ll look at its story, I’ll look at its characters, its dialogue, its arena, which is like the story world. It’s not just the location, but also how all the bits within it work maybe you’re using mythical allusion or motifs, and things like that.

And then there’ll be a miscellaneous section where I may look at things like script format, because scripts have to be laid out a very specific way. Or spelling, punctuation, typos turn up quite regularly under the miscellanea section. Titles – a lot of the time writers choose titles that are just completely inappropriate or just really boring, or whatever. So just all the random things that are part of the package.

So that’s an assessment, basically, as a script reader. My post popular service is probably the development notes there, and that’s more of a script editing function. And that’s less to do with assessment, and more to do with development in terms of actually making it better, looking at big issues, and saying, “Well, have you considered this way of looking at this character? Or have you considered this way of changing the structure, so it reflects the theme better?” And just really delving in much more detail into the screenplay. So yeah, script reading is about assessment, script editing is about facilitating the story, making sure that it is the best that it can be.

PW: Yes. And it’s interesting, because although I don’t do anything like that, I do do a fair amount of non-fiction editing in various forms. That can be kind of on a very — just like proofreading for commas level. Or it can be on a ‘Do you think this well-structured? Do you think this needs more…?’ And something I find interesting relates to what you were saying earlier about you being pretty honest, and not sugar-coating things, but also not being unnecessarily cruel. That can be interesting from an editing point of view in general, because, yeah, some people feel almost fragile, and some people feel very…

LH: Yeah. Some clients will be more needy than others, and that’s always the case. And I hesitate to make generalizations, but very often female writers will need a lot more kind of counselling than male writers. I do find that an awful lot. And I think it’s something to do with the fact that women are told from being very little girls, that if they do certain things they may be showing off, perhaps.

PW: That is a real — yes.

LH: So I think that sometimes I do spend a lot of time kind of counselling female writers to say, “You are good. You can do this. You can get out there and do that.” It happens you kind of, you know, I’m a bit like her life coach for someone who’s — I mean, a lot of male writers can be like that, as well. But I just found it really striking that writers do it so much more. Also, there’s not as many women writers. At London Screenwriters Festival we probably have around about 50-50 now, because we work very hard to kind of be as inclusive of female writers as possible. But I have been very struck by in the past going to events that it’s been 80% make, 20% female at best, so part of Bang2Write is we’ve got to make sure that the female writers feel confident and able to share their work, and not vulnerable, if you like.

PW: Yeah. I also find there are people who send me their work saying, “I really want this to be as good as it can be. Just do what you need to do.” And there are other people who are a lot harder to deal with, who kind of send it for validation that it’s great. And they don’t want actually criticism or feedback really. They want you to say, “There’s nothing I can do. This is perfect already.”

LH: Yes, that’s definitely the case. In the olden days, when I first started, I would say most writers were probably like that. I’d say since the internet has come about, and since there’re so many writing forums and so many writing websites all saying you’ve got to be able to take feedback, you’ve got to be able to deal with it, writers have gone a lot better in recent years. They know that they can’t just write something and send it out, and they’re all just getting laid by Steven Spielberg. [laughter] They’re a lot more realistic these days. I mean, when I used to send notes back, they’d be great notes, and I’d work really hard on all of them. But like, “What the hell is this?” So they can take it a lot better than they used to for the majority.

Occasionally I’ll come across someone who goes absolutely nuts when I send notes back to them, and in which case I just kind of let them run themselves out. “Sorry you feel that way,” all that kind of stuff. And most of the time you don’t know why they’ve reacted so badly. It could be because they feel – what’s the word? They feel let down because they believed that this was the draft that would work. Or maybe they’ve made lots of sacrifices that you don’t know about in terms of family time to get it done. And they feel just very disappointed, not so much in your notes, but in the way that it’s not worked out the way that they want it to, and in which case you’re just going to let them get on with it. And if they really, really don’t like your notes or whatever…

Sometimes you’ll send some notes through, and it won’t be what they expect. So I had a guy a couple of weeks ago who hired me for an overview report, and I think he thought he was going to get development notes. And he kept asking loads and loads of questions, and it’s like, “Why didn’t you hire me to do the development notes, because it’s all laid out on the website, what you get for your money?” But a lot of new writers, they just don’t kind of process these things, and in which case you’re just going to chalk it up to experience, and just let it go and move on.

PW: Sure. So, from your point of view, what would be the ideal point at which a writer would send you a script? Is there a good point in the process?

LH: It’s hard to answer that one, to be honest, because different writers work in different ways. I mean, my main collaborator is J.K. Amalou, and he made Deviation in 2012. We made Assassin at the moment.

PW: Yeah.

LH: And he will basically send me a logline. And a logline is like a one or two-sentence pitch of the story, and we’ll throw the logline back and forth, and start flashing out some characters, turn it into a one-pager, turn it into a short treatment, turn it into a longer treatment. A treatment’s like a plan, if you like, of the whole screenplay. Then it’ll go to draft, when we’re happy with that, and we’ll start going through the draft. So I’m literally with him every step of the way, though the really drafting process. I mean, one project of his I was reading today is now on like the 18th draft.

PW: Right.

LH: Yes. Today I read a screenplay of his that’s on the 23rd draft. He really drafts things.

PW: Yeah.

LH: Because he’s a professional writer. He’s been doing this a long time. With new writers, most of them haven’t got the money to put 23 drafts through a script reader. And on that basis, I would say they need to do a lot more peer review before they probably show it to a paid-for reader. I mean, there’s loads of ways to actually facilitate peer review now.

PW: You just mentioned forums, and I see lots of forums where people do that for each other.

LH: Absolutely, yeah. And a lot of them, they get actors involved and do read-throughs.

PW: Wow.

LH: That’s a really bright idea, because actors are always happy to do that because they like to know the writers, and if you know more actors then you can do plays all together and read-throughs and stuff like that. The more people you know, and the more people who are involved in the industry, and the more favours you can do for each other, then the more of a place you have in the industry.

Because, I mean, what we say ‘the industry’ – there isn’t really any such thing. It’s just a bunch of people who are working together. So I think it’s crazy that some writers will literally lock themselves away and not try and work with other people as much as possible. You have to make a team wherever possible, I think, because it’s all about making the chain, and then you find more people, and more people on top of that.

PW: Yeah. Are you always hired by a writer? Or are there occasions when, I don’t know, a production company or someone might hire you to read through a script?

LH: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’ve read for screen agencies. Screen agencies are like lottery funding people, and they have to give money out of like the lottery pot. And I read for Scottish Screen for years, right up until they became Creative Scotland and like – I think that was 2010 or 2011. I read at the moment for an investment company called Premiere Picture that’s down in Brighton. They are a private investment company. Basically, they award money to various films for various things that might be for poster campaigns, or it might be to finish the film, or various things. I’m never told what the money is for. I’m just literally given the screenplay and I’m told to write a synopsis and my thoughts on whether it’s got commercial viability, as well as retailing viability.

PW: Yeah. I read an article recently about this, just about investors investing in films, which is a slightly risky thing to do, but can be incredibly lucrative if it goes well from their point of view.

LH: It absolutely can. I mean, there’s lots of really great business models and tax things that producers can take full advantage of to make a lot of money for investors. And so it’s something that people can make stacks of cash on, absolutely. And it’s not something that I really understand in massive detail because I’m not about the business; I’m more about the story telling aspect, but it’s a really interesting thing. It’s something that I personally want to learn more about because I think it’s really interesting because banks do it, as well.

Banks will actually have a film on. They will actually offer money to film makers. I mean, this is how I understand it. They offer like a loan to the film maker. The film maker takes up the loan. The film then belongs to the bank, and then the producer has a certain amount of time which they agree to pay the money back, and if they can’t, then the film belongs to the bank forever, so it’s like a mortgage, but it isn’t for a house, it’s for a film.

PW: That’s the strangest thing.

LH: Yeah, yeah. And all of the big banks, apparently, have these film arms for film makers. I think you have to be quite a big company to be able to access these things. I don’t think it’s something that any indie film maker can access, but certainly all the worthy titles and guys like that may do this kind of thing.

And then, of course, there’s just the private investors, who are individuals. Some of these guys, these investors, they’re rich as Croesus. They really are. And they know a good deal when they see one, and they know what’s going to work well, and they will just throw money at stuff, massively. Sometimes they haven’t even read the screenplay, they’ve just read the treatment, and they’re like, “Yeah, no problem.” Or they’ve read the package, which is who’s in it, who’s directing, those things, and who’s the sales agent, that kind of thing. Some of these guys, they just know. They’re such good businessmen; they just know whether they’ll ever get a return or not. And it’s really, really interesting stuff.

PW: In terms of banks, I’d far rather my bank invested in films than like the arms trade.

LH: Yes, definitely. It would be preferable.

PW: I think they should publicise this more.

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I remember some bank guy coming in to talk to us at the university here, and I was like, “Why don’t we know about this?”

PW: So had you always been interested in films, even before you found out really about screenwriting?

LH: Yeah, yeah, I always loved films. I remember that for my 13th birthday I was given a director’s chair.

PW: Oh, fantastic!

LH: Alien, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. And I saw this documentary about Ridley Scott, the director of Alien. And I remember I’d loved to be a film director. I didn’t know what went into it, being a 13-year old girl, and certainly knowing what goes into the role now, I don’t think it would be for me, after all. I mean, script editor is just the perfect job for me, because I get to arse around with stories. And I write crazy notes to self. I found one the other day while I was cleaning up that said, “Whites, why not ferrets?” What the hell was that about? I’ve got no clue, but there you go.

PW: Are you ever able to watch a film without analysing the script?

Westwood Movie Theaters - Los Angeles, Califor...

Westwood Movie Theaters – Los Angeles, California (October 31, 2013) (Photo credit: cseeman)

LH: It’s quite difficult. It must be really good, then I won’t analyse it. And certainly, 2013 movies – one was Gravity. Absolutely, 100% involved in Gravity. I absolutely adored it. And also Frozen, which I really liked, as well. And also Rush, as well, the racing one. And what I loved about all three of them was they were all so different. I mean, Rush was absolutely unapologetically masculine. It was like super, super masculine. It was like a Lynx advert, but to the power of a million. It was great. I adored it. And of course, you get to see — it thaws off all the way through, which for me was a big thrill.

And Frozen – I loved Frozen. It was about teenage realizations and sexuality, and coming of age, and all that kind of stuff – all the things that are predominantly girly. And I loved that, because it was really nice to see a story that dealt with what it was like to be a girl. Because even films for little girls with female protagonists don’t always deal with that kind of stuff.

PW: No, absolutely.

LH: So that was really nice. And Gravity I just loved, because the threat to her life was so great and so massive, you just weren’t sure she was going to make it, which hardly ever happens, because you’re going, ‘Oh, yeah, she’ll be all right. She’ll be all right.’ But right up to the last minute I was thinking I don’t know if she’s going to make it. The threat, the jeopardy was just fantastic. And what I loved about it was it wouldn’t have mattered whether she was male or whether she was female. Everything that she had to go through she had to go through and she had to deal with, no matter — it transcended gender, it transcended everything.

It was just about, “Do I want to live?” or “Am I going to die? Am I going to literally lay down and die, or am I going to fight for my life?” And I loved that, because the great metaphor for what so many people go through on a small basis on their everyday lives – if you’ve been through something like cancer or a terrible illness or something like that, and you’re having to fight that battle within yourself to actually see it projected in a massive 3D way – I just really appreciated. It was a great metaphor for the human endurance, and I just loved it.

PW: That’s interesting, actually, because we recently had a brief discussion about a film that I was watching at the time, which technically should have had some of those same dilemmas and issues, which was called The Ledge.

LH: Right.

PW: And on paper to me it sounded like, “Oh, this should be interesting.” It’s essentially a man standing on a ledge, and he’s been told that if he doesn’t jump off the ledge at a certain time, somebody else will die. So he’s got about an hour and a half to decide whether or not he’s going to jump to save this other person’s life, or whether he’s not, and this other person’s going to die. And I thought, “Oh, that sounds quite — I could get into that.” But in reality it wasn’t engaging at all.

LH: Yes, it was a real shame, that movie. It was an indie film. I believe it might have been a Canadian film, I’m not sure, but it starred – what’s his name?

PW: The guy who was on Queer as Folk in the UK.

LH: Charlie Hunnam.

PW: That’s the one.

LH: Yes. The Ledge starred Charlie Hunnam, who, of course, is a big hunk at the moment from Sons of Anarchy and from Pacific Rim. And I actually really enjoyed Pacific Rim. I mean, it was your classic kind of ‘the Americans are going to save the word’ and all that kind of nonsense. But it reminded me very much so of Independence Day, those kind of movies – great fun, but also with a human element to it that was actually very appealing. There was lots about it that was quite unusual in the same way that Independence Day was way back, in 1994. So it was a bit like being 15-years old again, and watching those kinds of movies in the ‘90s with army, and Will Smith, and all those kind of guys. I really enjoyed Pacific Rim, and it was really good. He put on a good performance in that, and of course, he’s ace in Sons of Anarchy. And I liked him in Queer as Folk, as well. He’s a good actor, Charlie Hunnam, so I got the movie out, because, like you, I like the concept, and I like him, as well. And I thought this was going to be good stuff. I had also just recently seen another film that was very similar, called Man on a Ledge. Have you seen that one?

PW: No, I haven’t.

LH: That one stars Sam Worthington as the guy on the ledge. And then we’ve got Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot. And basically, in that Sam Worthington’s on the ledge. He’s going to jump because basically it’s all a big ruse because he’s actually drawing attention away from Jamie Bell, who’s trying to rob a massive jewel, basically. And it’s a big jewel heist, and it’s to do with revenge. And as you watch it though the movie, it gets bigger and bigger, and it gets more and more out of control, and it was very exciting. It was absolute nonsense, but it was very exciting.

So I thought, “Oh, okay. The Ledge should be quite good, then.” And as you say, it simply was not, because they basically took a great concept – basically we’ve got Charlie Hunnam on the ledge, and he’s talking to the cop, the guy from The Brave One who, again, put in an amazing performance in The Brave One. He was fantastic in that. I can’t remember his name, either.

PW: I’m useless with names.

LH: I can never remember anyone’s name. But yeah, the guy who plays the cop who was in The Ledge, he was also The Brave One. He was fantastic in that film. I loved The Brave One. I thought that that was great, but unfortunately in The Ledge what let the entire premise down was two things. The first thing was the fact that he’s on the ledge, and then we get out of that by him telling his story, and it all goes back in flashback. That immediately sapped the jeopardy, because all the time you’re going backwards. It lacks forward-looking momentum.

PW: Oh, of course, yeah.

LH: So it totally undermines everything. And the whole deadline of an hour and a half, boom, it’s all gone. And it’s just a nightmare. So that’s a real shame for starters. And that would have been bad enough if it wasn’t for the fact that the premise doesn’t stand up, because if he’s got an hour and a half before the husband shoots the wife in the head, and he’s telling his story to the cop…

PW: For an hour and a half.

LH: Then it’s obvious what the problem is.

PW: I know.

LH: And it’s like what the hell was that all about? Who thought that was a good idea?

PW: After I watched it I read lots of discussion online about it, and people were coming up with reasons why he didn’t, but they really just wanted to not be so annoyed with it, so were forcing reasons out of nowhere, really, just in order to feel less like, ‘Oh, what? This is so obvious.’

LH: Yeah, yeah. But I mean, they might have gone away with it if they had provided us with really great characters, but unfortunately they didn’t. We’ve got Charlie Hunnam’s character, who’s so bitter and twisted about the death of his wife and child. He’s just always going on about God and life not being fair, and all these kinds of other things. And we’ve got the husband, who’s such a homophobic wanker, and he’s so hateful, and he’s so much older than the girlfriend, who’s such an unbelievable sap. I mean, bloody hell!

PW: She’s awful.

LH: Liv Tyler just spends her entire career playing these really sappy women. I mean, it’s like for goodness sake! And then we’ve got the gay roommate, who’s such a stereotype, as well. He’s only there just to actually facilitate the husband’s phobia…

PW: Homophobia, yes.

LH: Yes. It’s just crazy. Everybody was a cardboard cut-out, and I could —

PW: And also, I initially heard about some – it was when it came out, really – and it was through talking the kind of sceptic atheist communities around it, because it was being built as this atheism-versus-belief thing.

LH: Yes, yes.

PW: But actually that was so overegged.

LH: It really was. And it’s a tragedy. I love the idea.

PW: Yes. That could have been an interesting extra angle, but in reality it was just like ‘oh, stop whipping that now.’

LH: I know, definitely. I mean, this is the problem with so many spec screenplays that I read is that a writer will have a personal soapbox of some kind, whether it’s atheism or religion or feminism or anti-bullying, or whatever, and they will just keep whipping it, like you say, just over and over. It’s like, ah, you’re hitting me in the head with a brick. Stop it!

PW: We don’t need everything pointing out.

LH: No. I mean, this is the thing with theme. Theme of any creative work is essentially read into by the audience member and their response anyway, so you can put whatever you like into something. They’re going to see it their own way anyway. I mean, I was having a conversation with one of my Bang2Writers the other day. We were talking about Frozen, and she thought that the song ‘Let It Go’ was about being gay. And she had some really great reasons for why it was about being gay, and certainly when she said that I thought, “Oh, yeah, it could be, actually.”

But then I’m not gay, so I wasn’t thinking that at all. I saw it as actually letting go of the past, letting go of mental health issues, changing your response, all these things that I personally have been through. I then put on the movie, and then she had put on this notion of being gay, because that was experience. Somebody else would have a different experience and a different response to that song. And that’s good. Variety is a part of life. To actually say, “They must get it! They must get this theme! They must get the theme the way I want them to!” That actually kills off your creative work’s power.

PW: Yes. My sister, many years ago, did theatre studies at university. We went to watch a play that she’d been in, and afterwards I remember my dad saying to her, “Did the audience laugh in the right places?” And she said, “Well, wherever they laughed, that was the right place.”

LH: Exactly.

PW: Because it was obviously funny, and that kind of blew my 13-year old mind.

LH: She’s absolutely right. You can’t be too precious as the creator of a creative work. People will have the response that they have to whatever it is. That said, if they tell you what your response is supposed to be, or what you intended, then that’s wrong. At the same time, you can’t push it too far the either way, either. At the end of the day it’s a very finely tuned balance.

I don’t believe that — in this age of the internet often you’ll find people really slagging off, and screenwriters saying, “Well, he or she is clearly a misogynist because of blah” or whatever. And it’s like, no, stop right there. What you are not factoring in there is the fact that you’re seeing fiction. That is not reality. And just because somebody creates a creative work that maybe you don’t agree with the theme, that doesn’t give you the right to actually tell the author of that that they’re a bad person, or that that’s what they meant.

I was reading on Facebook this morning – somebody was having a really big rant about how people with mental health issues are always misrepresented on the screen, and the film makers say that they’re trying to raise awareness, and how this is all bullshit, and they’re really just ignorant and blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, well, this is your response. Maybe that’s more actually what they meant. At the same time, obviously, some people are blatantly trolling. They’re trying to be controversial, and they’re being a pain in the ass. But most people have got good intentions. Most people want to actually create something of worth and of value, so that it makes people happy. They don’t want to actually be horrible to people. They don’t want to be ignorant.

PW: Yeah. The troubling thing is a really interesting relatively new phenomenon that writers are doing. I blog partly as my job, and partly voluntarily for a feminist website, a disability website, that kind of thing. And it’s got to the point now where you know when you write any opinionated blog post. There’ll be people who agree, and there’ll be people who disagree, and that’s fine. But you know that there’ll be another subset of people who will look specifically to find something to misrepresent.

LH: Oh, God, yes.

PW: And will then fight you on that. And you can’t defend yourself there, because they’re arguing something that you didn’t even say. The F-Word, the feminist website I write for, so it’s quite big, a lot of readers and so we get quite a lot of this. And it’s at a point now where I’ll write posts, and I’ll reread it as I normally do, and rework it, but then I have to rework it again to try and find the bits that could be deliberately misrepresented. This is a real thing that we’re dealing with on an increasing basis, I think all kinds of writers really.

LH: Absolutely. I mean, I actually write one long blog post a week now on Bang2Write, and I’ll usually put it up on a Sunday. But it’s usually written for a whole week before it goes up online, because I will write it, and then I will add to it. And then I would look through, and then I would check it, and then I’ll get somebody else to read it, because, as you say, I’m looking for ways that people will try and stick the boots in, because that’s what they’re trying to do, because that’s actually what they want to do. It’s not got anything to do with me, it’s nothing to do with the writing craft; it’s nothing to do with any of that. It’s to do with the fact that they just want to kick back, because they do, and all because —

PW: And that’s not the same as just disagreeing. I think you and I would both be completely fine with somebody saying, “I’ve read this. I disagree because of A, B and C.” That’s fine.

LH: Yeah, people disagree with me all the time, and that’s absolutely fine because I’ve got very strong opinions, and I’ve got very — I pride myself on being the voice of dissent [laughter]. You may have noticed this. So I always try not to be one step ahead, because that sounds too wanky, but I try and actually look ahead to what is the next big discussion that we need to have, because I think just going the whole time – back in 2008-2009 I was talking about female protagonists, and there weren’t any around. So I stopped talking about it, and then last year we ended up with loads of female protagonists, which is great.

Things are actually moving on, so now I’m talking about masculinity and representations of masculinity. Because they need an overhaul, as well, and the people are often telling me, “Oh, you know, it’s a male privilege. We don’t need to talk about that.” It’s like yeah, we do, because you can’t just have one without the other. We’ve got women, got men – why would you say that the characterization of men is fine, when it’s clearly not? We’ve got lots of stereotypes here. We’ve got lots of bullshit here. There’s loads of boys walking around with the same kind of problems that young girls have about the feelings of their self-esteem to do with their bodies, because they’re not really buff and ripped like Thor.

PW: Yeah, and it’s not like the imposed masculinities are great for women, either.

LH: Yeah, exactly.

PW: Even if you look at it from still a woman’s point of view. You could still go ‘let’s look at masculinity because it’s a mess.’

LH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, a lot of websites for men have started talking about the notion of ‘toxic masculinity’. I think that’s great. I think that’s a really, really interesting phrase, because it is. There’s lots of mixed messages about what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a hero, and what it means to be a father, or equally missing messages about what it means to be a father, especially in the black community – this notion of automatically a black [0:41:24] just disappears from his kid’s life. I mean, how fucking hideous is that? That’s so insidious. We should be addressing these things, and yet it’s strangely silent. And I’m not going to apologize for wanting to talk about those things.

PW: Quite. Now you mentioned your website – this is bang2write.com, and that’s a number two. What made you start it in the first place? Was it a business decision, or just something you wanted to write?

LH: Well, as I said, I’ve got loads of opinions. So I love the internet. I love to just talk, talk, talk all day. In the last three or four years I’ve sent nearly 100,000 tweets for starters [laughter]. I just love going on and on. When I found out about blogs – it was 2005 – I thought, “Fantastic! I can write about stuff on there.”

PW: I need one of those.

LH: Yes, definitely. It was an AOL Hometown blog. Do you remember those?

PW: Yes. My first website was a GeoCities.

LH: Yeah [laughter]. And you could only write in Comic Sans. Oh, my God!

PW: I used to be really excited when I could make a text change colour.

LH: Yeah. I used to write blue Comic Sans with pink links. Oh, my God! I look back now…

PW: I was trying to teach myself HTML years and years ago, and I found this website at the time that I just thought it was the best thing in the world. It was a website where you could just copy bits of code into your site, and it would make these things like snow on the screen over —

LH: Oh, God, snow! Yes, I remember snow, too.

PW: Or fireworks when you clicked your mouse or something. And I thought this was the best thing ever. And so my GeoCities site, every page of it, all of it was hand-coded very badly, had some kind of exploding text or wobbly lines.

LH: Yes. Flying ones, as well. Oh, God! But yeah, I loved my blog at first. And I was just writing randomly at first. I was just writing all kinds of crap on that. Then I started getting fan mail.

PW: Oh!

LH: From a lady called Mary. And she lived in Alabama [laughter]. And that’s when I realized that I wasn’t just talking to myself. The people are actually reading this stuff. And she wanted to ask about – I would write about my son, and stuff like that. And I was just using it as a diary at first. And I wrote a couple of stories and I stuck them on there. And she liked these stories, and I suddenly realized, “Oh, these things are quite powerful.” And I just started the script reading on a kind of more – what’s the word?

PW: Formal?

LH: Yes. So I had started in a more formal way, and I was advertising on various bulletin boards and stuff, and getting two or three clients a week by this point. And I noticed that I was writing the same sort of things to them all the time. Lots and lots of screenplays essentially got the same problems, problems of things like structure and character – the two big things. So rather than write the same thing to all three clients, I’d write an article on the blog, and then direct them to that, so that they could see the main kind of problem. And then I would write the specific notes to their screenplay with that in mind. And that worked really well. And people really got bored with that, and they liked the extra value from there. And so for a long time I was just writing articles on that blog, thinking only my clients would be reading it.

And then about a year after I had started this blog I started getting lots of comments and emails from people saying, “Oh, can you write an article about this screenwriting problem or that screenwriting problem?” And I thought, “Oh, okay.” So I started taking questions – this was before Twitter and Facebook, and all that stuff. And it became very interactive.

And I discovered other screenwriters were writing their own blogs. Most of their blogs were online diaries of whether they were going to make it or not, or they’ve just started writing a project for a producer, and they were doing diaries of that and things like that. And somebody came along and they made this – I suppose it’s like a library aggregator thing of all the blogs about writing and stuff like that. It just became what was known back then as the Scriboshpere [laughter].

PW: That’s excellent.

LH: And we all called ourselves the Scribes of the Scribosphere, and I think there was about 50 of us. And some of them were quite big, like John August, who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Go, and Ken Levine, who wrote M*A*S*H and things. And then there were tiny little people like me. And then there was like the middle kind of TV writers from this country, as well. It just got bigger and bigger, and then Twitter came along, and Facebook came along. And people started to integrate their blogs into their Facebook, and then, weirdly, all the commentary, all went over to Facebook and Twitter, and now you don’t see a lot of comments on blogs.

PW: It’s true. And it’s interesting hearing how your site developed, because in modern-day internet marketing type speak, what you were doing was positioning yourself as an authority, which then makes people respect you and think, “She clearly knows what she’s doing,” and so they’ll say it to someone else, “She knows what she’s doing,” and they’ll think, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing.” And then the more people think well of you, the more they think, “Oh, I’ll hire her.” This is what a lot of modern [0:47:30] actors try to create in a bit too much of a planned way, whereas when it happens organically, like yours did — this wasn’t you setting out saying, “I’m going to write useful things, and so people will think I’m useful.” You were just writing what occurred to you, and then a few patterns started emerging, but the result was that you were writing things that were useful to enough people that you began to be recognized as someone who actually did know what they were talking about.

LH: Yes, which is pretty random, because I probably didn’t [laughter]. It just seemed common sense to me, and I think that’s probably the key behind good social media marketing, is it’s common sense. I mean, you don’t whine on social media about how hard everything is every five minutes, and you don’t slag everybody off, and you try and help other people, and you try and be pleasant, and you have a laugh, and whatever. And people will like you and pass your content on. It seems obvious to me, but very often it can’t be that obvious because I see loads of people —

PW: They’re really wrong.

LH: Oh, God, so wrong! I mean, I write social media posts on Bang2Write now because so many people ask me about it now. “What do I do? How do I set myself up on Twitter? How do I create a blog? How do I do a good digital footprint?” and all that bloody jargon.

PW: Yeah. People want to ultimate the process so much, and lose sight of the common-sense side of things, I think.

LH: Yes. It’s about human interaction and common sense. That’s all it is.

PW: I mean, we met on Twitter initially.

LH: Yes.

PW: We chat embarrassingly a lot [laughter] on Facebook. Not that either of us are there all the time.

LH: Oh, I am [laughter].

PW: But we both use both mediums a lot. And it’s interesting to see how writers are using them. I saw – it was a few weeks ago, and obviously, I won’t name who, but it was a copywriter who normally tweets just fairly sensible copywriting things, and then ended up live tweeting – I’m embarrassed for her just thinking about it – this kind of five hours following her husband telling her that he was leaving her.

LH: Oh, blimey!

PW: And she fell apart, not unreasonably.

LH: Yeah, of course.

PW: But spent five hours of tweet after tweet after tweet of kind of rage, then despair, then rage, then despair. And it was painful to watch.

LH: It can be.

PW: And if it’s a personal account then do what you will, frankly. But you do have to be a bit more careful with professional accounts.

LH: Yes, I think so. I mean, I tweet personal things sometimes, especially if I’m upset. I have been known to kind of rage a little bit, but I try and allow myself only three tweets maximum.

PW: That’s it.

LH: And then I’ll have to walk around the block a few times. Occasionally I might get drawn into a dog pile or whatever. There was one only last week where a certain keyboard warrior came after me because apparently I’m racist and classist, and all the usual -ists, based on a single tweet I made in November. So rather than ask me about the context of the tweet – which by the way was Storified – they start slagging me off. It’s like whatever. They were looking for ruck, basically.

PW: Yes, I know this phenomenon.

LH: Yes. So to protect my brand I just kept throwing back, kept throwing it back. And they kept coming back with the same nonsense over and over again. It’s like, “Oh, my God!” And then I wrote a nice long post about the issue on Bang2Write without naming her. If anybody ever takes it wrong again, they can see, because you’ll – what’s the word? The trail of tweet, and the trail of content to show that actually that’s just bullshit. So I think it’s useful that if somebody does launch an unprovoked attack like that, then you should protect your brand, I think. I could have got really personal and all that kind of stuff, but I didn’t see the point of that, because she was the one that ended up looking like an idiot.

PW: Yeah. And you do have to – you are a person that – it is the brand, but you are a person behind it, and you can’t be entirely robotic, and nor would you be an interesting person to follow if you were, frankly. It’s a difficult balance.

LH: Yes, it is.

PW: The kind of personality —

LH: It is. It can be.

PW: How much to come into it. But it’s an interesting one that evolves, I think.

LH: Yeah. I think that’s really key is this notion of evolution. I didn’t tell people that I was ill on social media. I didn’t tell anyone that I had cancer on social media when it was all going on. I didn’t want to be the one with cancer. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. But the people that I actually knew in real life, all knew about it. And the people that I worked with on a regular basis all knew about it. And, again, people were really nice to me on social media. They knew that I didn’t want to talk about in public, but they were always there all the time. They’d know that I would be in the hospital every three weeks or whatever for chemo, and they’d be on my phone with me the whole time, which was great.

And that was really helpful, as well, especially because when you’re on chemo, as well, you can’t sleep a lot of the time, so I’d literally be awake 21-22 hours out of 24, and I’d be on Twitter most of it. It was really great that people were always there, which was nice. It does stop you from feeling lonely, which is great. And that’s a brilliant aspect of social media, because you can feel like you’ve got moral support. But equally it can work the other way, and you can feel kind of harangued, as well.

PW: Yeah. There’s been an interesting story that’s blown up in the last day or two about an article that someone wrote in The Guardian. Now I first came across this because someone pointed out the quite exceptional statement that this article has now been replaced with. What was the full article now says, “This post has been deleted with the agreement of the subject because it is inconsistent with The Guardian editorial code.” Nothing would make me search the internet more, frankly, to find out what on earth was going on here, because I’ve never seen a statement like that.

I could still see the title to the piece, which was “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?” And I could still see all the comments to the piece, which thought it was horrific. And so I, of course, had to find out what it was. Google Cache wasn’t giving me anything, and all the obvious things, so I had to search further and further and further. Anyway, I eventually found it because when I get determined I get determined.

LH: Right. Fair enough.

PW: And basically there’s a woman who has terminal cancer, and has been tweeting a lot. Now I know and tweet with a lot of disabled people, and so somebody tweeting about their body or their pain or their treatment doesn’t really stand out to me.

This woman’s tweet – she’s not somebody I know on Twitter. She’s called Lisa Adams, and she’s tweeting very honestly about this last stage that she’s in, and the pain she’s in, and just how hard it is, which I will say I think is fully within her rights. It’s her Twitter account. She can tweet what she likes. What The Guardian journalist did was write an article, a really horrific article criticizing this woman for tweeting about this saying it’s basically too much information. I don’t know why I can’t stop reading it, but I can’t stop reading it. Some people just share too much, and do we have no limits anymore? And this Guardian journalist compares the tweets, at one point, to a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies.

LH: Oh, gosh!

PW: Yeah. Why are you saying this? If you don’t want to see this, don’t follow her. She’s very open that this is what she’s tweeting about. And I saw lots of article criticizing the original article, and then finally found a kind of cache of a cache of a cache from the article itself. And it is bad. And I’m not surprised The Guardian have taken it down. But for me that’s very much — she’s got exactly the same choice that you had. You chose that for you tweeting about this very openly wasn’t what you wanted to be doing, and that’s entirely within your right. And this woman had exactly the same choice, and for her tweeting openly was what she wanted to do about it, and that is also entirely within her rights.

LH: Absolutely. Yeah. Anyway, screenwriting.

PW: Yes, right. Yeah, Twitter. I don’t know whether you started this or whether you participate in it, but the #scriptchat…

LH: Yes.

PW: Tell me about that, because I like hashtags.

LH: Yes. Hashtags are brilliant. I love hashtags. I didn’t start scriptchats. As far as I know, it came into being around 2009, something like that. It’s been around for ages. It was one of the first things on Twitter that got me over there in the first place. And three people in America started scriptchat, and then they did a Euro scriptchat, as well. And they got three people in the UK to do that. I don’t know if they do it in any other country, as well, but there’s two main ones – Euro scriptchat on a Sunday, which is at 8:00 PM GMT, and then they’ve got a US scriptchat, which is about 10 o’clock our time. And basically they moderate a chat every week for an hour, 8:00 until 9:00 on a Sunday Euro, and then 10:00 until 11:00 US.

The three moderators for the US chat will usually have some sort of guest coming in to talk about various things. They nearly always have a guest. The UK moderators don’t have a guest quite as often, I’ve noticed. But they have a blog and they kind of facilitate questions and stuff through there, and suggestions for topics and stuff. Organically, other people who are talking about writing on Twitter will use a hashtag throughout the week, as well.

And I take full advantage of that, and all my musings about screenwriting or script reading I’ll hashtag with scriptchat, and also all my blog posts and things like that, as well. And scriptchat is a really good way of finding mostly screenwriters, but in the last year also novelists have started using it, as well, especially the people who publish to the Kindle, as well. So that’s a really good thing – more novel writers on there, as well. It does get taken over a bit by promo.

PW: A lot of the hashtags do now, and it’s a real shame. But if you can see through that they can be really – I used to participate in a monthly writers chat with a hashtag that I still never quite get it in the right order. I think it’s WCLW, which is Writers Chat Last Wednesday, and it’s just the last Wednesday of the month. And it’s for an hour. And I got out of the habit because it’s US time, and it doesn’t always translate to the same time here. But that’s started by a freelance writer called Michelle Rafter, who’s got a website. She will set a theme and certain questions. And sometimes there’ll be a guest answering questions. Other times it’s just a general discussion.

But I see so many hashtags now. There’s like #SheffieldHour and #YorkshireHour and there’s #UKFreelance. There’s just so many – every issue, every job. I think they’re a really good thing, although now there are more of them. I pay a bit less attention sometimes, whereas I think when there were fewer of them I probably focused a bit more on them, whereas they just pass me by a bit now. But they can be just a really good way of organizing Twitter into a topic.

LH: Definitely. And I probably use scriptchat the most followed by #Amwriting.

PW: Yes. I use that one.

LH: Also #Novels, as well, is an obvious one. I use the #fem2 a lot to get representation of women out a bit more. Also [1:02:07] about pregnancy, because obviously that’s a personal interest of mine, but also something that I write about quite a lot. I’ll use #fem2, #teenpreg, #teens quite a lot. I try and do some outreach work for our Twitter and ask fems with teenagers to answer their questions, especially about teenage pregnancy, but also about other issues, as well.

So I talk quite a lot on Facebook to a few teens about cyberbullying. Oh, some of the shit they put each other through, it’s just horrible. It’s really bad, all the memes that they do, and setting up pages to mock someone, and things like that. It’s just really nasty shit. I’m so glad it wasn’t around when I was this —

PW: Yes, I often think that when I see a documentary or something about cyberbullying. I just think I had some rough times at school, but I’m so glad now that when I got home I wasn’t then having that.

LH: Yeah, right. Because kids 10 years ago had mobile phones to worry about, you know, text message hassle.

PW: I’m too old to have even had that.

LH: Yeah, me too [laughter]. At least when you got home —

PW: We got bullied through the Post. [laughter]

LH: — you could close the door on it. [laughter]

PW: Royal Mail bullying, good old fashioned. [laughter]

LH: We could get home, close the door on it. They can’t even do that now. It’s just horrible. It’s really horrible. And also it’s another way of actually taking the Mickey even more out of people who’ve got problems or disability or an issue like teen pregnancy or whatever. That said, at least there is the feeling, as well, that you can actually bandy together with people who are being hassled, as well. You cannot say no. It’s a kind of a double-edged sword. One hand you can be harangued, but on the other hand you can —

PW: You can communicate.

LH: — actually find out you’re not the only one.

PW: Yeah. You can communicate with all sorts of people.

LH: When I was growing up I literally thought I was the only one that thought the way I did. I really, really believed that, 100%, until I was quite old, actually. I was about 22-23 before I realized that actually other people felt the same way about certain things as I did.

PW: I mean, for me, growing up gay, I would never have called it that when I was a kid, because it terrified me. I had no frame of reference other than it being a bad thing. And in so many ways the internet would have made for me that progression to ‘actually this is fine, and it’s me’, would have made it a million times easier. Because there was nothing then. There was the odd article in a teenage magazine, but very rare, and so, yeah, in that way, the internet would have made things far more accessible to me.

LH: Yep, definitely, and it would have been the same for me as a teen mother, especially living in a rural area. I just didn’t know anyone with a baby that was my age, nobody at all. And I was horribly lonely because I didn’t get to see anyone or do anything in a place that was so remote. I couldn’t even go into town or anything. I was literally just in the middle of a field, basically, and if I had just had Twitter on my phone even – just Twitter – life would have been a bit more bearable. But, as a result, I was having to read six books in a fortnight to say I had any kind of relief.

PW: One of the very good things about hashtags is that it’s an easy way of zoning in on the right people.

LH: Absolutely.

PW: Whether that’s about a personal issue like #teenpreg or whether it’s a professional thing like I want to talk to the UK freelancers, then if you’ve just joined the site you’ve got instant access to that community. And also anyone else who checks those hashtags will see you pop up. And so relationships start to be built, which is the beginning of all good things really.

LH: Yeah. No, it’s brilliant. I think Twitter is absolutely fantastic. I adore it. A couple of times a year I get sick of it and go, “I’m never going on Twitter again,” but I’m literally back on it within about five hours [laughter].

PW: So, Lucy, thank you so much for coming and talking on the podcast. It’s been really interesting to find out more about screenwriting and script editing. Good to talk social media with someone else who I know is really into social media. If people want to say hi to you, Lucy, or have a read of your blog, perhaps your social media feeds, how would they get in touch with you?

LH: Well, all you have to do is you can find me via Google, because I’m the only Bang2Write online, which is B-A-N-G-2-W-R-I-T-E, and you can find my website, which is bang2write.com or I’m bang2write on Twitter. On Facebook there’s a writers’ group called Bang2Writers, and there’s another one on the LinkedIn. You can also find me on various other platforms like Quora and Pinterest, and I think I’m even on FourSquare, as well, though I don’t really understand what that is. But occasionally people add me on there. So find me there if you want.

PW: And I’m going to also put links to all those places in the show notes at allittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. If you listen to this and then by the time you get home you’ve forgotten, just come to the podcast website and there’ll be links directly to all of Lucy’s online stuff.

LH: Brilliant. Thank you.

PW: Thanks very much.

And so before we finish up there is now just time for a quick Recommendation of the Week. And my recommendation this week is a blog post by Carol Tice on makealivingwriting.com, and it’s called ‘Can You Spot These Three Different Freelance Writing Scams?’ And we always all have to be on the lookout for people trying to exploit our frankly good nature, and get work out of us for nothing, or indeed charge us for work, which is more common than you might expect. And so, what Carol does in this post is go through three examples from her own experience, but really they apply to so many of us. Any writer with any kind of platform gets approached with this stuff all the time, and you have to know what to look for and what the warning signs are. And so I will, of course, link to that in the show notes. That’s just a quick recommendation for this week.

Now we will be back for a dual episode in two weeks’ time, so come back then to hear me and Lorrie talking shop. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview with Lucy. Head over to alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com and as well as all the links, too. Subscribe to the podcast and to my websites in social media feeds. You will also find links to all the films we’ve talked about, all of Lucy’s own websites and social media stuff, and plenty more. So thank you very much for listening, and we will see you next time.