Sunday, May 31, 2009

Be careful: Content writing encourages bad prose

We all know that content writing isn't exactly art. The goal is to write as many stories as quickly as possible. The pay just isn't high enough to justify artfully written pieces.

(Some content writers might disagree. But let's be honest: The stuff we're writing isn't meant to be read. It's meant to get people to specific Web sites. If we write pure gibberish, but it brings in the traffic, we've done our jobs.)

Writers just have to be careful that they don't take their bad content-writing habits with them when they're working on legitimate magazine or newspaper writing.

When writing content stories, the goal is to get to that required word count. That leads writers to produce sentences that are far longer than they need to be. Here's an example from my own work, a content piece about shopping for big screen TVs: "Shopping for the right big screen TV can prove to be a challenging task."

Now, that sentence isn't great. But it has a good amount of words in it. That's all I wanted. If I was writing that same thought for a real magazine, though, it'd go something like "Shopping for big-screen TVs can be challenging."

The first sentence has 14 words. The second has eight. The second is also a better sentence: It gets to the point quickly. That's what we're supposed to do in journalism.

But content writing, of course, is not journalism. It's filling space. Just remember to change your approach when you're writing anything else.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

How to get that freelance writing job

Do you have to be a good writer to make it as a freelance writer? Probably. But sometimes you can get that freelance writing job simply by being persistent.

There are a lot of writers out there who are merely serviceable when it comes to stringing together sentences and paragraphs. There is no poetry in what they write. But they're successful,and you see their byline all over the Web.

How do they do it? They probably bug their editors for story ideas all the time. Persistence is the real key to success in landing all those writing jobs.

Last week, I got a good freelance writing job through this approach. One of the trade magazines that I've long written for is going through tough times now thanks to the economy. Ad sales are down, so the space available for freelancers has shrunk.

I'd still been getting fairly regular assignments from my editor until 2009 rolled around. Suddenly, I was getting nothing.

So I went to work being a bit of a pain. I made sure to contact my editor at the magazine every other week. Sometimes it'd just be a quick reminder that I was interested in freelance stories if the editor had any to pass out. Other times, I'd pitch specific story ideas.

Things weren't going well with this approach until Friday. This time, I sent another specific story idea. And, wonders of wonders, my editor responded and said that she'd like to see the story.

Best of all, this isn't some rinky dink $12 content article. This is a real freelance assignment, one that requires interviews, research and critical thinking. And it pays $1,000. And that's $1,00 that I desperately need these days.

So there's an example of the power of persistence. I used to take silence from editors as "no." Today, though, I can no longer afford to do so. Today I keep banging away at my editors until I do finally get that "no." And sometimes, if I'm lucky, I get that "yes" instead.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wrote about patio cushions today

Well, I am officially a hack.

Today I wrote about patio cushions.

Now, I don't care about patio cushions. I imagine you don't, either. They're something to sit on. That's all. Yet I wrote five stories on patio cushions: how they come in all sorts of colors, how to waterproof them, how to keep them looking good, even how to buy them cheaply.

Yes, it was content writing at its best.

I used to write about people who dress up like superheroes and patrol their streets, even though they can't stick to walls or fly at supersonic speeds. I used to write about people who are pressuring their state legislatures to pass laws protecting Bigfoot.

I used to write about real stuff. Fun stuff.

Not patio cushions. I mean, I like sitting on them, really. I just never thought the day would come when I wrote entire stories about them.

Really, is buying patio cushions a challenge? Is it difficult? Does anyone need to go to the Web and look up information on how to find them at good prices?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is content writing insane?

So I'm giving content writing a try. It's an experiment. But I'm finding that it's an experiment that is slowly gobbling up all my writing time.

Here's the problem: I've been struggling for months to nab assignments from print magazines. Even my regular clients are stingy these days with the work. (Thanks, crappy economy.) The content-writing folks I've written for, though, love me. They're sending me more work than I can sanely handle.

It's little wonder why. These guys pay low. They, therefore, work with some of the worst "professional" writers around. One content-writing client sent me three stories written by another content writer, to see if I could save them. The stories he sent me looked like they were assembled by randomly hitting a keyboard. None of the sentences linked together. Each paragraph seemed like it belonged in a different story.

Yes, it was a mess.

I turn my stories in on time. And they're readable. That's more than what these content publishers are used to.

Problem is, I'm a sucker for kind words. Tell me you like my writing, and I'll take as much work from you as you can dish out, even if your pay rates stink.

So that's where I'm at now. I'm working late again, trying this time to finish three posts about liposculpture surgery, a procedure I know next to nothing about.

Yep, I can't wait for this recession to end. Come back to me, print-magazine clients!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The power of niche blogs

I spoke with an entrepreneur today who runs 40 niche blogs, blogs dedicated to such specific topics as martini glasses, electric fireplaces and the Kindle 2.

Her goal is to see these blogs each generate about $100 a month. That, of course, comes to a healthy $4,000 a month. Not bad for what the entrepreneur eventually hopes will be a passive income stream. Once the blogs are filled with content, the entrepreneur will just sit back and watch those $100-a-month payments trickle in.

She's equipping some of the blogs with Adsense, but has had better luck with affiliate programs run by and eBay.

It's an intriguing idea. The thought of filling all those blogs with enough content is a little intimidating. But the entrepreneur I interviewed must be doing well enough; She's hiring writers -- at about $12 a story -- to fill her sites with content.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are writers spoiled?

Today I turned in 10 short blog posts -- 125 words each -- and earned $50 for it.

As I wrote the stories I wasn't all that happy. Up until this year, I wouldn't have considered this type of content writing acceptable. I wrote for print, and earned $500 or more for my feature stories.

The economy has changed all that, and I'm experimenting, taking on online content work to scrape together a solid freelance income until the economy turns around and print magazines start hiring freelance writers again.

So, I wasn't thrilled with writing so many words for such little pay. Until I did some thinking. It took me an hour and 15 minutes to write my posts. They didn't require interviews or much research, and it's amazing how quickly you can get to 125 words. So that's more than $40 an hour. That's not bad.

And, really, how hard is that work, really? I'm sitting at a desk. I have a can of pop next to me. I have the Internet to distract me when I'm bored. It's not like I'm a police man or a firefighter or a construction worker. I'm a writer, not exactly dangerous, sweat-inducing work.

Maybe us writers are a bit spoiled. So we're writing more for less money these days. Heck, if you spend eight hours writing content stories and earning about $40 an hour, that's not a bad day's work. Yes, it's a bit mind-numbing, but try to complaining to a factory worker. Don't think you'll get much sympathy.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The sometimes ugly realities of content writing

I've pretty much dove deep into the content-writing pool these days. It's a bit of a necessity. My best print-magazine client is struggling and, last week, told me to stop sending them my monthly quote of stories. From now on, I'd work on an as-needed basis for them, and it doesn't look like their need for me is as great as my need for work.

So, I've attempted to boost my monthly writing income with more online content writing. This week, for instance, I'll be writing a series of short, 125-word stories on topics such as martini glasses and electric fireplaces for one publisher. This will bring in $50, but the hope is that I'll be able to write the posts in as little as an hour-and-a-half, making my per-hour pay about $30. (Don't feel like doing the exact math right now.)

I'm also turning in a series of eight short blog posts -- on life insurance, auto insurance and weightlifting (one of these things isn't like the other) -- for $106, and am negotiating with another client to turn in a keyword-heavy 750-word story. I'm hoping to get about $40 for that post.

All told, these three assignments, all of which I grabbed yesterday, will pay me, hopefully, about $190. That's not much, but for a month of weeks like that, you're looking at $760. That's a bit of a boost to my regular writing jobs, which, of course, pay far, far more.

Today, though, writers have to take on a lot of jobs and do them all fairly quickly. In addition to my content-writing, I ghostwrite for three corporate blogs -- which, again, provides far more income than content-writing -- and rotate through about 10 (used to be a lot more) regular print-magazine clients for assignments each month. It's hectic, and more hectic now than it's ever been. I'm not sure how much I like it, but you have to do what pays the bills, right?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Be wary of fresh samples when angling for a writing job

Craigslist may be a good place to find writing jobs. It's also, unfortunately, a good place to find scammers.

For writers, the most serious is when someone -- usually a blogger -- advertises for freelance writers and requests not samples of your previously published work, but freshly written samples on a specific target.

Often, these "publishers" are simply trolling for free content from gullible writers for their own sites. My rule of thumb: Never write new sample stories for anyone. Publishers should be able to tell by your previously published work if you're a right fit for their job.

I bring this up because yesterday, I received a bite from an online job ad. A publisher was looking for a freelancer to write for his home furnishings blog. He responded to my application to ask for a sample written specifically on platform beds, of all things.

I wrote back saying that I'd be happy to write the sample, but that I wanted to be paid the agreed-upon post rate for writing it. He wrote back once more saying that the sample had to be free.

This really seemed suspicious. I reiterated my position in a return e-mail, telling him that, yes, I'd write the sample, but not for free.

I have yet to hear back.

Is this guy a scammer? I'm not sure. My gut says he is, though. A legitimate publisher doesn't ask writers to write anything for free. Don't forget that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Be careful of click fraud

This site is equipped with Google AdSense ads. Of course, I want my readers to click on them. Every time they do, I get a tiny bit of money.

However, I won't ever consider click fraud as a way to get more money from my blogs. Click fraud, apparently, is a pretty big problem these days for AdSense and other pay-per-click services.

The fraud happens in a few ways. Most common is that blog owners somehow try to click their own ads for extra dollars, perhaps from an outside computer, such as one at their place of employment or at their local public library. Other times, site owners tell their friends or family members to click on their ads to help them make a few extra pennies.

Both are considered fraud because the folks clicking on the ads have no interest in the company's placing them.

The New York Times ran an interesting story recently about click fraud.

The Times details the steps online advertisers are taking to make sure that the clicks they do receive are from Web visitors truly interested in their products or services.

If you run AdSense, don't be tempted to engage in click fraud. The folks at Google monitor these things carefully, and if they determine that you're trying to game the system, they won't hesitate to give you the boot.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A different kind of content writing

I've written two stories so far for a publisher who, I think, takes my content and provides it to other Web sites, my byline excluded, of course.

I don't care much what happens to the content after I write it. They're not stories that I'd be able to sell anywhere else. One story focused on new trends in fireplaces, and was supposed to be about 400 words. The second focused on eReaders, and was also supposed to be about 400 words.

Neither story required interviews. The only research I did was on Google.

And, even better, the editor is easy to work with. I haven't had to deal with any revisions on either story. That's the way I like to do business.

The money isn't much: I've made $41 from the two stories. But like I said, it's easy work.

I lump this in as content writing because it's fast, simple and kind of ... filler? I'd suggest to any writer who's working for Suite 101 or to find publishers like this, ones who give you a flat fee for short, quick stories. This money, no matter how small, is guaranteed. That's more than I can say for Suite 101,, Triond or Helium, where you never know how much money you're going to earn for a story.

Publishers like this, which I found through the Absolute Write forums' help-wanted section, won't make you rich. But I treat these little projects as filler money. It's appropriate, I think, for what is largely filler work, right?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Adios to

I've had a love/hate relationship with

Strike that. I've had a hate/hate relationship with And it's time to cut the chord.

Yes, I'm done with

This may seem a bit schizophrenic. It was just last month that I applied for and received my second site. That gave me a site devoted to telemarketing and another devoted to residential real estate, both topics that I know well.

Problem is, my page views have been going down steadily. This has happened even though I've forced myself to jam references to "swine flu" into my posts.

During the last week, I've averaged 4 page views a day for each site. That means a grand total of 8 cents a day from Examiner. I'm sorry, but 40 cents a week just isn't cutting it. To make a good hourly rate, I'd have to write my Examiner stories in less than a second, right? That's a tough thing to do.

So it's time to pull the plug on this particular piece of content-mill work.

Besides, the overall quality of posts on is a bit embarrassing. I'm not sure I want my name associated with it any longer.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I'm beginning to dislike the editors at Suite 101

Don't the editors at Suite 101 know that most writers at the site make peanuts every month? I mean, I have 33 stories up at Suite 101, and last month I made $21.16 off them.

That's not exactly riches, right?

Why, then, do some Suite editors act like I'm writing for the Atlantic Monthly?

I actually put a story up on Suite that had real comments from real sources that I spoke to by phone. I soon received a message that the channel editor had some suggestions to improve my story. Her thoughts? She wondered if I could put in the date when I interviewed each source.

Really? She wants me to date the interview in my copy? For $21.16 a month?

Sorry, I'll be leaving that story alone. In fact, I find that I've been ignoring much of what my Suite editors have to say. Maybe that's a bad attitude on my part. But the only way -- and even this way isn't guaranteed -- to make content writing even remotely economically feasible is to crank out stories in record time. I'm not going to be able to do that if I'm dating my interviews now, am I?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Confused by Digital Journal

Earlier this week, I posted my first story, on a solar power initiative in Michigan, on Digital Journal. It's another content site, but with a focus on news as opposed to more informal blogging.

Like most content sites, it's really hard to figure out what you'll get paid for each story. In this case, you get money for page views, positive votes by other readers and for turning in a story that required some real work, mainly interviewing people or attending an event in person.

My first story has so far received 39 views and generated five positive votes. Not bad, I suppose, though I really have no idea.

For this, it's generated a whopping $1.13. Again, not exactly a princely sum.

I plan on submitting maybe two more stories to Digital Journal to see what happens next. On first impression, though, I'd lump it into the online content-mill pile: Probably better than, but probably below Suite 101.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Accepted by Blogsvertise. Does this really make me a hack?

It's hard not to write online these days and not feel like a hack.

I mean, I know I'm contributing to the crap that's clogging the Internet every time I write a story for Suite 101 on how you can save on your auto insurance.

But last week, I signed up for Blogsvertise. Now I'm not just a hack. I'm evil.

You might not know what this is. Basically, companies, operating through Blogsvertise, pay you varying rates to write about their products or services on your blog. You're supposed to be honest and do it in a subtle way. But still, it's pretty scummy, right?

But ... I am interested to see if I can squeeze a few bucks out of the service. I'll save my integrity for when I'm working on print-magazine stories.

I'll be sure to keep everyone updated on whether the good people at Blogsvertise even want me to write about any of their products.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Would you take this job?

Maybe I can make this a regular feature. I present you with a freelance job opportunity that I've found on the Internet. You can tell me if you'd accept this job.

Here's one I found today. An "editor" wants 20 stories -- ranging from 150- to 250-word stories to press releases -- and is willing to pay from $30 to $250. You can see the job here at

When I checked, the average bid was $30.

Amazing. Someone would accept $30 for 20 stories. That's not even $2 a story. No wonder the online writing world is filled with such insulting offers.

Here's the question: How desperate would you have to be for work to take this offer. Even if you were paid $250, that's still only $12.50 a story. That's pretty insulting.

By the way, even as I've been trying to build up my online writing portfolio, I've also been concentrating on reconnecting with old print-magazine clients in the hopes of notching more lucrative assignments with them.

So far, it's been frustrating. Most of my old clients just don't have as much of a freelance budget these days. But I did have some success today. A real estate trade magazine assigned me a feature story. I'll be getting paid $750 for 1,500 words.

This makes the days of frustration worth it. Think of how much online content writing I'd have to do to get $750.

The lesson here? Keep working on the online stuff. It's important, even if it's not always particularly lucrative. But don't forget "old" media, too. That's still where most of the money for freelance writers is at.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Research involves more than Google -- Doesn't it?

This morning I banged out a quick assignment for someone looking for content-mill type stories. The topic wasn't thrilling -- it was on electronic readers, things like the Kindle 2 or Sony Reader -- but the assignment was simple.

I noticed something, though. I wrote the entire story using only Google as a research tool.

That got me thinking. If I'm not writing for a magazine, I generally rely solely on Google to research my stories. No wonder you see the same stories over and over again when you scan sites like eHow, Suite 101, Associated Content and

It's a bit depressing, isn't it? I mean, when I write for magazines, I interview people -- either in person or over the phone. I read research reports or business prospectuses. I sometimes scan through police reports or court documents. It's really work. It's really time-consuming.

But it's so much more satisfying.

It's not that I couldn't do extra research for my online stories. But with what online sites pay writers, and for what they expect from them, doing that extra research would be foolish. It's better to turn in the junk online sites want and take the peanut money they throw at us.

I still remember the days before Google and the Internet. The first newspaper I worked at still cut and pasted stories onto its pages.

I'm glad Google is around. It's an indispensable tool. I just wish I was writing more stories that required something more than a quick Google search.

Monday, May 4, 2009

When the new editor doesn't seem to like you that much

I had a great working relationship with an editor at a trade magazine devoted to those goofball temporary shops you see at malls. You know the type: They set up in kiosks in the middle of the mall floor and sell everything from hermit crabs to remote-controlled airplanes.

You know, the stuff that's not good enough to be sold from a real store.

Anyway, I could count on regular assignments from the magazine, and praise from its editor 99 percent of the time. Nice, right?

Unfortunately, the editor left the magazine earlier this year. I've been trying since to get some work from the new editor. But nothing. I do get return e-mails when I send over a quick message asking for work. But so far, it's only been "I'll keep you in mind."

What happened? Does the new editor not like my writing style? Maybe.

Unfortunately, there's not much a writer can do in a situation like this. I suppose I could ask to speak to the new editor by phone, but begging so hard for assignments makes me feel a bit creepy.

So, I'll probably wash my hands off this new editor for now. Maybe she really is keeping me in mind for stories. I doubt it, but you never know.

In the meantime, it's back to looking for more work from more print publications. You never know what you might turn up if you keep chipping away.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Giving Digital Journal a shot

Ever heard of Digital Journal? I hadn't either. But the site is actually an intriguing one: It's filled with news stories contributed by one of two types of writers. There are both citizen writers and paid digital journalists.

The citizen writers part doesn't interest me. There's no pay involved. But digital journalists do get paid, depending on a number of factors. The main two are pretty much common to all online content sites: page views and popularity. The more page views a news story gets, the more its writer earns. If readers vote for a writer's story, that writer gets extra money.

Writers, though, also can earn bonuses. They get paid more for writing a news story instead of a simple opinion piece. And they earn bonuses for actually interviewing -- by e-mail or phone -- sources for a story.

Now, the key here is how quickly the pay adds up. It might not be worth it to write for Digital Journal if the pay builds too slowly. Interviewing sources is something I do for my real clients, the print magazines that pay at least $400 or more for their assignments. I'd rather not interview someone if my story is going to earn $10 or less on Digital Journal.

The strategy now is to wait and see what happens. I applied to become a digital journalist earlier today. If I'm approved -- and it'll be a serious blow to my ego if I'm not! -- then I'll submit a story or two that includes a few quick e-mail interviews. If those stories earn peanuts, then I'll move on.

Stay tuned ...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spammed by Demand Studios

I signed up for Demand Studios a few weeks ago. I did so reluctantly. The chance to write dull-as-dirt stories for $15 a pop didn't exactly sound thrilling. I'm a bit amazed at how many freelance writers, though, consider Demand Studios a great place to work. Maybe. But I'm making $75 apiece by writing similarly dull stories for a local newspaper chain's syndication service.

Anyway, I signed up and then mostly forgot about Demand Studios. I'd click on the site every once in a while to see what assignments I was eligible for. But, for some reason I'm still not quite able to fathom, I can't seem to ever bring up any potential assignments. Do I not meet Demand Studios' "high" standards? Not sure.

Yesterday I received an e-mail message from Demand Studios informing me that the company recently added thousands of new jobs. Fine, I figured, let's go take a look. I did and, surprise, no assignments seem to be available to me.

I suppose I could do something to figure this out. I could send an e-mail message to the lovely folks behind Demand. Or I could even make a phone call.

But it just doesn't seem worth it. Maybe it's my rather blue-mood week, but begging for $15 assignments just seems like a slap in the face.