I’ve been a professional editor for three years. I’ve written since I could write-so close to 30 years. As my family can vouch for, I carried all of my writing with me, from house, to duplex to mobile home, down the road, in the dead middle of the desert and to the center of the city. I treasured my writing. I can recall my first real diary, a pink padded pretty thing, into which I described my days as a young child. For some reason the only entry I recall was when I sat in the kitchen of my childhood home and wrote about the laborers building a porch on our house (an addition that was a must for playing outdoors on southern Arizona’s scorching summer days.)
I kept every paper, notebook, to-do list, planner, public school and college work I’d ever written. On a long dead computer I saved hundreds of angst-ridden horrible poetry while my first marriage fell apart. I knew it was awful. I was okay with that. It was mine.
I don’t have any of my writing any longer. The story of the lifetime of writing’s demise is too painful to write about. I have instead set myself to the task of writing more, this time as a paid freelance writer. I was, and still am a bookworm, used bookstore and library addict, with an eye for punctuation errors, misspelling and painfully awkward sentence structures. For some time working as an editor from home kept my family and I afloat. When that project ended, I dove head first into writing for the web. For those of you who have not visited the sites that cater to me and thousands of other wannabe writers, the best way I can think to describe it would be to think of eBay, run entirely opposite. Rather than people bidding for a coveted item, and letting the highest bidder win the prize, freelance writing, specifically the content mills where many get their first writing assignments, reward the lowest possible bidder. Some who post such ads don’t even pretend that this is a fair practice. Comments such as, “You must be willing to accept $1 for 1000 words” or, “Writers from India Only Wanted” are common. It’s a blanket statement, and one that I know has many exceptions, but on content mill sites it often is writers from India who will take the lowest pay and who will generally provide outstanding work for pennies.
This morning I was given a pretty basic assignment. It is one used by some clients to get good writing for free, but occasionally the required work is actually used to determine one’s skill in niche writing, or more often one’s ability to create SEO and keyword density heavy articles or posts. In this case I was given two hours to research apartments in a city in the south, and submit a 500 word article. I was thrilled to have work. I submitted my article, then waited for a response. The client pointed out two words that Microsoft Word had underlined-it was obvious the client had not actually read what I’d written, since their criticism was that I had made two grammar errors, when the underlined words were apartment complex names Word did not recognize. Okay, so my writing wasn’t actually being read. The painful part was the pay that was offered. I was told I would receive $0.4 for every 500 word article I wrote. Put another way, I would earn $0.0008 a word. Beginning writers with no experience ask, and should receive, at minimum several cents per word. Unfortunately there are a lot of starving writers, desperate to get their byline onto sites where, it is hoped their writing will be read and enjoyed. Some content mills do collect writing for “real” sites that get a fair amount of traffic. Others will dump your writing onto unknown parts of the web, and you’ll give up not only the right to have your name next to your writing, but the possibility of using it in your portfolio because once submitted they own your writing. This wouldn’t be so bad if your 500 word article ends up on a popular site along with your name, so that other potential clients can get in touch with you, but that’s not the way most of the well known sites for freelance writers operate.
Despite hours of bidding on projects that I’m well qualified for, on nearly every content mill site on the web (there are a ton) I’ve not been paid for writing since writing product descriptions for a teething necklace my client had listed on Amazon. It was easy work, and I was paid a fair amount. Since then, nothing. Instead of banging my head on the wall or getting into bidding wars for ridiculously low pay, I’m doing what I know best- studying and writing. I’ve turned to the Freelancer’s Union– an amazing group of freelancers who put together a site for writers to network and get health insurance. They are a phenomenal group of people, and the Hives-a creative twist on old school forums have a thriving, dynamic group of writers and other creatives sharing ideas, encouragements, leads and more. Lori I found the site http://beafreelanceblogger.com by the lovely, talented writer Sophie Lizard. I’ve read through all the posts on Carol Tice’s site makealivingwriting.com. The Renegade Writer, a site written by Diana Burrell (who has also written some great books on how to be a successful freelance writer) and Linda Formichelli, has inspired me to not say yes to every crummy offer that comes my way. Udemy has several free and low-cost courses I am working my way through, on topics such as copywriting, e-book writing and writing successful blog posts.
As soon as I have a spare $60 I will buy a new pair of glasses (I’ve held off for years, but being able to see and read is a rather important element of writing) and I’ll set up a site (and later a paid blog plus e-commerce store to sell my herbal remedies, potions and essential oil blends-yippee!) It seems obvious now that I’ve read many of the aforementioned sites, but a writer without a site that showcases his or her work, along with testimonials of your skills from prior clients, is like a library with no books. Yes, I am a writer. Really? Can I see some of your writing? Umm…? The right answer should be a link to your site, dedicated solely to your writing abilities, expertise and just as importantly, a way to show what type of niche writer you are. Without expertise, passion, education and authority on one or more topics you risk become a general writer-one that will take every $0.0008 a word assignment that comes their way. I’m not going to be that writer. I can’t be. I could earn more listening to recorded car dealerships calls, via humanatic.com, which pays several cents to listen to a call and mark whether it was routed to the correct employee or if the dealership’s inventory was discussed. I enjoy rating these calls, but I know no matter how long I work at it I will not receive better pay. I won’t accept that my writing is worth so little. What about you? Do you have a set rate? Have you written for content mills, or do you work for some now? I’d love to hear other writer’s stories.