Category Archives: Published

New Directions


For the last few days, I’ve been contemplating my career and where I want it to go. As a writer, there are many avenues available to you — provided you are willing to do the work and learn that particular part of the craft. In my almost 20 years in this biz, I’ve tried my hand at fiction, journalism, article writing, column writing, copywriting, general writing (business plans, marketing plans, grants, white papers, etc.), content mills and web writing.  In other words, I’ve pretty much been there, done that.

Except for plays, movies and television scripts. But it’s on my list.

I’ve published a book, I’ve written an award-winning column and I’ve written things that brought me praise and criticism galore. I’ve written some things that make me cringe, and I’ve written things of which I am extremely proud. I have enjoyed almost every minute of my writing career.

But now I feel as if I’m at a crossroads. I love writing for a living, I really do…

But I don’t want to do it anymore. At least not how I’ve been doing it recently.

A friend gave me The Renegade Writer as a gift this past Christmas. I’m not a huge fan of how-to or self-help books — I’m a firm believer that the only way to learn to do something is by doing it. No book can replace the knowledge you gain from the “Nike” approach. The book has been sitting on the corner of my desk since the day I unwrapped it — but for some reason I picked it up and starting thumbing through it yesterday.

In each chapter, there are sections called “Break this rule.” I started reading those because, well, I am a rule-breaker.

It turns out that a lot of what they advise I’ve been doing instinctively for years.

Now, you’d think this would make me feel better. Make me feel like I’ve been on the right path.

Nope. It really made me sick to my stomach.

Cuz, the last few years, I’ve been ignoring my instincts in exchange for making a decent living. And now I wonder — if I had stuck to my path all those years ago, where would I be now? Would my byline be in Forbes, or Women’s Day or Inc.? It’s not even about the bragging rights — it just made me realize that as a writer, I could be so much further along than I am, and it’s hurts like hell that I’m the reason I’m not where I could be.

But that all changes tomorrow. I’ve still got a couple of steady clients that keep food on the table and a roof over my head, but I’m done chasing after more of their ilk. If I’m going to do this, I either need to go big or get the hell out of the game.  The publication studying and query writing starts tomorrow. My goal is to make it into a National magazine before the end of the year, if not sooner.

I’m going for the big time, folks. Wish me luck.

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Pros and Cons of Writing for Content Sites


Yesterday I gave a brief lesson on how to write for content sites. Today, I’m going to explain the good points and bad points to working for content sites.

Pro: Content sites are a good way to get started in the writing industry. You have to apply to sites, and you have to provide a writing sample. This can give you an inkling as to whether you have the skills to start a writing career.

Con: It’s not a realistic representation of an actual writing career. Content sites are the very first rung of the ladder that leads to a writing career. There is way more to a writing career than content sites. But that’s a discussion for another blog post.

Pro: They pay quickly. Most content sites pay frequently — many pay weekly, some pay twice a month, but usually, the longest you’ll have to wait for payment is a month.

Con: The pay is low. Freelance writers who write for private clients or magazines make WAY more. Again content sites are a legitimate way to break into the industry, but they are also at the low end of the payment totem pole. You CAN make good money working for content sites, but it takes a lot of work and juggling.

Pro: You’ll get clips that you can use for your portfolio.

Con: The clips might not be impressive to editors in other arenas. Every article you write is not going to be clip worthy — honestly, most articles aren’t clip worthy. Even with all the clips I have from content sites, I only use maybe a dozen or so in my portfolio. Not that the other articles are bad — the ones I use are the most in-depth, researched and well-written. And depending on where the articles are used, editors might be less impressed, even if the article is stellar.

Pro: It’s easy work.

Con: It’s easy work…when you can get it. Lately content sites have taken a hit, thanks to the Panda. There are still plenty of content sites available, and most are still hiring writers, but the competition is increasing and it’s harder to get good titles to write. Not impossible, but harder. Much harder.

Pro: Content sites are reliable pay.

Con: Content sites make you lazy. There, I said it. Writing for content sites — with the quick payments and easy work lull you into a false sense of security. But ask anyone who wrote primarily for Demand or Bright Hub how secure they feel now. Or SEED or Break Studios or, well, you get the point.

So, there they are, the top 5 pros and cons to writing for content sites. As I’ve said previously, I’m not a fan, but I do believe they have their place. However, if you want to make it as a freelance writer, their place in your career should diminish over time. Next week, I’ll explain how you can make that happen.

Thanks for reading! As always, comments and email are welcome!

 

 

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Freelancing — a Primer


It was brought to my attention yesterday that not everyone knows what a Content Site (or Content Mill) is, so I’m going to take the time to explain what a content site is, and the general process of working with one.

A content site is a company that hires freelance writers to write content for them. The content might be used on their personal site(s), or sold to another site or private customer. For example, Demand Media hires freelance writers to write content for sites they own (eHow, Cracked.com, etc.) and for partner sites such as Local.com.

Content site pay varies, but most sites pay between $8 and $20 for an article. Most articles are in the 400-500 word range. You can find a variety of things to write about, from medical conditions to legal articles. Some sites also pay on a revenue sharing platform — for every visit to the website your article generates, you get a share of the profits.

Now, for why some in the writing community refer to these sites as “content mills”. There are two reasons: first the pay is lower for a content mill than it would be if you sold articles in the traditional manner (something I’ll go into in another post). Second, the quality of the articles are not always as high as they could be. Part of this is because of the ease of being accepted to write for the site.

Which leads to my next point — to write for a content site, you apply directly to the site. Each site has a different method they use to approve writers, but most require a potential writer to fill out an application and submit a writing sample. There may be a grammar test involved as well. If your writing sample is acceptable, you’re approved to write for the site, and can select articles that interest you. Once you’ve written the article, you submit it to the site for approval. Some sites use editors who review your work, other sites send work directly to the client and they either approve the article, send the article back for revisions, or reject it. This is another area I will go into in a later post.

If your article is accepted, you get paid. Most sites pay via Paypal, though there are a few who direct deposit pay into your bank account.

And there you have it — a brief explanation into content sites. In my next post, I’ll examine the pros and cons of working for content sites. As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment or shoot me an email.

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How To Make Money Writing for Content Sites


We’ve all heard the complaints — content sites (or content mills) are screwing up the industry. Content sites provide poor content. There’s no money to be made writing for content sites. Google all but killed content sites.

Blah blah blah…yadda yadda yadda.

Now, I’m not a fan of content sites, but I also don’t believe in biting the hand that fed me, and for several years, that’s exactly what they did. If it weren’t for some of the articles I wrote for content sites, (And I wrote some damn fine articles, I might add!), I would not be in the position I’m in now.

(Yes, it’s a good position, more about that in a future post.)

Even though the Google Panda has stripped much of the leaves from the content mill eucalyptus tree, you can still make money writing for content sites. Here are a couple of tips to help you out.

1. Focus on what you know. Choose topics you can write about in your sleep. Take full advantage of the search feature each site has, and find titles that are easy for you. It will take less time to write the article and since it’s a topic with which you are familiar, you’ll enjoy it more. If you run into a bunch of articles on the same topic, grab as many as you can. [There is an art to doing several articles on the same subject without tripping the plagiarism flag. I’ll come back to that.]

2. Branch away from your comfort zone. This may seem to counter what I said above, but it doesn’t. While writing what you know will bring in the bulk of your writing income, picking up one or two titles out of your comfort zone will help you in the long term. I mean, you weren’t always an expert in your main topic, were you? Of course not. So pick a title or two that you are interested in learning about more, and do the research and write about it. After a few articles, your comfort level with the topic will increase (and if you’re like me, you’ll read about it every time you get a chance). Before you know it, you’ll have TWO topics that fit the “Focus on what you know” category.

3. Share your work. Some people who write for content sites don’t like to admit they write for content sites. Sometimes it’s because of the reputation of the site, or maybe an editor screwed up an article and the writer doesn’t want to be associated with it. Well, that’s nonsense. Here’s the thing about the writing/publishing industry: Everyone knows that writers are edited, and everyone knows not every editor should be an editor. A few bad articles are not worth burying your byline and losing the exposure, especially when you’re starting out. So share your articles with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Post links to them on your blog. But if you’re that concerned about the quality of your articles, write a post explaining that the errors were introduced through an “editing oversight”. Of course, my solution would be to not write for the content site, which leads me to…

4. Choose your sites carefully. I know that when the economy is bad, you have to do things you normally wouldn’t do to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head and clothes on your back. However, you have to think long-term here. If you plan to build a career as a writer, you want your clips to be respected, and sometimes you have to consider the source. Some sites have better reputations than others, and some sites have NO reputation. Before you agree to lend a site your byline, take a careful look at the content that is already there. Is it stuff you would read, or did you cringe during the first sentence? Does the site present itself well? Take these factors into consideration before you publish with them.

5. Take your work seriously. You might “just write for a content mill,” but you never know when an article will attract someone’s attention. I have landed several well-paying gigs because someone was surfing through eHow or BrightHub and happened across one of my articles. I’ve also had people contact me for work because a friend of a friend of a friend saw an article I wrote shared on Facebook. Don’t devalue your work by just throwing up crappy content. Take pride in it. Do your best, because you never know who’s watching.

Now, about that plag flag. Here’s how I used to write 10 different articles on the same subject, using the same sources and never NEVER got a plag flag:

1. Write article #1. Save as a draft.

2. Write articles #2 – #10, saving each as a draft.

3. Submit each article, one at a time, an hour or two apart. If you’re writing for a site with quick approvals (such as how DMS used to be and how Textbroker can be), wait for the approval before submitting the next one.

Or if you have the time to spare, submit one or two a day over several days.

So, there you have it — how to make money writing for content sites. Do you have anything to add? Questions? Comments? Let me have ’em.

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It Wasn’t Always Like This — the Exciting Conclusion


Sorry about the derailment yesterday from what was supposed to be the original topic, but sometimes you just have to say things when they need to be said. I appreciate the outpouring of support in the comments here, my Facebook page and through Twitter. It was wonderful to see that many agreed with my stance.

Now, back to the topic at hand: Why are we paid such crummy wages? Well, I’ve mentioned it here, but that was really just one side of the coin. I’m going to break it down completely now.

Reason #1: We let others devalue our work. With the proliferation of computers, word processing software with spell and grammar checkers and websites that publish anything, becoming a “writer” is as easy as throwing some words in a template and clicking “Send.” Technically, if the only thing I ever wrote was this blog, in many circles, I could call myself a writer. And since “anyone can do it,” the value of writing suffers as a result.

Reason #2: Writers don’t know the value of their craft. Now, this I can really understand, because there are times when I really struggle with determining what I should charge. When you can write a 400-word article in 15 minutes, you might feel like an heel charging $25 for it. But let’s look at the reasoning: You weren’t always capable of writing that article in 15 minutes. At one point in time, you had to do the research on the topic or you took a class; you had to learn how to string words together coherently, you purchased software to use to write articles, and a computer on which to install the software. So, it’s not that you only need 15 minutes to write it, it’s WHY you only need 15 minutes to write it that makes the article worthy of $25.

Reason #3: Writing for low-pay is better than writing for no-pay. Three words: No, it’s not. Accepting low pay gigs as the norm (check out my YMBOC page for some examples), sets a dangerous precedent. Sometimes it is unintentional — a client might not have any idea what to charge, and so he puts out a bid for the smallest amount he thinks he can get away with. Lo and behold, someone responds to his bid. So now, this client thinks, well if Writer A. will work for this rate, then surely Writers B-Z will as well. Sometimes, this client will come up against a writer who knows his worth and refuses to work for such a low wage. It might be Writer B or it might take til Writer W before this happens.

We all need to be Writer Bs and nip these low wages in the bud. Clients wouldn’t offer these wages if they knew writers weren’t willing to work for them. There are always going to be Writer As in the world — we just have to make sure they are outnumbered.

And if you need further proof as to why you want to strive for better pay, consider this: If you had could choose to either write for 15 clients and make $300, or write for 5 clients and make $300, which would you choose? Remember the mantra: Work Smart, Not Hard. Which one seems smarter to you?

As for Writing for free — that’s what hobbyists  do. Professional writers don’t write for free, unless it’s as a favor to a friend or some other worthy cause. In other words, it doesn’t count.

Reason #4: The Global Marketplace. This is the one reason that is pretty much out of our control. If you’re competing with someone for whom $50 is enough to live on for a month, your  $350 bid is going to seem high. But that is NO REASON to lower the amount you need or devalue your work. There will always be clients who go for the lowest price. But in many cases, it’s a “you get what you pay for” situation. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve lost a job to the lowest bidder, just for the client to approach me later to “fix things.” Your mother was right — the cream rises to the top. Stick to your guns.

So those are my reasons for why we aren’t paid what we’re worth. What do you think? Do you agree? Do you have your own reasons? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to know what you think.

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It Wasn’t Always Like This…


I landed a new gig on a bid site yesterday, and the pay rate was so great, I was compelled to post about it to one of my writers groups. I added the comment that “I hadn’t seen rates like these since 1998!”

The statement was funny, truthful and sad. Consider this: I started my freelance writing career in 1996. The very first item I was paid to write paid 5 cents a word. By 1998, I was making double per word what today’s new gig pays, and we were complaining back THEN about how poorly writers were paid.

Man, if I had the ability, I’d travel back to the 1998 me and duct tape my mouth shut.

This is how far we have fallen as a profession. I mean think about it — I make less now, with 16 years of experience than I did when I was a virtual newbie in the field. How many other professions can make that claim? Would doctors stand for it? How about lawyers? Nope.

So, why are we? We do we let our profession slide backwards financially, even in the face of increasing demand?

I do have an answer to those questions…but you’ll have to wait til tomorrow to find out what I think it is.

Yeah, a cliffhanger folks…I AM a writer after all!

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An Open Letter To Freelancers


To My Fellow Freelancers,

I know it’s tough out there. We’re all out there, competing for the same clients, trying to make a decent wage. We all want people to appreciate our craft and it is only fair that we are paid a decent wage for our talent.

So why, praytell, do some of you choose to, for the lack of a better phrase, screw us over?

Now, some of you know exactly what I am talking about, while others are probably clueless. So for you poor, clueless wonders out there (Bless your hearts!), here is some advice from someone who’s been fighting the good fight as a freelancer for many many years.

Piece of Advice #1: $1 for 500 words is not good money. It’s not even money. When you see a proposal or ad for a writer with this kind of rate, you should ignore it and move on. You don’t apply for it, and you DEFINITELY don’t compete with others for the “privilege”. There are better gigs out there.

Piece of Advice #2: Get a portion up front. Yes, I know many potential “clients” don’t like to pay deposits, but I bet they don’t work for free, so why should you? Taking on a project without an upfront payment is, like it or not, WORKING FOR FREE and you need to stop doing it. Now.

Piece of Advice #3: If a client places a bid and the pay range is $20 – $30 per hour, do not, I repeat, DO NOT place a bid for $16, $17, $18, $19 or even $19.99. If they are willing to pay a minimum of $20, LET THEM. They’re supposed to. Our work has value — stop diminishing it.

Piece of Advice #3.5 Did I mention that $1 for 500 words is NOT good money? I did? Well, it deserves to be repeated. Matter of fact, one more time: $1 FOR 500 WORDS IS NOT GOOD MONEY.

Piece of Advice #4: Writing for content mills and just content mills does not make you a freelance writer. Freelancers don’t just write for one place — they write for many places, and many freelancers write in several genres. Saying you’re a freelancer because you write for DMS is like claiming to be a seamstress because you hemmed a pair of pants. The seasoned people are going to ask the same thing, “Okay, so you did that. What else ya got? What else have you done?”

[Note — the above is not meant to sound harsh, but seriously, if you really REALLY want to be taken seriously as a freelance writer, you need to pursue other avenues. Otherwise, you do look like a one-trick pony.]

See, here’s the thing that many of you in the freelancing world do not seem to understand: We will be paid what WE determine is fair. The reason our pay is less than a fry cook at McDonalds is because we have ALLOWED our craft to be devalued. Yeah, we can blame global competition, and it is true it is hard to compete with someone for whom $50 is a week’s wages — but that cannot prevent us from demanding that we be paid what we are worth. And to best way to make our demand is by refusing to work for the pennies clients are offering.

So, please, the next time you’re applying for gigs and you are tempted to agree to create blog posts for $0.005 a post, stop and think: does this seem fair? Is it really worth it? Then walk away.

Or could do like I do: shoot the poster a message such as this:

Hello~

I recently came across your ad on __________. I have to say, I found your payment terms insulting to both me and my craft. Writing is not an easy profession — to become merely proficient takes time and practice, and for you to want to pay me less than a truck stop busboy in return for my experience is laughable. Please reconsider your payment arrangement, or consider going to said truck stop and hiring the bus boy to do your writing for you. Any writer with an ounce of pride in his craft is not going to consider your offer. 

Regards,

A Talented Writer Looking Elsewhere.

I hope you will consider my humble and sincere request.

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Content Sites – Why Some Work and Why Some, Well…


If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you know that I wrote for quite a few content sites (or content mills as their detractors referred to them). For over a year, I provided content for DemandMedia, BrightHub, SEED, BreakStudios, WiseGEEK, Interact Media, Writer Access, and Textbroker. I was busy, my schedule was crazy and I was making just enough to get by.

Then — enter the Panda, Google’s pet name for its new algorithm. Suddenly, sites that were begging for writers didn’t have work for the writers they had. Some sites were more upfront about the issues than others (I won’t beat that horse anymore, I’ll let it R.I.P.), but ultimately, Panda was too much to overcome.

First, I noticed there were never any new titles for BreakStudios. That was a bummer because I wrote some of my more, shall we say, fun and colorful articles for them. SEED was always a crap shoot, so no real loss there, though I did write one of my most favorite pieces for them.

Then BrightHub went away, and with it, so went my rev share. I had a couple of articles that returned a nice chuck of change every month, on top of the upfront money I got to write them. And finally, DMS, in true DMS fashion, basically said, “Thanks, but you might want to write for someone else…at least for now. Oh, and for the foreseeable future, too.

Now, luckily, I had seen a lot of this coming, and had been transitioning myself away from the content sites such as DMS and BrightHub. But I kept writing for sites such as Interact Media, Writer Access and Textbroker.

Why?

Simple. I quickly figured out that, although I was making less per article at these sites, I could write the articles quicker and make as much, if not more writing for them than I did slaving over a 500-word article that may or may not get past a CE, depending on what side of the bed s/he got up on, whether their coffee was to their liking or if they had been chewed out by someone five minutes before they pulled my article from their queue. To me it made sense, but a lot of people refused to write for these sites because the upfront pay was so low, and opted to stick with the higher-paying quick cash of DMS, BrightHub, etc. Now many are regretting that approach.

But there was another reason I stuck with these sites when I backed away from the others — it seemed they were less affected by Panda, and for one important reason: They weren’t guessing about what their clients/readers wanted. They took orders FROM their clients and used freelance writers to fill them. So Panda changing the algorithm didn’t really have an effect on them because they weren’t dependent on the search engines to tell them what to write, their clients were propelling the search engines.

So, I guess, if you take nothing else away from this post, remember this: research your market and pay close attention to the signs. Figure out which sites are catering to clients, and which are catering to themselves, and then decide for whose team you want to play. Me personally, I’m glad I switched sides.

How have you all fared in the days since the Panda? Are you still writing away, or are you scrambling to find new places to write?

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A Page Is Born


I added a page for articles and links to articles to this blog.  There’s just a handful there at the moment, but I’ll update the page a bit at a time. Just wanted to let y’all know — especially those of you who had been wanting to read things I had written.

And this is probably the shortest blog post I’ve ever written. Huzzah!

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