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Commission Based Writing Jobs – Should You?

commission-based writingI check out online writing gigs pretty often, both for myself and to keep in touch with the freelance writing market in general.

I was surprised the other day to find what at first seemed might be a good writing gig from a for-profit company, describe their pay as “commission based.”

Although I’ve been aware that grant writing for non-profits is sometimes commission based, this approach was new to me from regular, for-profit organizations

I hope it isn’t a trend!

What is commission based writing?

Commission based writing means you don’t get paid until your writing generates something – on the internet that’s usually sales or page views.

If, for example, the site you’re writing for is about cooking and you write about cast iron skillets. The site would run ads for cast iron skillets and you’d be paid based on how many they sold. A quick search reveals that 8-inch cast iron skillets sell for around $20.00.

Even if you were paid a 50% commission, the site would have to sell 10 frying pans for you to earn $100.00. Fifty-percent is way higher than most commissions on the ‘net, five cents is probably more likely and it could be less. Commissions are usually pennies on the dollar in this type of situation. (Note: Affiliate programs are a different animal and may pay 50% or more.)

Plus there are issues of how long do they pay for sales (forever is a possibility with today’s technology but 60-90 days is much more likely) and how accurate is their accounting and how transparent it is to the writer. When I worked for About.com, which was base pay plus commission based on page views, there were serious questions about the accuracy of their accounting for pages viewed. That was quite awhile ago and technology has made it easier, still such calculations are simply not straight forward.

Commission is fine in the right setting

I’m all for getting paid by commission, but not for my writing. I’m actually involved in selling online real estate investment education on commission only, but it’s totally clear what I’m getting into and the tracing for the 50% commission is crystal clear. (Ask me if you’re interested.)

The difference in my mind is that when I’m selling on commission I’ve got some control. I know how many ads I run and how many leads I get and how many calls I need to make a day or a week. I can track my efforts easily and clearly.

When I write, particularly for someone else I have no idea what they’re actually doing. I may be able to see that what I’ve written is actually published as I wrote it or close enough.  But I rarely have direct access to page views and other information that would let me know how well I’m doing in terms of selling.

Base pay plus

Getting paid for writing and getting to participate in the sales is potentially great. I’ve done it several times and won, as I did with About.com. I’ve also done it and never made a dime more than my base pay. Which is why I insist on base pay that’s close to my regular rate.

What about grant writing?

Non-profits who need to raise grant money often advertise writers will be paid a percentage of the money raised. In other words, it’s commission based writing. I won’t take those jobs either, for all the same reasons. I’d rather donate a fund raising letter once in awhile than try to track how much the organization received based on the same letter. I track my time and usually my accountant finds a way to deduct at least a portion of my efforts.

Of course, ideally I would be paid well for that letter. Yes, I do offer occasional discounts to non-profits.

The idea that you will make a fortune or even a bunch of money on commission or base + commission is really a long shot. While many how offer such schemes innocently think it’s a grand idea, it’s not. And sometimes it’s a downright scam.

My suggestion is you don’t take a gig that’s commission-based only, and be super careful about base pay plus so you’re not under earning.

What’s your take? Do you have any experience with commission-based writing you’d like to tell us about in comments?

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Write well and often,





{ 6 comments… add one }
  • You don’t have a lot of competitions in commission based job. It is also like starting a new business but with a little headache. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Great post Anne,
    I’ve never had any experience with commission based writing and i don’t think its worth the efforts.

    Business should be about control and like you mentioned, you do not really have any control over such gigs, its just like playing the gamble which i hate so much.

    I wouldn’t also advice anyone to try it.
    Thedore Nwangene recently posted..GuestCrew Traffic Stats and Update – September 2015My Profile

  • If you’re unsure about writing for commission, think of how it looks when you flip the situation. I need electricity to run my computer to work. If I told the utility company I didn’t want to pay any power bill but rather they could have a percentage of any sales I made from work written on my computer, I suspect the answer would be no.

  • Very timely article, Anne! Just two days ago I came across a posting for a commission-based gig. I am qualified for the work and was considering applying, but was thrown off by the ‘commission-based’ pay. I wasn’t sure what it meant with respect to writing, but my thinking was that it probably wouldn’t pay well.

    I decided to give it a miss and spend the time applying for other jobs. Now that I’ve read your article, I’m confident I made the right decision. This industry is challenging enough without having to earn my income twice!

    • Good for you, Helene… if enough of us don’t apply they may figure out why they’re getting poor writers.

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