This is a Guest Post by: Halina Zakowicz
Not sure how to break out of content mill drudgery? I can help.
If you’re a freelance writer like me, you may already know about “content mills”. Briefly put, these are websites that accumulate content from a wide variety of writers in exchange for low pay and/or revenue share. Because content mills set pretty low standards for entry, almost anyone can contribute content and be called a writer. As a consequence, many posted articles are plagued with poor and/or erroneous reporting and grammatical errors. Furthermore, since content mills make the majority of their income from advertising, the published content is frequently interrupted by pop-up ads and literally encased in banner and column ads.
Sites like Yahoo! Voices (previously Associated Content), Helium, HubPages, Examiner and Demand Media are generally recognized as content mills. In some cases, the submitted content is paid anywhere from $3-$20 up-front and receives revenue share to boot. In other cases, the writer relies solely on revenue share, which can be almost negligible; for beginning writers on Yahoo! Voices, for example, the PPM (pay per thousand views) is $1.50. This means that each article view makes the writer a grand total of $0.0015. That’s many thousand pennies away from paying for your lunch- or your phone bill.
How else can you spot a content mill? “Hot” mill articles (i.e., articles with a long list of comments) will often brag about how a particular writer is making a princely sum by writing X number of articles per day on that content mill. The average number of articles that most of these writers produce is 25 per day. When I see writers bragging about their $1K- $2K per month via content mill writing, I cringe. First of all, if I were writing 25 articles per day and each article ranged from 500-800 words, I’d expect to be paid at least $2,500 per day, not per month. Second of all, what kind of quality content can possibly be generated when a writer is spending roughly 20 minutes per article (given an 8 hour work day)? Finally, what happens if this writer should get sick or have to travel and not be able to crank out three articles per hour?
Some of you may scoff at me and say that $100 articles and blog posts do not exist. “The going rate on Craigslist is $5 for a thousand word article,” I’ve heard uttered from many an aspiring writer. Sure, it’s easy to fall into the $5/article trap when you surround yourself with Craigslist ads and content mills. At that level, a $15 blog post sounds pretty good. And receiving $30 for a technical paper that takes all night to write feels like hitting the jackpot. I should know: I was a content mill writer for several years before I got fed up and decided to go for something more.
The bottom line here is that $100 articles not only exist but they are the absolute minimum amount that you should charge clients. And when I say clients, I’m certainly not referring to content mills or content-for-pay sites like Textbroker or Constant Content. Rather, these clients are individuals and companies with which you’ve formed direct business relationships. In many cases, this involves sitting down with (or at least calling) these clients and hammering out the details of their content and content marketing needs. Not every solicitation will solidify into a writing contract, of course, but you should never expect 100% success. In fact, my personal saying is that, if you’re hearing “yes” to every one of your proposals, then something is very wrong (and you’re probably undercharging).
How can you break out of the content mills and start making a living wage for your writing? To begin with, you will need to start writing query letters to the main editors of the publications you are targeting. Alternately, if you’re hoping to snag a blogging job, you will need to grab the attention of the blogger/webmaster via insightful comments and/or guest blog posts. Generating frequent writing queries with story pitches is going to be a regular and imperative part of your future writing career. Examples of sample query letters can be found through the online site Freelance Writing, which is a wonderful resource for aspiring freelance writers.
What’s in the basic query letter? Well, it’s more than just “Hi, I can write for you.” Most folks could care less that you can write because, quite frankly, so can they. What you should be including in your query letter is how your services, which include writing, will help the company distinguish itself to its customers, outdo competitors, increase sales, etc. This will require that you become entrenched in the company’s business and how it earns money. You will need to find out what are the company’s strong points and where it can improve. In most cases, it won’t be hard finding opportunities for improvement.
You will also need to establish yourself as an expert in one or more fields (2-3 max). Doing so helps narrow your focus and verifies your credibility to clients. For example, if you’ve been working in construction for several years, you might try submitting queries to home improvement websites and blogs. If you have expertise in ecommerce, you can query websites and blogs that specialize in that subject matter and even pitch marketing ideas to unrelated businesses.
Of course, not every individual or business will have a need for either your writing or your expertise. It’s important to distinguish where you can establish yourself and where the field is saturated so you’re not wasting a lot of time sending queries. Likewise, let’s say you do get a nibble from a company interested in your services; where do you go from there? To this end, I’m now offering a free freelance writer mentorship program via my business website Haelix Communications. Why is it free and why am I doing it? Here are my three main reasons:
1. Too many good writers are stuck in the mills. Almost every day I receive an email or two from an aspiring writer who wants to make more money from his/her writing but can’t find a way out of the mills. This writer often sees no other alternative than to keep writing for low pay- after all, at least that money helps pay for his/her grocery bill, right?
2. I’m already mentoring, so why not go pro? As I said earlier, I’m already getting daily emails from writers who want to do more with their writing careers. So, why not officially announce that I’d love to be a part of the solution?
3. I genuinely like to help people. I follow the Chinese saying that “A generous spirit brings good luck.” In other words, the more I help, the more I will be helped. I do not need to demand this help because I believe that at heart most people are good and like to help others. Also, I get a kick out of knowing that I’ve helped someone get more out of life and his/her endeavors.
Where can you sign up for my services? Just go to my website Haelix Communications and send me an email with the subject title “Free mentorship”. Alternately, you may also reach me through my LinkedIn profile. This will get the conversation started. We can discuss whatever is on your freelance writing mind, whether that be how to set rates, to sign or not to sign a contract, how to spot a problem client, etc. Likewise, we can talk about other freelance issues such as obtaining private health insurance or what to do about taxes. I look forward to hearing from you.