By 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. 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 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. 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.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu