Worth of a word

WordsWhat is a word worth?

As any teacher can tell you, the inflated essays of students stretching towards their word count are very, very, very (497, 498, 499) ineffective (500!). The Gettysburg Address came in at about 272 (depending on the version), yet is far more memorable than the ocean of words Edward Everett delivered before the president ascended the platform. If they had been paid by the word, Everett would have left a wealthy man, while Lincoln would have had to borrow train fare back to D.C. Yet, the Civil War president’s inspirational words left America the richer.

Too many people hiring writers today continue to pay by the word, either literally or figuratively. They seem to think we get an assignment, sit at our computers and spontaneously write literary gems. They don’t factor prep work (research and/or interviews) and revisions as part of the creative process.

This week, I was reminded of the value in which people hold our craft. I quoted on a job and was met with thinly concealed disbelief. The client repeated the quote as a question. It was, after all, only a five-minute business video. They wanted to pay me for what they saw – four one-hour video interviews (using two cameras), not what they didn’t see – coordinating the interviews; writing the questions; reviewing four hours of video and another three of b-roll to identify concise messages, voice intonations, body language and images that would pop; scripting; and working with the videographer on b-roll and multiple edits. That five-minute video took about 50 hours of my time and another 100 or more of the videographer’s.

Ultimately, the client opted for students to produce the video. The work would give them experience – and they were free. They likely would put in about the same number of hours as the professionals would. They’d take longer, since they were doing the project in their spare time, but they would (probably) deliver a finished product. The result would be rough, but it would suffice.

However, the client would be able to distinguish the difference. For the last year, he’d been using a video we’d produced. He’d make the comparison and justify the choice in dollars, but not sense. Cutting corners leaves some results on the table.

Clients still want to pay by the word, but not all words are equally created. We remember just one Gettysburg Address.

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