WARNING – Never Write For A Skinflint! By Katherine Swarts

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Reverse sticker shock hit me at the rise of freelance blogging. Were online publishers serious about offering just $10 – 20 per article?

They were-and are. Sadly, many new writers believe:

  • $10 per article is good pay;
  • If you write enough articles, you’ll make tons of money;
  • This is a good way to gain experience.

Fact: The sole beneficiaries are mass-article publishers – “content mills” and “pay-per-click” sites, who promise much and deliver little. (See, for instance, this article on MakeALivingWriting.com, my favorite source of don’t-waste-your-talent-on-low-paying-opportunities information.) “Bid sites” and bulletin boards are little better. Their occasional gold nuggets rarely repay time spent finding them. MakeALivingWriting.com calls bid sites a “race-to-the-bottom world” (“The 4 Worst Places for Freelance Writers to Start,” item 3).

Fact: Such sites are not only for losers in rate per hour, but steal time needed for building worthwhile skills and credentials. C. Hope Clark of FundsForWriters.com says: “Serious editors see a writing mill on your resume and move on because writers don’t develop with that type of repetitive writing. It’s quantity not quality.”

Remember, “If it sounds too good to be true …”

Here are “sounds” that say beware”:

  • Guidelines that stress benefits to writers. Reputable publishers put their mission first; content mills play to the potential contributor’s “what’s in it for me?”
  • Encyclopedic topic lists. Good publishers have well-defined missions and know what they don’t accept.
  • Hundreds or thousands of different writers. Says Carol Tice, author and editor of MakeALivingWriting.com: “Any site that [operates like that] is, by definition, not going to be a great opportunity. The presence of so many writers drives prices down to a pittance.”

Adds Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-Fed Writer (the bible of lucrative commercial freelancing): “The lower the barrier, the lower the pay. If all you have to do is bid on a job, there’ll be countless others doing the same thing, which will push rates into the basement.”

Lack of additional products for sale. Says Tice: “If the only product is your articles, that’s not a successful business model, so pay is always scant.”

If a market looks feasible after quick review, read what they’ve published (good advice with any market)! Where existing articles are sloppily written, don’t associate yourself with low standards.

Read guidelines, too! Never commit to dozens of articles. Serious publishers start with one or two projects. Also, beware of requests for all rights and of “we pay in publicity” attitudes-as Denise Reich’s article discusses. Sites that pay “per view” are bad bets as well. Few surfers find your articles in cluttered databases.

Always ignore “opportunities” that seek you out. Worthwhile markets don’t solicit with “we’ll make you a success [for a fee]” e-mail blasts. Another self-introducer to delete is the individual who requests an experienced writer’s help with his project, and wants to pay you from eventual (guaranteed enormous) profits. Such “entrepreneurs” almost invariably have minuscule talent and enormous egos. (They also launch online smear campaigns when disappointed.)

The best way to find markets/clients is through resources such as WritersWeekly.com, WritersMarket.com, FundsForWriters, or BeAFreelanceBlogger.com-or through direct contact with corporate communications directors. Yes, this is more work up front but you get a much higher return on investment. Says Bowerman: “The how of prospecting-going directly to those who can hire you-is more important than the where. The day you realize that is the day your income will rise.”

Finally, set a minimum on what you’ll accept; I recommend at least $50 for a blog post and ten cents a word for a longer article. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a stubborn lowballer. One cheap job, and they’ll expect it forever.

Insist on good pay. You’re worth it.

Special thanks to the writing experts who e-mailed their advice on this topic!

Katherine Swarts is a content writer with over ten years of freelance-article experience. She has been published by The Writer’s Bookstore and Carus Publishing, among many others, but her favorite topics are behavioral health and self-help. She has a blog at http://strengthfortheweary.wordpress.com and a website at http://www.houstonfreelancewriter.com, and is active on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Katherine lives in Houston, Texas.