Escape the Content Mills: 12 Practical Posts for Moving Up

content_mills_ICONAre you trying to break free from writing for content mills?

You’re not alone. How to quit content mills and earn more than their rock-bottom rates is probably the single question I get asked the most.

It can be so easy to get sucked into content mill work, but it takes so much time and effort to write enough articles — and deal with the often contradictory edits — that it sucks up all your time, and you never can market yourself to find better paying work.

I’m doing a survey about content mill writing right now, and the pay rates writers report are appalling. We’re still collecting results, but with 300 in the can, I can report nearly half say they earn $5 an hour or less writing for mills, or for mill-type quickie-article gigs on the bid sites.

Man, that makes me mad to hear.

I’ve done quite a few posts on how to escape content mills, so I thought it was time to pull them together into one useful guide to help you move out of content mills and into better paying freelance writing gigs.

 

  1. Are You Addicted to the Heroin of Freelancing? Low-paid writing work tends to leave you no options but…more low-paid writing work. Here’s how to break the cycle.
  2. How to Dig Out of the Content Mill Hole and Land a Client — Fast: Guest poster Elaine Yue gives an easy step-by-step plan to get you better gigs.
  3. How a Writer Can Move Up From Content Mills: Your questions and my answers about the process of leaving content mills behind for good.
  4. How I Got Good-Paying Article Assignments — With NO Clips: Can’t break away from mills because you think you have no clips for pitching better markets? David LaMartina tells how you can make the leap, even without a portfolio.
  5. How to Stop Feeling Desperate and Taking the Crappy Writing Gigs: Practical help with creating financial breathing room so you have time to market your services and find better clients.
  6. 5 Reasons Demand Studios Only Pays Writers Peanuts — and Won’t Change: Understand the failing business model mills operate under, and why this will never be a place writers get paid well.
  7. The Reality of Writing for Content Mills — 14 Writers’ True Stories: With 190+ comments and counting, this post inspired one of the hottest discussions I’ve ever had on the blog.
  8. 6 Vital Writing Skills From Content Mills–Plus 1 You’ll Need: There *are* a few useful things you can learn writing for mills — Lisa Baker outlines the key skills you’re acquiring, plus one you won’t get from a mill dashboard.
  9. How I Scored Great Clients Off My Low Paid Content Mill Gig: Yes, you can use these clips to find clients — Angie Mansfield tells you how.
  10. The 4 Worst Places for Freelance Writers to Start: Sort of self-explanatory here. Guess what one of those places is?
  11. Writing for Content Mills: Did You Pick the Wrong One? Do you keep switching mills in hopes of finding a better one? Then this is a must-read.
  12. How a $5 Article Writer Landed a $900 Article: Think you can’t use those dirt-cheap mill posts to get better gigs? This guest post from Thomas Hill shows you how it’s done.

This collection should give you the tools you need to escape the content mills — or at least prevent you from spending too much of your time there — so you can get the better-paying writing gigs that make a career as a freelance writer so rewarding.

Do you write for content mills? Tell us your experience in the comments. Or… take my quick survey, and I’ll send you a useful free e-book, 13 Ways to Get the Writing Done Faster.

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28 comments on “Escape the Content Mills: 12 Practical Posts for Moving Up
  1. Mamie says:

    I have to agree with ‘Anon’. However, I believe I had it even worse. For four weeks (two included weekends), I wrote up to 5000 words per day, over 3 or 4 articles, never receiving more than $2.50 (usually less) per article. I had a maximum of 24 hours to research, write and proofread all of the articles for that day. My husband had to ask me to stop, for the good of my health.
    Over the course of those 4 weeks, I earned a grand total of $62. Half of that had to pay for two sessions with a masseuse, to relieve the knots in my shoulders.
    As a newbie to freelance writing, I felt it was my only option. I’m glad it’s not.

  2. Anon, due to sensitive topics. says:

    Thank you for this. I mean it. I cannot express my gratitude enough. I listened to the seminar and signed up for the course right away.

    I recently made the decision to quit writing for mills after being driven to an extremely low point. How low? I’d become so exhausted and depressed that I’d considered taking my own life. That low.

    At one time, my to-do list totalled around 31,000 words with a 6 day deadline. How much was I getting paid? $310.

    No typos there. 31,000 words. 6 days. $310.

    This was on Fiverr, where buyers are free to purchase as many multiples of a ‘gig’ as they please without prior warning. If I were to cancel I’d have risked negative feedback, which at the time I was terrified of.

    During that week, I thought my body was going to give up. I can’t even begin to describe the exhaustion and pain I was experiencing. Even now, as I fight to finish up my last orders before leaving the site, it’s 5:09am and I haven’t slept.

    You’ve given me the confidence to leave that behind. This sounds so cheesy and I’m sleep deprived but it’s true! Thank you so much, Carol.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t usually allow anonymous comments, but I want to leave this on because so many writers tell me they want to write for mills to ‘gain confidence.’ I find more often mills have the effect they had on you — they’re a confidence KILLER, not a confidence builder.

      Living in fear of getting a negative review on some big site, and dooming your chances of getting gigs there, so you have to work literally around the clock…that’s no way to live. Glad to hear you’re leaving it behind!

  3. Thanks so much for this round-up Carol. I’m giving a careers talk to university students soon about freelance writing and I’ll be adding this post’s URL to my list of useful resources. Time and again I hear from new writers that these sites are the ones they go for because they don’t think they can get anything better with their lack of experience 🙁
    Susan B Bentley recently posted…Keeping your LinkedIn connections meaningful to your businessMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad I could help, Susan! I hear from many writers who don’t seem to think anything beyond these type of sites exists as far as freelance writing markets.

      Where I think of mills as the Underworld of freelance writing…a pit of writer exploitation that’s only recently sprung up. Meanwhile, the real world of legit writing gigs continues aboveground…but you have to know how to climb up and get there.

  4. Kimsea Sok says:

    Carol, thanks for sharing…!

    Honestly, I don’t experience with content mill because I never offer any writing job, and even got any client.

    However, this month I just launched my new blog and I start my freelance writing project. I believe that your posts are really useful to me.

    I have bookmarked this url and I’ll read one by one carefully

    Thanks for share..
    Kimsea Sok recently posted…6 Monster Blog Marketing Mistakes You Have to Stop ItMy Profile

  5. Laurie Stone says:

    Carol,

    Although I mostly blog (code: earn nothing), I find your site helpful. Like much of life, writing and marketing takes confidence. Your site is inspiring and makes me want to take that leap into freelance.
    Laurie Stone recently posted…Helping Mom Help DadMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well that’s cool, Laurie!

      You can also check out the blogging resources I’ve got around here — 1 of my ebooks is on how to leverage that blog you’ve got to easily *get* paid freelance blogging gigs, and there are a couple of programs for learning to monetize your blog that I recommend over on my Products I Love page, too. And there are posts on this tag:

      http://www.makealivingwriting.com/tag/blogging

      Hope those help!

  6. Kasia says:

    Great post. I used to write for a content mill but I wouldn’t do it again. It definitely taught me to write fast but it didn’t do much for my confidence as a writer.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I hear that a lot, Kasia — the low pay has a toxic effect on self-esteem, and I think confuses writers about what sort of pay rates are possible.

  7. Harris says:

    Thanks Carol, these posts are really useful!

    As a freelance writer just starting out myself, it’s really easy to fall into these content mills – and it’s really important to not! Will definitely be bookmarking these articles for future reference 🙂

  8. Daryl says:

    Actually I do still do some writing for clients I gained from bid sites (no content mills) so I’ll be giving my experiences based on that, instead of content mills which are somewhat different.

    Please note that I am NOT advocating nor supporting bid sites over any other form of getting clients, simply giving my personal view.

    I think what’s important to note is that client selection is absolutely critical to being successful on bid sites. It is true the vast majority of gigs posted are going to be low paying gigs. In my personal estimation, I’d say that 90% of writing gigs aren’t even worth looking at, and pay between $1-$15 per post.

    Then there are the gigs that you simply aren’t suited for, that require some specialization or knowledge that you don’t have – another 5%.

    For a good writer, however, then you can easily grab a large proportion of the other 5% remaining, especially if you can show superior writing skill/experience over the other applicants.

    The good thing about the bid sites is that you know EXACTLY WHO IS APPLYING – you can quickly figure out the skill level of your competition, what qualifications they have, and judge the likelihood of YOU getting the project over them.

    Bid sites, in my opinion, should never be the CORE of your client attraction strategy, but can be a useful way to supplement your income if you do it RIGHT.
    Daryl recently posted…No Gigs, No Problem – How to Make Money From Your Freelance Blog Without Freelance Writing ClientsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I agree with you that if you’re using bid sites, you want to be *extremely* selective about who you invest time in.

      I’m just going through my content-mill writer survey results, and seeing a lot of “I bid on hundreds of gigs and never get any.” Don’t fall into this time-wasting trap!

  9. I would say I do pretty well in the content mills. They replaced my (admittedly low-paying) day job with a lot less work.

    But…

    Knowing that writing SHOULD pay a lot better is enough motivation for me to seek real clients instead. To do that, I have to sacrifice some money now to make more money later.

    If you like content mills and do well in them, how much better could you do with real clients? That’s why I’m a Den member and trying to upgrade my skills and marketing.
    Kaitlin Morrison recently posted…Nonprofit Profile: Savannah’s HopeMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Depends on how well you’re doing on mills, Kaitlin. My recent survey says most are making $5 an hour or less…so it wouldn’t be hard to earn a LOT more than that, as my free training coming up Tuesday will detail. I coach writers that $35 an hour is a LOW starter rate for brand-new writers. Like to see $50 an hour as a floor, for anyone in any developed nation.

      I coached one Elance writer who had figured out how to make $60K on that platform…and ended up making so much more after he began marketing directly to clients, I recently noticed he’s doing writer coaching now, too!

      I do find that people who had very low-paid full-time jobs tend to think mills are great, because their whole expectation of what they can earn is low. It’s a crisis of vision. My big revelation about a year into my second freelancing stint — that my earning potential as a freelancer was really UNLIMITED — is what changed everything.

      • I love that phrase, “crisis of vision.” It’s accurate.

        Thank you for doing so much to encourage and educate new writers! I do take your help to heart. Hopefully someday soon I can post a few personal success stories in the Den. I would love to be someone who “graduated” from the mills.
        Kaitlin Morrison recently posted…Nonprofit Profile: Savannah’s HopeMy Profile

  10. Beth says:

    Thanks for collecting the posts about content mills at one place. This would work as a handy reference for people trying to learn about the mills.

    As others have pointed out, content mills can be used as stepping stones, to build portfolios, reach out to clients and escalate to better rates. They’re not evil, always 🙂
    Beth recently posted…5 Must Have Skills For Online Marketing FreelancersMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I would challenge anyone to find me saying “content mills are evil” online. For some people, they’re great. It really depends on your goals as a writer. I think they’re not a good place for writers who want to earn a substantial, full-time income, in general.

      I actually am just doing a survey on this — and you get about 3% of people saying they’re happy and well-compensated. There are outliers, who were formerly building contractors or something, where they can quickly write off their heads and have an expertise area. I think these folks do very well. For everyone else, it seems to be a struggle. Hope you’ll be there when I share my data live on Tuesday! You can register here:

      http://usefulwritingcourses.com/landing/free-resources-for-content-mill-writers

  11. Mike says:

    I already said as much in the survey, but I finally decided to shut down my mill account. Before doing so, I contacted my regular clients there and told them what I was doing and why. One of them contacted me immediately and is paying 10x the rate they paid for my same work in the mill.

    Before, I got $4 for an article, whereas now I’m getting $50. So what if five other mill clients didn’t respond to my messages? I now have a higher paying client to replace that income, and more free time to look for new clients. Winning all around.

  12. Evan Jensen says:

    Just read the #2 blog post. Elaine’s first few lines are the exact conversation I’ve had with myself about content mills:

    [“You’re an idiot.” That’s what I told myself after I spent three hours writing a 500-word article for a content mill. What did it pay? A whopping $5.]

    Thanks for the constant drumbeat, mantra, and occasional whack to the head on your blog and in The Den reminding me that writing for content mills is a waste of time, drain on the pysche, and no path to freelance writing success.

    By following your blog and spending time in The Den, it’s clear to me that pitching, sending LOIs, and consistently marketing will bring in a lot more money than writing for content mills.

  13. Ahmad says:

    I’m fortunate enough to say that I haven’t fallen into the trap of being stuck working for content mills. I’ve tried most of them, and after about a month of bidding for neurotically small pay I just left them alone.
    Unfortunately, I haven’t had much success finding any other content writing work, I’ve tried sending pitches to Magazines, both in my area (Tacoma/Seattle), and other places, Craigslist ads, Pro blogger, and now I’m currently attending community college (mostly to work on where problems in my writing may exist.
    To be honest I felt like I was giving up in a way, and trying to return to the ‘9-5’ rat race; rather than pursue what I truly want to do for a living. These last couple of academic quarters I’ve seen where my writing has been lacking, and the improvements I’ve made. So instead of just giving up I feel more confident in my writing.

  14. Maja says:

    Hi Carol,

    I love your blog, you’ve been a true inspiration to me and I guess all other writers who want to break free from content mills.

    That said, I myself am a freelance writer who tries to escape the mills, but so far, I haven’t been lucky. However, after following many of your invaluable advices, I can see that something is indeed changing, even if it’s only me finally getting the guts to dump the content mills.

    With my major source of income, oDesk (now UpWork), introducing the ridiculous Job Success score, I truly am determined to break free. Those of you who are familiar with Job Success feature will back me up here, for it has turned the platform into a freelance abattoir I don’t want to be a part of. Not anymore.

    I am putting myself out there, and although I’m scared, I’ll fight, because content mills are, to say the least, undermining.

    Best,
    Maja
    Maja recently posted…Get Rid Of All These Sticky Notes!My Profile