Thursday, April 30, 2009

A reality check: Content writing doesn't bring enough of them (checks,that is)

I got a big wake-up call yesterday. During much of this year, I've been losing print clients, some big, some small. Many of them simply went out of business thanks to declining ad sales. Others became online only publications. And still others eliminated their freelance-writing budgets entirely.

This has been nerve-wracking. But I've been holding things together. It helps that I also have a full-time, part-time magazine-editing job that pays my mortgage.

Then yesterday, my top freelance client gave me the news I'd been dreading: This trade magazine, too, was cutting back. I'll still get freelance assignments from them. But instead of two a month, I'll probably end up with one every other month. That's a huge, painful drop.

It's sent me back to the world of pitching again. Yesterday I had some success: A real estate agent is interested in having me ghostwrite his blog for him. A newspaper chain may have me write a weekly real estate column for them. And a book publisher might hire me out to write a chapter or two in one of its trivia books.

I felt better at the end of the day, though still nervous. There's no guarantee that any of the above three projects will come to fruition.

What I didn't do yesterday was any content writing for Suite 101,, Demand Studios or any of my niche blogs. When faced with the loss of some very real dollars, the content writing just didn't seem worth it. The payoff is too low.

It reminds me that while experimenting with content writing is OK, relying on it for any serious money is a mistake. When things get tight, it's time to go back to the basics of pitching stories to new publications and reconnecting with editors you've worked with in the past. It's the only way to recover when you've lost a well-paying regular client.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gotta' love those 6-cent days at Suite 101

I earned six cents at Suite101 yesterday. Yikes. And that's with 32 stores posted, all focusing on either freelance writing, residential real estate or mortgage lending.

And yesterday wasn't the first extremely low-paying day for me this month at Suite 101. Earlier this month, I had 11-cent and 10-cent days.

I thought I was choosing topics and writing stories that would encourage Adsense clicks. After all, the ads alongside my freelance-writing stories feature links to sites such as Triond, sites that freelance writers desperate for writing work would probably click, right?

And the ads alongside my mortgage-loan stories all send visitors to mortgage companies. Why aren't more people clicking?

I suppose this lament is far from uncommon with Suite 101 writers. There are plenty of writers on the site who make solid -- and by solid, I mean $200 to $500 a month -- from their Suite 101 stories. But these are the same writers who, usually, have more than 200 stories on the site. That's a lot of writing for income that is nice but certainly not a king's ransom.

I'll keep plugging away at Suite 101. But, to be honest, I'm not looking forward to throwing up 60-some more stories to get to that magical 100-story point.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Doubling my pennies at

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. But I've always figured, if something doesn't work, just pound at it a little harder.

That might explain why I've signed up to take on a second "blog," this one on residential real estate, a specialty of mine.

I'll be able to write these posts quickly because I know this subject well. So time won't become an issue. But I'm still not sure that will ever become a reliable source of income. That's because my first site isn't doing so well.

In case you're not familiar with the way Examiner pays, its writers get a penny for every page view. That's not exactly big bucks, especially when you're bringing in the page views I am.

My best day I generated 77 page views. That's 77 cents for those of you stumped by basic math.

In all, I've made about $13 for a month-and-a-week's worth of work. On the good side, I'm more than halfway to my $25 payout. On the bad side, I'd hate to calculate my per-hour rate.

We'll see what happens with the second Examiner site. Maybe I'll double my earnings. Maybe I'll just waste more time.

An Adsense update: Two weeks ago, I created five niche blogs and equipped them all with Adsense. It's a sort of experiment. One blog I've promoted heavily on other blogs and forums. Three I've pretty much left alone so far. And one covers a topic that should be a natural for traffic, but perhaps not for clicks. In all, I've generated $4.25 on my niche blogs. Lord, this online writing is tough stuff.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lunching with a soon-to-be freelancer?

I met my very first editor for lunch today. He was in charge of my local community weekly when I graduated from college back in 1991. I made $13,000 that first year working for him as a sports, crime, obituary and features writer. The money was awful, but I did learn how to interview sources, research stories and write an effective lede.

I've moved on to mostly freelance writing these days. But my former editor is still banging away at community newspapers. It's a job he's always loved.

Unfortunately, he's worried he may not have this job much longer. So as we both munched on egg rolls and fried rice, he picked my brains about the freelancing life.

I told my editor, and now friend, that it's not an easy job these days. Print clients are drying up every day. Others are paying $400 for stories that last year they paid me $700. It's a drag.

Online writing is especially tough, I told him. You have to sacrifice a lot of style if you want to really make money. The key for writing for the content sites or blogging networks is to write a lot of stuff really fast. It often doesn't even have to be all that well-written.

This news depressed him. And, I gotta' admit, it made me a bit glum to be telling it to him. I told him about my forays into content and blog writing. I told him that I hope that one day this writing will be more lucrative, but that for now it's mostly grind, grind, grind with little reward.

Still, it is writing. And not many people can support themselves by writing. That is a positive. And I'm also hoping that we have reached the bottom of this economy. Perhaps the publishing industry will begin a slow recovery soon. If that happens, who knows, maybe my print clients will come back.

We skipped the sweets after lunch, by the way. No one was in the mood to break $10 for our meals.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blogging for businesses: The most money I've made online

Last year, I began ghostwriting blog posts for a local real estate agent. The agent's a bit of a pain. He likes to make some fairly odd requests. Sometimes he gets on me for being too negative. Then next week, he'll wonder why I'm being overly positive when the housing market is in the toilet.

I sigh -- not when I'm talking to him by phone, of course, but after I hang up -- make his changes and send my posts back in.

Like I said, he's a bit of a pain. But he pays me $400 month to provide him with 12 blog posts of 200 to 300 words each. That comes out to about $33 a post. Not bad in the world of online content writing.

I also blog for an international real estate company that's trying to get a foothold in the U.S. market. That company pays me $12 a post in Euros to write about residential real estate. Thanks to the exchange rate, I usually make more like $18 or so in U.S. money for each post.

These are my two most lucrative online writing jobs right now. I also write for an insurance salesman who runs his own Web site. He pays me $105 a month. Not as good, but at least it's slow and steady.

I'm hoping to grow this portion of my business. That's why I'm in discussions now with a local community newspaper chain to blog for their online real estate section. (Real estate is a specialty of mine. And, yes, this was a better specialty to have about two years ago.) Blogging for businesses pays better than does writing for sites such as Associated Content or Suite 101 or blogging for networks such as b5 Media or

I'd recommend that every freelance writer out there concentrate not only on the better known content sites such as Demand Studios and the like. Look at the businesses in your own communities. Many of them have blogs. And many have blogs that they're struggling to update and maintain. Approach them with a reasonable rate. Who knows what kind of business you might get out of them?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Giving HubPages a shot

There seem to be an ever-growing number of content sites out there for writers who want to make a little money.

The emphasis on that last sentence, by the way, should fall on the word "little." So far, I've made enough money on content sites to buy a few fast-food meals. It's a bit depressing.

But I am soldiering on. I've tried, Suite 101, Demand Studios, Associated Content,, b5 Media and ContentQuake. I've stuck with (though I'm wavering these days), ContentQuake and Suite 101. The others I've fled. They just weren't the right fit for me. I've also created five niche blogs of my own so far, with plans to create more. I've equipped them with AdSense and, in about two-and-a-half weeks, I've made $4.40 in click revenue. See? That's a fast-food meal right there!

I'm now ready to give HubPages a try. I didn't know much about this service until I signed up yesterday. The sign-up process was a snap. Now I'm able to create a HubPage of my own, basically a long story on any topic of your choice, complete with photos, videos, links to other sites, anything you find important.

This is a bit of a departure from most content sites and blog networks. You can create as many HubPages as you'd like.

The income potential doesn't look great at first glance, though. You make money by equipping your HubPages with Adsense and Amazon Affiliates. I already know that neither of these systems is the key to riches.

But who knows? Maybe more traffic flocks to HubPages. Maybe this traffic is more apt to click on a Google ad.

All I know is, it's one more content site to give a whirl. So that's what I'm doing. I'll report back on my progress once I get four or five HubPages up and running.

Besides, it can't be as bad as writing for Associated Content, can it?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Suite 101 vs. And the winner is?

I've been writing for Suite 101 for about three months now. In that time, I've published 31 stories, all of which have either focused on mortgage loans and real estate or freelance writing. I chose those topics carefully: I know a lot about both of them, which means that I can pound out my Suite 101 topics quickly and with little research.

If I couldn't do that, writing for Suite 101 wouldn't be worth it. In fact, I'm not sure it's worth it now: In three months, my 31 stories have generated about $60 in income. I'm on pace to make a bit more than $20 a month.

Maybe that's why I'm surprised at how vocal the posters on the Suite 101 writing forums have been in defending the company from criticisms made by the freelance writing guide at

There's a couple of lengthy threads on the forum in which Suite 101's writers have responded angrily to the guide Allena Tapia's assertion that Suite 101 is not worth writers' time. The eventual pay is just too low, Tapia argues.

Now, this is not an outlandish opinion. Many Suite 101 writers say that you'll see a big income boost on the site if you get to 100 published stories. Problem is, that's a lot of stories and a lot of work. And I'm not really sure how big of a boost I'll see when I reach that level. (That's my goal, by the way. Get to 100 and see what happens.)

The Suite writers, though, reacted as if Tapia ate the last drumstick in the bucket. Many even suggested that perhaps Tapia had applied to Suite 101, had been rejected and was now taking out her ire on the site.

That, of course, is insane. For one thing, despite what the forum's writers might say, Suite 101 will accept most anyone who can string more than two sentences together. Why not? They're not really paying anyone. They're just passing out a small percentage of Adsense review to their writers. Secondly, if Tapia can get accepted as a guide at About.Com and has several stories publsihed in print publications, which she has, then she's certainly a talented enough writer to work for Suite 101.

Let's be honest: If you have a choice between Suite 101 and, you'd be an idiot to write for Suite 101. offers its guides a minimum monthly payment for two years and adds residual income on top of that. It's also much more difficult to get hired by Just visit writer message boards and you'll read the tales of woe from writers who didn't get accepted after applying to be a guide at Here's a tip: The really good sites are picky about the writers they select. Those sites that aren't picky, such as Suite 101? They generally don't offer all that much in the way of revenue.

I'd love to be a guide at I'm not. There just haven't been any appropriate topics availble. To be a guide at, you really do have to be an expert in a topic.

This battle between Suite 101 and, then, is a silly one. wins by a knockout. In the first round.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Have a beef? Want $5? Give RantBlogger a try

The Internet has opened a new world of opportunities to freelance writers. Sure, most of these opportunities are incredibly low-paying. But they also don't take a lot of work, either.

Take RantBlogger, for example. It's a quick way to make $5, especially if you're ticked off about something.

Now, you may be ticked off that you've lowered yourself to writing anything for $5. But RantBlogger truly is one of the easiest writing jobs you'll take. Figure out something you're upset about. Write a rant -- it doesn't even have to be well-written -- and send it in. If it's accepted, you get $5. Simple.

If you visit the site, you'll see that quality writing isn't really the point here. Controversial is king. So avoid my earlier RantBlogger mistake. Because I cover real estate, I wrote a rant wondering why people were so infuriated that the government was trying to help people who were facing foreclosure on their homes.

I wrote what I thought was a well-reasoned, thoughtful post pointing out how important it is for the housing market in this country to bounce back. After all, I reasoned, the national economy will not improve until the housing market does, too.

The folks behind RantBlogger rejected my post! No $5 for me. Had I sunk so low that I couldn't even impress someone paying a measly $5?

Then I took a closer look -- which I should have done before writing my "rant" -- and what was published on the site. I quickly saw my mistake: I wasn't pissy enough. The rants that were published were all full of vinegar and invective. I didn't call people "stupid" enough.

So, if you're interested in ranting, keep this in mind.

Also, you might want to act fast if you are interested in writing for RantBlogger. Looks like the site is going through some changes. It might be moving to a contest format, where the best published rant of the week -- all would now be pulished without editorial judgment -- wins $25. Heck, that sounds even worse than $5 for an approved post. There's something to rant about!

Friday, April 17, 2009

If you think freelancing is bad, try working for a newspaper

There are days when I hate being a freelance writer. They're the days when my phone doesn't ring, my e-mail messages go unanswered and the mailman delivers me the credit-card bill when I was really hoping for that check from a late-paying publisher.

But then, every time I even contemplate chucking the freelance life, I get a reminder of why working for myself is the best job I've ever had.

A former editor of mine -- my very first, actually, from back when I worked for $13,000 a year at my local community newspaper -- sent me a message. He knows that I sometimes write for the comic-book industry, and he wanted to know if the publisher I work with needed any writers. Turns out, my former editor was on an unpaid one-week furlough from the newspaper chain for which he works as an editorial page editor.

Yes, my former editor is nervous. With the state of the newspaper industry -- with solid papers like the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and the Seattle Post Intelligencer failing -- he's worried that he'll soon be out of a job. He's already survived one round of staff firings this winter. He's not sure he'll escape a second round.

So, yes, freelancing can be a tough go. And, yes, there are times when you wonder where your next month's payments will come from. But no matter how bad it gets, at least you're in control. You can scour the Internet, hit the phones, pester former editors and do everything it takes to find work. You can try online writing options for the first time. You can create blogs, equip them with Adsense and hope they take off. You can submit stories to places like Triond or Suite 101 in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they'll generate at least some spending cash.

People who work full time at newspapers and magazines can do all this, too, of course. But if they don't already have that freelancer's risk-taking spirit, they might not diversify their writing lives until they're already out of work and desperate for a paycheck.

So next time your 18-month-old son wakes up 45 minutes early from his nap -- as mine is doing now -- remember, it could be worse: You could be getting a pink slip from your boss this morning.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's time to apply like crazy

A year ago, I'd turn up my nose at much of the writing I'm doing today. Blogging for $12 a post? That would have been way beneath me.

But it's not one year ago. It's today. And today, there are very, very few writing jobs that are still beneath me.

A former editor of mine -- actually my first editor -- sent me an e-mail message yesterday asking me about comic-book writing. (I do some writing for independent comics. If you think the pay is bad for blogging or content writing, try writing a comic script for a comics company that isn't Marvel or DC.) Turns out, his newspaper chain just put him on a one-week unpaid furlough. It's an alternative, management said, to more layoffs.

So, yes, the writing and publishing industry is in the crapper these days, and a lot of freelance-writing careers are following them. I'm determined to not have this happen to me, if at all possible, so I'm supplementing my print-magazine clients -- who are dwindling every day, it seems -- with as much online writing as I can. This means that I'm applying for some jobs that I'd never, ever consider in previous years. Of course, so are a lot of other freelancers. That's why I apply for so many jobs, even some that may not perfectly match my skill sets. When there's so much competition, you have to throw a lot of cover letters out there and hope some stick. So far, I'd say I get about one or two potential hits a week. Not all of these turn into jobs, but some do.

There are two places every freelance writer should search regularly for online writing jobs: Deb Ng's Freelance Writing Jobs and Anne Wayman's About Freelance Writing. Anne and Deb do the hard work of scouring the Internet for job leads, shoveling through the junk on craigslist and other sites to provide us lazy freelance writers with the possible nuggets.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Failing at

I recently wrote about writing for, the online blogging site with bloggers covering a range of topics in cities across the country. Writers who work for are paid a penny for every person who visits their individual sites.

The key, of course, is getting enough visitors to your site to make that penny-a-visit thing pay off. So far, it's been a task I've failed miserably at.

I cover telecommuting for a large Midwest city for Examiner. Granted, it's not a subject that will naturally generate a lot of visits. There's an Examiner who writes about Orlando theme parks. That's a good subject, and that Examiner is getting loads of traffic.

I'm not getting much traffic at all. Since writing my first post on Feb. 21, I've made a whopping $11.37 on, if you're at all competent at math you guessed it, 1,137 page views. The bad news is that my page views have been steadily going down. Today, for instance: As of noon my time, I had a total of two page views, for 2 cents.

When I first started writing for Examiner, I thought the site had potential. But right now, I'm not so sure. I haven't promoted my site too much. That's probably my problem. But I'm getting a bit weary of writing so much for so little.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The great niche blog experiment

I've been obsessing a bit about blogging these past few weeks. Not sure why. I've always pledged that the only blogging I'd do is pay-per-post. I have some business clients that I blog for, on a flat monthly fee. I like that; I'm guaranteed fairly good money for that kind of blogging, at least in the blogging world.

But this blog directly violates that pay-per-post pledge. I have Adsense set up on it, but so far, I've only made 67 cents for that. That's not even enough for a can of pop at most vending machines.

But I've been debating the idea of creating a handful of niche blogs and equipping them all with Adsense to see what happens. Might I stumble upon a niche that actually generates decent traffic and, even more importantly, a high click rate?

The key here, of course, is to create niche blogs about subjects I'm truly passionate about. That way, I'll actually enjoy writing for them. And -- this is very important -- I'll already know my subject matter. I'll be able to write the posts quickly, and still have them contain useful information. There'll be a reason for people to read them.

Problem is, I'm not sure if the subjects I'd like to write about are the ones that people would like to read. I could, for instance, write a blog about avoiding home foreclosures. There are few topics hotter today. And because I've covered residential real estate news for newspapers and trade magazines for more than a decade, I do know the subject fairly well. But, quite honestly, I'm really tired about writing about real estate. I already write real estate blogs for two business clients. I still write real estate stories for the Washington Post. And I'm the managing editor of a real estate trade magazine in Chicago. I'm burned out on real estate, and even though a foreclosure blog might draw hits and clicks, I'm not sure I could summon the needed passion to update it on a regular enough basis.

What do I like enough to blog about? Comic books and graphic novels, for one thing. I even write a bit for the comics industry already. So it's a perfect niche topic for me. But is it one that will generate enough readers and enough clicks to make it worthwhile?

Then there's old horror movies, the black-and-white kind that I can watch with my 10-year-old son. I love those movies, and I love the cheesy horror hosts -- here in Chicago we have Svengoolie -- that play games with them. Again, a fun topic, but will it bring in enough click revenue?

There's only one way to find out, I suppose: Give it a try. My goal is to have at least five niche blogs, all updated on a regular schedule so I don't fill some with too much content too fast and others with not enough, running at once, all equipped with Adsense. Will it bring in enough content to make it worthwhile? Who knows?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why I won't write for

When I first heard about, a popular blogging network, it didn't sound like such a bad idea.

Considering that the company was paying at that time $1 a post, that shows how far my standards have fallen during the recession. But the posts took me minutes. And I got to write about whatever I wanted. Because I was running two blogs on at the same time, I usually made about $60 a month from the company.

Again, because my standards have fallen so low, that didn't seem so bad.

When Today fist burst onto the scene, it advertised like mad for writers. In fact, many freelance pros wondered just how legitimate the company was since it seemed like they'd accept any writer who bothered to apply. I remember reading on one online writers' forum about writers who filled out gibberish -- incomplete sentences, tons of grammatical errors -- on's application form. Invariably, these writers got accepted.

And, yes, once I began writing for, I noticed that there was plenty of terrible writing on the blogs the company ran.

For some reason, though, I liked that guaranteed $60 a month. It was insignificant when compared to my regular monthly writing income. But the short blog posts -- I believe required every paid blog post to be 100 words or more -- were the perfect break between "real" journalism or scheduled phone interviews.

Then came the change. The powers that be at changed the pay structure for blogs that weren't generating thousands of page views a month. That included mine. Each of my blogs generated about 400 views a month. And they were rising. sent me a very poorly worded message that my pay structure was changing from $1 a post to $2 for every 1,000 page views. To generate my $60 a month, then, I'd need 30,000 page views combined for my two blogs. Sorry. That was not going to happen.

So I ended my time at

Now, a blogging network has the right to change its pay structure. It would have been nice, though, to have a more coherent explanation as to why. It also would have been nice for to acknowledge that it takes time to grow a blog's traffic. I was pleased that my blog's traffic was inching upwards every month. Apparently, though, it wasn't moving up fast enough.

Also disappointing was the extremely defensive tone taken by the people behind when bloggers questioned the pay changes to their blogs. The powers-that-be seemed amazingly offended that any blogger would be upset. After all, all bloggers had to do was spend 40 hours a week promoting and writing their blog. Maybe then they'd get that $60 a month.

So here's another recommendation: Stay away from It's just one more blogging network that cares little about quality of writing., like most other blog networks, cares only about page views.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Writing for peanuts with ContentQuake

If you're hoping to get rich writing online, well ... I don't know what to tell you. If you want to make at least a little bit of a guaranteed money, then a blog network might be for you.

I haven't always had the best luck with blog networks. I've had some bad experiences with and b5 Media, two networks that suddenly changed the way they paid their writers. The changes, of course, would have left me with a monthly income that was drastically reduced. A drastic reduction from peanut-level money didn't sit well with me.

I still write for one blogging network, ContentQuake. You might not have heard of it, as it doesn't seem to be nearly as well known as b5 Media, or

It's a simple setup here: You get paid for each post you write. You also get money for page views. (Don't rely on the page views, though. I've struggled mightily to get more than 200 or so page views a month on my ContentQuake blog.)

The pay is low, of course. For the first three months you write for ContentQuake, you get 50 cents for your posts. The next three months you get $1. Three months later it jumps to $1.50. Three months later it goes up one more time, to $2. And don't think you can simply write 100 posts a month. ContentQuake will only pay you for 20 posts a month. You can write as many as you want, of course. But anything over 20 is payment-free.

I'm currently in the making $1-a-post stage at ContentQuake. That means I'm making peanuts. For instance, I made a little bit over $18 for February.

Now, I'm writing for the network's business channel. If I was writing about celebrities or a popular TV show, maybe I'd be making more money per month because of increased page views.

There are positives, though: For one thing, it takes me about 15 minutes, tops, to write a ContentQuake post. And I'm hoping that the longer I write, the more monthly page views I'll attract. We'll see.

On the whole, I find blogging networks to be a bit of a waste of time. I can't explain, then, why I'm sticking with ContentQuake when it certainly qualifies as an extremely low-payer. Maybe it's the laid-back nature of the place, or the fact that it gives me something to do when I'm waiting for return phone calls or e-mail messages.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Giving Adsense a try

Fans of this blog -- Hello? Anyone? -- know that it started life over on Wordpress. I really like Wordpress. Problem is, you can't put Adsense ads on Wordpress.

At first, that didn't seem like such a big idea. I hardly generate enough traffic to worry about making big money with Adsense.

Then it started nagging at me. I really wanted to experiment, to see how Adsense might work. How can I share my experience at making money online and with content sites if I don't try everything I can?

So, I've moved my stuff to Blogger. The move wasn't hard, actually, and the old blog wasn't around long enough to have drawn huge crowds yet. So there aren't a whole lot of people to tell that I've moved.

My first Adsense ads should be up now. That's one thing about Blogger: It's extremely easy to set up Adsense on it. There's a button on the top of your blog called "monetize." Click it, and you're on your way.

Will Adsense generate anything for me? We'll see.

Content writing and "real" journalism can co-exist

At the beginning of this year, as I watched an alarming number of my print clients shut their doors or slash their freelance-writing budgets, I made a decision: I was going to try something new.

So I signed up for Associated Content, Demand Studios, Suite 101 and

But that doesn't mean I wasn't going to pursue print opportunities at the same time. So, it's been a busy first part of the year, with me juggling content writing, blogging for business clients and drumming up new print assignments. I'm also continuing to pursue my dream job of writing comic-book scripts. (We all need something fun to write to keep us sane.)

And how are things going so far? Pretty good on some fronts, a little below average on others.

First, the content sites: I've ditched Associated Content. There seemed to be little respect for writers there. I've never gotten started with Demand Studios. Again, though I can't put my finger on it, there's something depressing about the topics they have available for writers. I've written 26 stories for Suite 101, the vast majority of them in the first three weeks after I signed up. In March, while doing very little actual writing for the site, I earned $28 for those stories. At Examiner, where I write about telecommuting, I've gotten off to a slow start. But I do see hope here: My page views are steadily growing. (Though my craven attempt to generate extra page views by putting the words "American Idol" in the headline of a recent post did not bear fruit. Serves me right, though.)

On the "real" journalism side, my income for the first three months of the year is up about 20 percent from last year. So that's good news. The bad news is that I'm sending out more pitches, and writing more stories, to get that income. The other bad news is that two of my highest-paying print clients are cutting back significantly on freelance stories this year. One editor even told me that her publisher had put a moratorium on any stories having to do with solar energy, because that's not where their concentration of advertisers are.

My business blogging is holding steady. I thought I lost one client -- an insurance company -- but he came back the next day and changed his mind. He wants to continue his blog. That's good. The two blogs I write for real estate companies are holding steady. And the one blogging-network job I've kept is doing OK, too, though my page views haven't risen much since the start of the year. This is the one part of my business I'd like to grow the most. But I've had a difficult time finding new clients since the start of the year. I suspect I need to do more marketing.

Finally, my comic-book writing is doing well. I've teamed up with a wonderful artist, and together we've produced short graphic stories that will appear shortly in three different anthologies. I've also been assigned by another publisher to write a comic-book biography of Nancy Pelosi. (Weird, I know. But apparently these kind of comic biographies have become quite popular.)

So, there you have it. That's my busy writing life right now. I'm hoping by the end of this year the content sites and the business blogging begin to produce more income. But you never know.

Treated like an ass at Associated Content

I always abbreviate Associated Content in my head: Ass. Content.

You see, I felt a bit like an ass writing for them.

Of all the content sites I've tired, Associated Content left me with the worst taste in my mouth. Maybe it was the forum, where most Associated Content writers spent their time whining about low pay and odd rejections by editors. Maybe it was the fact that I never got paid more than $3 for any of the stories I wrote.

Yeah, I think it was that $3 thing.

Now, I admit that I didn't give Associated Content that much time. But here's my tally: I had four stories accepted by the editors. My highest-paying story -- a feature on electronics recycling -- fetched me a whopping $3. My other three accepted stories -- pieces on the benefits of regular exercise for senior citizens, the push by advocates to have insurance companies cover autism treatment and tips for how homeowners can lower their mortgage interest rates -- all brought in the princely sum of $2.24 each.

The editors said that my stories didn't qualify for higher payments because they were too broad in scope. Maybe. But do the editors really think I'm going to bust my Ass. -- ociated Content to create more in-depth stories? What? For maybe $4 or $5.

Associated Content's payments are ridiculously low. They're embarrassing, actually.

I also had two stories -- one on rebuilding a poor credit score and another on the steps people should take before buying a home -- rejected. I was amazed. I've seen some real garbage on Associated Content. At least the stories I tunred in, while not Pullitzer worthy, where informative and well-written.

Oh, well. I can't recommend Associated Content to anyone. Stay far, far away.

My first failure at Suite 101

Turns out, those Suite 101 editors aren't all pushovers after all.

I'd run into very few problems with the first 26 stories I'd submitted to Suite 101. I'd get an occasional note from an editor reminding me to capitalize words in my headlines and subheads. (They're big for capital letters at Suite 101.) Another note might ask me to insert an additional subhead in a story. (They really like their subheads, too.)

But that all changed. Last week, an editor disabled one of my stories.

Most of what I write at Suite 101 has to do with mortgages and homebuying. Those are topics that seem to attract a lot of views. But my disabled story was one of the handful I've written about freelance writing. In this particular story, I wrote about blogging networks, and whether they were worth a writer's time. (Short answer: No.)

The editor who disabled the story cited some problems with my subheads and headlines, of course. (No editorial critique at Suite 101 is complete without headline or subhead commentary.) The editor also mentioned a spelling error.

But the real problem was that my story sounded too much like a blog post. It was also more of an opinion piece than a "how-to" or newsy story.

Well, that editor was right. I wrote the Suite 101 story shortly after having trouble collecting money from a blog network I've been experimenting with. The people in charge of the network had been ignoring my messages. I wasn't happy with that, so I wrote a column telling writers how unreliable blogging networks are.

By the way, I do believe that is true. I've written for two blogging networks now that suddenly changed the way they pay writers. Both times, of course, my pay would have drastically plummeted had I stayed on board. I'll be writing about both blogging networks in future posts.

I don't fault the Suite 101 editor. I probably won't make the changes she recommends to get my disabled story back to life. It's just not worth the time or effort. It's a good reminder, though, that Suite 101 does not want anything that smacks of an opinion piece.

Why are writers drawn to content sites?

Why are the content sites, places like Associated Content, Suite 101 and Demand Studios, suddenly so popular? Why are writers flocking to these sites to make a measly few dollars per story?

That's a good question. It's one I've asked myself, too. I mean, I'm doing the same thing. I've made less than $40 at Suite 101 for 26 stories. The saddest part is, I don't think that's too bad, either.

I suppose two factors are at work here: First, the economic downturn has caused so many print magazines -- which pay far better than do online content sites -- to go out of business. There are fewer places now for freelance writers to submit their work. This is why I'm experimenting with the content sites. If I have a few moments between sending out pitches, I'll write up a quick post for or begin working on an easy Suite 101 story. At least these posts provide some money.

The second reason, I suspect, is even more important: Places like Associated Content, Demand Studios or aren't exactly picky when it comes to approving writers. I briefly wrote for, a popular blogging network, and that organization would accept anyone who could string three words together.

So it's easy to get approved by the content sites. And being approved makes people feel like "real" professional writers. It's far harder to get an editor at a trade or consumer magazine to assign you a story. At, you can be hired quickly and then write whatever bland, boring story you want. At magazines, editors demand stories that are interesting, informative and clever. That's not the case at the content sites.

I'm glad the content sites are out there, though. They're easy writing. And maybe some day, they'll actually generate some decent money. I just don't think of them as "important" writing. They're junkfood, basically, that clutters the Internet.

Examining certainly seems popular among writers. If you don't believe me, check out this thread at the forums of Absolute Write. You'll see that a ton of writers there have signed up to work as Examiners.

Well, I have, too, of course. And what have I learned? Writing for is easy. Really easy. But lucrative? Not yet, at least not for me.

If you don't know, touts itself as an online newspaper. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a newspaper, though. There's precious little "news" being reported on here. I'd call it more of a collection of bloggers from around the country.

Each Examiner is assigned a particular topic. For instance, I write about telcommuting from my home city. Others write about traveling to Orlando. Others write about raising autistic children. The list is pretty endless.

For me, the telecommuting site made sense. I've telecommuted for about eight years now. I know the subject. That means I don't have to waste much time on research. I can write about my own experiences, and hammer out a 200- to 300-word post in about 20 minutes tops.

Examiner pays by page views, not ad clicks. That's one benefit over sites such as Suite 101, where you can have thousands of visitors who don't click on your page's ads. Unfortunately, Examiner pays a cent per page view. That's fine if you're bringing in loads of visitors. I'm not, and my pay has been rather paltry.

I began writing for on Feb. 21. I've since posted 20 times -- again, none of these posts took me too long to write. Some of them I even enjoyed writing -- and generated 777 page views. That comes out to a grand total of $7.77. Wow!

To be fair, the last two weeks I've generated far more page views. I feel kind of foolish for saying this, but if I can generate 100 visits a day -- or $1 a day -- I think I'd be happy with Examiner. I'm not sure where else I'd be able to post my telecommuting complaints and whinings and get paid even a dollar for them.

Much like Suite 101, pays investigation. There's little guarantee that it'll result in big bucks anytime soon. But you never know what'll happen.

Is life sweet at Suite 101?

First, let me apologize for the bad pun in the headline. Secondly, let me answer the question up there, too: I wouldn't say it's sweet. But I will say that it's oddly not so bad.

I joined Suite 101 on Feb. 7 as a specialist in mortgages. I know that doesn't sound too exciting, but I really do write about mortgage lending and real estate quite often. Besides, I figured mortgage-related stories would generate a lot of page views and, hopefully, some decent revenue.

Here's the results so far: In February, my stories generated 2,222 page views. From March 1 through March 28, they'd generated 2,159 page views. I've written a lot of about mortgage lending, of course, but I've also written about freelance writing, selling a home and writing for comic books. By far, the mortgage-related stories draw more hits and, I assume -- though I can't tell for sure -- more of the ad clicks that generate revenue at Suite 101.

You don't make money off page views at Suite 101. The money comes when readers actually click on the ads that Suite runs alongside your columns.

As of the writing of this post, I had 27 stories on Suite 101. From Feb. 7 through March 26, these stories had generated $36.73.

Yes, that sounds bad. Yes, it's little more than $1 a story, and I'd never consider writing a print story for $1.20, or whatever that average comes out to.

But there 's more to the story here. I've written about mortgages and real estate for years. I can bang out Suite 101 columns quickly, sometimes in less than 15 minutes. I don't interview anyone for these stories. Research is basic. Writing them is rather formulaic. No, they're not going to win any Pullitzers, but the stories I'm banging out do contain real information.

Plus I'm told that as you put more stories up, your revenues get higher. We'll see.

I think I'll stick with Suite 101 for a while. My goal is to get 100 stories on the site, which isn't as ridiculous as it sounds, so long as you can write fast and stick to topics you know well. My hope is that with 100 stories, I'll generate about $100 a month in passive income, meaning I won't have to write new stories for that money if I don't choose to.

Like all other content sites, Suite doesn't pay all that much. But it does at least have the potential, once the initial work is done, to generate passive income. That, at least, is a positive.

A little bit about me. (Skip this post if you'd like)

I won't give you my real name. I'm sure to be a bit negative when discussing the content sites and blogging networks I'm writing for. But everyone needs some name, even if it's not real. How about this one: Dwrite. It's a handle I use on forums across the Internet. Should work well here.

Here are some of my credentials. I've worked as a freelance writer since the early 1990s. When I started in this business, I couldn't Google anything. I had to find information the old-fashioned way: by digging it up. Today, I honestly think I've forgotten how to do that.

My stories have appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Business 2.0 Magazine, Phoenix Magazine, the Chicago Reader, BusinessWeek Online, CareerJournal, Home Magazine and a countless stream of trade magazines. Today, unfortunately, many of my favorite places to write for have gone belly up. Many others have put a temporary freeze on their freelance budgets.

I have turned, too, to online writing. As a freelancer today you have to. There's a lot about it I don't like. Mostly, it's the pay. Why does online writing fetch such dismal fees? Can it be because online writing is usually horrid, rehashed garbage that's been floating around the Web ever since Yahoo! took the world by storm?

I'm sure there's a relation there.

I blog regularly today, for both blogging networks and for business owners who want blogs but don't want to write them. The second group pays far more than the first. But this blog, Content Writing Madness, focuses on the first group, the blogging networks, along with the content sites, places like Suite 101, Associated Content, Demand Studios, and the like. (And don't tell me that is an online newspaper and not a content site. It's a content site. Believe me.)

My goal is to share my frustrations, rewards (I hope!) and challenges as I try to master the world of online content writing. I hope, too, that the readers of this blog -- and I hope to get readers soon! -- will chime in with their own experiences and, yes, success strategies for making actual money at places like Suite 101 and Constant Content.

Check back tomorrow. I'll start my online adventures with my experiences at Suite 101. Then there's the suddenly popular to tackle.

Content writing. Why not?

I've worked as a freelance writer since 1991. That's a long time. But never have I felt as challenged, and frequently frustrated, as I do today. Since mid-2008, seven of my regular print-magazine clients have gone out of business. Several more have gone solely to in-house writers as they struggle through this horrible economy. I'm surviving, but I'm juggling more assignments than I ever have to meet my monthly income goals.

I've also dipped my toe into the largely unsatisfying world of online content writing. You know what I mean: places like Associated Content, Suite 101,, Demand Studios, b5 Media and the rest. They're content mills that place greater value on quantity than they do on quality. Writing for them is a bit brain-numbing, I admit. But a writer's gotta' do ... well, you know.

I have one advantage in this strange new world: I can write fast, really fast. And when I'm writing for content sites I can write especially fast.

'Course, that doesn't mean I necessarily enjoy content writing. And I am still learning as I go. I've found content-mill writing to be extremely frustrating at times, especially when it comes to search engine optimization. I also find myself getting overly excited when one of my online stories earns even the smallest amount of revenue. I wouldn't touch a print-magazine story for anywhere near the same amount of money. I'd consider it an insult.

I set up this blog to share my journey through the content-writing landscape with my fellow freelance writers. I'll post my experiences with content sites. I'll let you know how much I'm earning, how quickly I'm doing it and whether I enjoy what I'm doing even the tiniest bit.

And I hope you'll share your thoughts with me, too, on whatever content writing you're doing. Maybe you love it. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you recognize that in the world of online writing, speed is king, quality is not necessarily a priority and earnings are small.

But, again, if you're fast enough, if you can really pound away at that keyboard, those small earnings just might add up.

Or maybe they won't. I'll let you know.