If you’re a freelance writer, I’m going to tell you something you already know.
Website owners hate having to pay you to write content for them.
They hate, detest, loathe, despise, resent, abhor, and abominate having to pay you. As a matter of fact, if they had a choice between paying you a fair price for web content or dining on the scum scraped from the bottom of a slaughterhouse dumpster, they’d be tucking in a table napkin faster than you could say, “Ooh yuck!”
Website owners know only too well that the success of their online business hinges upon the written word. They know that even the words comprising the URL of their website can make or break their website. Yet the greatest weapon in their marketing arsenal is the very thing they’ll walk miles on broken glass in bare feet with a bottle of nitro held between their knees to avoid shelling out money for. They’ll pay top dollar for web design but not web content.
Why is that?
Because, to them, words are just things we writers pluck out of the neuron-spangled ether between our ears. We have a limitless supply of them, they don’t cost us a cent to produce, and just about anybody can line up a few of them to form something approximating a coherent sentence.
As irony would have it, they’re right on all counts. However, and this is a big however, they fail to appreciate—or refuse to appreciate—that writing well ain’t easy. It’s a skill that takes years to hone and perfect, if indeed it can be perfected. Moreover, bad writers outnumber good writers by the same margin that soldier ants outnumber the Loch Ness Monster. This makes good writers a scarce and valuable commodity.
Good Writing Is Its Own Reward But Only If You Get Paid for It
The point is if you’re a good writer, you’re worth the fee you charge your clients, or the fee you’d like to charge your clients. You’re worth it even if you don’t have any clients yet.
Now, don’t go confusing good writers with successful writers, because not all good writers are successful, and not all successful writers are good. I’ve read articles in esteemed magazines like Rolling Stone and The New Yorker that would have been more spellbinding if they’d been written by a head of lettuce. Successful writers are sometimes just lucky writers.
Newbie freelance writers tend to think website owners are doing them an immense favor just by publishing their articles. The validating rush that comes from seeing their work posted on a popular website—or one they’ve been led to believe is popular—is enough for them to give it away or sell it for next to nix. Many website owners know this and use that knowledge to take advantage of starry-eyed freelancers.
One way they diddle writers out of proper remuneration is through pay per click or pay per view schemes. With pay per click, writers receive a trifling percentage of revenue based on the number of people who click on ads embedded in their articles. Pay per view works much the same way, except payment is based on the number of people who view their articles, and the remuneration is
Ever heard of a freelance writer making decent money through these schemes?
Neither have I.
Nevertheless, these schemes flourish like bacteria in a sushi joint run by the walking dead, because gullible writers swallow the marketing salmonella that’s dished up with them.
If a website is making a healthy profit, why on earth would the owner want to share it with writers when paying them outright is a far cheaper option? A one-time payment is just that, but a profit-based payment is ongoing. Also, a one-time payment is less time consuming for the website owner to organize, whereas a profit-based payment requires some calculation and substantiation on his part. Multiply all that work by the number of writers creating content for his website, and the profit-based model becomes a real nail in the tail.
There is only one reason a website owner would bother with this form of payment.
It saves him a ton of dough.
BS: It’s Like PPC But With Two Letters
Angela Hoy wrote an article on the pay-per-click scam—no apologies from me for calling it a scam—in which she supplied some spirit-squishing examples of the typical amounts of money writers made this way. That was back in 2003. I was going to research whether the situation had improved over the past 13 years, but an ad touting the pecuniary joys of PPC posted recently on a freelance writing jobs website told me everything I needed to know. I’ve changed the name of the URL in the first excerpt to protect the guilty.
Ipitythefoolwhowritesforus.com is currently seeking up to 100 News Writers to join our rapidly expanding team of writers.
Wow! That’s a heaping helping of writers, huh? Traffic to this website must be virtual fender to virtual fender to warrant a call for so many scribes.
As of this writing, the website’s global Alexa ranking is 1,147,221, and its USA ranking is 959,839. To put those figures in perspective, if the Internet were the Boston Marathon, the website would have come eighth last, though the ad left yours truly with the impression that it had beaten Google for first place.
So why the need for 100 writers?
To replace the steady outflow of writers who’ve realized that the PPC method of payment is a gyp.
You will be expected to write at least 5-10 posts a week, although the more you write, the more you could potentially earn.
Did you catch the devil in that? Could potentially earn, not will earn but could potentially earn.
Great horny toads! Not even going to all the trouble of clacking out 10 articles for this mob is a guarantee of anything resembling a financial reward.
Would people in other professions put up with such patently exploitative crap?
But many freelance writers do.
We’re Looking for People Who Like to Write and Do Our Gardening
When I was starting out as a freelancer, I enquired about a job writing articles for one of those nerd news websites, which report on all the latest gossip in the comic book, gaming, and film worlds. The guy who ran the site informed me that there was no pay involved but that I could make some money off Google ads I placed in my articles. There was just one catch. He would get a fifty percent cut. He added that I was expected to promote my articles and the site itself on social media and anywhere else online that would have me.
I worked out that if I wrote 100 articles a year, I’d earn something in the region of twenty bucks. That’s twenty bucks per year, not per article. This is because the type of people, i.e. nerds, that frequent the site use ad-blocking software and would never see the ads, much less click on them. Then there’s all the time I’d have to spend marketing the [insert really filthy expletive here] place. Since when did that become my responsibility? It’s his site, he can bloody well promote it himself!
It won’t be long before website owners expect us writers to degrease their ovens and re-pave their driveways on top of all their other demands. To them, we sit somewhere between rat dung and a mad scientist’s hunchback assistant.
Take a gander at the interminable list of criteria writers must meet in this job ad.
Did you notice that something important is missing from the copy?
Nowhere in all that text is there even the teensiest hint of how much money the successful applicant will get. Somehow the advertiser overlooked the fact that writers actually expect to be paid for their services. Considering that litany of requirements, I guess there just wasn’t enough space.
Where Would Writers Be If It Wasn’t for Cheap-Jack Writing Gigs?
People in the market for a freelance writer think they’re granting you a fabulous but richly undeserved favor simply by offering you work, when all they’re doing is advertising a need they have for a service you can supply. They’re not doing you a favor by placing the ad, and you’re not doing them a favor by responding to it. Both parties are merely engaging in a business transaction from which each is supposed to benefit.
Unfortunately, some new freelancers will write for just about any price. This is why content mills like Elance are thriving and why website owners need defibrillation when you tell them you charge more than two cents per word.
Taking Back the Freelance Writing Biz One Miserly Bastard at a Time
If this regrettable state of affairs is to change, there are a number of things every freelance writer must do.
First, recognize that the best writing jobs are rarely advertised. You get those by contacting the editors of online magazines or the admins of super-duper popular websites and dazzling them with some scintillating writing samples. Only the lowest-paying, least glamorous writing jobs come looking for you. If you want to make pizza and beer money from freelancing, those sorts of gigs are fine. But if you want to make enough to buy a top-of-the-range Lexus, you’re barking up the wrong money tree. One that bears little fruit.
Second, you should always charge your clients what you know your writing is worth, not what the market dictates, a market unduly influenced by skinflints and people living in the Third World who, if they can make two dollars per day, are earning twice their country’s average daily wage. If writers refused to lower their pay rates to appease website owners out to save a buck, there would be a hell of a lot more profitable writing jobs on offer.
Third, don’t be afraid to fail at freelancing. I realize that this is the last thing you want to read in an article on freelance writing, but there is an upside to it. Once you accept that your dream of earning a living as a writer might not come true, fear of failure loses all of its terrible power over you. Fear begets desperation, and desperation makes you prey to exploitation. I can deal with failure but not with being exploited in the process.
Last, the next time you see a freelance-writers-wanted ad that includes those accursed letters PPC or that is asking writers to work for practically nothing, send the advertiser a creatively abusive email. Don’t write anything that will land you in prison. Just let him know that when you think of pus, you think of him. I’ve had tremendous fun doing this and hope to have more when I get out on parole.
But seriously, stingy website owners will continue to use and abuse writers until you, me, we call them on their flim-flam. With any luck, the gales of protest they cop will encourage them to renounce their evil ways and go back to doing more honest work, like fencing stolen goods or running drugs across the border.