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Is Web Article Writing Too Easy?

easy street for freelance writersI often fend off complaints about low pay for SEO articles. You know, the people who complain that $2, $3, $5 an article is too low for freelance writers. I sort of figure people can make their own decisions.

However, Deb Ng posted two articles this week that got me to wondering if it’s too easy for folks to make a little bit of money on the web writing. The first was: b5Media Layoffs Are a Good Reminder to Spread Those Freelance Writing Eggs Around and the second was How long is too long – when to give up freelance writing by Jennifer there.

I’m not sure why these two articles triggered the thought that lots and lots of people get low-paying freelance writing jobs and then find those jobs won’t support them. But they did. (One of the reasons I say ideas are everywhere if you’re a writer.)

It Really Is Pretty Simple To Get Paid A Little Bit

If you can follow directions, write a reasonably complete sentence and have decent spelling it really is pretty easy to get paid for writing. Not paid well, you understand, but get paid something.

And that little bit of pay can fool folks into thinking they can make a good living.

Of course, they’ve got lots and lots of people telling them that article writing is the way to fame and fortune. I just googled write articles for money. Yikes, there are over 93 million entries – a totally meaningless number.  One of the sponsored ads promises it’s easy to make at least $100 an hour with one page articles. Yeah, right. The ebook they offer to sell is just under $50 and I’ll bet they sell a ton.

Yes, there are writing jobs that pay over $100 an hour, and writing copy that sells something is one of them, particularly if you’re marketing a get rich product. But it takes a different sort of skill set than writing the $2 or $5 articles and that’s what isn’t obvious to the new writer.

Success In Freelance Writing Is A Three Step Process

Maybe I’ll turn this into an expensive ebook, but until I do, the steps are:

  1. Write
  2. Rewrite
  3. Market

Yes, it’s that simple, but it sure ain’t easy.

If you’ve been getting pocket change for writing and want to earn a decent living you’re going to have to do more than dash off quickie articles. Oh that can be a place to start, but it won’t carry you very far.

Most of the cheapie articles I’ve seen could stand a rewrite or two. Rewriting, when it’s done with some talent, can make writing sing.

Marketing is the third key and it is at least as important as the other two.

When you get hired to write some simple articles for a buck or two, don’t expect that to launch a well paying freelance writing career. It could, but it isn’t likely. If you decide you want to go for the bigger prizes, good on you, but know that the next step will be more difficult.

Can it be worth it? You bet. But don’t let the ease of letting that first poorly paid gig fool you.

Do you think web article writing is too easy?


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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • I wouldn’t say it’s too easy, but it isn’t hard. Everyone can write, but not everyone can write well. It requires skill, creativity and talent.

    Megan J.
    Article Writer
    .-= Article Writer´s last blog ..Smoking, God, and Moses. =-.

  • It’s an interesting question. I think a lot of people confuse writing, with writing well. Or Web content, with quality Web content. The former in both cases is pretty easy. A large portion of the worlds people know how to pull together words into sentences, some even form coherent thoughts. And with Social Media like Twitter and Facebook, everyone is learning the value of the written word.

    But to write well, to write quality web content, you have to learn the craft just as you would if you were working in other trades. Most adults could tighten a bolt to stop a leaking pipe, nail a hammer to join two bits of wood, or put a brick on top of another brick. That doesn’t mean they are qualified to be a plumber, carpenter, or brick layer. Being able to do the task isn’t the same as having the experience and training to do the task to professional standards.

    To me, becoming a professional freelance writer is your steps, in this order:
    1. Write
    2. Write some more and read
    3. Write even more still and learn
    4. Rewrite
    5. Rewrite again and read and learn
    6. Write and Rewrite again, and again, and again
    7. Repeat ad nauseum
    8. Market
    9. Repeat

    I think the “easy” thing about writing Web content is the publishing. Many bloggers, in particular, bypass the “editorial review” process, so they never know that they’re writing isn’t great quality. They settle for “good enough” instead of pushing for great.

    The Web is flooded in “good enough” which lowers the bar for all writers. If you’re writing $5 Web content, you’re admitting that you accept that your time is only worth $5. If you’ve developed your skills and learned your craft/trade, you shouldn’t be settling for $5 posts. Just as a plumber, carpenter, or brick layer wouldn’t settle for the rate you’d pay yourself (or your mate) to do their job.
    .-= Rebecca Laffar-Smith´s last blog ..Kat O’Reilly On Writing Romance =-.

    • Anne

      Well said and some nice distinctions too.

  • I agree that marketing is key. My blogs have been my portfolio pieces. I’ve been able to use them and my work experience to land freelance writing opportunities.

    I’m using my knowledge to help artists grow their businesses. Most of them fear the marketing part and have not been putting themselves out there. They don’t understand or see the benefit of a blog or website. I enjoy developing and teaching workshops so I’m excited about this new venture.
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Find Inspiration within Writing Groups =-.

    • Anne

      Great purpose statement Rebecca.

  • “Online writing is like any other profession – the big bucks only come after first building a solid reputation built up by either a professional background within the subject matter and/or the production of good quality work on a consistent basis.”

    Spot on, Andrew. As a general rule the only way to command the best rates is to have valid experience in a given niche, provable by a degree and/or 10+ years of experience. Failing that, you are not a professional, and as such you cannot demand the equivalent rates.

    One of the comments I made last year, and I still make to this day, is that you cannot expect to walk into writing for any publication and go straight to the top. Imagine, if you will, starting as a writer for the New York Times. On your first day in the office you are not going to be able to walk in and demand the Editor in Chief position as well as the corresponding pay. Why? Because you are unproven. You have no relevant experience. You are a nobody, a newbie. The only way you are getting the EOC seat + pay is if you have put in the time and have the references that prove you are capable of handling the responsibilities that go along with such a prestigious position.

    Most people who follow me are aware that I daily trumpet the ease of use that generic content writing offers a wide variety of people. I just recently wrapped up a content writing experiment showing how the average Joe can come in and make a minimum of 50 dollars an hour writing for content sites, which is more money than most upper management employees make on a given year in the United States. But even if you are someone who is incredibly slow at writing you can walk into a place like Demand Studios and make between 15-25 dollars an hour. Keep in mind that the median wage for the US citizen is 18 USD per hour as of 2009, which means you can walk into a place like Demand and make more money than the average US citizen, all while writing generic, easy content.

    I never write less than 3 articles per hour with Demand Studios, myself, which is 45 dollars per hour. These are for articles that require “research”. Writing for Demand Studios is extremely easy. You simply need to follow their guidelines and write as though you are speaking to a 12 year old child and you will get paid, no problems. On articles where I know the niche (which I generally stick to) I regularly write 4 an hour, which is 60 dollars per hour.

    Personally, I think those kind of articles are doing nothing but filling up the web with useless, disposable content. But I still use it as part of my regular regime. Why? A more proper question would be, “why not?” It is an incredibly easy, incredibly no-brain task. I get paid 45-60 dollars an hour to write brainless content on topics of my choosing? Please!

    There is a vast amount of difference in quality between a 15 dollar 500 word piece and a 500 dollar article of the same length published at the New York Times or CNN/etc. They are two completely different markets. One is meaningless, disposable content while the other is a prestigious publication that requires a decade or more of proven experience (or the equivalent of) before you are allowed to even be considered for publication. The first is easy…anyone–and I mean ANYONE–can bang out 15 dollar articles. It takes proven skill to write for higher paying places, and not everyone has that skill, at least not in the beginning.

    Writing is like any other job/skill. It takes time to hone your talent and become a really great writer who can demand 100+ dollars per hour. Just like actors who start out working for 10 dollars an hour as an understudy in the back-alley theater and work their way up to the point they are getting paid 50 thousand an episode for a TV show, or 6+ figures per movie, and eventually transition into millions per film. It takes time to make that transition.

    I am very careful to always preface my posts over at the website with comments regarding “your results may vary” or “this is not conclusive evidence”. Even when I finished this recent writing experiment I made sure to let people know, through all four weeks of the experiment, that my results were far from conclusive. For me, writing web articles IS incredibly easy and incredibly lucrative. I have figured out how to make generic content writing profitable. I work 3-4 hour days and make a full-time income, and roughly 60% of my income comes from content writing for generic content sites and third party content brokers. I am a fast reader, a fast typist, and I use a speech-to-text program for most of my work, which allows me to wade in and bang out 2500-3k worth of content per hour without breaking a sweat. It takes no effort whatsoever for me to read a Wiki article and bang out a rewrite, or to research a medical journal article and rewrite it. That’s what most website content is…rewriting other work.

    Is it the same as a New York Times article? Not in the least. I’m not required to provide references. I’m not required to craft an elegant piece of prose meant to stand out against the rest. When I’m looking at generic web content I’m only focused on one thing, and one thing only: the paycheck.

    It’s fast. It’s easy. Will it last? Who knows. No one can say with absolute certainty that ANY job is truly safe these days. AIG, Enron, Madoff’s employees…all of these companies have appeared unbreakable, giants among the international community, but as time has shown even the mighty can fall without a word, and all of those people who thought their jobs and their life savings were safe were given the shaft in a very un-royal way.

    I’m not responsible for the uneducated masses, nor do I want to be. I don’t mind offering a piece of advice from time to time on my blog, but I put the material out there for the discerning reader who is intelligent enough to know how it works. At the end of the day, yes…generic article writing on the web is incredibly easy, if you are an intelligent person who knows how to type for a 12-14 year old mentality and don’t mind sitting at your desk for a few hours per day. Will it ever pay as much as working for the New York Times as the Editor in Chief? That depends entirely upon the individual. I wouldn’t say it is impossible, because if I really wanted to I could work 8 hours a day and break 100k a year, which is EoC pay-grade for a mainstream publication, but I would say that it is unlikely for the average individual given the fact that there is generally a world of difference between fast, disposable content and the type of work that gets published in the NYT.
    .-= T.W. Anderson´s last blog ..Looking for talented freelance artists =-.

  • Anne,

    I would imagine that those who are able to command the type of rates which would result in a decent living would either have a solid professional background within either the subject matter in question or professional writing and editing.

    An online medical journal, for example, would probably pay big money for contributions from either fully qualified medical professionals or from reputable journalists who have some background or knowledge about medicine or the health care sector. Only someone who speaks with authority on their subject matter will be respected by readers and thus in strong demand.

    Online writing is like any other profession – the big bucks only come after first building a solid reputation built up by either a professional background within the subject matter and/or the production of good quality work on a consistent basis.

    There are no shortcuts.

  • I think easy, too easy and hard all depend on the market. For example, a blogging site that allows you to post whatever you like makes it very easy to get published. Somewhere with higher standards (let’s say CNN.com for argument’s sake) doesn’t make it easy at all. I think it all depends on the market. The sites that make it more difficult to get published will also pay more and have editors on staff to make sure their content is clean and factual. Writers have to make the choice as to which options are the best for them. If they want to get ahead and make a name for themselves, they’ll choose to either stick with the quick and easy gigs for experience and move on to bigger and better things. If they’re just looking to make some bucks with some hobby writing, it won’t really matter where or how much their paid.

    Does the web make it too easy to get published?I think it depends.
    .-= Deb Ng´s last blog ..b5Media Layoffs Are a Good Reminder to Spread Those Freelance Writing Eggs Around =-.

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