Thursday, October 15, 2009

The mistakes content writers make: Read the directions

I'm always amazed at some of the foolish mistakes content writers make when looking for jobs. For instance, a lot don't follow the directions.

I see this a lot at the job boards and writing forums that I frequent. Someone will post a job and request that interested candidates either e-mail them directly or send them a private message.

Inevitably, a string of writers will post their own messages on the job board or forum. They'll write: "Hey, I'm interested," or maybe, "I'd like to do this."

Now, the job poster might not even come back to the message board. The poster asked for private messages or e-mails. Why would a writer post his or her response on the message board itself?

Besides, why would a content producer hire someone whose version of a cover letter and writing samples consists of "Hey, I'm interested?"

Content writers, here's some free advice: Pay attention to what you're doing. Read the friggin' instructions before applying for a job. You'll never get anywhere without doing this.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Giving Content Divas a shot

I'm constantly looking for new content-writing work these days. That's because it's getting more and more difficult to earn steady writing assignments at print magazines and newspapers. These clients still make up the majority of my freelance-writing income, but content writing has steadily accounted for a growing percentage these days.

I've built up a nice base of reliable content-writing clients. But I always need more. That's because a lot of content-writing clients need only enough writing to fill up a certain number of niche sites. Once they get that writing, they disappear for a month or two until they need some fresh copy.

This is partly why I applied last week to Content Divas. Much like AdAstra Traffic, which I've written about recently, Content Divas is a company that links freelance content-writers with content projects.

This evening, I heard back from Content Divas -- just two days after I sent in my application -- that I've been hired on as a writer. Now, the pay, as with most content-writing jobs, isn't stellar. But the service promises fairly steady work. And right now, with the struggles that the economy is suffering through, I appreciate any work that's steady and reliable.

I've heard from other writers, and read on other blogs, that Content Divas pays its writers on time. It has a unique set-up, too. Writers are hired to write keyword articles, blog posts, press releases or e-book material. Projects last a certain number of days, and writers are expected to turn in 1,000 words each day. If projects are short, and only last a few days, writers receive payment at the end of the project. If they're long, they receive partial part upfront, the rest when they finish the job.

I'm a fast writer, so I'm hoping that this will work to my advantage with Content Divas.

Meanwhile, today was an interesting day. A comic book biography I've written on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was officially announced at a number of comic-book sites today. The comic, published by BlueWater Productions, will hit comic stores in January. At the same time, I've been hired by BlueWater to write another comic biography -- I can't say who yet, but it's for the companies music-themed line and will focus on a very popular female musician -- that will be released in 2010.

The content-writing mistake: Don't tell people to look for their baby strollers in the mall

Web site owners tick me off with their often lousy pay rates. But, guess what? We content writers often tick off site owners, too, with our lousy work.

Don't believe me? Check out this blog post on It's Write Now by Emma Nelson, an owner of several niche Web sites and a person I often write stories for. Emma writes about some of the big sins writers make when composing niche articles. Some are fairly obvious such as repeating keywords over and over in a 300-word story.

Some are more humorous. Emma describes writers explaining what candles or Teddy bears are. Yes, we all know what these things are. But some writers are compelled to tell readers in great detail that a candle can provide light, but only when lit. (That, of course, can lead to a 100-word paragraph on what a match is.)

But one of Emma's last points resonated the most with me because I've been guilty of it. She complains about writers who fill their stories with paragraphs telling readers that they can find Teddy bears, candles, MP3 players, iPods or whatevers at their local mall or department store.

Thing is, the owners of niche sites don't want their readers to buy these things at a store. They want them to buy them at the links they provide on their sites.

So remember, folks, as much as we complain about lowball offers and unrealistic deadlines, the people we write for are complaining just as much about lousy writing, missed deadlines and idiot writers -- myself included -- who tell people to buy their crap at the mall.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ridiculous content-writing offers at Digital Point Forums

We all know that content writers don't exactly fetch kingly rates. But if you're fast enough, you just might make a decent hourly rate, as long as you don't accept assignments that pay insultingly low offers.

Now, if you are looking for insulting offers, try exploring the forums at Digital Point. This forum, dedicated to Web site owners and the people who provide them services, has its own subsection where Web site owners request content writers for their sites.

Sounds like a good place to find work, right? Well, sometimes. Unfortunately, it's most often a place where site owners ask writers to provide them content for ridiculously low offers.

Here's an example: This guy needs an article writer for a bulk project. The pay he's offering? A miserly $1 for 300 words. But, the poster promises, the work is in bulk. What does this mean? That he'll end up paying writers $5 for 1,500 words. That's pretty damn bad.

This poster is willing to pay $2 for 300 words. Again, this is pretty lousy. What's even worse is the poster's attitude. The poster says that writers who provide three or more "bad" articles will be fired. That's right, fired from this terribly lucrative $2-for-300-word job. What will the poor writer do? Work at McDonald's for even more money?

Overall, Digital Point is a rather depressing place. It's filled with forum posters who can barely string together two sentences demanding perfection from writers for $1 articles. If you're looking for good content-writing work -- and there are good clients out there, even in the world of content writing -- skip Digital Point.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Living without your phone: It's not bad

My work phone unexpectedly cut out earlier this week. I'd pick up the phone to hear absolutely nothing on the other end.

Getting a human on the phone at AT&T was a bit of a chore, but I finally managed to do it, and a technician was on his way.

Funny thing, though; I didn't really miss my phone much.

Sure, I'd check in with my home phone to see if anyone left me a message on voicemail. Wouldn't want to miss all those editors calling in with lucrative assignments! But not having the phone ringing allowed me to really concentrate on pounding out the content stories. In fact, I wrote 16 content stories yesterday, and five pages in the graphic-novel script that I'm working on. I also had time to apply to three other writing jobs.

I don't know if I would have been as productive if that phone had been working.

By the way, the technician showed up at my house and only had to open our AT&T box outside to get the phone working again. Seriously. He didn't have to touch a button or turn a screw. He had no explanation for it, other than saying that maybe when he opened the box something inside it fell out and stopped my phone from fritzing out.

Personally, I don't care. I'm just glad that AT&T didn't charge me anything for repairs.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Giving BrightHub another try

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a rather snotty post complaining that I'd been rejected by BrightHub. Well, turns out I may have posted a bit too soon.

You may know BrightHub: The site pays writers $10 upfront for short, explanatory stories on a number of topics. Authors can write about environmental science, investing, finances, engineering, etc.., Authors also earn residual income on the money that their stories generate over time.

Last month, I received a message from BrightHub saying that my application to write for the environmental sciences channel had been denied. I was a bit miffed. But last week I received another message. This one stated that I'd been accepted to write for investing channel.

I turned in my first BrightHub story last night. Now, I just have to wait and see what my editor thinks. It's true that $10 a story isn't much, but BrightHub, if I can write the stories fast enough, might be a good way to fill in the gaps during the slower months. And this month of October, unfortunately, is turning out to be one of the slowest I've experienced in more than five years.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The big content-writing mistake: writing about what you don't know

I've never been to Cornwall, England. It looks like a lovely place, though. Some even say it's the birthplace of the mythical King Arthur. If you're in Cornwall, you can visit the castle where he supposedly was born.

I didn't know any of this until this morning. That's because I agreed to write four content-writing articles on Cornwall.

The price was more than fair. And the assignment specs weren't onerous in any way. However, the assignment turned out to be a bit of a pain in the butt for me. That's because I committed the big sin of content writing: I took on an assignment writing about something I knew nothing about.

The key to making money as a content writer is to write as many stories as you can extremely fast. It's a bit of a grind. But if you know about exercise equipment, it's not too difficult to pound out five stories on successful weight training. If you're really quick, you can do those five stories in an hour to make a decent hourly rate.

It's when you take on topics that you know nothing about, though, that you run into trouble. It took me most of the morning to write my four Cornwall articles. That's because I had to spend valuable time researching. Every minute you spend researching is a minute you could be spending writing.

So don't be tempted, even if the pay per article sounds good, to write about something about which you know little. It never pays off.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Residual income reality

I hear a lot of writers refer to residual income when justifying why they write for sites like Suite 101 or They say that the stories they place on these sites generate revenue indefinitely. That's better, they say, than landing a story for a one-time fee of $20.

Well, there's some truth to that, I suppose. But what if you query and land a story for a one-time fee of $500? How long does it take, say, an article on Suite 101 to generate $500 worth of income? Will that ever happen? I don't know.

If you want a real look at the negatives of sites that promise writers residual income, check out this post at Jennifer Mattern's All Freelance Writing Blog. She breaks down the real numbers far better than I ever could. You might be shocked, and certainly disappointed, at how little money most people ever make writing for residual income sites.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Giving TextBroker a try

Maybe I'm desperate. I had a solid September and a good August. But October looks to be rather shaky from a paying-jobs standpoint.

So it's time to give TextBroker a real try. Sigh.

Yes, I'm not proud to admit it. Let's face it, TextBroker pays some embarrassing rates. I've seen folks requesting 500-word articles for $1.50. That's pitiful.

Still, TextBroker, like Demand Studios and Writer Divas, can help fill in those gaps in months when the number of paying assignments isn't as high as you'd like.

So far this month -- and yes, I know it's only October 1 today -- I've written a 500-word story in the fitness field for $7.57 and a 350-word story on mortgage lending for $5.03. I next plan to write a 350-word story on online dating for $5.50. Each of the first two stories I wrote, which required no research because I'm familiar with each subject, took me 15 minutes to write. If the online dating one takes as long, that'll mean I'll have made about $18 for 45 minutes of work. That's not terrible.

Of course, it's not particularly sustainable, either. For instance, tomorrow I have to write a 1,200-word story for the Washington Post. That will take up most of my morning. I also have to prepare three blog posts for a Chicago real estate agent. That will take time, too. If I'm lucky, I'll get one TextBroker assignment done.

TextBroker is an option, though. If you can pound out the stories quickly, and write only on topics that you don't need to research, you can make a decent hourly wage. Of course, you won't pay the mortgage with TextBroker, but you might be able to pay the cable bill.