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.

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.

Access Copyright affiliation offers benefits to Canadian creators

One of the perks of being a published creator of magazine content is the right to receive benefits—including royalties on shared and republished content—pertaining to the copyright of your creative work. The most effective and comprehensive way to gain access to these benefits is to affiliate with Access Copyright Canada.

Access Copyright is a national non-profit organization that represents over 11,000 Canadian writers, visual artists and publishers. Their mandate is to facilitate the sharing of published content, via licensing agreements with professional and education services, and ensure appropriate rewards for creators and publishers.

To affiliate with Access Copyright, you need only own the copyright to at least one work that is published in print (magazine, newspaper, book, journal). There is no fee to affiliate; Access Copyright keeps a small percentage of royalties to cover its administrative costs. All other proceeds are passed directly to the creator in the form of an annual Payback.

Other benefits of affiliation include access to Access Canada creator resources, including copyright compliance tools and legal information. Here’s more on how it works.

For more information, visit http://www.accesscopyright.ca/.
Twitter @AccessCopyright

Image via Startup Stock PhotosAccess Copyright

Ten great reasons to enter the National Magazine Awards

Since 1977 the National Magazine Awards Foundation has been recognizing excellence in the content and creation of Canadian magazines. Each year the Foundation grants more than $60,000 in prize money to award-winning writers, illustrators, photographers and other creators, and bestows the honour and industry recognition of a National Magazine Award  to the publishers, editors, art directors and other staff of more than 75 nominated publications.

And although that may be reason enough to enter, many previous winners are happy to give us more.

Here are 10 other reasons why you should consider entering the 2013 National Magazine Awards:

1. New readers. Award-winning magazines attract new readers who are hungry for great stories.

We did feel that if we were lucky enough to get noticed at the National Magazine Awards in our first year of eligibility it would help us spread the word of what we are about and who we are trying to reach. The NMAs mean a great deal to people in the magazine industry and to writers in general; they indicate what is working at a high level and signal to the country what might be worth paying attention to.
Curtis Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Eighteen Bridges

2. Bragging Rights. Be able to tell your readers that you are delivering the best and most credible content, recognized by your peers in the magazine industry.

It is immensely gratifying, on a professional level, when our team and contributors earn a National Magazine Award, or simply garner a nomination for that matter. It’s yet another measurement of how well we are serving our audience, based on the criteria for magazine excellence as determined by our industry peers.
Patrick Walsh, editor-in-chief of Outdoor Canada

Le plus grand mérite revient au journaliste qui l’écrit, mais le choix du sujet, la révision, le choix des titres et surtout l’encadrement pendant la recherche et la rédaction sont aussi d’une importance capitale et font souvent la différence entre un reportage «publiable» et une œuvre remarquable. Quant à nos lecteurs, ils sont toujours impressionnés de voir notre récolte de prix. Je crois que cela renforce notre crédibilité.
Pascale Millot, ancienne rédactrice du magazine Québec Science

3. Get Noticed. With a National Magazine Award, writers and artists find new audiences for their creative work and talent.

The NMA is a big award and I’m extremely grateful to have won it. I’m sure it has done quite a bit to promote my work and lift my profile as a documentary photographer. Above all else, I’m happy that this award brought the story to more viewers.
Ian Willms, NMA-winning photographer

Winning the NMA gave me confidence in my writing, which I never really had before. [It] also got my work noticed. After I won Best New Magazine Writer, the essay was selected to appear in the Best Canadian Essays 2013 anthology, alongside some very successful writers. It is an amazing honour that I feel would not have happened without the National Magazine Awards.
Sierra Skye Gemma, winner of the 2012 NMA for Best New Magazine Writer

4. Book Deal? Publishers take notice of award-winning work, and a National Magazine Award could be a step towards launching a book project.

The National Magazine Award was crucial into shifting [my] feature into a book project. After the magazine award, I received a few phone calls from literary agents, inquiring about the possibility of a book. I am sure the NMA helped [my agent] in the all-important pitch to book editors and marketing departments; to be able to say the idea had already garnered a Gold Award from the community of magazine journalists.
Joshua Knelman, NMA winner and author of Hot Art

I got a lot of great feedback and everyone at the magazine was effusive and full of praise. It was very validating and it really encouraged me to continue the novel. Or it certainly put a skip in my step as I was finishing the rest of it: knowing that people had taken a peek at it and had approved.
Heather O’Neill, NMA winner and author of Lullabies for Little Criminals

5. Find Your Next Job. Award-winning writers are better able to find new editors and publishers interested in their work.

The impact of this award was stunning. Here I was, writing from an isolated basement office in Vancouver, and all of a sudden my work is being recognized nationally. Personally, it was an unbelievable affirmation that the sacrifices I’d made to leave a twenty-year corporate consulting career had been worth it. Professionally, it was a game changer. The NMA nominations provided me with an entrée into one of the country’s top literary agencies. I met with and acquired [an] agent the day of the awards ceremony. In short, I believe that the recognition of the National Magazine Awards catapulted me from the ground floor of my writing profession to the penthouse suite.
Carol Shaben, NMA winner and author of Into the Abyss

6. Promote Your Innovations. Magazines are growing, and we’re growing with them. The NMAF recognizes achievement in digital content creation and all other enterprising magazine journalism.

It’s a great honour to be recognized by peers who work across subjects and venues in journalism. It seems to be increasingly true that readers can expect good writing and reporting in many places—blogs, web pages, etc.—and it’s wonderful that the NMA recognizes that with its awards categories.
Julia Belluz, winner of the 2012 National Magazine Award for Best Blog

Un prix est le couronnement de nos efforts, la reconnaissance qu’on a atteint notre objectif. Personne ne se sent obligé de lire un magazine pour être au courant de l’actualité. Les journaux, la télévision et les nouvelles en continu sur le Web nous livrent une rude compétition. C’est à nous, artisans des magazines, de proposer des histoires inédites, des angles nouveaux et surprenants pour nous rendre indispensables aux yeux du grand public.
Catherine Dubé, lauréate et journaliste chez L’actualité

7. Build Your Confidence. Freelancing is one of the most challenging pursuits for an artist or journalist, and sometimes even lonely. Awards and nominations are benchmarks of progress.

Whenever I felt that I was hopelessly inept and dark voices inside were telling me to give up, I would defer to other people’s opinions (such as those giving out awards) and carry on. Of course the prize money is helpful in funding the next project, and it is good fun to go to the awards evenings. I don’t think anyone will deny that recognition from your peers is especially gratifying.
Roger LeMoyne, NMA-winning photojournalist

The National Magazine Award was a vote of confidence that I was in the right line of work. We all need a thumbs-up from the world sometimes, as we toil away in the studio.
Jillian Tamaki, NMA-winning illustrator

Winning that NMA was especially rewarding because the story was quite personal. As well, the story had been rejected by numerous magazines before AlbertaViews picked it up. That fact made the win even more gratifying, and dulled the sting from those rejections.
Jeremy Klaszus, NMA-winning writer

8. Celebrate Your Creators. Editors, publishers and art directors have the opportunity to reward the creative talent that helps their magazines sell copies and connect with readers.

An award is useful for communicating to our stakeholders that we are successful. It adds momentum to what we do every day at the magazine… We create content to satisfy our readers, not to win awards. But it is our creators who get the awards and the cash prize, and for an editor, that’s an honour.
Sarah Fulford, editor-in-chief of Toronto Life

9. Even a Nomination is a Celebration. We all start at the beginning, and just getting our work out there, and getting it noticed, is a step on the path to success.

As a young artist, it is a great honour to be recognized nationally, which in turn provides many assurances of support for my career. I was thrilled to be nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2009 even though I only received a honourable mention. Even with greater astonishment, [in 2011] I was called up on stage to receive the Gold award. An award not only provides charming publicity but it raises the standards in my work and, therefore, produces a wonderful opportunity to surpass my previous accomplishments.
Selena Wong, NMA-winning illustrator

Awards are one way to measure whether or not what I’m doing on the page is working… Consistent nominations tell me that I’m continuing to do work that is recognizably among the best in the country.
J.B. MacKinnon, NMA winner and author of The Once and Future World

10. Believe in What We Do. After all, magazines are the medium of creativity, passion and a deep engagement with our readers.

I think we should always believe in what we do. Successful magazine stories have that ‘wow’ factor, and with everything we do we try to achieve that. You know that story matters, that content matters. If you believe you achieved success then you should enter the National Magazine Awards, because then you’ll know if your peers agree; that it made them say, ‘wow.’
Carole Beaulieu, editor-in-chief of L’actualité

For more information and to submit your work to the 2013 National Magazine Awards, visit magazine-awards.com. Follow us on Twitter @MagAwards.

New Writers.ca portal available from PWAC

The Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) has launched a new online portal to connect freelance writers and magazine editors across the country.

The site writers.ca is being promoted to Canadian magazines and from now through the spring of 2013, the site is free. (After February 14, there will be an annual fee for magazines to join, based on circulation figures. Read more.) Writers who are members of PWAC will be listed on the site. (Join PWAC.)

On the site, editors can find writers for specific projects, writers can find editors who might be interested in their work, and organizations can post jobs for specific needs.

The portal also includes tips such as:

{Hat tip: Canadian Magazines}

Opportunities for Students at the National Magazine Awards

Attention all journalism school students, creative writers, young artists and magazine professionals: The National Magazine Awards Foundation (NMAF) has a number of initiatives and opportunities for you.

Awards: Best New Magazine Writer & Best New Visual Creator
While all NMA categories are open to work published by students and young professionals, we have two categories open exclusively to your talent, with cash prizes and recognition at the annual NMA Gala. Submissions for work published in 2012 will be accepted starting on December 1 with a deadline of January 16.
[Read more about these awards]
[Check out last year’s winners]

E-Book: Best in Magazines 2007-2012
A collection of over 30 National Magazine Award-winning stories, photo essays, illustrations and covers from the past 5 years, our new eBook is available absolutely FREE for your iPad and features the best in magazine journalism from The Walrus, Maisonneuve, Explore, Eighteen Bridges, AlbertaViews, Swerve, Report on Business, The New Quarterly, Toronto Life, Ryerson Review of Journalism & many others.
[Read more]
[Download the Free App]

Internships at the NMAF
We are offering 2 paid Administrative Internship positions for students interested in pursuing a career in the Canadian magazine industry. Internships are part-time and run from December through June. The deadline for applications to this year’s internship program is November 7.  [Read more]

NMA Online Archives
This summer we hosted a Reading Series featuring award-winning articles from our online archive of previous National Magazine Award winners. The reading series & archive are great opportunities to catch up on the best of the best in Canadian magazine journalism–we have full-text PDF versions of all finalists and winners from recent years–and find inspiration for your future work.
[Dive into the NMA Archive]
[Cozy up with our Summer Reading Series]

Resources & Other Awards
On our website we maintain an exhaustive list of magazine and journalism awards across Canada, and periodically on our blog we feature in depth information about these awards and contests.
[Follow the Magazine Awards blog]
[See which Magazine Writing Contests are going on now]

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for frequent updates, news and opportunities from the NMAF. If you have any questions about the National Magazine Awards, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Best regards for a successful year!

Awards all around: New NMAF Professional Resources

Today the NMAF is debuting a Professional Resources section on its website that contains, among other things, an extensive listing of awards programs out there for Canadian writers and artists.

Having discussed with the Canadian magazine industry the need for a centralized location for awards, grants and other opportunities available to Canadian magazine (and other media) writers and artists, the NMAF took up the challenge of creating this resource, which includes awards for magazine journalism, young writers and journalistic organizations; fellowships and grants; and writing contests for fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

The NMAF invites users of this resource to provide their feedback and suggest other awards that might benefit Canadian magazine writers and artists. Check it out.

[Special thanks is due to freelance writer Lisa Bendall for encouraging this project.]