Freelance Writer Does NOT Mean Free Content! By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The details and pitch of the “copywriter wanted” ad sounded too slick but I applied anyway. I sent a cover letter, CV, resume and links to purchased, published works. I spent a good 15 minutes crafting the right approach and selecting the ideal links.

A few weeks later, I received a bulk e-mailed form letter inviting me to send them a 500-word blog entry. Doing so would enter me into the next round of the selection process.

Excuse me, second round? Is this a reality TV show or an employment opportunity?

Immediately, the weird letter sent up my antenna of suspicion: this looks like a scam to me. The links to published samples should be enough to give them an idea of my abilities and voice.

Sending them a free blog entry to continue their selection process is completely bogus. It’s very likely my work would end up on the web somewhere without me receiving a dime. Likely hundreds of applicants have submitted their work for no remuneration.

I liken their selection process to applying to work at a widget factory and having to give the widget manufacturer a free hour a labor for the first round of job applications, despite an impressive resume demonstrating years of experience and submitting sample widgets of the best quality. And, if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll make it to the second round. Meanwhile, alongside all the other applicants, the widget manufacturer gets countless hours of free labor.

No thanks. I have real editors (like Angela Hoy at WritersWeekly) who only ask for a query and who pay on acceptance. It infuriates me that content mills like this rob unsuspecting writers of their time and talent to stuff their sites with free content while the site owner has no intention of paying anyone.

I’m also miffed that content mills place their ads on job sites among those of legitimate companies to make it difficult to tell the difference. They give a bad name to any company seeking web content.

Content mills that do pay usually offer pitiful rates. I’ve seen some as low as $1 for 1,500 words. That doesn’t pass the straight face test. $.40 an hour? Really? Last I checked, this isn’t 1945.

Even making minimum wage ($7.25 at present) is not enough pay. Do you pay your plumber only $7.25 an hour for his time to come over and unclog a pipe? Of course not. Independent contractors like freelancers must pay for their own equipment, supplies, insurance and other overhead.

Your rate must be high enough to also compensate for administrative duties when you’re not actually writing.

You also deserve more than minimum wage because you’re selling a specialized skill that not everyone can do. It takes education – either formal or through experience – to write well.

Many content mills also promise “exposure” to justify their low rates. It’s like holding a birthday cake candle as your rescue beacon in a dingy floating in the middle of the ocean. The web is so huge it is nearly impossible for anyone to notice you on such an obscure website.

Sometimes they offer the promise of profit sharing once they’re making boatloads of money. Here’s a dose of reality: if they’re making no profits now, they won’t pay you. Ever.

So why do people like the above-mentioned content mill owner think they can get away with paying writers $.40 an hour? Part of it is because writers let them. Writers don’t view their profession properly. Yes, profession. Writing isn’t a calling from the muse. It’s a business. And just like an electrician, accountant or auto mechanic, you need to charge rates that cover your expenses and adequately reimburse you for your time and skill. Get over the starving artist complex. You don’t have to grovel for crumbs from a content mill owner’s table. Doing so only lets all content mills think that they can continue getting away with it.

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