Yelp for Journalists

Scott Carney is a freelance magazine writer who has launched a site called WordRates, which aims to be a “Yelp for Journalists”—helping freelance writers share information about editors and publishers who accept unsolicited story pitches, who pay actual money for writing, and who respond to emails in a timely manner. It’s like an updated version of Writer’s Market—and it’s not unlike the wonderful Who Pays Writers, which came before it, and Pressland, which has come after it. (This has resulted in some unfortunate press about who’s the real Yelp for Journalists.)

Apparently Gawker wants to be Yelp for Journalists, too:

Carney also has created something called PitchLab, which is basically an agency in which he promises to help writers sell their stories to publications in exchange for the typical agent 15% cut. I applaud Carney’s desire to help change the balance of power between editors and writers, and I’ve previously written about my own desire to be a better editor. Little things can make a big difference!

What I don’t love is the concept of shaming people (especially the ability to do so anonymously) when we have no deeper context on the relationship. Yelp for Journalists comes with the same problems that Yelp for Everything Else encounters. The few early ratings I’ve seen on WordRates are anonymously slamming editors for being “unresponsive.” I have no idea what this means. Does it mean they sent an unsolicited email pitch to an editor, and never heard back? Is the writer not happy because the editor gets a lot of email, and they leave the office at night without answering all of it? Unclear.

Despite the potential for abuse, a database of editors and publishers is a great idea. I would humbly submit three more simple ideas for adjusting the balance of power between editors and writers:

1. Stop offering stories exclusively to one publication. (And editors, stop insisting on it.)

If you have a story, pitch it to multiple editors, but also tell all of them you are pitching it to multiple outlets. Editors, you should not take offense to this—it’s unfair for a writer to sit, waiting, for you to reply to email. It’s even freeing! If you really like a story pitch, you’ll move faster. If you sit on a pitch, your guilty conscience will not destroy you as quickly, because at least other editors are reviewing it.

2. Set a hard deadline for a response, and propose a timeline for reporting/writing.

People like deadlines, and so do editors. But rather than making it a race to see which editor replies to you fastest, set a deadline a few days or a week later, so you give editors time to come back with their own best proposal. You want them to be thoughtful with your work, versus just slapping it up on their site, right?

3. Propose a flat fee upfront, in your story pitch.

Is this an awful idea? I don’t know. I do know that per-word freelance rates are difficult, because everyone knows that story length does not correlate with the amount of work a piece might require. Is it a blog post? An interview? Personal essay? Reported narrative with travel? Everything differs.

This is really just about everyone setting expectations. If you’d like to pitch an essay or narrative to Longreads, here’s how you can do it. (Warning: We don’t respond unless we are interested in pursuing something.) Pitch us, but also pitch other people! If I miss a chance with your story, then it will be my fault if I’m too slow. I’m not NO STARS on WordRates for nothing.

One response to “Yelp for Journalists”

  1. Maybe there needs to be a box on the site that says: “Okay, really, is there anything that you did to contribute to this relationship going sour? Are you sure it wasn’t you?” Then we freelancers could have a spot to voice our inner doubts instead of just lashing out. Also, it should probably identify at which stage the relationship went sour. Just sending an email into the void is different then reporting out a full story and then having it quashed because of space constraints, for example.

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