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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Just Say No: Freelance Markets to Ignore

During the last few years, there’s been an explosion of content mills like eHow, Livestrong, and Demandstudios. The content for the site comes from writers who work “for cheap,” at least if you consider $15 or so for a 500- or 600-word article cheap. I sure do.

Freelancers deserve to be paid, and paid well, for their work. Sites like these which pay a ridiculously low amount are not going to help you build a successful career as a freelancer. The writing quality on the sites ranges from middling to poor, and your work there isn’t likely to be taken seriously by editors and clients. And think of your opportunity cost--the time you’re wasting working for tiny checks could be spent pursuing higher-paying clients.

When I see an ad on Craigslist with a general headline like “seeking writers,” often it's an ad for one of these mills. These companies are not looking for professional freelancers. They’re looking for would-be freelancers, writers who are desperate to get published and think it’s worthwhile to do it for $15 a pop. I hope that’s not you.

According to my recent survey, 14 percent of freelancers are writing for online publications, with another 8 percent blogging for pay. That doesn't mean writing for cheap, though.

There are thousands of paying markets for web writing, with new ones are cropping up all the time. The most recent edition (2011) of The Standard Periodical Directory, the largest directory of U.S. and Canadian magazines, lists more than 63,000 magazines, journals, newsletters, and newspapers. More than a third--27,927 magazines--have electronic versions as well and 6,554 publications are available in electronic format only. That’s a lot of potential markets that need freelancers.

The Web’s explosive growth means that companies, nonprofits, and millions of websites have been created, and many of those websites need writers. No, some don’t pay well. Some don’t pay at all. But others do, and companies launching or updating their sites often hire web-savvy writers to provide copy, and experienced bloggers to produce compelling posts.

If you want to make money writing for the web, forget the sites that pay pennies or offer you “exposure” for your articles. (Why would you want exposure? People die from exposure.)

Instead, look for well-funded websites that pay a reasonable amount for your work. Most of the Web writing I've done has paid $1/word, which is comparable to print markets. Rates have fallen in the last couple of years, but I think it’s fair to expect at least $0.25-50/word for your work. (Your mileage varies? Please comment below and let us know what you're being paid for online work.)

Bottom line? Say “no” to content mills--so you can say “yes” to higher-paying, more promising markets.


  1. Seems this is the current topic, lately. The first time I was asked by someone to write for their blog, I didn't know what was the going rate. So I asked a prominent writer from whom I was taking a class. She told me to ask $25 per post. I have been writing 600 word posts for this site for almost a year, one per week, for $25. Now, I'm trying to get another gig for a different site that pays $50 per post plus bonuses based on comments. I do this because it's regular and I get paid at the end of the month. I've been published at a much higher rate in national magazines; but what you call the PIA factor is much higher and the wait for my check is about a year longer. And, I've found my hourly rate comes out to be about the same. I would NOT, however, take less than $25 as that is currently what I try to make per hour. And, finally, if I found a higher paying online gig in a niche that I had an interest and experience in, I would go for it. Just haven't found any as of yet.

  2. I can relate to Carol. While I have not been freelancing very long, I write articles for websites and receive $15-50 per post, with higher paying post requiring a bit more research, time and self-editing before submission to clients, as well as higher word count.

    I have been following a lot more of the principles in The Wealthy Freelancer (great book!) and have started improving what my target niche is, as well as practicing other skills that might enhance my portfolio.

    While I only began 3 months ago, I think avoiding the low-paying ads and sites like Craigslist has helped me to gain a good client base while also seeking out new clients that meet more of my goals or are in areas I would like to write for in the future. It's definitely been a trial and error process, but I love the work and hope I can continue to improve it as I build my business!

  3. For a weekly blog, 300-500 words, I make $75 which seems great because it works out to about an hour of work. For the website of a major magazine, 50cents/word as opposed to 1.50 for their print side. BUT, lots faster to print and pay and minimal rewrites.

  4. I'll say it here and in my book FREELANCE WRITING FOR A LIVING I say in the intro that if you only get one thing from this book, you need to get this: your writing has value and you have to insist on getting paid for that value.

    These writer mills are doing everybody a disservice - you the writer and the reader. I was contacted to do dozens of these articles for a website and he asked for my rate and I gave him a standard rate (such as it is, but let's say a couple hundred dollars per article with the ranging being somewhere in the 30 to 50 cent per word range, although I've worked for as high as $1/word or higher) and he was shocked. He was thinking $10 per article.

    I was shocked too. He wanted to pay me far less than I could make working at McDonald's.

  5. It is all about self worth. If you believe you're worth it, then you are. Don't apologize for being a writer. Be proud and let people know this is a serious professional career.

  6. I love the line "people die from exposure"!

    If you don't suggest writing for content sites such as these (which I did my share with the eHow Rev Share program) is how do you suggest a struggling writer get their writing chops? Would it be better to work for free (for a non-profit, for instance) rather than work a lower paying job to not only boost your experience but also get your name out there and earn income while you are waiting to land a higher-paying gig.

    Everyone can't afford to "wait". While I agree that you shouldn't devalue yourself, I feel that everyone has to start somewhere...why not get paid (even if it's only a little bit)?

  7. Thanks for all of your comments, first off. Elise, I'd rather see writers pitch shorter pieces for paying markets then write for nothing. I think there is an argument to be made for doing a couple of pieces when you start out, but really I think you can make much better money even doing a short piece for your local newspaper! Obviously writers are going to keep writing for content mills; I can't stop that. My point is that if you're serious about making a living (or at least significant money) for your work, content mills aren't going to help you.

    Thanks for weighing in!