There’s never been a better time to be a writer, seeing as there are more formats than ever in which to write. And Gaby Dunn, at only 30 years old, has tackled nearly all of them.
Dunn has written for BuzzFeed Video, the Netflix series Big Mouth, and a range of publications, including The New York Times, Playboy, Vice, Cosmopolitan, and The Boston Globe. Along with creative partner Allison Raskin, she also runs the YouTube channel, Just Between Us and co-wrote the young adult novel, I Hate Everyone But You.
Through these experiences, Dunn has also learned the ins and outs of money and productivity management – sometimes the hard way. She shares those honest stories on her hit podcast, Bad With Money, which will soon be complemented by her new book, Bad with Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together, which drops in January 2019.
We talked to her about how she keeps track of her finances, maintains her voice when working with brands, and knows how to ask for what she’s worth every time.
How do you maintain your creative voice when writing for a brand, say, in a YouTube video or Instagram post?
I don’t mind inserting brands into my content, but I’m very careful about which brands I work with and how they’re presented. On the podcast, they sent over copy for a razor company that said, “Don’t know what to get your man for Christmas? Try this razor.” And I’m like, “I’m not reading that. In what world?” But then I went and made what my friend Brittany Ashley called the most inclusive razor ad she’s ever heard. I said, “Hey, guys. Shave – or don’t! Who cares? Are you a guy or a girl or neither? I don’t know. Buy a razor – or don’t!” People can tell if you’re shilling for something and it’s not you. So you have to keep that in mind.
How can freelancers improve their money management?
Just keep track of everything. I never did. Now I have a spreadsheet where I write down what I’m owed from who, if they paid it, when they paid it. Now I go through my bank account to see if the payments went through. I used to never look at any of it. You cannot live that way. I also used to get so embarrassed asking to get paid, but they should be embarrassed. As a freelancer, you have to be chill with conflict, but sometimes you’re like, “No, I work in my bed. I don’t want any conflict!”
Look, man, it sucks, but you have to do it. Make a big poster in your house. Make a big Excel spreadsheet. It sucks. It’s terrible. It gives me full panic. But just drink a glass of wine and do it.
In your Splitsider essay, “Get Rich or Die Vlogging: The Sad Economics of Internet Fame,” you said aspiring vloggers may want to think about getting business degrees. Why is that?
Allison and I have an LLC. We had to become incorporated. We have a business account. We have employees. We have all this stuff that I never thought would be part of being a creative. Even if I was just an actress, I would need to know about how I’m getting paid and where that money’s going and what percentage everyone’s taking. You think of yourself as a creative, so you’re like, “It’s not my job to know this.” But it is your job. It’s really crazy how many people I knew who were doing so much good work, but they didn’t have any money. Why? Because they weren’t keeping track of it.
So how *do* you ask for more money?
There were times early in my career when I would do projects for free because I just wanted to write, which is fine. But I also really had to learn to say, “No, here’s what this is worth. Here is the money that I need for this.”
I always tell my girlfriend, “Just ask for an insane amount of money and then see what they write back.” Either they’ll say, “no,” and then you start with the same amount that you had, which was zero. Or they’ll say, “Well, we can’t do $5,000, but we can do $1,000.” Great! You were at zero before. Or they might even say, “We can’t, but you know what we can do? We can pay for your transportation and lunch.” Then you decide if you want to do it. But it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Especially in the arts – or just marginalized people in any field – we’re nervous to ask for a lot because we’re just so happy to be here. But don’t just be happy to be here. Get paid to be here.