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, resent, despise, and abominate having to pay you. In 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, “Oooh yuck!”
But here’s the irony. Although they know that the written word is crucial to the success of their online business and that even the words comprising the URL of that business can make or break it, they still won’t shell out decent money for web content. Web design, yes. Web content, no.
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.
Funnily enough, 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 scarce and valuable commodities.
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.
Good Writing Is Its Own Reward But Only If You Get Paid for It
Newbie freelance writers tend to believe that website owners are doing them an immense favor 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, but would never use it to take advantage of starry-eyed freelancers.
Perish the thought.
That’s why they concocted pay-per-click and 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. With pay-per-view, writers receive a similar pittance based on the number of people who view their articles.
Ever heard of writers making ample 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 would the proprietor want to share it with writers when paying them outright is a far cheaper option for him?
A one-time payment is just that, but a profit-based payment is ongoing. Also, a one-time payment is less time consuming for him 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 he would bother with this form of payment.
It saves him a ton of dough.
PPC: It’s Like BS But With Three Letters
In 2003, Angela Hoy wrote an article for Writers Weekly on pay-per-click scams—sorry, schemes—in which she provided real-world examples of the Dickensian amounts that freelancers made this way. I was going to research whether the situation had improved over the past 13 years, but an ad touting the pecuniary joys of PPC that was posted recently on a freelance writing jobs website told me everything I needed to know.
I’ve changed the URL in the following 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 one-hundred 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 gives 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 quickly realize 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 Beelzebub in that? Could potentially earn, not will earn, but could potentially earn.
Great horny toads! Not even spending the time and effort to clack out ten articles for this advertiser 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 new to freelancing, 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 fantasy film industries. The guy who ran the site informed me that there was no pay involved but that I could make some money off any Google ads I placed in my articles.
The catch was he would receive a fifty percent cut. And 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 roughly 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 was the length of time I would have had to spend marketing the place. Since when did that become my responsibility? It’s his site, he can bloody well promote it himself!
At this rate, website owners will eventually expect us to degrease their ovens and re-pave their driveways on top of all their other demands. In their estimation, we freelancers sit somewhere between rat dung and a mad scientist’s hunchback assistant.
Check out the interminable list of criteria we have to meet in this writing job ad.
Did you notice that something important is missing from the copy? Something really important.
Yep, that’s right. There’s no mention of how much the successful applicant will be paid. Somehow the advertiser overlooked the fact that writers expect to be remunerated for their services. Considering that litany of requirements, I guess there just wasn’t enough space.
Taking Back the Freelance Writing Biz One Miserly Bastard at a Time
Let’s get one thing straight. A website owner is not doing you a favor by offering you a writing job, and you’re not doing him a favor by accepting that offer. Both you and he are merely engaging in a business transaction from which each is supposed to benefit.
Unfortunately, since there is no shortage of freelancers who will write for just about any price, most website proprietors require defibrillation when you tell them you charge more than a couple of cents per word.
If this lamentable state of affairs is to change, there are a number of things you and every freelance writer must do.
First, recognize that the best writing gigs are rarely advertised. You get those by contacting the editors of online magazines or the admins of popular websites and dazzling them with samples of your writing. Only cheapjack 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 Lexus, you’re barking up the wrong money tree, one that bears little fruit.
Second, never let the bottom end of the market dictate your pay rate. That part of the market has been cornered by people who live in countries where one dollar is the average daily wage. You can’t make a living underbidding them for jobs. Accept only work that pays what you know your writing is worth. If freelancers refused to reduce their pay rates to appease skinflints who want the world for the cost of a Mars Bar, lucrative writing jobs would be plentiful.
Third, don’t be afraid to fail at freelancing. I realize 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 its terrible power over you. Fear begets desperation, and desperation makes you prey to exploitation. Failure I can deal with. But being exploited in the process? Not so much.
Last, the next time you see a writing job ad that includes those accursed letters PPC or that asks you 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 heaps more when I get out on parole.
Stingy website proprietors 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.