Sunday, April 25, 2010

NinerNiner a strange one

Have you heard of It's one strange little site.

Apparently, writers can sign up to the site and earn money for making posts to a series of blogs that NinerNiner runs. The problem? The pay per post is awful. For 200-or-so words, you can earn a payment of 50 cents. Yes, 50 cents.

And that's for a high-paying blog. NinerNiner also pays 10 cents for posts on some blogs.

I suppose this is good if you're angling to get a chicken sandwich off the dollar menu at McDonald's: Just two 50-cent posts and one 10-cent post to cover the tax! But if you want to make a living as a freelance writer? It's probably best to pass on NinerNiner.

By the way, I've poked through some of the company's blogs. You truly do get what you pay for. The quality of the content is amazingly bad on most of the blogs.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is Demand Studios' USA Today deal a raw one for writers?

I'll answer the question in the title of this post right away: Yes. It is.

If you don't know, Demand Studios is paying its writers $20 for travel stories that will eventually end up in the pages of USA Today. This begs the question: Is this a great way for writers to get a byline in the national paper, or is it just one more sign that newspaper publishers enjoy screwing over writers?

I think it's the latter, unfortunately.

Look, $20 is simply a lousy fee for a USA Today story. The USA Today is a national newspaper. It should be paying writers $500 or more for travel stories. Instead it's worked out a deal with Demand Studios to fill its pages on the cheap.

To me, this stinks of a terrible deal for writers. I write every now and again for the Washington Post. I get paid a lot more than $20. My fear is that more big-time newspapers -- not the small ones that have always paid lousy -- will make similar deals with content providers like Demand Studios.

It's already tough enough to make a living as a freelance writer. We don't need papers like USA Today working to make it even tougher.

(And I, unlike most writers, actually kind of like USA Today!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Yes, sometimes journalism can still be fun

I took my first helicopter ride today. A commercial real estate developer flew me over the company's latest major project, an intermodal site in one of Chicago's suburbs. And, I can't lie, it was pretty neat.

I've flown in airplanes, of course, but taking off in a helicopter just has a different feeling. For one thing, you're surrounded by a lot of glass. You really feel the air rushing past you and the ground slipping away. I mean, when you're in an airplane you can imagine that you're merely in a really noisy house or apartment, long as you don't look out the window. In a helicopter? No way.

I even got to wear one of those cool headsets.

This is all just a reminder that sometimes working as a writer can still be fun. Yeah, I had to take notes during the flight. But I also spent much of it enjoying the view. That's not so bad.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

eCopywriters: Ups and downs

eCopywriters is one of those content-writing sites that hasn't yet garnered a lot of attention. We all focus on Textbroker, Demand Studios, and Suite 101. But for those willing to dig deeper there are a host of sites out there that will pay you for your writing.

Now, they might not pay you well. But remember this: You don't have to turn in stellar prose to earn your bucks at content sites.

eCopywriters is a pretty straightforward site: If the editors here approve your application, you'll be able to write almost immediately. Writers here are ranked by the editors, and that impacts the pay you'll receive. I generally get about $8.80 for writing a 440-word story here.

The good news is that the stories are pretty easy to write, if you know financial topics. The site generally gets plenty of insurance-, finance- and auto-related stories. The good news is that these are straightforward stories. You won't find too many assignments that are as strange as the ones you'll find on Demand Studios.

Now for the bad news: First, there's the pay. It's generally in line with most content sites. That means it's pretty low. That's fine, though, if you can write the stories fast enough. The real problem with eCopywriters is how long it takes to get paid.

You won't receive payment here until eCopywriters' client approves your work. This can take a long time. When I first signed up, I had several stories waiting for approval for more than a month. This has improved a bit lately, but stories still take an average of three weeks or so to earn approval.

Once stories are approved, you'll get paid quickly. eCopywriters has never stiffed me on a story, so that's a plus there.

Another downside is that the company's list of available jobs is occasionally empty. Don't rely on eCopywriters, then, for steady income.

I don't write for the company much these days. If I'm looking for fast cash, I'll go with Break Studios and Textbroker. To sum up, eCopywriters is a good source for a bit of extra cash at the end of the month. Don't rely on it, though, for a steady stream of income.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Content Divas worth the time

Several months ago, I signed up with Content Divas, another content-writing site. This one, though, is a bit different. Once you're accepted, you can apply for a wide variety of writing projects requested by Content Divas' clients, everything from travel writing to real estate stories to debt consolidation and mortgage-loan features.

So far, I've had good luck with the site. I am now on my fifth month of a reoccurring financial project, where I write blog posts on debt consolidation, credit cards, credit repair and other topics. I also have a second reoccurring project with the company where I write copy to match the graphics used on a site devoted to consumer finance issues. The pay isn't great, 18 cents a word, but it does add up to a decent paycheck every month.

What I found the most difficult with Content Divas was initially acquiring work. After you sign up, you have to request projects that are offered to the pool of Content Divas writers. As a new writer, it can sometimes be difficult to grab any of the stories before more veteran Content Divas writers nab them.

It helps if you have a specialty: For me, my specialty in covering the mortgage-lending industry helped me land my first assignment for them, a PLR book on real estate financing. Once I finished that, the editors at the site connected me to the blogging project that I'm still working on.

Overall, I'd give Content Divas high marks. The editors are fair and quite pleasant. And the work can be steady once you get established. Oh, yes, the work itself is fairly simple.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What Is It About Demand Studios?

Demand Studios must be the biggest name in the freelance-writing world these days. Every time I make a post with "Demand Studios" in the title, my visitor numbers take a big jump.

That's a sign of how the freelance-writing world has changed. As reporters lose their "real" jobs, they rush to Demand Studios and its $15 stories. The place is a financial safety net. I know, because it's one to me, too.

Now, I do wish the company paid more than $15 a story. (They do offer $20, $25 and $30 stories, but those are for special assignments. And, from what I've heard, they're usually more work than they're worth.) I do wish that the copy editors didn't ask for the moon for these $15 stories.

But, despite all this, I'm sure glad that Demand Studios is around. Those $15 stories have added up for me. They've helped me fill in the blanks from all the trade magazines that have gone kaput.

Here's a word of warning, though: Nothing lasts forever, not even Demand Studios. Writers need to always be drumming up alternative streams of income, and not just more content sites. For me, that means editing comic books and making inroads in commercial writing. More about all this later.

Some Thoreau thoughts

Last night I went to see a play, "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail." My wife designed the costumes for the play -- yes, both she and I work in "creative" fields. Woe to our bank account! -- and I wanted to get a look at them before the play closed. They looked great, of course. They always do.

The play, though, got me thinking about what we all do for a living. Why did you get into writing? Did you want to make a difference? Did you want to make people think? Did you want to entertain people, make them smile or cry or shout?

I know that's what motivated me to write. But I've lost sight of this as I scramble to make enough money to pay the bills in this dismal national economy.

"The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail" details the long evening when Henry David Thoreau, the famed writer, poet and, of course, tax resister, spent in jail for not paying his taxes. What struck me was Thoreau's conviction to make a difference, to have an impact on his world. It's what inspired him to leave behind his idyllic life at Walden Pond and re-enter the human race.

Now, I'm certainly no Henry David Thoreau, and my house is no Walden Pond. But as I've concentrated on pounding out the content stories, and the regular paychecks they produce, I've left behind much of the writing that inspired me, and, I hope, the people who read them. So, I'm making this resolution: I will continue to churn out meaningless content stories to keep my bank account full enough. But I won't forget to write the stories, too, that represent real journalism, the stories that require me to actually talk to people who have something important to say.

Earlier this month, I wrote a story about grooms who are doing just as much to plan their weddings as are their future brides. This isn't earth-shattering stuff. But it means something. Someone might read that story, maybe a groom who isn't pulling his weight on the wedding planning, and make a change. Maybe that lazy groom will order the wedding invitations so that his stressed bride-to-be doesn't have to. Whatever, a story can make a difference, even a small one.

A content story? Not really. Remember that: Content is for money, purely. Real stories, they're for money, too, of course, but they're for something else, too.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today's day

I imagine that a lot of readers of this blog wonder what I do with my typical workday. I imagine this, of course, because it's probably fiction.

But in case anyone is wondering, here we go:

Today I have a $75 story due on home energy audits. I'm still trying to nail down an interview. Yes, I waited too long to get started on this story.

I also have a $50 content assignment due. This assignment focuses on how important it is for small business owners to analyze their financial statements on a regular basis. Yes, that's not very interesting, but it's easy writing.

I have to write two stories for a blog that I'm working on through the Content Divas site. The stories are on payday loans and bankruptcy. I can write about anything I want, as long as they are on these two topics.

An independent comicbook company needs a press release written. I pump these out fairly quickly.

Finally, I hope to write and turn in five $15 Demand Studios stories.

That's a lot of work, but when the day is done, I'll be able to add more than $250 to my monthly total. That's not bad. This month I'm on track to meet my freelance goals.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Attribution becoming a real pain at Demand Studios

Attribution has become quite the buzzword at Demand Studios these days. Seems the people behind the company have forgotten that they're paying writers $15 for most stories. If they want heavily sourced stories with proper attribution, they should be increasing their paltry rates.

Does anyone think that will happen? Nope, Demand Studios will continue asking writers to source stories as if we were writing for the New York Times. Hate to break it to you, but the Times pays a lot more than $15 a story.

Demand Studios has benefited from the crummy economy and the woes of newspapers and magazine publishers. Writers who never would have considered writing $15 stories are flocking to the site because they are running out of other options. Simply put, too many magazines and newspapers have shut down or closed off their freelance budgets. Demand Studios is there, eager to take in desperate writers.

Personally, rewrite requests at Demand are driving me crazy. Where are the copy editors who realize that we're all getting paid horrible rates? Why do I keep getting those who think we're writing for some higher good? We're churning out garbage stories for eHow, a site that serves as a depository for some of the most poorly written junk on the Internet. Increasing the quality of the writing on the site is a noble goal. But paying writers $15 a story to do this smacks of a company taking advantage of people desperate to pay their bills.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What about Break Studios?

I've signed up and given Break Studios a try. All I have to say about it is ... eh.

It's fine, I suppose. Maybe I'm burning out, but all the content sites out there feel the same to me these days. The difference with Break Studios is that the topics are generally easier to write than the bizarre title requests you'll find at Demand Studios. The editors at Break aren't as much of a hassle, either.

But then there's the pay and the waiting. First, stories at Break Studios pay $8. That's lousy, again. But the stories are easy to write. I've picked four mortgage titles -- how to refinance your home, how refinance fees are calculated, how credit scores are determined -- and pumped them out quickly. They were all approved.

But it takes forever to get an editor to review titles at Break Studios. The first time I submitted, it took two weeks for someone to look at the story. The last three times it's taken about a week-and-a-half. That's not exactly speedy editing.

Break Studios also pays just once a month. Again, this isn't great. If you miss the monthly cut-off thanks to slow editing times, you'll have to wait until the next month's payoff to get your money.

I'd give Break Studios a "C" grade. The writing's easy. The editors, too. But the pay's too low and the editing and payment times too long.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Demand Studios funny

Most of the copy editors at Demand Studios are smart, talented folk. Really. Don't believe all those Web sites out there that slam them.

But you should believe the rumors that there are certain editors for the site that aren't up to snuff. There aren't many, but there are some. When I run into one of them, I usually abandon the rewrite request. It just isn't worth it; you can't please one of these "special case" editors.

I ran into a funny copy editor situation just this morning at Demand Studios. The editor approved my story, a thrilling one on parking lot laws, but also left me this slightly scolding comment: "A little rough in some places. You'll be find with some more proofing."

Why don't you proof that sentence and tell me how "find" that copy editor is?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Clients: Remember what you're paying

Here's a quick post for anyone out there who hires freelance content writers: Remember what you're paying for the words you're getting.

What I mean by this is that you shouldn't expect New York Times prose when you're paying $4 for a 400-word article. It's not worth freelance writers' time to research such low-paying articles. To make such a job worthwhile, a writer has to be able to pound your $4 article in no more than 10 minutes. Even then, that's only $24 an hour, not a great wage.

So when you do order a $4 400-word article, don't expect breaking news, a jaw-dropping read or to learn something new. Expect something written off the top of a writer's head. After all, that's the only way for a writer to make even a lousy hourly wage.

My new success strategy at Demand Studios

I've been writing pretty heavily for Demand Studios for the past four months. The first three-and-a-half went really well: I concentrated on writing real estate stories, my specialty. I wrote mostly about loan modifications, credit scores, foreclosures, home equity loans and anything to do with real estate.

Then, about two weeks ago, something strange started happening. The good real estate titles dried up. I began stretching. After getting one rejection -- which happened because I tried a topic I knew little about and then botched the job. This was my mistake -- in my first three-and-a-half months, I rapidly got three in a row. This time, all three were because of odd copy editor requests.

This was frustrating. It represented $45 down the drain. Then there were all the odd rewrite requests. It seemed that many of the copy editors editing my real estate stories wanted to me to write stories that were worthy of my work with the Washington Post or Chicago Tribune. Sorry, for $15, Demand Studios isn't getting my best work. It's just not worth it.

So here's my new strategy: I'm only writing lists, and I'm only the writing the simplest of lists, stories that are nearly impossible to get rejected. So far, I've written about gift basket ideas, holiday meal ideas, low-cost laptops, traffic laws in Phoenix, the best birthday presents for teen girls, etc.., These stories take 15 minutes to write, which means that I can pump out four in an hour if I'm working hard. That's $60 an hour; not a bad rate. It also means that I can get my Demand Studios writing out of the way fast on an average workday. I try to write five stories for Demand a day, or $75 worth. (I only write $15 stories.) When I get them out of the way, I can spend the rest of my day writing for my private-client content jobs, newspapers or trade magazines.

So far, I've been at my new Demand Studios strategy for about a week. It's gone quite well. The biggest challenge is finding these easy list titles. But if you're patient enough to wade through them, you'll find things like "romantic gifts for adults." That's as easy a $15 as you're likely to make.