How to Make Content Mills Pay You in More Ways Than Once

by Anne Wayman

content mills for writersBy Bill Swan

When I first started writing full-time I went the usual route that many writers take – look online for paid writing jobs. The first two things you always find are content mills and job bidding sites. While neither type of work is compatible to a living wage or even minimum wage, the content mills bring steady income. This you find very quickly after applying for writing jobs via eLance or similar bidding sites.

Once I figured this out I soon found Content Gurus and Demand Studios (now calling themselves Demand Media). These are two of the bigger content mills with Demand Media being the biggest out there because of sheer size and volume. I thought I hit pay dirt when I got accepted at Demand. You could pick your own topics, write at your own pace (within their deadline schedule) and get paid weekly without fail – score! This was when Demand only paid on Fridays, and to a newbie web writer this seems ideal.

After awhile I realized that turning out basic boilerplate articles for a whopping $15 a pop wasn’t all it seemed. I began calculating the time use against the pay rate and realized I was sliding backwards. Between the research, writing, re-writing and time spent actually finding titles to write from their queue I knew I could do better.

So, how did the content mills pay me other than in a monetary sense? Freedom, time, and a free education.

Let’s take one thing at a time.

Freedom

Freedom. I no longer had to get up and work for someone else. I had the ability to get up and work for myself. My writing job was to generate enough income to support myself with my own will and power. The old ads from Demand touted being able to work where and when I wanted. The trick is to work smarter – not harder.

Time

Time management. Yes, you do get paid to sit around and punch keys. The content mills only pay for work they accept after you submit it. If you write it, and they don’t accept it, you don’t get paid. At least by them. Here’s where time management comes into play. You already did the work of researching and writing the article – tossing it aside and writing new work is like providing free time and labor. Finding another way to make the writing pay is a key element to maximizing time. When an article is rejected by the content mill, you still retain the rights to it. You have the right to take that article and put it someplace else that will make you money. Part of time management for writers is making sure every minute is a paid minute in one form or another. When I got my first rejections from Demand I honestly felt like I just lost money.

Around the same time I also found the pay-per-click sites such as Associated Content (now Yahoo Contributor Network). Long story short – I took my rejected work and put it up on those sites. I figured I’d at least get something back from the content mills. Then came a twist I didn’t know about when first starting my online writing career – some sites pay upfront and page views. Score again! This is when I discovered AC paid a couple of bucks for work before publishing it. Yes, it was only $3 on average per article, but I also recovered a third of the money I thought I’d lost. Then I discovered Bright Hub. These guys pay $10 per article and page views. Again, not glamorous by any means – but still worth looking at when recouping a rejected article. I just did a comparison of average monthly income since I started in 2008. Those rejected articles have since paid for themselves and I’ve recovered anything I would have lost. That is only part of the free education I got thus far.

Free Education

Free education. What job gives you a free education where you can actually become an expert in a field of your own choosing? Writing jobs do exactly that. While working for Demand and others I have done enough research to gain a good understanding of an array of topics. Because of this knowledge I was able to move myself up the pay scale and gain better work.

What would a content mill teach you? Believe it or not – tightness in writing,  SEO (search engine optimization), proper attribution and AP style guidelines. Yep, I learned that from writing boring boilerplate work. Tight writing got me into Bright Hub. Primary SEO skills from Demand were improved at AC/Yahoo and Bright Hub. Demand relies heavily on attribution and the use of AP style. I transferred those traits to work on both AC/Yahoo and Bright Hub. Since I have by-lines on the work from those two I was able to use them as samples. Those samples are what got me SEO copy writing work, a few freelance clients and my current journalism job for a local weekly news group. And I still get paid twice weekly from Demand when I feel like writing for them.

So, how do you make a content mill pay you more than money? Use them as a building block for the foundation of your writing career. Use them to learn how to write for the web while getting paid. Use the rejects to start building a name for yourself elsewhere. Use the training in attribution and style to create samples for higher paid work. Use the research skills to not only write better, but to find better writing jobs. Use them as a base source of constant income as you build your business. Use them to build speed and efficiency into your writing.

The money from content mills isn’t good – don’t make it the only thing you get from working with one.

What have you learned from content mills?

Two newsletters:
Abundant Freelance Writing – a resource for freelance writers including 3x a week job postings.
Writing With Vision – for those who want to get a book written.

Image from http://www.sxc.hu

Bill is a freelance writer, columnist, journalist and author with websites at www.fromthedeck.com and www.littlewritingcompany.com

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

atlcharm January 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I realize this is an old post. I am a novice thinking about getting started with content mills to get my feet wet. I realize they don’t pay much and I hope this isn’t a silly question, but is it possible to write an article for one content mill and submit it to others I am writing for? For instance, if I am writing an article on gardening and the topic for my other content mill(s) happens to be the same topic, could I submit the same article or do I need to reinvent the wheel each time?

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Missy September 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I was completely clueless about AP Style until Demand Studios hired me. I ended up getting a decent gig for Patch last year, and I’ll admit I have DS to thank for that.

Oh, and good tip about selling your rejected articles elsewhere. I sell mine on Constant Content.

And the freedom…can’t beat that. I have 2 kids and work from home, so tight deadlines are not ideal at the moment. Demand pays less than many of my other clients, but if I fail to turn in an assignment? Nothing happens, and another writer claims it. I like that about DS.
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Anne September 13, 2011 at 11:09 am

Interesting points Missy… how much of your writing income comes from content mills?

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Joni June 11, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Thank you so much for the idea of using the rewrites or rejected articles from Demand. I will write 3 or 4 articles for them and they will go right on and get accepted. The about 3 weeks ago I wrote two right together and I got one of those weird CE’s. My writing does not change that much from one week to another. I got high marks on research, grammar on the instantly accepted ones but I only got complaints on the two that were going to the same CE. Their CE’s are so far apart on what they want you to do. The last one I got kept telling me to put the URL from the research site and I kept telling them I got it from a book and it did not need a URL. I got disgusted and started branching out. So it’s a good thing it happened b/c otherwise I would still be only writing for DS. You have many excellent points! Thanks.

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annew June 11, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Hi Joni, not sure what CE means – Content Editor? None the less I’m glad you’re branching out. It’s never wise to have only one customer and I suspect you’ll do quite well as you find clients.

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Joni June 11, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Hello annew,
Yes, CE is Content Editor. That is how the writer’s refer to them on the Demand forums. I did not want to ask so I figured it out (not as fast as you did). The vast difference in the way the editors look at your writing is discouraging. I am faithful about going over guidelines each time I write for them because they are different than other guidelines at other places. Thank you for the encouragement.
Joni

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Elizabeth West January 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Yes! Very good post. I’m learning some of the same things – brevity, keyword writing without sounding like a bot, working with an editor and within rather strict guidelines, and tailoring my writing to the task at hand.

My other work doesn’t sound like my content work, and although I don’t see myself doing it forever, it does pull in a little money. It’s nice to know I have something, however small, if there are layoffs on the horizon or if I move.
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annew June 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Options are always good!

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Bill January 25, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Wow, I guess the process I use is an outcropping of my need to make sure I earned from whatever work I’ve done. Anything I’ve ever done for pay I’ve recouped money or time in one form or another.
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Diana January 25, 2011 at 11:43 am

After a busy, sometimes gut wrenching year of working for content mills, etc., I’m stretching my muscles as well. You bring up some fabulous points here that bear pondering… Most of all, I love your positive attitude and clever business decisions. Kudos!

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Ahlam Yassin January 25, 2011 at 11:37 am

The first year of my freelance writing came through writing content for the web. As you said, free education was the thing for me. While I have a bachelor’s degree, it helped me learn a lot about writing structure, writing content for the web in a coherent and valuable manner and simply got me in the habit of writing. While the pay was little, it really has set the stage for bigger things :)
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annew January 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Stage setting is a nice way to put it…

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Toni Star January 25, 2011 at 11:21 am

This is a wonderful post! I have learned a great deal and am checking out some points of interest in the article..

Many thanks!

Toni
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annew January 25, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Let us know how it works out.

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Toni Star January 26, 2011 at 8:35 am

Hi Anne,

Yes, so far it is working out great with what I learned so far from Bill’s article on Content Mills. He has reaffirmed what I’ve been learning from Content Mills–the helpful learning process, time management, education and freedom to write what I want. In addition, I am finding out some interesting things about Content Gurus and Bright Hub. I have learned a great deal over the years from writing content and I look forward to more learning and doing!

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

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annew January 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Good to hear.

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Jodi Hughey January 24, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Wonderful post! Thank you for providing me with a lot of great ideas to get the most out of my writing. I never looked at content mills from this angle! Now I will . . .

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annew January 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Jodi, it’s at least worth considering.

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