Story Board: Canadian freelancers turn to the US market to secure higher-paying gigs

This post is part of a series called “E-Lancer Writes,” exploring the working conditions, rights and collective organizing strategies of freelance journalists, interns and other low-wage or temporary digital media workers. Originally published on The Story Board and re-posted here with permission. By Errol Salamon.

When Canadian-based freelancer Katherine O’Brien started working as a web content and blog writer, she hadn’t made a conscious decision to publish with US companies to make a decent living.

Yet for over a year and a half, O’Brien has written mostly for companies south of the Canadian border, specializing in senior care, health and aging. O’Brien said it’s possible to make a decent living in Canada as long as it’s doing corporate work, but she has found it easier to get gigs in the US, given her specialty.

“When I started, I thought I’d be doing a lot of work with Toronto companies, thinking it would be an advantage that I was based in Toronto. I think it still could be an advantage to live in a market like Toronto where there are publications and you could meet or network with people,” O’Brien said in a recent interview. “But I get the majority of my business through email prospecting, not face-to-face networking, so it doesn’t seem to really matter where I live.”

It may not work for everyone, she said, but email prospecting has been her saving grace because she has found significantly more US companies in her field of specialization.

“Plus you get paid so much more in US funds. That’s a real bonus working in the US,” she said. “Some of the places I’ve worked at in Canada set the rates and they weren’t great. I’m doing better financially with what I’m doing now in the US.”

While digital communications have made it easier for Canadian freelancers like O’Brien to find clients outside of the country, writing for Canadian companies also has its advantages, said Aaron Broverman, a Canadian-based freelancer who writes for both US and Canadian publications.

“The community is smaller and everybody knows each other, so chances are good that you’ll be working with that person again, and they usually bring you back, or remember you or hire you for something else,” he said in an interview. “It’s just nice to represent the home team for Canadian publications.”

However, Broverman agrees that US companies generally pay better than Canadian ones.

“US companies seem to value the work a little bit more,” he said. “Whereas with Canadian publications, there’s always the story of ‘I don’t know where we’re going to get the funding.’”

Broverman also said he sometimes gets paid more writing for a US site than he does writing for the Canadian version of that site, such as CreditCards.com US and CreditCards.com Canada. Like other freelancers interviewed for this post, he speculated that the lower rates are a result of the smaller Canadian magazine market.

“When I write for the American site, I get a dollar a word US, but when I write for the Canadian site, I get only $350 US per article,” he said.

However, like some Canadian publications, not all US companies pay freelancers decently and some pay nothing, said Canadian-based freelancer Leslie Garrett, who also writes mostly for US companies. With 20 years of experience, Garrett targets employers she knows pay well, regardless of the side of the border the publications are on.

“I place a value on my work and those are the publications that I seek out,” she said in an interview. “I think that when writers give their work away, it devalues that work and we all end up being hurt by it.”

O’Brien, Broverman and Garrett are contemporary examples of Canadian freelancers who turn to US publications to make a decent living. But their income-boosting strategy has deep historical roots.

According to University of Toronto professor Nicole Cohen, as far back as the 1800s, Canadian freelancers struggled to earn a living from publishing in Canadian magazines that didn’t guarantee income in the country’s underdeveloped market. In her new book Writers’ Rights: Freelance Journalism in a Digital Age, Cohen says that in 1819, Canadian freelancers turned to the US, where magazines started paying writers for articles that year.

“Many American magazines paid for contributions, so Canadian writers sold their work in the United States while publishing for no pay at home,” writes Cohen.

By 1961, the Royal Commission on Publications, chaired by M. Grattan O’Leary, had recognized that Canadian freelance magazine writers had to look to the US to sell their work because Canada still had a small publishing market.

“As it is now, a professional freelance writer cannot live on the proceeds of writing only for Canadian periodicals,” wrote the O’Leary Commission in its report.

But despite the O’Leary Commission report, Canadian freelancers continued to earn low incomes over subsequent decades, according to a survey conducted by the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC). The survey, which contains the most comprehensive and current data available, reveals that freelance writers in Canada made an average annual salary of $25,000 per year before tax in 1979, $26,500 per year in 1995 and only $24,035 per year in 2005. When these salaries are adjusted for inflation, they actually represent a decrease in income.

For Canadian freelancers who seek work abroad to increase their incomes, there are collective organizations here at home that offer support systems.

According to Don Genova, president of CMG Freelance, a branch of the Canadian Media Guild since 1998, the Guild doesn’t provide special services for its freelance members who do work for US companies.

“But within the services we offer to all of our members, we would definitely take on any queries people have about foreign contractors, including but not limited to reviewing contract language, suggestions on negotiating tactics and communicating with a foreign contractor if there are problems with payment,” Genova said in an email.

Although he hasn’t been asked for help with foreign contracts often, he does recall writing an email on behalf of a freelance broadcaster who was having problems getting paid by a BBC program.

“I sent the email, laying out the details of the work that had been done, and the next day, the freelancer finally heard back from the producer of the program, giving details of the payment about to be sent.”

Like CMG Freelance, PWAC, a not-for-profit writers’ organization since 1976, doesn’t offer a specific program for members who write for US publications.

“However, a key member benefit is the internal networking and peer support system we have in place through our members-only forums and internal listserv,” said Stephanie Lasuik, PWAC national communications committee chair, in an email.

“Members with questions or queries on any aspect of their writing business receive immediate feedback from peers across Canada.”

With 10 years of experience, Broverman has his own frank advice for his freelancer peers across the country:

“Freelancing is hard, and it’s hard to make a living just freelancing, so find American clients and don’t apologize for it,” he said. “You don’t hear about more Canadians doing this on a regular basis. At first it seemed like I cracked some sort of code to get more money, but everybody should try.”


Errol Salamon is a freelance writer and a visiting scholar in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s also co-editor and contributor to the book Journalism in Crisis: Bridging Theory and Practice for Democratic Media Strategies in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2016). Follow him on Twitter @errolouvrier.

Your Guide to Winter/Spring 2017 Canadian Magazine Writing Contests

In her 2016 National Magazine Award-winning story “The Beguiling” (sub-Terrain) Zsuzsi Gartner pens a portrait of an amputee cinephile named Zoltan whose sense of the world is derived from the human stories that pass through his (and others’) camera lens. In one scene, at the hospital, the ailing character is suddenly inspired to think of himself as a “little dog,” the kind that audiences root for to overcome challenges. The narrator explains:

He meant the North American penchant for happy endings. Fairy tales. But in the original fairy tales we all know the most diabolical things happen, eyes are pecked out by birds, there’s cannibalism and decapitation, and the little mermaid doesn’t marry the prince but dissolves into sad foam on the sea.

What inspires your sense of the world? What’s your penchant for endings? Happy ones with strong little dogs, or more of a dissolution into empty water? Whatever your approach to the craft–and whether fiction, poetry, memoir or photography–you’ll find plenty of outlets for your stories in Canadian magazines.

And so the NMAF presents its annual Winter/Spring Guide to Canadian Writing (and Photography) Contests.

All contests and awards listed below accept previously unpublished works of Canadian poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction and photography; listed in chronological order by deadline date. If you know of one that we missed, please let us know or Tweet at us @MagAwards.

And for more inspiration, check out the National Magazine Awards Archive, with hundreds of winning and nominated stories and poems to read.

Room Creative Short Forms Contest
Genre: Fiction, Poetry or Creative Non-fiction (max 500 words)
Deadline: January 29, 2017
Prizes: 2 prizes of $500 + publication (1st); $50 + publication (Honourable Mention)
Entry Fee: $35 ($7 for each additional entry); includes subscription
Detailshttp://roommagazine.com/contests

Prism International Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction*
Genres: Fiction (max 6000 words)
Deadline: January 31, 2017
Prize: $1500 (1st); $600 (2nd); $400 (3rd); publication
Entry Fee: $35; includes subscription
Detailshttp://prismmagazine.ca/contests/
* Judged by National Magazine Award-winning fiction writer Jess Taylor

Arc Poetry Magazine Poem of the Year Contest
Genre: Poetry
Deadline: February 1, 2017
Prize: $5000 (Poem of the Year); $500 (Honourable Mention); paid publication for shortlisted works
Entry Fee: $35 ($5 for each additional entry); includes subscription
Detailshttp://arcpoetry.ca/contests-page/

The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize*
Genre: Poetry
Deadline: February 1, 2017
Prize: $1000 to each of 2 winners; publication
Entry Fee: $35; includes subscription
Detailshttp://www.malahatreview.ca/contests/long_poem_prize/info.html
* Judged by National Magazine Award winners Louise Bernice Halfe, George Elliott Clarke and Patricia Young

Writers Union of Canada Short Prose Competition
Genres: Non-fiction; Fiction
Deadline: February 1, 2017
Prize: $2500 + assistance with publication
Entry Fee: $29
Detailshttp://www.writersunion.ca/short-prose-competition

Pulp Literature Magazine Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest
Genre: Short Fiction (max 750 words)
Deadline: February 15, 2017
Prize: $300 + publication
Entry Fee: $15 (includes subscription)
Detailshttp://pulpliterature.com/contests/

CBC Canada Writes Creative Non-Fiction Prize
Genre: Creative Non-fiction (1200-1800 words)
Deadline: February 28, 2017
Prize: $6000 + publication in enRoute + Banff Centre residency (1st); $1000 each to 4 runners up
Entry Fee: $25
Detailshttp://www.cbc.ca/books/2016/01/cbc-creative-nonfiction-prize-is-now-open.html

The New Quarterly Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest
Genre: Poetry
Deadline: February 28, 2017 March 17, 2017
Prize: Two prizes of $1000 + publication
Entry Fee: $40 (for first 2 poems; $5 each for additional); includes subscription
Detailshttp://www.tnq.ca/contests

Alberta Views Public Spaces Photography Contest
Genre: Photography
Deadline: February 28, 2017
Prizes: $1000; publication
Entry Fee: $30 ($15 for each additional entry)
Detailshttps://albertaviews.ab.ca/contests/
Note: The contest is open to residents of Alberta and Alberta expats.

Matrix Magazine Robert Kroetsch Innovative Poetry Award*
Genre: Poetry (manuscript)
Deadline: March 1, 2017
Prize: Publication contract with Insomniac Press
Entry Fee: $25
Detailshttp://www.matrix-magazine.org/robert-kroetsch-award
* Judged by National Magazine Award-winning writer Wayde Compton

13th annual Geist Literary Postcard Story Contest
Genre: Very short fiction or non-fiction (500 words max)
Deadline: March 1, 2017
Prize: $500 (1st); $250 (2nd); $150 (3rd); publication
Entry Fee: $20; includes subscription ($5 each additional entry)
Detailshttp://www.geist.com/contests/postcard-contest/

The RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers
Genre: Poetry
Deadline: March 6, 2017
Prizes: $10,000 (1st); $2500 (to two honourable mentions)
Entry Fee: $0
Details: http://www.writerstrust.com/Awards/RBC-Bronwen-Wallace-Award-for-Emerging-Writers/Prize-Guidelines.aspx

Room Creative Non-fiction Contest
Genre: Creative Non-fiction
Deadline: March 8, 2017
Prizes: $500 (1st); $250 (2nd); $50 (3rd); publication
Entry Fee: $35 ($7 for each additional entry); includes subscription
Detailshttp://roommagazine.com/contests

The New Quarterly Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest
Genre: Creative Non-Fiction
Deadline:  March 28, 2017
Prize: $1000
Entry Fee: $40; includes subscription
Detailshttp://www.tnq.ca/contests
Note: All submissions will be considered for publication ($250) in the magazine.

Vallum Chapbook Award
Genre: Poetry (chapbook 12-20 pages)
Deadline: March 31, 2017
Prize: $125 + publication
Entry Fee: $25
Detailshttp://www.vallummag.com/chapbookrules.html

Grain Magazine 29th annual Short Grain Writing Contest
Genres: Fiction (max 2500 words); Poetry (max 100 lines)
Deadline: April 1, 2017
Prize: $1000 (1st); $750 (2nd); $500 (3rd); publication
Entry Fee: $40 (for two entries in one category); includes subscription
Detailshttp://www.grainmagazine.ca/short-grain-contest/

Alice Munro Festival Short Story Contest
Genre: Short Fiction (max 2500 words; separate categories for adults and youths)
Deadline: April 1, 2017
Prizes:  $1,500 (adults prize); $500 (youth prize)
Entry Fee: $25 (adults); $10 (youth)
Detailshttp://alicemunrofestival.ca/?page_id=1317

Exile Literary Quarterly Carter V. Cooper Fiction Competition
Genre: Fiction (max 10,000 words)
Deadline: April 3, 2017
Prizes: $10,000 for best story by an emerging writer; $5000 for best story by a career writer; publication
Entry Fee: $30; includes subscription
Details: http://www.theexilewriters.com/

Exile Literary Quarterly Gwendolyn McEwan Poetry Competition
Genre: Poetry
Deadline: April 3, 2017
Prizes: $1500 for Best Suite; $1000 for Best Suite by an Emerging Poet; $500 for Best Poem; publication
Entry Fee: $25; includes subscription
Details: http://www.theexilewriters.com/

CV2 2-Day Poem Contest
Genre: Poetry
Deadline: April 3, 2017 (registration; competition is held April 8-9)
Prize: $500 (1st); $300 (2nd); $150 (3rd); publication
Entry Fee: $26; includes registration + subscription (registration only is $16)
Detailshttp://www.contemporaryverse2.ca/en/contests/2-day-poem-contest

Pulp Literature Magazine Magpie Award for Poetry
Genre: Poetry (max 100 lines)
Deadline: April 15, 2017
Prize: $500 + publication (1st); $50 for each of 2 runners-up
Entry Fee: $25 (includes subscription); $10 for each additional entry
Detailshttp://pulpliterature.com/contests/

Event Magazine Non-Fiction Contest
Genre: Creative Non-fiction (5000 words or fewer)
Deadline: April 15, 2017
Prize: $1500 in total cash prizes; publication
Entry Fee: $34.95; includes subscription
Detailshttp://www.eventmagazine.ca/contest-nf/

The Malahat Review Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction
Genre: Fiction (max 3500 words)
Deadline: May 1, 2017
Prize: $1000; publication
Entry Fee: $25 (additional entries are $15); includes subscription
Detailshttp://www.malahatreview.ca/contests/far_horizons_fiction/info.html

The New Quarterly Peter Hinchcliffe Fiction Award
Genre: Fiction
Deadline: May 28, 2017
Prize: $1000 + publication
Entry Fee: $40; includes subscription
Details: http://www.tnq.ca/contests
Note: All submissions will be considered for paid publication ($250) in the magazine.

CBC Canada Writes Poetry Prize
Genre: Poetry
Deadline: May 31, 2017
Prize: $6000 + publication in enRoute + Banff Centre residency (1st); $1000 each to 4 runners up
Entry Fee: $25
Detailshttp://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/poetry/
Note: The submission form can be downloaded as of April 1, 2017

Ricepaper ACWW Emerging Writer Award
Genre: Poetry (book-length manuscript)
Deadline: June 1, 2017
Prize: $250 + publication (1st); prize packs + publication (2nd & 3rd)
Entry Fee: $25; includes subscription
Detailshttp://ricepapermagazine.ca/contests/

Antigonish Review Sheldon Curray Fiction Prize
Genre: Fiction (max 20 pages)
Deadline: June 1, 2017
Prize: $600 (1st); $400 (2nd); $200 (3rd); publication
Entry Fee: $25 (includes subscription)
Detailshttp://www.antigonishreview.com/

Pulp Literature Magazine Hummingbird Flash Fiction Contest
Genre: Short Fiction (max 1000 words)
Deadline: June 15, 2017
Prize: $300 + publication
Entry Fee: $15 (includes subscription)
Detailshttp://pulpliterature.com/contests/

Other contests may be added to the list as Winter melts into Spring. Stay tuned.

Did we miss one? Send us a note or grab us on Twitter @MagAwards. We’ll update this post throughout the winter and spring as more contests are announced.

Find more awards, prizes and contests for magazine journalism on the Awards and Contests pages of this blog.

Summer Magazine Contest Guide
Fall Magazine Contest Guide
Writer’s Guide to Canadian Literary Magazines & Journals

Digital Publishing Awards accepting Freelancer Submissions

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The NMAF is very pleased to share that the Freelancer Support Fund is also available for the Digital Publishing Awards, whose deadline to enter is Tuesday January 31.

The discounted entry fees allow freelance creators to submit their first two (2) entries at the discounted rate of $50 per submission.

With the 2nd Annual DPAs officially underway, we are very happy to offer this special discount to the freelance creators – the writers, videographers, editors, designers, developers, video and podcast producers, photographers and illustrators, and others – who are establishing excellence in Canadian digital publishing. There is a $500 cash prize for individual winners.

An eligible “freelancer” is someone:

  • who is not a staff member of a publication whose work they are submitting, and
  • whose byline appears on the work they are submitting.

If your magazine work also appeared in an online platform, it may be eligible to enter. Check out the full list of Rules & Eligibility.

The Freelancer Support Fund applies to your first two (2) entries only. The regular rate of $110 will apply to any submission entered in addition to the first two. Fees paid for submissions to the Digital Publishing Awards may be tax-deductible for freelancers. The DPAs are operated by the non-profit registered charity NMAF.

There is exactly one week left to enter, as the final deadline to submit is Tuesday January 31.

To submit your best, visit submissions.digitalpublishingawards.ca. If you have any questions about entering the Digital Publishing Awards, please get in touch: info@digitalpublishingawards.ca.

Freelancers: Last chance to enter the National Magazine Awards

Freelancers save over 50% on entry fees on National Magazine Awards submissions by Friday’s deadline. Are you a freelance journalist, illustrator, photographer, or other creator?

With the new Freelancer Support Fund from the National Magazine Awards Foundation, your first two entries are just $50 each (regular price $120). Awards include a cash prize of $1000.

Not sure if your magazine is entering your work on your behalf? If they do, we’ll refund your entry fees.

As a not-for-profit charitable organization, National Magazine Awards’ entry fees may be tax-deductible for self-employed freelancers.

The deadline for entries is Friday January 20.

Awards include:

Awards include a cash prize of $1000.

For a complete list of awards, visit magazine-awards.com/categories.

Ready to submit? Click here

PLUS: The Freelancer Support Fund is also applicable to creators entering the Digital Publishing Awards. Deadline for DPA entries is January 31.

Announcing the NMAF Freelancer Support Fund

For the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards the NMAF is offering a special discount to freelance writers, photographers and illustrators who enter their own work for consideration.

The NMAF Freelancer Support Fund allows freelancers to submit their first two (2) entries at the discounted rate of $50 per submission.

The Freelancer Support Fund applies to entries for Writing and Visual Awards, for which there is a cash prize to the winning creator of $1000.

An eligible “Freelancer” is a person:

  • who is not a staff member of a publication whose work they are submitting, and
  • whose byline (as a writer, photographer or illustrator) appears on the work they are submitting.

When registering for the National Magazine Awards submissions process, all freelancers must register as an Individual (rather than a Magazine) submitter, in order to be eligible for the Freelancer Support Fund.

The Freelancer Support Fund applies to your first two entries. The regular rate of $95 will apply to any submission entered in addition to the first two.

The NMAF is a registered charity, so all fees paid for submissions are tax-deductible. There are more reasons than ever to enter your work for a National Magazine Award!

Submission open for the 40th anniversary National Magazine Awards on December 1.

Stay tuned for updates on this year’s new categories and judging procedures, to be announced soon.

Portrait Series: National Magazine Awards Storytellers – Behind the Scenes Edition

The National Magazine Awards Foundation is all about celebrating Canadian creators and storytellers. Our mission is to recognize excellence in magazine writing and art production.

At the NMAF we tip our hats to the storytellers who skilfully fill the pages of Canadian magazines and to do this there’s a lot of hard work that happens behind the scenes. This year 232 judges volunteered their time and expertise in evaluating submissions from across the country for our 39th annual National Magazine Awards program.

In addition, our Board of Directors and staff members dedicate themselves year-round to the recognition of Canadian magazine creators. In this second instalment of our Portrait Series: National Magazine Awards Storytellers – Behind the Scenes Edition, we’re featuring the people who make the NMAs possible. They’ve also told us why they’re proud to be a part of our awards program and what our judges are looking for in an NMA-award-winning piece.

 

To learn more about the award winners and nominees from the 2016 awards program, please visit magazine-awards.com. You can read the biographies of this year’s awards program judges here and can view a list of our Board of Directors and Staff here.  To follow this photo series on social media, you can find the NMAF on Instagram (nationalmagazineawards) or on Twitter@MagAwards.

Credit: photos taken by Steve Goetz; interviews conducted by Melissa Myers.

Full Coverage of the 39th National Magazine Awards
Complete articles of all nominees and winners
Complete list [pdf] of all nominees and winners
Full text of Kim Pittaway’s speech
Smash Reel
Thank You to our Sponsors & Partners
The Judges
Award Seals

Best Practices: How to leverage your National Magazine Award

NMA_BestPractivesGuide_FINAL

Did you win a National Magazine Award at this year’s gala? Were you a nominee? If so, we’ve created a guide just for you.

The NMAF is pleased to introduce the first volume of our Best Practices Guide. This guide is an extensive resource for how National Magazine Award winners and nominees can best leverage their recognition of magazine excellence.

The guide provides detailed promotional strategies, insightful personal testimony and plenty of other useful resources to help award winners and nominees best leverage and optimize their National Magazine Awards.

Click here to download the full PDF version.

Winners’ Circle Webinar

On November 25, 2015, the National Magazine Awards Foundation presented Winners’ Circle, an exclusive learning and networking event. More than 70 NMA winners and nominees gathered at The Spoke Club in Toronto’s King West district to meet, mingle, network and learn about how a National Magazine Award can be a boost to your career.

In addition to our Best Practices Guide, the NMAF has created this webinar to uncover other effective ways to leverage and optimize your National Magazine Award win. In a discussion led by D.B. Scott, three NMA winners–Penny Caldwell of Cottage Life, Matthew Blackett of Spacing and Katherine Laidlaw of The Walrus–share their best practices on how they leveraged their recognition of winning a National Magazine Award.

Please stay tuned for when we announce our next Winners’ Circle event.

Download this year’s National Magazine Awards Winners’ Seals here.

Watch other videos on our YouTube channel here.