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How I make my living 📝

Each year, the Office of National Statistics releases data on pay and earnings. The most recent statistics report, ‘Ethnicity pay gaps: 2019’, published on 12 October 2020 indicates that people of my demographic, can expect to be paid 26.5% less than my white male counterparts. Or put another way, once 26 September hit, my demographic essentially is working for free for the rest of the year.Click here for my data and methodology PDF document.*

The triple binds of capitalism, patriarchy and racism make the lives of people such as myself needlessly burdensome. They wreak constant and grinding emotional havoc.

Individuals like me – people without generational wealth, property of their own, or a partner with whom you can pool earnings – face the very real threat of long-term precarity.

It’s exhausting.

It’s never being able to plan for the long-term because of fluctuating income, and never having savings.

It’s not saying the things that need to be said, or calling out exploitation, in case you burn bridges, or get labelled a ‘difficult woman’.

Battling your way out of precarity means spending all your free time turning your hobbies into income streams.

So exhausting.

And each year, when the statistics never seem to show an increase in equity, I howl with rage. It’s proof that attempts to eradicate pay disparities are simply not happening at a structural or political level.

Absolutely exhausting.

Secrecy around remuneration in the workplace is what enables such unjust disparities to continue. It protects those who benefit most from facing real scrutiny.

And ultimately, it upholds the most toxic and pervasive elements of capitalism, patriarchy and racism.

Being courageous enough to surrender some gendered and racialised privileges is what real allyship looks like. For many, the concept of self-sacrifice for the greater good is at odds with our hyper-individualist late-capitalist society. Which is why privilege often seems like equality to the privileged – and why, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression.

Real and lasting structural change will only be possible when the most privileged in society accept that they will have to make certain sacrifices to live in a world where everyone expects to be paid equitably for their work. This concept is not one that’s easy to accept on an individual basis as we are no longer socialised in such a way.

Denouncing structural inequalities is easy, but taking action to change status quo isn’t.

So, I’m sharing my years’ worth of earnings to demystify how writers/creatives make their living – and also to encourage more peer-to-peer transparency regarding how exactly we make our money. NB. I’ve also been booked for a mentoring workshop to share some of my freelancing practices, so this piece is also part of my prep for that.

OK, here’s my 12-month breakdown from January 2020 through to December 2020

pie chart dividing up percentages of making earnings from January 2020 to December 2020
[Long Description] Pie Chart titled How I Make My Living. Chart to the left demonstrating the percentages of the data to the right. Footer reads "Figures calculated for the January 2020 to December 2020 period on 14.12.2020." Chart reads: - Greenpeace UK 49% £17,174.00. Art and Editorial Coordinator (Contractor - 3 days per week) from January - June. - Copywriting, Branding, Creative Consultancy 23% £8,250.00. 18 days' work between July and December. - Journalism 13% £4,672.10. 21 articles from January - December. Ranging from £0.20 per word to £1.00 per word. - Sex Ed, Intimacy and Pleasure Facilitation 5% £1,610.10. School of Sexuality Education Facilitation, Decolonizing Contraception Consultancy, KDD What Went Where?! Event ticket sales. Online Workshops course ticket sales. - Society of Author's Hardship Grant 3% £1,000.00. Applied in March, when all the freelance work disappeared. - Creative Writing 2% £782.13. x3 small commissions, KDD PDF booklet sales. - Talks, Podcasts and Radio Appearances 1% £350.00. - Miscellaneous 1% £1,132.48. Violin lessons, informal writing/editing consultancy, KDD merch sales. - Late Fees / 'Kill Fees' / Recouped Disputed Fees 1% £347.50 (NB, resolved without Union Intervention). Total earnings £35,318.31.

Firstly, I must acknowledge my own privileges: I’m the third generation in my family to benefit from a university education (and many of my close relations are Oxbridge grads). And I have had the full and unwavering support from my immediate family to pursue whatever takes my fancy. The fact that I can make money by being immersed in sex-positive culture never ceases to amaze me.

However, like most people, due to the pandemic, my income has taken a substantial hit this year. And the combined traumas of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprisings have meant that people like me have had to hunt down work – and get down to work – alongside processing crushing grief.

What has been a surprising revelation is that I’ve actually been producing some of the best work of my life during these fraught and unprecedented times. Weird.

Notes and analysis

Greenpeace UK ­

Art and Editorial Coordinator (Contractor – 3 days per week) from January–June

Charities don’t pay competitively, but the terms of the role really suited the fact that I tend to need a couple of days each week to work on my personal creative practice.

Copywriting, Branding, Creative Consultancy

18 days’ work between July and December

This can be highly lucrative but is harder to come by. I increased my rates in the Summer after someone shared this anonymous GoogleSheet of creative industry rates.

Journalism

21 articles from January­–December – Ranging from £0.20 per word to $1.00 per word

The journalism industry in the UK has long been on the decline in terms of commanding decent fees in relation to time and effort needed to produce great work. And the disparity between Establishment columnists and everyone is obscene. NB. US publications pay freelancers considerably more. 

Sex Ed, Intimacy and Pleasure Facilitation

School of Sexuality Education Facilitation, Decolonising Contraception Consultancy, KDD What Went Where?! Event ticket sales, Online Workshops course ticket sales

I paid for all costs associated with the What Went Where?! Event myself (as it was part of my KDD project, which is all self-funded). During the Spring lockdown I spent hundreds of hours developing a four-part workshop series focused on developing sensual creativity, sexual expression and improving intimate relationships, which I ran weekly in July. Needless to say, the modest ticket sales didn’t cover the production costs. But, off the back of the pilot, I’ve developed it into a commercial opportunity, so come 2021, it’ll be profit-making.

I also spent weeks and weeks over the Summer developing a business partnership proposal at the request of a well-known pleasure brand. I can’t reveal anything at this time, but if all goes well it looks set to be far more lucrative than anything I’ve done so far.

Society of Author’s Hardship Grant

Applied in back March, when all the freelance work disappeared, and I was seriously worried about ever securing creative work again. Annoyingly, I’m ineligible for any of the government COVID-19 relief schemes.

Creative Writing

 x3 small commissions, KDD PDF booklet sales
I wrote some smut, hehe.

I briefed my KDD illustrator, Visual-Ess, to produce beautiful PDF booklets of all KDD ‘Dates’ stories. Which are now only available in full via the KDD online shop (although the launch story, ‘Dirty Thirty’ and the accompanying ‘Body Talk’ features are still free to view via the KDD website.

Talks, Podcasts and Radio Appearances

The majority of my bookings were for no fee, as I was building up appearances to feature in my 2020 showreel. I’m no longer taking unpaid bookings.

Miscellaneous

Violin lessons, informal writing/editing consultancy

I’ve been teaching violin on and off over for the last 10 years, with clients usually coming through Gumtree. My two current students are adult learners who I’ve been teaching for years – we swapped from in person to virtual because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Late Fees / ‘Kill Fees’ / Recouped Disputed Fees

(NB. resolved without Union intervention)

Getting paid as a freelancer is often far from straightforward. Clients often don’t pay on time, or dispute certain charges. Big businesses often have unnecessarily bureaucratic payment systems in place and won’t pay you until 30 days after you supply the invoice for the work you’ve already completed. It’s all boring and tiring and things desperately need to change.

Fees/costs I was not able to recoup

x3 disputes

Union intervention is l-o-n-g and I don’t have time for the admin involved, so just accepted losing the money, which has been £445 across 2020.

Authoring a book!?

At the beginning of the Autumn, I was approached by a literary agent on the merit of my journalistic output, so I’ve spent the last few months mulling over some ideas before committing them to the page.

This means going on long walks to clear my head or simply lying down for a few hours to think. For me, this is work, and accounts for at least one full day each week. This is time where I’m not able to earn any income, but it’ll lead to a book deal sometime in the near future. As a first-time author, I can expect to be offered anything from £15,00–£40,000 from a publishing house (or if a number of publishers are super excited about my book it would ignite a bidding war where six figures are bandied about), which the author receives in three instalments. And then regular royalty payments on top of that.

Conclusion

Although I find the variety in the work I do incredibly exciting and fulfilling, for people like me, creating financial abundance has been, and always will be, a struggle under the current extractive and exploitative global systems.

So, my wish for 2021 is that more of us choose to harness transparency to push for real and meaningful equity in the future.

*Methodology and data checked by biophysicist Dr Yolanda Ohene, Research Fellow within the Neuroimaging Group at the University of Manchester. 

Until next time, then. In the meantime, send any commissions my way: almazohene@gmail.com and visit my archive – almazohene.com/writing/journalism to make sure you don’t miss any of my features.

Enjoying my words? Please feel free to forward on using the following link: almazohene.com/writing/blog, or support by clicking the button below.

Update – 19 December 2020

This piece has now been edited to include a linked PDF document showing data and methodology regarding the Office of National Statistics data

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