Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Craigslist not all bad

I like to complain about the writing jobs I find on craigslist. So many of the people looking for writers for their blogs or Web sites expect to get one for free. Then, when someone complains, they bring up that whole "you should write for the love of writing" garbage. Sometimes, they'll boast that by writing for their site you'll gain valuable exposure.

That's nonsense, too, by the way. You won't get any exposure by writing for some lame, mistake-filled Web site.

That's a tangent, though. I really wanted to give some credit to craigslist. The site has actually helped me land a string of fairly well-paying jobs lately.

For instance, last month, I wrote my first story for a health magazine after responding to a craigslist ad. The story brought me $750. That's a whole lot of content stories.

This month, I'll start working on an anthology book of strange statistics and facts. Again, the pay is decent if not great -- $120 for 500-word stories that require no interviews and very basic research -- and I found this opportunity on craigslist.

The problem with craigslist, though, is that you have to wade through so much garbage to find the good posts. Here's a rule: Don't respond to any craigslist ad that's shorter than three sentences. And don't respond to any that don't even tell you what kind of stories you'll be writing.

Most importantly, don't ever provide fresh writing samples for free. When posters ask for this, they are usually scammers hoping to gain free content from gullible writers for their Web sites.

By the way, I'm in an unusually positive mood today because I received some wonderful comments on a trade-magazine story I wrote not just from the editor but from the magazine's publisher. This is good because I'd like to make this magazine -- which I've only recently started writing for -- one of my regular clients.

It's easy to forget sometimes, as we concentrate on pounding out as many stories as quickly as we can, that quality still counts. Sometimes, the only way to get good assignments is to turn in your best work on a consistent basis. Eventually, people notice.

Or at least that's the hope.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Write what you know: Advice that's never more important than in content writing

I can whip out a 400-word story on homeowners insurance in about 15 minutes. I can write a story about the gold Canadian Maple Leaf coin in about 30 minutes. Obviously, it makes more sense financially for me to write about homeowners insurance for any clients.

This is an important lesson to learn: When you are tackling content writing, when getting as many stories done as quickly as possible is the main way to earn money, you have to follow that old adage: Write what you know.

It's not because you'll write better stories. That really doesn't matter much in content writing, for better or for worse. But if you stick to subjects that you already understand, you won't waste valuable writing time researching. You'll get more stories written in a shorter period of time.

This doesn't mean that you can't ever challenge yourself as a freelance writer. By all means, tackle subjects that fascinate your. Write about something about which you have no clue.

But don't do this when you're writing content. Do it when you're taking on a story for a trade magazine or when you're covering a story for a newspaper or consumer magazine. Then you'll get paid decently for your hard work.

Content writing is a different ball game: Write whatever you can extremely fast. Leave the creativity, and the hard work, to better paying clients.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Freelance Home Writer a must-visit site

I can't even hope to provide the kind of help to my fellow freelance writers that you'll find over at the Freelance Home Writer blog.

Written by hard-working freelance writer Willow Sidhe, the site provides a wealth of resources for freelancers. My favorite are Sidhe's in-depth review of content sites. (Though I must admit, what Sidhe finds often leaves me disheartened. I'm constantly amazed at how little some people value quality writing.)

Stop by Sidhe's blog today. Scroll through the archives and you'll uncover a host of online sites that pay (sometimes barely) for freelance writing. Odds are, you'll have had no idea most of these sites existed.

You should also enjoy her post for today, in which Sidhe carefully explains the difference between writing for content sites and private clients. It's a well-written, and passionate, post. It sums up the life of the content writer quite well, I'd say.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Today's challenge: Editors who want a story to say something that your sources aren't

Freelance writing sure does offer a lot of variety ... at least of problems.

Today's problem is a fun one: I'm working with an "editor" -- who, unfortunately, is actually a salesman -- who wants my story to say something that my sources did not say. In fact, the people I interviewed for the story have said something completely different from what my "editor" wants the story to say.

The problem is a simple one: My salesman/editor wants a story that's more positive than what my sources have been giving me. Now, this editor wants to to somehow write around what my sources have said to be more positive.

I've expressed my concerns. But my editor is worried that our advertisers won't like the story. And this, I'm afraid, is the heart of the problem.

Advertisers are hard to find these days for print magazines. This makes salesmen more apt to jump through hoops to keep them as happy as possible, even when it doesn't serve the interest of the readers.

This has long been an issue with one of the trade magazines for which I write. It's just gotten worse as the economy has tanked.

I've pretty much excused myself, as much as possible, from the rest of this story. I expressed my concern and told my "editor" that I don't want to put false words in the mouths of my sources.

This hasn't made me especially popular today. But then again, when is a freelance writer ever that popular? It's seems like it's been a long time, at least for me.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wanting New York Times writing for Podunkville Gazette fees

I've been running into small publishers lately who want wonderful, imaginative, creative and witty writing, and that isn't like anything already on the Web. That's fine. But these publishers also want to pay piddly amounts for this amazing writing.

It's a bit frustrating.

For instance, I just signed up for a new blog. This week, I turned in my first posts. The publisher wrote back to tell me that my posts were a bit too negative. He mentioned that people are already depressed by the economy, and that they didn't need new blog posts to remind them of this fact.

Fine. That's a valid point. But then the publisher directed me to the blog run by Penelope Trunk. This, the publisher told me, is an example of a good blogger who has something original to say with every posting.

Again, the editor was right. Trunk's blog is a must-read. It's fascinating and funny and incisive.

But this guy isn't paying enough to get Penelope Trunk. He's paying enough to get a blog post that I can squeeze out in 15 minutes or less. That may sound harsh, but it's a reality. I can't spend too long on a post that doesn't bring in enough money.

This publisher brought up the low pay rates by explaining that he hoped that the bloggers on his career site weren't writing just for the money, but for the joy and satisfaction of blogging.

Well, nuts to that. I do write for the money. I support my family this way, often by forcing out stories on topics that are so dull I want to scratch my eyes out. But it's a living.

It wouldn't be a living, though, if I spent all day working on a blog post that paid peanuts. Shame on me for accepting this low-paying position in the first place.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I've added another blog to my list

Two posts ago, I wrote that I had applied to write for another blog. This one is a new job blog. Happily, I was selected as one of four new writers for the blog. I'll be starting this Friday.

Again, the money for this blog isn't great. But it's a check I can count on every month. If you get enough of these guaranteed checks -- even if they're not all that big -- it takes some of the stress out of trying to forge a freelance-writing career.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A good month so far

So far for June, I'm on pace to make about $1,200 in content writing online. That combines with my regular salary editing a trade magazine plus the stories I've nabbed from my regular print and trade magazine clients.

It's a busy month, then. There have already been several late nights at the keyboard pounding out stories about the Royal Canadian Mint or hammocks. But I'm trying to strike while things are suddenly hot.

It's always this way in this business. It's like a drought some months; Your regular clients have abandoned you. New ones are hard to find.

Then, all of a sudden, everyone's back, and they all want something from you.

That's where I'm at in June. Who knows what July will bring, though?

My advice: Don't turn down work these days. Grab as much of it as you can, even if it means you feel tied to the keyboard. Then you'll at least have a financial cushion for the inevitable slow periods.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hoping to add another blog to my list

Earlier this week I completed the second phase of a tryout for a new career blog being launched later this month. I made it past the first hurdle: The editors behind the blog liked my submission package. The second phase involved me writing two sample blog posts -- which I get paid for. The editors will then select four of a final eight writers to contribute regularly to the blog.

It's a bit of a jumping-through-hoops process, but the work should be easy. And if I do get the job, it'll be one more steady bit of income.

Granted, the income's fairly small. But it's worth it for the amount of work required. It will also mean that I'll have six blogs that I write for that pay me by the post.

This is the only way to go with blogs, by the way. (Well, a flat monthly rate is fine, too.) Don't ever think you're going to make money from blogs that pay you according to how many people visit or click on ads. You'll be lucky to make a dollar every month with this kind of payment schedule.

I'll keep everyone posted as to what happens with this career blog. I'm proud of the two sample posts I wrote. Now it's in the hands of the editors.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An unprofessional move

I took on too much this week. It sounded good adding new assignments late last week, all with due dates of this week. But finally today, I cracked: I had to call a client and tell him that I wouldn't be able to take on his assignment.

It was a tough one, at least for me, on incentive deals with mobile phones. The work was tedious and time-consuming, and involved several rewrites. As I sat down to write, I just couldn't do it.

For the first time in my freelance-writing career, I passed on an assignment that I'd already accepted.

Now, I've turned stories in late before. Too many times, probably. But to not complete the assignment? That's terrible. It's unprofessional, and very disheartening.

But for my sanity, I did it.

The client didn't seem too upset. But I know I'll never get work from him again.

There's a lesson here: It's not wise to take on too much work, even in these terrible economic times when assignments are gold. Sometimes you do have to say "no." You have to know your limits.

I'm just too old to pull an all-nighter these days.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Juggling "real" writing and content writing

Content writing isn't real journalism. I don't care what anyone says: Content writing is pretty much the a weekly shopper while real journalism is the New York Times.

That being said, I have no problem contributing to that shopper. Content writing is making me some nice side money, especially during these trying economic times when print publications are struggling mightily.

But it's not work I'm proud of.

Now I'm facing a different sort of problem with content writing. I've gotten so many assignments from small publishers -- nickel-and-dime stuff that I don't want to turn down in this economy -- that I'm struggling to get my "real" journalism done.

For this month, this "real" writing includes a story for the jobs section of a major newspaper, a story for a medical trade magazine and two stories for an environmental publisher. These stories take real effort and thought: I have to interview people. I have to research facts and studies.

Of course, they pay well, too.

It's hard to get this work done, though, when I'm spending my daytime hours pounding out 15 short posts on visiting New York City or playing Bakugan. (Yes, Bakugan. I'm a grown man writing about Bakugan. Sigh.)

How do you juggle all your writing assignments? How do you make the time when you also want to spend time with your family? Does the arrival of summer vacation -- which started here yesterday -- through off your routine?

Let me know your thoughts.

Monday, June 8, 2009

How much can you say about one island?

Sometimes this content writing thing gets a bit ridiculous. I've been hired to write a series of short, easy-to-write posts for a client who obviously runs a travel site devoted to Maui.

I know this because I've now written 50 blog posts about Maui for this client.

That's right, 50.

I didn't know there was so much I could say about Maui. I think I've covered every major, minor and shouldn't-be attraction on the island. I've written about every sport you can play on Maui, every scenic road you can take, every beach you can get sunburned on.

I think I've used the words "amazing scenery" or "stunning scenery" so much, the "s," "a" and "z" keys on my keyboard have worn down.

Still, I can't complain too much. The work from this client is steady. And he pays well and on time.

I just wish he'd build a site for one of the other islands.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Trying Project Wonderful

The key to succeeding as a freelance writer today is to have a large variety of revenue streams going on at once.

Here's what I have: I edit a real estate trade magazine in Chicago. That provides an annual, steady salary. I freelance write for print and newspapers. That used to make up the majority of my yearly income. In today's economy, though, that's changing. I also write for six different blogs, some of which are pay-per-post and some of which I operate on my own. Finally, I've entered the world of content writing, which, despite its generally low pay for each assignment, has boosted my monthly revenue quite nicely.

Now I'm hoping to add more ad revenue to this mix. I do have AdSense on the blogs that I run myself. The money from that comes very, very slowly. It's hard to get people to click those ads. But I have made some money. I'm not at the $100 that Google requires for payout yet, but I should get there in two months or so.

I'm also trying Project Wonderful. This ad-revenue option is popular among Web comic artists, but can be used for most any Web Site that isn't pornographic.

Basically, you sign up and wait. Project Wonderful staffers look over your site and then either approve you or tell you "no thanks." Once you're approved, you add code to your Web site -- this is very simple to do -- and wait for companies to bid on advertising on your site.

When you start, you'll get very little bidding action. And if your site isn't that popular, that probably won't change. My first Project Wonderful ad paid out exactly $0. But one day later, I had a company paying 1 penny a day to advertise on my site.

Whoopee! That's $3.65 a year! However, as I build up visitors, I hope to see that per-day figure rise.

And if it doesn't? It costs me no work to have Project Wonderful ads running on my Web sites.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Exploring Creative Weblogging

You might not have heard of Creative Weblogging. But it's another blogging service, one that has blogs focusing on business, technology, digital media, sports, family and other topics.

Last month, I began writing a blog for them. It's not a lot of money, but it is a set payment every month that I can count on.

I'm glad I began working with the company, too. A residential real estate blog I wrote for ended my contract last week. Again, it wasn't a ton of money each month, but it was steady pay that I could look forward to.

The problem wasn't the writing, the real estate company told me. It was the visitors. There weren't enough of them.

The blog had existed for about eight months. The real estate company was hoping for 10,000 visitors a month. I never felt this was a realistic goal, even though I tried to help out by posting messages on related forums and using Twitter. But the company wasn't paying me enough to promote the site as much as it needed to be.

Which brings me to this question: Why do blogging networks expect their writers to do all the work involved in promoting their blogs? Many of the networks I've worked with have asked me to Twitter for them, or promote them through services like LinkedIn. I'd be happy to do this if the blogging networks weren't paying me peanut money each week.

I mean, what are the blogging networks themselves doing? Are they doing any work, or are they just collecting money?

We'll see, then, how Creative Weblogging goes. So far, it's been hassle-free. Let's hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Follow-up: I did get a bit more money

Yesterday I wrote about asking a content-writing client for a bit more money to write three stories that I felt would take more research than usual.

Well, after a brief e-mail exchange, I will be getting some extra money for the stories.

I didn't get everything I asked for. Basically, we agreed to split the difference: I'll get extra money on the stories, but only half of what I originally asked for.

That's fine. There's always room for compromise, even in the speed-and-volume-at-all-costs world of content writing.

The lesson here, then, is an obvious one. Don't be afraid to ask your content-writing clients for a little extra every once in a while. Sure, most times they'll probably beg off. But you may get lucky. In this economy, every little bit of extra money helps.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

You can ask for more, even in content writing

As content writers, we often undervalue ourselves. I'm guilty of this, too. Sometimes you have to really look at what you're doing. Does it make financial sense?

I'm currently working with a client who runs several business-themed content sites. Last week, I provided him with several stories relating to subjects such as power tools, window tinting and workshop safety.

This week, he wants me to write thee insurance-related posts. These posts need to be from 500 to 600 words, and they must cover certain subjects in depth. I'm happy to do it, but I've asked for a bit more money. These posts are simply more work: They require more research, and their longer.

I'm not asking for a fortune, just $5 more for each story.

Even content writers need to be paid fairly for their time. I'm not sure what the response from my client will be. This is only the second time I've written for him. But I imagine he'll be OK with my request. And if he's not? Then I don't want to write for him anyway.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Why doesn't Twitter help me?

I know everyone seems to love Twitter. It's one of those things that has caught fire.

Fine. But I want to know one thing: Has anyone reading this blog ever found a job from Twitter? Has anyone reading this blog seen the number of visits to their own blogs jump significantly thanks to Twitter?

I sure haven't been able to accomplish either of these tasks.

I'm not complaining too much. I do use Twitter a bit. But it too often seems like a jumble of random thoughts that have nothing to do with anything important. It's nice to know, I suppose, that Greg77 just had a sandwich and some milk. But really, I'd rather hear that EditorFred is looking for writers.

Maybe I expect too much from Twitter? Maybe it is just supposed to be a fun little tool for gabbing with friends you don't like enough to call on the phone.

What about you? Has Twitter ever helped you as a writer?