Four Ways to Fail as a Writer

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ImageDuring the time in my attempt at being a freelance writer, I have come across lots of good and bad advice. The bad advice boils down to four ways you can fail as a writer. The good advice I’ll let you discover on your own.

1.      Listen to everyone else but never listen to yourself. Anyone can tell you what they think you should be writing. You are the only one who knows what you like to write or are good at writing. Listen to other people, but also align it with what you hear from yourself. Always take your own counsel along with others. Thinking that anyone else who offers opinion and advice has been there and is a success is a certain path to a dead end. While there are writers who have succeeded and are worth listening to, there are a great number more people who have only an “idea”, or a “system”, or a “method” of what it takes to be a writer without ever succeeding as a writer at all. Along the same line are those who have specialized in something such as books and magazines and think there is no other way to write.

2.      Thinking that writing isn’t an art requiring practice. All creative work requires practice to maintain the creative ability. Carpenters must build, painters must paint, and writers must write – constantly and consistently or they get rusty. The hands hurt, the mind forgets, and the excuses around doing it increase each day. One day becomes two, then four, then two weeks and suddenly you haven’t written for months. Now when you go to write the inspiration and will to write is hard to locate. Similar to the old saying “a body at rest tends to stay at rest”, a mind allowed to rest tends to get lazy too.

3.      Never bother knowing what’s out there outside your own space. No one knows everything. There is always something new you can learn about something from someone or somewhere else. Reading is one of the best methods to learn style, grammar (both good and bad), citation methods and what is hot or not at the moment. Talking to people about their lives provides insight on thoughts and ideas of others. You also get a glimpse of problems and potential solutions – problem solving always sells if you find enough people with similar problems. New and fresh perspectives are always found daily if you bother to look for them. New perspectives allow a fresh approach to writing, which in turn keeps it from becoming, stale and boring.

4.      Thinking that all you need to do is write to be successful. Freelance writing is as much about marketing yourself as it is about creating the product. Unfortunately many writers fail to see their work as a product that must be sold. Thinking that all you need do is write and it will sell itself is folly, a fantasy. No one is going to come along and tell you your work is so great they’ll pour hours into marketing it for you with no help from you. Another part of this is that if you aren’t excited about writing enough to tell people about your latest work – why are you writing? Even copywriters tell people about their latest client or project.

This list honestly comes from a few years of being given “advice” by those around me who thought they knew the subject they were speaking of. That includes fellow writers unfortunately – so no one is immune.

“Take what you will, and leave the rest” – it’s a saying from another aspect of my life. It holds true in any part of any persons life, writer or not. Take what you find useful, but understand how to determine garbage and be willing to leave that behind.

Internet Writing Pay Scales

There is something I discovered about writing recently. And I didn’t even think about this being possible, let alone the possibility that it is true. There is, out on the internet, something I want to call “minimum wage” writing.

No, it’s not sloppy writing, or hacked writing, or even lazy writing. The term “minimum wage” writing refers to writing for very low payment. Actually, it’s only one step above trying to live for page view pennies from the content sites. But yet there are people out there earning a weekly paycheck with writing for low payment.

Okay, so what am I talking about? There are jobs out there which pay basically under a penny per word, with an expectation of roughly 3,000 or more words per day. Go onto any job site offering writing work and you will find them easily enough. These are the people who pay $3 per 400-600 words or even $1.50 per 400 words. In places like India this is considered good pay. In places such as the US or UK, this is extremely cheap.

Now, when I first started writing for the internet, I took a few of these jobs thinking that is all there was. I did finally find one client who pays a reasonable rate, and on time, for internet writing. I’m still with him.

I’ll give you an example of the pay range I’ve found over the past three months.

  • Associated Content, Helium, Triond and sites like this – $1,50 per 1,000 page views. (it takes about 10 page views to earn a penny)
  • Private content providers – this is where you find the penny per word, or sometimes less, crowd
  • Information sites like eHow – these guys are in the upper end ranging around $15 per article (if they accept it).
  • About.com – this site hires people who are called “guides”. The pay range is $750 to start for what amounts to four articles per month and 12 blog entries a week. But here’s the catch; you better know what you are writing along with the how, what, why and be as close to an expert as you can with what you write.

Now, on top of this I found out that the internet is actually low pay overall compared to other writing. I found this entirely by accident. If you compare say, magazine writing to internet writing you have a 10:1 ratio. This means if you wrote a 2,000 word piece for a magazine you might end up with $400; but the same 2,000 words on the internet would only grab $40. I’m guessing it has something to do with ad revenue and income streams.

But this whole thing gets me wondering. There are people out there who think they are making good money writing for a penny per word, and yet there are opportunities for .25 per word if you look for them. The tradeoff is this – the penny per word is pretty much guaranteed money while the magazine usually only pays on publication (which you have no idea or control over when).

So my guess is that it would be better to start out making limited income to learn all there is, like a minimum wage job; then start looking for other avenues and begin your research of those areas. Just try not to quit too early when the big money isn’t there yet.

Be Aware When Being Paid

I know this topic has been covered somewhere before.  But, since I am now currently going through it myself, I figured I’d write about it firsthand.  Maybe that would help give someone else a better idea of what it feels like. 

Lately I’ve been picking up a few writing gigs that looked promising.  There were a few jobs on the writing boards that I applied to, and two of them got back to me.  One was for rewriting news stories into my own words, kind of fun.  The other was work in Keyword Density and that was interesting since that kind of work is simply writing a piece around certain words.  The first job got submitted on time, but then I never heard from the guy again.  So no pay there.  The second job was submitted yesterday.  I’m still waiting for word from that gig to see if there were any problems. 

Tip: be aware of possible problems if the person you are working with suddenly stops emailing or communicating with you after you submit your work.  This either means a “hit and run” where they never meant to pay.  Or, the pay is delayed and there will be a hard time collecting.

Another job that I had two months ago also looked promising.  This job was for continuing work dealing with generic topics and research.  The people who commisioned the job would send me a list of topics to write about, usually five items, and then I’d have X number of days to submit.  All went well at first, and the money would show up about a week later.  Then the money slowed down, and then stopped completely.  But the list of work kept coming right on time. 

Tip: If at any time the income from a job begins to slow down or gets delayed, beware.  Watch to see if the delays are reasonable or if they seem to get progressively longer.  Inquire about delays if they get over two weeks without any word as to why.  Be polite. 

Tip: Always, always, keep record of any information concerning payment for work that you do.  Keep track of how much each article is worth, and try to lock down a deadline for payment. 

Another trick I’ve caught recently is when people do not put any pay information in the ad, nor do they tell you it will be for exposure only.  My feeling on this is that these people are looking for writers who are so eager or so despirate to write for anything that they can get.  The trick here is simple; get the writer onto the job then either don’t pay and explain that it was for exposure only, or simply grab the work and run away. 

Tip: Be very cautious of ads and posts that don’t specify how much they are willing to pay for your services.  Usually no mention of payment means no payment.

The last type of ad that I’ve been running into within the past two weeks, are the ads that tell you to state your pay rate.  This may sound fine, and you probably think you can get some good money since you are naming your own price.  This is not always true; especially since what you think your words are worth is almost never what the job poster thinks words are worth.

Tip: Look around the job boards, and see what the going rate per word is.  It’s going to look very small.  I’ll warn you of that now.  Most jobs go out for about a penny a word; and a slim few go out for more unless you have a proven record or it’s a steady full time job offer.  An example of the going rates that I’ve seen are $2.50 for 250 words, or $5.00 for 500-600 words.  I have seen jobs go out for $1.50 per 400 words and I’m not sure of the reasoning behind that yet. 

Another type of job that I picked up once was a job I know I will never try for again until I am sure I have the time.  The job was posted on the usual job boards, and wanted about 50-75 articles of 250 words a week.  The pay amounted to about $25 per 10 articles written I believe.  The problem, I came to realize, was that the research I needed to do took up more hours in the day than I had the time for at that point.  There is a related type of work I’ve seen as well.  Jobs wanting about 10 SEO articles written per day.  For me, I need about half an hour to write a good keyworded article without doing any research.  That alone is 5 hours of work per day.  This is why I don’t do these types of articles.     

Tip: Always be aware of what you are able to do in a certain time frame.  Some of these little jobs out there seem to pay good or great.  But the amount of work, or the deadline may not be worth the attempt to get quality work out in time.  Ask yourself if you have the time.

One last bit of work that is related to the above and which you may come across.  I answered an ad once where someone was looking to add writers onto her staff to complete assignments.  She seemed professional at first, even had a nice website set up.  What made this a pipedream is when, after the person had found about four people to work, it was revealed in an email that she wouldn’t be able to pay anybody up front.  Payment would come after awhile when she picked up enough clients.  This is a person who decided to set up a ‘writers service’, go out and look for tons of work, then farm it out and hope to get paid enough.  A few jobs came in, but were mostly the type mentioned above with many articles needed in short order.  Needless to say, the ‘writers service’ didn’t last more than a couple of months.  The website went down about a month ago, and I haven’t heard anything since.

Tip: Be aware that there are people out there, just like you, trying to grab as much work as possible.  Not every ‘company’ is an actual business.  Some of the jobs out there are from other writers who got too much work for themselves and now need to farm it out fast to get paid. 

These are just a few of the things I’ve come across within the last six months or so.  I’m sure there are more out there, I just haven’t seen them yet.  If a great job comes along, usually it will be from someplace OTHER than a job board; usually it comes from referalls or from someone who liked work you did for them before. 

Writing – Putting One Foot In Front Of The Other

The one thing that I have noticed since deciding to be a writer, is that there are so many people out there looking for “how-to” and so many more offering simple words of advice.  Words like “just sit down and write”; or “give it time” when it comes to earning money; or the famous “write what you know”.  What I haven’t noticed, or rather have noticed a lack of, is the number of people who can take you from the very beginning right up to where they are today. 

So, here’s how I came to write this.  First I asked myself some basic simple questions. 

1. Do I want to write, or do I want to write for money? 

2. Do I enjoy the writing enough not to really care if I earn any real pennies for it?

3. Do I want to write my own stuff, or do I want to be handed topics and simply write what I am asked to?

I’ve come to the conclusion that, for right now, yes it doesn’t matter how many pennies I can make at this.  I want to write.  I know that money won’t come easy, it never does when you want something to live off of.  But I want to write.  It doesn’t matter if I can afford it or not, it’s what I must do to make any happiness in my life.  It is what makes sense of things to me.  It gives me something to look forward to each day.  I’m not looking to be the next Tom Clancy; I just want to be me for right now.

Yes, I can write. Hell I can write all day if I didn’t have to do the day job to earn a living.  And that’s my goal eventually; to get to do what I want and earn enough of it to stay alive.  Right now, I’d be happy getting up to $1,000 a month as a writer.  That would pretty much replace my income at the JOB.  Yes, I make next to nothing.  But, to get there, as with any “business”, it will take lots of work and time.  So for now I go out and look for ways to get my name out there.  A writer needs exposure, the exposure gains the first few pennies.  And yes, it’s like the snowball analogy – it gets bigger and better along the way.  Well, I am just starting with the tiny snowball.  Let’s hope it gets bigger. 

For now I’ve started with three PPV sites; Triond, Helium, and Associated Content.  I’ve got about eleven articles on Helium with a total of 95 cents earned thus far (I’ve only been on for a couple of months).  Triond has about six articles; and as of today, I earned my first penny there.  I’m still waitig for approval of content from AC.  But, before you all go “so”, it’s a start.  I’ve got published credits to my name, ever so small they may be.  Right now I’m going for all the exposure I can get.  I’ve begun building my own website as well.  And for now, it rests comfortably on Tripod as a free site.  Yes, there are banners and it may not be “professional” for a lot of people, but just starting out you go with what you can for as little as possible. 

I’ve also managed to get a blog here, and another on America Talks Back.  This may eventually lead somewhere, or maybe not.  I just like to write about things that interest me some days.  There’s also my MySpace blog.  I use that for offbeat comments and observations. 

For work, I go to Online-Writing-Jobs which is a free job board for writers.  There’s a link to that someplace around here.  And while the “free” part means low pay or no pay jobs, it still gives the writer some access to work.  I check in there about twice a week or so.  If you apply to a few jobs there, something will come to you.  Keep the emails flowing out and someone will get back to you with an assignment.  Just watch what you apply for, and make sure you can handle the work.  Then, as with any business endevor, any income you get, reinvest it into getting more work.  If you gain enough to afford a subscription to another work site, get it.  That’s my next move.  Then the plan is to keep sending emails and keep getting more work.  Meanwhile, I’m writing more articles for the PPV sites and blogging to keep my writing fresh and flowing.  Also, I’m in the middle of trying to get onto a couple of sites as a columist or contributor.  Yes, again, it may be for no pay – but the whole game starts with exposure.  I know enough from being in business; no one will care if they don’t know you’re there. 

So there you have it, my first few steps trying to make writing move from simple hobby and loveable pastime, to something more.  I don’t know how long it’s going to take; and in a way, I don’t really care.  Some days it will matter more than others I’m sure.  But for now, if you are a real writer, just writing can be enough.  It just makes the day feel better.