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Content Mills: Why Aspiring Writers Should Avoid Them

By Carol Tice

As many WM readers and readers of my Make a Living Writing Blog may already know, I am not a fan of content mills. I advise the writers I mentor to avoid them, and many of my mentees approach me with the specific goal of kicking their mill-writing habit.

I think there are many types of people for whom these sites are a superb option — but in my opinion, those types don’t include writers who’re serious about building a good-paying, sustainable writing career. To clarify, I mean people who want to earn $50,000 a year and up from their writing. People who ultimately want to have unlimited earning capability from writing.

Let me explain why I’m down on content mills. In my experience, here are the career problems writers may experience who rely mostly on content-site assignments:

1. It does not teach you to report. Most of the stories on content sites are written with light Internet research or off the top of your head. They don’t help you develop newsgathering abilities, which are a bedrock skill needed for most good-paying byline reporting and corporate writing work. You don’t develop interviewing skills since you generally aren’t conducting interviews. If you dream of earning $800-$1500 for a single article, mill writing is not helping you get there.

2. It does not teach you to research. A lot of good-paying writing assignments call for extensive research. I recently wrote a $650 article for a regional magazine about all the stimulus money our state got and how it was spent. I wrote a $1,500 article about where Seattle’s trash goes and what happens to it. I’m doubtful that anyone cutting their teeth on mill stories will ever be able to write stories like these. Writing for mills does not teach you how to do investigative reporting, how to dig deep into documents, understand them, interpret them, or synthesize complex information. Copywriting as well can demand a decent amount of research and ability to dive in-depth into a topic.

3. It does not give you nurturing editor relationships. I would be nowhere today without two or three amazing editors I worked with earlier in my career. Editing at mills is usually cursory at best, and not the kind of close, one-on-one relationship you want where someone will really take you under their wing and take the time to show you exactly what you need to do to improve.

4. It does not teach you to market. Many mill writers have spoken in ecstatic terms of how much they love never having to market their writing. But marketing your writing is a key skill for those who want to earn big. Generally, you go out and find the really lucrative magazine connections and corporate clients yourself…they do not fall in your lap. Every week you write for mills is a week you don’t learn this critical skill.

5. It does not enhance your reputation. While some mill writers have reported they were able to parlay their clips into better-paying assignments…I usually find when I nail them down that their definition of “better paying” and mine are very different. They often mean something like they’ve worked their way to $50 an article. Know that many editors at quality publications discard outright the queries of anyone who offers clips from mill sites, so this work can slam a lot of doors for you.

6. It’s a model that may disappear. There’s been much discussion online of the possibility that Google may soon find a way to screen out mill sites in its search results. If that happens, the entire article-aggregator industry, which sprung up to serve Google’s ranking analytics, will disappear overnight. As it is, mill sites go out of business on a regular basis, taking any promised “lifetime” residuals they owe writers along with them.

If you write for mills, ask yourself how you would replace that income if this model goes away? What other client types could you find work with?

There’s already signs that even if it survives, the content-site model is changing — check out ProVoices, the new site that wants professionally reported articles for up to $250. The trend is toward rates going up, and more work being demanded of mill writers as these sites seek to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

If content mills are such a career dead-end, you may ask, how are writers to break in and start a freelance writing career? Plenty of ways. Tune in next week for my guide to better approaches for breaking into freelance writing and earning more sooner.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Make a Living Writing Gets Its Own Site!

New Writer Website!

Source: laurenatclemson 

I’m excited to report the next step in the evolution of this writing blog…welcome to MakeALivingWriting.com, the new home for my blog about the business of writing.

Why spin the blog off to its own site? I increasingly find myself in two businesses — the business of getting my own writing clients, and the business of helping other writers, through this free blog, through one-on-one mentoring, and soon through my ebooks. Over time I may add a community forum and other features here. Befittingly, MALW is my commerce site, and now my named URL can be the place to learn about me as a writer. I’m excited to see this split finally happening — I think it will inspire a lot of new creativity in both sites.

MALW gives all of my writer services a place to live, apart from my portfolio for writing clients. The new site will also allow me to do some things I’ve wanted to do but my caroltice.com site wasn’t formatted for it — have a blogroll, recommend books, potentially allow a very select few ads, have room for promotions, polls, and possible partnerships…and get a retweet button that’s working properly, to name a few! My old blog was coded by my teenage Web developer and had a number of technical issues. I’ve now broken down and am using a real pro, so everything should work a lot better. Costs more…but worth it.

The RSS/email subscription features is up and going here on MALW for new subscribers…and I’m looking into whether existing subscribers have to subscribe over here or whether we can transfer you over. For now, there may be a bumpy week or two while we get all the features up and going.

Welcome your feedback on this move! Thanks for being readers.

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How to Convince Writing Clients to Pay You More

Make a Living Writing blog reader Susan Glenn emailed me a while back to ask for more information on how to convince corporate clients to pay higher rates for your services.

Get your writing paycheck

Source: borman818

“Tips about how writers can articulate their worth would be very interesting,” she wrote. “Not what does the writer NEED, but what is professional writing WORTH to the client — especially relative to other professional services they retain.”

Great question…so today I’ll share a bit of the speech I give prospective clients who ask me about rates. One of the things I’ll frequently say early on goes something like this:

“If you’re having a bidding contest to find the lowest price, I’d like to tell you right now I’m going to lose. I will not be your lowest bidder, and I don’t generally work with companies that are only concerned with how little they can pay for writing.

“I work with business owners seeking exceptionally talented writers who can help establish them as the pre-eminent thought leaders in their sector. They need to communicate in a sophisticated, compelling way with their target audience.

“That’s what I will deliver for you — authoritative content that communicates that you are the most knowledgeable source for information in your industry. This will attract quality clients, build Web traffic, and will pave the way for you to charge more for what you do.”

Of course, when presented with it that way, most of my prospects rush to say, “Oh, that’s me! I understand that I need to be the authority. That’s just what we need to do.” And discussions of how little they can get me to work for tend to evaporate.

They get it immediately — I’ve helped them put their finger on what it is they’re really in the market for. They need content so compelling and strong that it will enhance their brand and company reputation, and bring them more business. Not every writer can give them that — but I can.

Once you’ve framed it that way, if they balk at a rate, I tend to point out that paying, say, $1,500 for a custom-written article they can get republished in newspapers, use on their site, hand out as fliers, email to their prospect list, expand into a white paper, and otherwise use FOREVER to promote their business and drive Web traffic at no additional charge is the marketing bargain of the century.

Compare it to the cost of placing a single decent-sized print ad! To doing one radio spot, or putting up one billboard! The reality is that having strongly written information about your company is a real deal, even at prime rates.

I find most writers don’t think about their services through the client’s eyes. Writing is usually part of companies’ marketing budget — and in that context, it’s very affordable compared with many other forms of marketing spend.

So ask for a great rate, and explain why you’ll be worth it. You’ll be surprised how often you find yourself with a wonderful new client who’s happy to have you, and willing to pay you what you deserve.

For more about negotiating rates, see my post for the week on WM Freelance Writing Community – How I Got Paid $300 A Blog.

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How I Got Paid $300 a Blog Post

By Carol Tice

Many readers of my Make a Living Writing blog have heard me mention in passing that I had a big assignment at the end of last year that paid $300 per blog. I got a few requests for more information on how I ended up making so much for blogging, when so many gigs in this niche pay $10-$20 a post.

So here’s the story:

I was contacted by an editor I hadn’t worked with before. They got my name from another editor who’d worked on a different part of this large financial-service firm’s Web site. Rates for writing articles for my editor had varied widely, so I didn’t know quite what to expect on rates.

This new editor explained they had a huge, rush project — 144 blog entries in all at 400 words each — that they needed done in six weeks flat. The major corporate sponsor who’d paid to create this content wanted it all ready to upload in January 2010. It was explained to me that it was a bit of a hybrid format — a ‘reported’ blog that would need an interview for each post.

So based on that brief introduction, these were the key factors I was thinking about as we talked rates:

1) Rush projects should pay more.

2) Needs reporting, so want people with reporting experience, not anyone can do it.
3) All financial topics, so fairly limited pool of people qualified.
4) Major corporate sponsor = deep pockets, and wants exceptionally great content.
5) Size of project is enormous, with tight deadline…editors are under pressure.
6) $300 is usually my absolute rock-bottom floor for articles that require interviewing.
7) Unusual format will likely require a little extra thought and work to pull off. (This assumption turned out to be right!)

The rate negotiation went like this:

Me: “How many of these would you like to see me handle for you?”
Them: “Um…could you do 20 of them?”
Me: “Let me take a look at my assignment calendar…I think I could do that many.
What’s your budget for this project?”
Them: “We’re offering $200 a blog.”
Me: (after long silence) “But…it is a rush project.”
Them: “Yeah, you’re right…how about $250 a blog?”
Me: (Silence.)
Them: “OK, $300, and that’s my final offer!”

I’d like to add that the client was very happy with what I turned in and will likely use me again in future. I’ve detected no negative backlash from negotiating a higher rate on this project.

This incident illustrates my philosophy on how to handle rate negotiations, an area I know intimidates some writers. My rules:

1) Make them tell you a figure. You want them to blink first.
2) Don’t jump at the first figure they offer. Explore if there’s wiggle room.
3) Specialized knowledge required = fewer qualified writers = should pay more.
4) Use strategic silences to give yourself thinking time, and to leave an opening for them to offer more. Humans abhor silence and will often fill it by starting to talk again. In negotiation, this keeps the pressure on them to move the negotiation forward.

Moral of the story: negotiate calmly and carefully out there…and get what you’re worth!

For more tips on getting corporate clients to pay you a good rate, see my latest post on Make a Living Writing: How to Get Writing Clients To Pay You More.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Tips for Using the Writer’s Market

 

One of our WM readers, Alice Knisley Matthias, wrote recently to ask if we could break down the best ways to use the Writer’s Market. I’m happy to answer that one today, as I highly recommend using the Writer’s Market to all the writers I mentor. It’s a great time to ask because the publication is changing and offering more options than ever to help writers.

For the uninitiated, the Writer’s Market has traditionally been a vast, annually published reference book of places that publish writers — from consumer magazines to trade publications to writing contests. It’s published by the folks who bring you Writer’s Digest magazine. It also lists book publishers, screenplay markets, greeting-card markets and much more. My current copy is more than 1,100 pages long. When I was starting out, I made much use of this resource to find entry-level markets, and since the downturn have been back to browsing it again to identify markets in the top pay rank. No matter where you’re at in your writing career, there’s useful information in this guide.

Here are my tips for getting the most from the Writer’s Market:

1. Get it with online support. In the fast-changing media world of the 21st Century, getting the Writer’s Market as a physical book only is a mistake. Getting the Market with online support offers many advantages in using the data in this enormous volume — and it’ll be the best $40 you ever spent on your writing career.

Or if you’re interested in a particular writing niche and buy one of Writer’s Digest’s niche guides, you can now also buy it bundled with access to WritersMarket.com. Or, if you’re a virtual type, you can now subscribe to WritersMarket.com without getting the book. I see they’re also offering a free 7-day trial, and you can also subscribe month-to-month now, and quit anytime. So there’s lots of new flexibility in how you can access their listings.

2. Use the search engine. The prime advantage of online support is that rather than leafing endlessly through physical pages, you can use the Market’s online search engines to slice and dice their data and cut right to what you’re looking for. You can use their advanced search to find only consumer magazines in only a certain region, at only a certain pay level. Saves a lot of squinting time poring over the book.

3. Browse the new listings. One of my favorite ways to use WritersMarket.com is to click on the link that says “X number of listings were updated in the past week.” Why? I have a theory about people who take the time to fill out the surveys Writer’s Market sends them asking for updates to their information: Editors fill them out when they are interested in finding new freelancers. When they’re not interested, they throw the update form in the trash. So the new listings are a great resource for finding new editors and publications that are good markets. At the speed editors are changing jobs these days, this is a great place to browse for inspiration on new places to query, and to make sure you’ve got current information about a market.

4. Build your market list. No more scribbling down contacts on a sheet of paper, or copy and pasting contact info into a Word doc — on WritersMarket.com you can create your own “My Markets” database and store information on any markets you find interesting. Also no more scratching your head trying to recall that market you saw three months ago that’s a fit for a great story idea you just got.

4. Get the free marketing newsletter.As a perk of membership you can get a free newsletter with tips on how to market your writing. Nice!

5. Check the news. Writer’s Market’s Debbie Ridpath Ohi assembles a great compendium of breaking news that affects writers — news of bankrupt publishers, new magazine launches, and editor changes. For instance, glancing at my newscatcher on my WritersMarket.com dashboard right now, I see that AOL has launched a food site with former Gourmet magazine editors, and that Editor & Publisher has gotten a new owner and will resume publication. These are great leads for places to send pitches or resumes that put you ahead of the pack, before these markets send out want ads.

6. Dig the community. WritersMarket.com has its own writers’ community, with subgroups for many genres. If you’re looking for a niche affinity group within writing, this could be a great place to connect.

Whatever way you get and use the Writer’s Market — the main thing is to use it! Put it on your marketing plan and make a date with yourself to check it regularly. It can be a powerful tool for increasing your writing earnings in 2010.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

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Move-Up Markets for Freelance Writers

By Carol Tice

After writing on my own Make a Living Writing Blog about how freelance writers should aim for making $100 an hour, I heard from many writers. Mostly they wanted advice on how to achieve more modest goals — just moving up from the $8-$15-an article level and perhaps making $30 an hour.

So that’s my topic for my first WM post of the new year — move-up markets. If you’re writing $15 or $20 articles now, you should be looking for $50-an-article clients who would allow you to slowly drop your lower-paying gigs and raise your average hourly rate.

Personally, I was approached by several folks at the $50-$100 an article level in the past few months…so I know these markets are out there.

The Los Angeles career magazine Working World pays $70 an article, for instance, and I was also asked to write for a section of AOL for $50 a piece.

To investigate move-up markets more, I spent the past few weeks trolling the online job ads for gigs that paid around $50-$100 an article. These aren’t ordinarily ads I look at, so I was surprised once I focused on this price point to find quite a few listings.

Obviously, this doesn’t include the many, many higher-paying gigs you could find by networking, approaching small businesses in your town, using social media to prospect, and otherwise aggressively marketing your business. This is just a selection of what I gleaned from a quick browse through online job ads.

The Nature Conservancy of Texas offered $200 for four 450-word columns a month — so that’s $50 an article, and more than $.10 a word.

StreetAuthority was looking for a freelance financial writer for $75 an article.

Not For Tourists in New York was looking for local writers to write $100 neighborhood descriptions, with pay ranging up to $500.

Life123 offered $50 an assignment for a “wide range of subject matter.” I can remember when nothing in general subjects paid over $20…interesting, huh?

Audio Academy was offering $100-150 a post for a music blogger (the job has since closed).

In addition to these, Writers Weekly lists many jobs at move-up rates….the issue linked here had quite a few, including $125-$300 from Alaska Business Monthly, and assignments from $75-$150 about hockey from Puck Life.

And over at All Freelance Writing each Tuesday, Jennifer Mattern posts job listings only for gigs that pay over $50 a post. What easier way is there to screen out the slave-wage jobs and concentrate on move-up markets? This week, for instance, one of her listings is B2B publisher BG+H, which pays $100-$120 an article.

Here’s what I’ve learned — the marketplace will not set healthy pay boundaries for you. There will always be cheapskates. You have to set the boundaries yourself.

If you entertain the notion of $15 articles, you end up writing them. If you turn down low-paying jobs as simply below your bottom asking price and keep looking until you find better-paying ones, you’ll likely end up being better paid.

Why doesn’t everybody do this? Because switching up can cause a short-term cash-flow problem while you get new clients lined up. You have to overcome your fear that you’re going to starve if you hold out for better gigs, or even spend part of each week prospecting for better assignments instead of writing your current cheap articles. Saying “no” to prospective clients — or to that oh-so-easy to access assignment page on a content mill — can feel harsh, scary, confrontational, maybe in this economy even a little crazy. But that’s exactly what you have to do to move up.

I’m polite with prospective clients who call and offer me $20 an article, or $50, or $70. I thank them for their interest, and let them know they’re not in my ballpark. I offer my rewriting services in case they discover the content they got cheap isn’t up to snuff, and encourage them to be back in touch when they can pay professional rates. I don’t go away mad, I just go away, and leave the door open. Try it — you’ll find that valuing your time enough to turn down lowball clients feels great. It also leaves room in your schedule for better-paying clients.

What’s your move-up goal for 2010, and how do you plan to achieve it? Drop us a comment and let us know.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

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