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Content Mills As Stepping Stones – Writing Is A Practice

content mills stepping stones for writersOur recent articles on how to use content mills to your advantage and their possible demise point out that writing is a practice and the farms give you a practical way to get some real world practice.

In many ways they’ve given thousands an opportunity to be published and earn a little bit of money while they get started freelance writing.

Those systems that allow tracking of number of readers can actually provide writers some potentially valuable insight, at least about their ability to pick popular topics and use viable SEO techniques. A very few of the organizations that may or may not exactly be content mills not only pay a bit, offer statistics on readership, but provide some editorial assistance.

I know also that getting that first paycheck, no matter how small, is a real milestone in a freelance writer’s career. Of course, one or two dollars doesn’t come close to the dreams of most of us, but the pay does confirm some sort of sense that “now I’m a professional.” At least it did for me long before the mills existed.

If someone who wants to earn their living writing freelance, a handful of articles or so for the better content mills can be a positive experience. They can become stepping stones to writing for local newspapers, print magazines, well paying websites, corporate writing and even books – ultimately wherever you want to go. I got started long before the content farms existed, but I honestly think I might have begun just that way. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten stuck there.

I preach over and over again that the way to freelance writing success is to write, rewrite and market. (Subscribe to the newsletter and you get a free copy of an ebook about that.) Writing for content mills counts, as long as you don’t stop there.

Well, if all you want is a few extra bucks a week, writing forever for the mills may be just fine. But if you long to really break into freelance writing  you need to move from content mills to something else just as fast as you can. My sense is a dozen articles is absolutely the maximum you should write for the content farms unless you’ve got an actual plan to move on beyond them.

Yes, you’ve got to write, and writing for the farms is writing. But you need to stretch yourself and begin to submit and/or seek clients beyond that.

Shameless self-promotion

Yes, helping writers become successful, to break in beyond content mills and earn big is one of my personal goals and one way I partnering with Carol Tice of MakeALivinigWriting.com to produce a webinar called just that: How To Break In & Earn Big In Freelance Writing. That link will take you to an information page. If you already plan to register for the $36 webinar you can do it right now.

Have you had any experience with the content mills?

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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • I’ve been writing for the print industry for a long time – my first book was published about 30 years ago – but when I first decided to start writing on-line I was totally lost. I got in with a couple of places that may or may not be considered “mills” and found some direction. They don’t pay nearly as well as writing for magazines, but with far fewer rejections and demands for rewrites it isn’t as soul-crushing either. I have not been doing as much writing in that arena lately – I’m working on my next book – but they are not out of bounds should I need to turn some quick cash to make the bills.

    But, as you say, I would not recommend that anyone write exclusively for content mills.

    This is my first visit to your blog, Ann, and I’m off now to poke around some more.
    Allan Douglas recently posted..Writing for Profit or Pleasure – Online Communal PublishersMy Profile

  • If you use the content mills/farms as a type of apprenticeship to writing online they can work very well that way.

  • I’m already an established freelance writer and I have wondered about those sites and how they can factor into a writing career. Thank you for this info!

  • 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?

    • As someone who has been with Demand since 2008 I can answer this with one word – no. They own anything you write for them – regardless of if your name is attached or not. That means you cannot use it for promotion.

      You are missing one step in the process. Take the rejections and the rewrites not yet rewritten from Demand and head to Associated Content/Yahoo. Put them up there under your name. NOW you have the right to use them as samples. Don’t link to your profile page to show samples – link to individual article to showcase your work on your own website.

      • Bill, that’s not right. Just because they own the copyright doesn’t mean you can’t point to them (link or just list the title and where they’re published) on your credit list.

        • I stand corrected. I just looked it up and while you can’t copy the articles themselves you can use a link to the article.

  • I’m a freelance writer and editior with over 20 years of experience. My work has appeared in many national print magazines, newspapers and major websites. I enjoy writing for so-called “content mills” particularly revenue sharing sites. I like making passive income, and I enjoy choosing topics that may not be salable to others but interest me. I write such articles when I can and enjoy it.

    • Thanks Jeanne… glad I’m not the only pro pro 😉

  • I am currently a part-time freelancer (with a full-time job) and I have a monthly goal that I want to bring in from my writing. I keep raising the bar, and if I need to, I do some work for Demand Media to meet my goals. Although I’ve learned some valuable things from writing for DM (like how to pick a topic that makes sense and that I’ll be able to find solid research on) it’s definitely just a stepping stone for me. That’s why I’m signed up for Anne and Carol’s webinar!!!

  • It’s nice to see someone in the freelance community who doesn’t just automatically dismiss these companies as having no value.

    When I was first getting started I wrote for Suite 101 and Examiner.com (Demand turned me down, actually!) and while I agree that they shouldn’t be the pinnacle of anyone’s career goals, they can provide valuable help to new freelancers. Suite 101 at least has (or did have) a pretty strict quality requirement compared to other sites I wrote for.
    Cindy Bidar recently posted..What to Do When Your Muse Takes a PowderMy Profile

    • Thanks Cindy – yes as a beginning they can make sense. I don’t know why so many writers seem to hate them… they are easy to ignore.

  • Jodi Hughey

    Thanks Anne for the confidence boost!

    I was a little disheartened when I read of the possible demise of content mills but your article has given me a lot to consider. I write for Demand Media – I consider it a stepping stone – and as a ‘newbie’ to freelance writing I have found DM to be a great learning experience!

    Keep up the good work!

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