On Writing for Peanuts
A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a comment on this blog saying that in dissing content mills like Associated Content we “just don’t get it,” and bragged that she earns $1,200 per month on her articles on Associated Content and similar sites. (When I checked, I saw that the writer had over 1,000 articles on Associated Content alone; for writing 1,000 500-word articles, I would expect at least $500,000.) Then, on a writers’ forum I belong to on LinkedIn, a poster insisted that $25 for 1,000 words is the “going rate” for online writing.
Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur for insisting that writers be paid fairly for their time, effort, and skill. It seems the new way to make money is to churn out hundreds of online articles that pay a few dollars apiece.
Let me set one thing straight: I do not believe that writers who work for cheap are depressing the rates for professional writers. Sites that pay writers $4 per article are not going to suddenly pony up $1 per word or more because they can’t find writers willing to work for peanuts. That just ain’t gonna happen. If by some miracle these sites were no longer able to afford writers, they would probably simply go belly-up. And markets that pay $1, $2, and more per word are not going to start offering $4 per article “just because they can,” because they can see from these content mills the kind of quality that payrate buys. It’s like saying that McDonald’s grill-jockeys are depressing the rates for master chefs.
But I do believe that writers deserve to be paid a decent rate, whether they’re writing for online or print markets. And I believe it’s wrong for hobbyists and inexperienced writers to tell skilled newbies that all they can expect for their work is pennies.
Here are some of the arguments the cheap writers (and content mills looking for cheap writing) offer:
Get with it — print is dying, and these content mills and other cheap online markets are the wave of the future. True, there are a lot of changes happening in print media these days. Also true, some big-name magazines have been shuttering. But I write mainly for print markets, and even in this slow economy, my income has remained steady. (And I support my family nicely on this income.) I think writers see a few big mags shutting down, and they panic. But there are many, many more magazines than those you see on the newsstands. There are literally thousands of trade and custom publications that pay well and that are thriving. These days much of my income comes from custom publishers, and they all pay at least $1 per word.
$25 for 1,000 words is the standard rate for online writing. According to who? According to the content mills that pay that much, maybe. But early in my career a good portion of my income came from maybe a dozen online magazines, all of which paid at least $1 per word. And most recently, I had a blogging gig that paid $2,000 per month for four blog posts of any length I chose. On the LinkedIn discussion I mentioned above, a dozen writers chimed in with online markets they write for now that pay very well.
I write for these low rates to build up a clip file so I can break into better-paying markets. First, you don’t need a whole file of clips to break into paying markets — all you need is one. Second, your first clip doesn’t have to come from a market that pays cheap or not at all. One of the students in my latest Write for Magazines e-course broke into SELF — without a single clip to her name. She was paid $400 for 400 words. My very first clip paid $500, and I know other writers whose first clips came from well-paying markets. Third, take my word for it — no editor of a market with decent rates is going to take a clip from a content mill seriously. There are no barriers to entry — practically anyone can post their writing — and even if you write a stellar article (which I’m sure you will), it will be surrounded by lazy reporting, bad writing, and unprofessional presentation.
Writing for content mills will give me a ton of exposure I can parlay into high-paying gigs. A good friend of mine says, “People die of exposure.” Editors of high-paying markets aren’t dredging through the dreck in content mills looking for that one fabulous writer; they have writers coming to them with ideas, and writers in their stables that they assign in-house ideas to. Better to spend your time pitching markets that pay, both online and off. If you’re hell-bent on exposure, you’ll get a lot more of it –and it will be better quality — in publications that pay. A friend of mine, for example, just landed an agent who saw an article she wrote in a national magazine.
Sure, these articles pay only $10 apiece, but I can write four of them an hour, meaning I make $40 per hour. Not bad. I cringe when I hear this. What kind of researching, reporting, and writing can you possibly be doing if you can write an article in 15 minutes? Maybe this isn’t your concern, and that’s understandable if your main goal in life is to write for content mills. But I hate to break it to you — $40 per hour is not as great as it sounds (especially if you need to write four articles each hour to get that amount!). If you’re a freelancer or aiming to be one, you base your minimum per-hour pay on a number of factors; for example, you need to be able to cover your own health insurance costs, pay more employment taxes than 9-5ers, shell out for your own office equipment and supplies, and so on. That can really chip away at your hourly rate. Whether I’m writing for a print or online market, I typically earn from $150 to $300 per hour. By earning such rates I’m able to make a full-time income working only part-time. I’m sure many writers earn even more per hour, and they don’t have to churn out four articles per hour to do it.
I almost want to say, “Hey, if someone wants to write for $10 per article, that leaves more decent-paying work for me.” But I can’t do that. I’m all about helping writers reach their dreams of supporting themselves through their writing. If your career goal is to write articles at $10 per, that’s fine…but please don’t tell aspiring professional writers that this is all they can expect. I’m friends with dozens of writers who make a great living writing for online and print markets, and if they (and I) can do it, anyone can. It takes time, skill, and persistence, but it is absolutely doable. Value your talents, and others will value them too. [lf]