Can I Use Content Mill Articles As Writing Credits?

by Anne Wayman

Ask Anne The Pro WriterHi Anne,

I just have one question:

Should I include samples of articles that I have written for Demand Studios that have ended up on eHow on my promotional blog and provide links to them when applying for writing jobs, or does work done for the mills hurt more than help when providing clips to potential clients?

Jan Hill in Comments – Jan blogs at:  raisedwrite

Hi Jan,

This is another of those ‘it depends’ answers, like so much in freelance writing!

First of all, I’m sure there are some editors out there who won’t touch anyone who claims writing for Demand, eHow, and the rest of them on some sort of misguided principle. I wouldn’t worry about them.


My suggestion is to link only to a few, maybe three. Make sure they are the best of your writing. And if you’ve got any other credits, which you do, by all means include those too.

I think you’ve done a great job on your own writing sample page. It’s a great example of handling credits. When I put my editor-hat on, I’d probably just look at the page, maybe click one to make sure it led someplace, and give you the assignment.

Remember, the real reason editors want clips and tear sheets is to be reasonably sure you can complete the writing you contract for.

For those who only have credits so far at the content farms, link to no more than three as samples and work to get published elsewhere ASAP so you can add those to your writing resume.

What’s been your experience listing content mills in your credit list?

[askanne]

[sig]

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/nypl/3110117432/#/

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

allena January 30, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I hire writers, editors, proofreaders and translators…a lot. Will I hire content mill writers? Depends. Sometimes I have a HUGE order of plain out “fluff” content that I get from established clients that I must then sub-contract out. Content mill writers are fine for that. But you know what? When I get the higher pay, higher quality orders, NO…. I go for the higher end writers. So I guess whoever said low pay work begets more low pay work is right.

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Lauri January 28, 2011 at 11:05 pm

@Jan: posting a PDF of an OOP or otherwise unlinkable article is totally legit.

@everyone else: I am an editor who does hire writers and looks at their samples not only to hire them for new projects, but sometimes to republish their previous stuff in anthologies. And I can say for sure that I would never reprint something from a content mill, but definitely, and have, repub’d authoritative, well-argued blog entries. Same goes for samples – blog writing is something to look at, content mill stuff something to dismiss.

The reason why – well, that would probably take up a whole post in itself. Anne, maybe next week? Ha!

~L

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Bill Swan January 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Good writing should be a stand alone trait to look for. Unfortunately where the writing is placed often comes into consideration. If you get a rejection or a rewrite request from a content mill, take that article and put it up on one of the pay-per-view sites such as Triond or Associated Content/Yahoo. Then use the links from those sites with your name attached to them via the by-line.

Also, PDF files are acceptable. I’ve been using this format for awhile because they are easy to download and look at later and everyone can get Adobe Reader. In fact most of my samples that aren’t links to work are in PDF.

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Mark January 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Ooops! Got off track of the article here, hehe. Sorry.

Using the content mill articles as portfolio-filler, innocently enough, shouldn’t be a black mark against any writer, as long as the writing quality is substantiated, but the reality is that many publisher and editors DO hold a bias. For this reason, I say be careful. If a writer decides to used them, s/he should pick and choose which ones to use, make sure they are clean and error-free, that they are saved on PDF format and that the quality is strong. Perhaps having a writer-friend review them first would be helpful. Prepare them for presentation. As for the questionable links, erect the articles on one’s own private space first, then set that in a query. As long as the articles are up-to-par, there should be no problem. Writers should not disclose the name of the content mill or have that name made available in the query. In other words: Use the cleaned up version of the articles to use and discard the identity of the mill. That wouldn’t seem to be necessary anyway.

By the way, Anne, I wanted to ask you: Do blogs themselves serve as viable forms of writing samples? If asked for a writing sample or two, is it perfectly acceptable to include the URL to one’s own blog or two? Why or why not? These DO provide samples of writing style and ability.
Mark recently posted..Research and Influence 1b- Echoes from the Past- Urban Legends Brought to LifeMy Profile

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annew January 31, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Mark, I’ve certainly used my blogs as samples – I’ll bet there are editors who love ‘em and editors who hate ‘em. There’s no way to please everyone and imo you lose by trying.

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Mark January 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Anne,

I must say that I agree with you. With regards to me experience dealing with content mills, I can honestly relate to all the questionable attributes involved: poor pay, snow pitching, deceptiveness, stigma of association, etc. This is more than enough to cause a serious writer to cry aggravation and discouragement.

The sheer number of these content mills is growing both vastly and quickly to the point that it seems hard to avoid them online. This is one reason I would suggest to any writer to stay away from writing lists. For good paying gigs, one should look into reputable publications like magazines, journals, publishing companies (large and small, although getting accepted by smaller houses might be easier), even maybe personal websites that are their own entities and seeking writers. This latter may or mat not pay premium, but at least they aren’t content mills and they tend to take quality seriously since they value the reputation of their own personal sites.

I think I also pointed out the problem with regards to hourly pay when hours are not easy to discern from the onset. That one young lady about also made a great point regarding hours rates when submitted articles might or might not be accepted at a site that pays per article *shakes head* As I said before hourly rates depend on the writer’s particular set of circumstances and the type of gig one has. Publishing pays per word.

As for DS, believe me, I have heard more than an earful on this. This company has grown fast and seems to have corned the market as far as web content goes. How can a serious online writer avoid them, aside from what I have already mentioned in my response? One thing that makes me wary is the “pay-per-hit” system, which translates as: “you will get paid nothing-to-little and ONLY if your article gets hits, no telling if or when that will ever happen.” That means you put yourself in THEIR hands with no guarantees. More often than not writers who have engaged in this kind of pay system never sees a dime for their efforts, although a couple here and there have claimed success. What is it with online entrepreneurs who think it is perfectly all right to collect on a writer’s work while the writer gets garbage or nothing? This seems to be the case at DS, although I won’t swear to it, only going my what I have read and heard already. I prefer to maintain control over my business where I set the rates or an established pay total is determined at the onset. This way, I know I will get paid and I know WHAT I will get paid.

In any case, great article. Very insightful and both eye-opening and supportive. I like reading your articles. :-)

Mark

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annew January 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Glad you like the articles here Mark. It will be interesting to see where content is in another 5 years.

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Carol Tice January 27, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I’ve never heard an editor say they would even glance at mill clips. But certainly if you’re pitching small businesses, they’re much less aware of the origins of these things, and good writing could win the day.

And as Deb says — write your best. And get other clips elsewhere, even if you just write a free sample about your own business! Start fleshing it out with other clips and gradually drop the mill ones out, soon as you can.
Carol Tice recently posted..Top 10 Articles for Writers — January 2011My Profile

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annew January 31, 2011 at 11:58 am

Yes, and you can also write articles on your own website as Carol suggests… you do have a website, right?

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Jan Hill January 31, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I have a blog, but not a website. Do I need both?

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annew February 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm

No, you don’t need both… I now like the blog form for a website because it’s easier to update… haven’t converted mine yet, may never.

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Wendy S. Johnson January 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm

I’ve had clients that would not accept clips from those kinds of sites. I’ve also had clients turn me down for jobs because they felt those articles were not a good fit for their needs. It’s not something I recommend, but to each his own.

I, personally, would think that ehow is not a very good site to use for clips unless you’re pitching to sites that use the same format. Writing creativity is hard to show with the articles that are published there. But, that’s my opinion.

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annew January 31, 2011 at 11:57 am

Wendy, have you ever had clients hire you because of those clips?

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annew January 27, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Jenn Mattern of Allfreelancewriting.com says:

Jan,

I have to agree with Lori on this one. Low paying gigs most often beget other low paying gigs. If that’s the kind of career you want, then by all means go for it and there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t fall into the misguided mindset that says you should work for mills because it will lead to something better later on. That’s the same garbage webmasters used to feed the $5 article writers. And do you know what the reality is? You’re replaceable. When you ask them for a raise, you’re gone and the next writer willing to work for peanuts is in.

Who you associate with — like it or not — does have some effect on your professional reputation. I’m sure there are some fantastic writers who work for Demand, and I have no doubt that every one of them in that category could do much better in a business sense if they wanted to and put in the work. Would you write for an adult site and use that in your portfolio for unrelated work just because the writing itself is solid? Would you write for a gambling site? How about one essentially supporting illegal drug use? Did you know Demand’s had articles like that “slip through?” And by that I mean they were called out on it, it was removed, and it mysteriously is now just relocated to a different URL on their site. It’s up to you who you associate with in business. If you’re okay with lax morals in coverage areas (not simple slip-ups when it was already exposed and dealt with once), then do whatever you want. It’s about what you’re comfortable with.

You don’t have to be associated with sites that publish five articles on the same generic topic for Adsense revenue. Those are called MFA (Made for Adsense) sites and they’ve been against Google’s terms of years. The tech community is finally waking up to it now too, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Demand take a major hit in the next year to two years at most. And when their reputation takes another hit, so does that of everyone choosing to work with them. You can do better.

There are many ways to build clips without writing for low paying clients. One of my favorite for new writers is to contact local branches of your favorite charities. Offer to do a project or two for free or for a lower price if you must (doing it for free gives you PR benefits if you know how to harness them, but that only works with nonprofits). You can also create mock pieces, articles or copy for your own freelance business that you can showcase, or swap services with someone else (articles for Web design maybe) and use the pieces if your portfolio.

Writing in very low paying markets does nothing to help most writers grow their careers. You’ll hear stories of exceptions. I know, because I used to be an editor with one of these networks paid to tout those exceptions. And Demand’s execs are masters at that spin game. All it really does is tell future prospects that you value your work at $15. And if that’s the message you send them, you really have no right to complain when they’re not willing to pay significantly more than that. No one will truly value your work as a professional writer unless you do first.

(and yeah, I’m working on why she can’t post herself.)

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Jenn Mattern January 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm

And actually, just by pulling up that drug-related article (telling you how to get away with illegal drug use by trying to trick the drug tests), I came across two more. And that was without even looking — just popped up in the sidebar. So yeah… know what kind of sites you’re associating with if you have any respect for yourself at all as a professional. If you go into it, at least do so with your eyes wide open. And just for reference, here are links to those three. I wonder how many more are floating around in there after their supposed clean-up. They can’t even play the member vs contributor game either — these come from both.

http://www.ehow.com/how_5035808_pass-opiate-drug-test.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_5637395_pass-army-drug-test.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_4533373_easily-pass-drug-test.html

It’s always nice to know what you’re putting your name behind when you support a site with a business model that encourages this kind of garbage.
Jenn Mattern recently posted..Make Your Writing Funny- Improving Diction of HumorMy Profile

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annew January 27, 2011 at 8:32 pm

and Jenn adds this:

And actually, just by pulling up that drug-related article (telling you how to get away with illegal drug use by trying to trick the drug tests), I came across two more. And that was without even looking — just popped up in the sidebar. So yeah… know what kind of sites you’re associating with if you have any respect for yourself at all as a professional. If you go into it, at least do so with your eyes wide open. And just for reference, here are links to those three. I wonder how many more are floating around in there after their supposed clean-up. They can’t even play the member vs contributor game either — these come from both.

http://www.ehow.com/how_5035808_pass-opiate-drug-test.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_5637395_pass-army-drug-test.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_4533373_easily-pass-drug-test.html

It’s always nice to know what you’re putting your name behind when you support a site with a business model that encourages this kind of garbage.

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Lori January 27, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Hate to disagree, but the sad fact is published work from content mills are not looked upon favorably by editors or clients. Too many times writers have been told if they include these links in their samples, their emails will be deleted.

Instead, I’d be looking for work that pays infinitely better and allows you some clips from more reputable sources.
Lori recently posted..Knee DeepMy Profile

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annew January 31, 2011 at 11:45 am

Interesting, we’ve ended up with a debate about this… who knew!

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Jan Hill January 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Wow, no kidding!!! I sure didn’t, but thanks for all the great insight! I went through my writing samples this weekend, and was surprised to discover that I really do have a lot of work that was not done for the mills (As you said, Anne). I revamped my writing samples page on my blog and was also able to figure out how to link to a PDF…you learn something new every day :) Thanks everyone!
Jan Hill recently posted..Employment Law-Get Your Game Face OnMy Profile

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annew February 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

See? We all learn, all the time.

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Jan Hill January 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Thank you for taking the time to thoroughly answering my question! In reading blogs about the content mills, I sometimes get the feeling that if you admit to doing any writing for them at all, you’re strapping on some sort of “scarlet letter” that will prevent you from getting better assignments. It’s really the proverbial “I can’t get work without experience, but how can I get experience without working??” I’m glad you think I’m on the right track with the writing sample page of my blog. I’m thinking of scanning a copy of an article that I wrote a few years ago for a legal magazine and adding it to that page–the article is not available online so I cannot link to it. Any thoughts on putting PDFs on a sample page?

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Jenn Mattern January 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm

Jan,

I have to agree with Lori on this one. Low paying gigs most often beget other low paying gigs. If that’s the kind of career you want, then by all means go for it and there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t fall into the misguided mindset that says you should work for mills because it will lead to something better later on. That’s the same garbage webmasters used to feed the $5 article writers. And do you know what the reality is? You’re replaceable. When you ask them for a raise, you’re gone and the next writer willing to work for peanuts is in.

Who you associate with — like it or not — does have some effect on your professional reputation. I’m sure there are some fantastic writers who work for Demand, and I have no doubt that every one of them in that category could do much better in a business sense if they wanted to and put in the work. Would you write for an adult site and use that in your portfolio for unrelated work just because the writing itself is solid? Would you write for a gambling site? How about one essentially supporting illegal drug use? Did you know Demand’s had articles like that “slip through?” And by that I mean they were called out on it, it was removed, and it mysteriously is now just relocated to a different URL on their site. It’s up to you who you associate with in business. If you’re okay with lax morals in coverage areas (not simple slip-ups when it was already exposed and dealt with once), then do whatever you want. It’s about what you’re comfortable with.

You don’t have to be associated with sites that publish five articles on the same generic topic for Adsense revenue. Those are called MFA (Made for Adsense) sites and they’ve been against Google’s terms of years. The tech community is finally waking up to it now too, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Demand take a major hit in the next year to two years at most. And when their reputation takes another hit, so does that of everyone choosing to work with them. You can do better.

There are many ways to build clips without writing for low paying clients. One of my favorite for new writers is to contact local branches of your favorite charities. Offer to do a project or two for free or for a lower price if you must (doing it for free gives you PR benefits if you know how to harness them, but that only works with nonprofits). You can also create mock pieces, articles or copy for your own freelance business that you can showcase, or swap services with someone else (articles for Web design maybe) and use the pieces if your portfolio.

Writing in very low paying markets does nothing to help most writers grow their careers. You’ll hear stories of exceptions. I know, because I used to be an editor with one of these networks paid to tout those exceptions. And Demand’s execs are masters at that spin game. All it really does is tell future prospects that you value your work at $15. And if that’s the message you send them, you really have no right to complain when they’re not willing to pay significantly more than that. No one will truly value your work as a professional writer unless you do first.

Reply

annew January 31, 2011 at 11:54 am

Oh lordy Jenn, I’ve never said anyone should write for the mills. I have said selling a couple or three articles to them can get you some credit. It’s a temporary thing. I believe that if you can sell to the mills you can begin to move on up, you’ve just got to do it.

Agree re associations.

Your suggestion re writing for free for charities is a good one. I make a similar point in http://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/2009/01/no-writing-clips-no-problem/

BTW, glad we got it so you can post here… and I’m glad to see you.

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Deb Ng January 27, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Hi Jan,

If I was ever turned down for a job because I used a content site clip, I’m not aware of it. However, I can tell you about plenty of places who hired me with these clips. I think as Anne said, “it depends.” Most editors will (and should ) judge you on how well you write. However, there are plenty who are prejudicial towards content sites and can’t see past that to hire the writer, regardless of how well he or she writes. Because, let’s face it, there are some bad writers from content sites too.

Additionally, some veteran writers and journalists use content site clips to supplement their income and they’re still finding work. So, yes, it depends. And while I agree that you should always strive to do better and earn more, I never believe you should be ashamed of where you got your start.
Deb Ng recently posted..The Sad Reality of the Snow Day for Telecommuting ParentsMy Profile

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annew January 31, 2011 at 11:43 am

I think making a pdf available is a good idea even if no one ever bothers to look at it. It shows your versatility.

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Toni Star January 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Jan’s writing sample page is wonderful and is something that I might do. Deb also has some good points on writers and being judged on “where you were published.”

Very good article for today and as always, wonderful writer opportunities..

Thank you, Anne..

Toni
Toni Star recently posted..Check out my new book- The Twisted Life of Julia KnightMy Profile

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annew January 31, 2011 at 11:42 am

I liked Jan’s sample page too.

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Elizabeth West February 2, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Ooh, me too. And she’s got wiseGEEK; I’m writing for them too!

I’m going to go home and make a better Read Me page for my blog like hers. I do have a .pdf of a story but it’s not a scanned version of the magazine (which isn’t online). Maybe I should do that instead of having just the pages on there.
Elizabeth West recently posted..These Are a Few of My Favorite BooksMy Profile

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Deb Ng January 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I feel that if you’re a good writer your talent will shine through regardless of where you’re published. I feel writers should use the best clips they have to show their experience. Period. Any publisher who judges on where you were published over how good a writer you are is probably in the wrong line of work.
Deb Ng recently posted..The Sad Reality of the Snow Day for Telecommuting ParentsMy Profile

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annew January 31, 2011 at 11:42 am

Exactly.

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