Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to Turn Your Writing Dreams into Spending Money Part 1: Guest Poster Jim Bessey

Julia: Jim is a member of my live critique group, Rochester Writer's Association. I know with events such as ACFW coming up many writers are looking for extra cash. And if we can earn it by further indulging our love for writing, why not?

Photo from Brenbot on Flickr

Writers have interesting dreams. Some of them lead to wildly-plotted tales of heroes and villains. Others are of the more practical variety.

Do you sometimes dream of getting paid to sit on your couch in your jammies, tapping away quietly on your laptop while the kids are fast asleep? Don't worry, many of us have that dream.

Not the one where we spend a year writing and revising what we hope will be the next "came outa nowhere" surprise best-seller, find an agent, get a publishing contract with a five-figure advance, and hit the Big Time. I'm talking about the simple dream of getting paid a reasonable wage for putting our writing skills to work, 500 words at a time.

I'm certain some of you have at least tried to make this happen. You don't need to hit the "50 Shades" lottery; you just have to write helpful articles about familiar topics.
  • How to grow gorgeous roses in container pots
  • Balance your checkbook in 5 minutes
  • Three keys to living on $1000 a month
  • 10 tips for great family camping outings
  • How to save money by changing your own oil

And so on. I first discovered this brave new world of writing for pay in 2007. I was so excited!

"I can earn money by writing articles about stuff I already know how to do?" Until then, I had no idea this was possible. And there were thousands of titles just waiting there for me tackle. All I had to do was pick a title, write an article, post it, and wait for the cash to pile up.

If you've tried it, you know it wasn't actually that easy.

This was called "writing for revenue share." Your articles were displayed on a giant user-generated "content" site, surrounded by national-level advertisements. The money you earned was based upon page views or click-throughs, and it wasn't often more than a dollar or two per article each month (if you were lucky). Some sites even paid a small "up-front" stipend, as much as $15 at the height of this grand scheme.

By 2008, I knew writers who had over 1000 articles posted and were earning more than $500 a month. It wasn't The Dream, but it paid for groceries or short vacations for many of us.

Then came Google's "Panda" attack.

That was just over two years ago, and it hit the user-content concept with four paws and razor-sharp claws. "Panda" was just the beginning of Google's sweeping search-engine algorithm revisions. (There have been dozens of updates since then.) As a result, giant sites that relied on the efforts of thousands of part-time writers saw traffic drops of 80-90% in one week. Suddenly, the revenue from articles like the ones I listed above dropped from dollars to pennies--or nothing at all.

Were you there when it happened? Some of my writing friends had to scramble to find low-paying part-time work to make up their lost royalties. The rest of us turned to a system that had been quietly growing alongside the monthly-pennies model: Writing on Contract.

Of course, there wasn't anything new about writing on contract. The difference was that the user-content website found the work for us. When a website owner needed an article or twenty, they would offer a contract to the site I belonged to.

That site then put the work out to its members, retaining a percentage of the contract price as a brokerage fee. If you were one of the writers selected to submit, you quickly went to work churning articles out on deadline. My first contract posts, all about Roofing, paid ten bucks apiece. Wahoo!

The next round paid $20 per submission, but the articles were longer and more complicated. Later still, I was part of a select team making $45 each for comprehensive "how-to" guides for a major national appliance repair website. A couple of those ended up paying me $90, just because they were so complicated.

But what was I actually earning per hour? Just over Minimum Wage, at best.

Now, earning minimum wage while sitting on your couch in your jammies isn't all bad. For some of my friends who suffered chronic health issues, this amounted to Pennies from Heaven. They could earn a few hundred dollars a month without violating Disability restrictions, and put some healthy food on their tables.

But it still wasn't The Dream, was it?

What's a dreamer to do? Is there anything out there in the Writing World that honestly resembles our dreams of making money from the power of our words?

Yes, there is. Hand to heart, it's out there for you.

It's not actually a "dream," however. It's hard work. Just like a "real job" would be. There are some good writing jobs out there, but you'll have to go looking for them. Basically, you can find three distinct writing venues that would love to pay for your high-quality content (emphasis on high-quality!):
  1. Professional blogs
  2. Major websites
  3. Magazines

Each of these writing realms need good, fresh content to survive. By this, I don't mean 500-word bang-it-out pieces stuffed to the gills with Keywords. Those were Panda's key prey, and those days are all but gone. If you want to earn serious money as a Freelance Writer, you will need to do two things well: specialize and submit queries. Doesn't sound much different than the "old days" before the Internet boom, does it?

No one is going to hand you plum assignments, just for signing up (the way it was in 2007, sort of). You gotta go out there and get 'em. And you gotta be good! (No, don't use the word "gotta" in any professional writing!)

In the next installment, I'll walk you through the steps you can take right away to begin your freelance writing career. In the meantime, think about what kind of non-fiction writing you'd love to do. We'll talk more about passionate writing in "expert" niches--that's where the money is.

Hope to see you there.

Would you like to get paid more than pennies to write articles for publication? To get you started, tell us about something that really interests you, some area that you know more about than the rest of us do. It might be something related to your current profession, or to your favorite hobby or pastime. Share your expertise in Comments.

Jim still earns about $2 a month from his 80+ revenue-share articles posted on Helium.com. Much more valuable, however, are the friendships he made there.
Today, Jim and his writing friends engage in friendly cash-prize writing competitions on his website SoWrite.Us.com. He'd love to meet you there, and introduce you to the rest of the gang.


Unknown said...

It was nice and veru inspirational blog for me.i really like that thanks for share.article writing

Glorygarden@msn.com said...

I'm a bit of an oddball I guess, because I never wrote to make money...just for the chance to write somewhere where people could read my stuff and tell me what I was doing wrong (and hopefully what I was doing well.) I have learned so much by writing a few articles at Helium and also at Greenthumb organic garden website. I appreciate the experience because now I can go on and do my own blogs and write my stories...maybe even publish a novel some day! It's all fun.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Glory, You have hit on something crucial--the value of a good critique. A necessity to growing as a writer. Glad to hear of your successes, I'm interested in organic gardening..I'll have to check out Greenthumb.

Jim Bessey said...

Thanks for your kind words, Mark!

Glory, you are one of those Helium friends I still treasure. In fact, you and I have met in person as a result. That was fun! Your true strength seems to be in story-telling, Glory (though you are a wonderful gardener, too). When you publish that novel, count me as a guaranteed customer.

You are so right, Julia! The time our group has spent together reading and critiquing each others' drafts has been priceless. Thanks very much for inviting me to guest-post here!

Mike Martel said...

Great article Jim. I especially like how you explained where the industry is at the moment. One thing to think of is keeping hold of the articles your write, you can put them together and create an ebook for Amazon or one of the other places that sell ebooks.

Great advice. Thanks!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I must admit that I was surprised by the history you shared about article writing and the "Google Panda". I remember something about the search engine changing, but didn't realize the ramifications of that. This was all so fascinating!

raymond alexander kukkee said...

Great article, Jim, and wonderful summary of what's happening. I'm not writing for 'content mills' now, but still collect 'pennies'. It's a changing world. I have my own blog IncomingBytes.com for entertainment, I write niche stuff (custom articles to order) once in a while, but money or not, most enjoyment comes from writing fiction. We love to write. That's what we are, writers, starving in the attic or not.

Julia M. Reffner said...

Well said, Raymond. There is definitely a love for writing whether paid or not that drives us into growing and continuing in our craft. Without that, why bother?

Julia M. Reffner said...

Sherrinda, Much of this was new to me as well.

KaeWonders said...

Hmmh. I did realize you could actually get paid for writing internet articles.

Diane said...

Your typical excellent article, Jim, that encapsulates what's been happening in the world of content writing over the last five years. Like you, I'm thankful that I remain a part of Helium's Network of writers and don't have to hawk my writing in what has become a very competitive field. I'm looking forward to your next installment.

Unknown said...

Great article, Jim.

I am currently sending out letters of introduction to trade mags. I have worked in the construction industry for over 20 years (house framing, cabinet building, renos), so hope to use that experience to get writing jobs.

I look forward to the second half of the article

Jim Bessey said...

@ Sherrinda: Thanks! I'll settle for fascinating any time.

@ Raymond: Yup, you were there right from the beginning, weren't you? We had some fun, and even made a bit of money in the process. Your fiction is amazing, too.

@ Kae: Not sure if you meant "did not realize," but either way,only hard work pays off long-term.

@ Diane: Thanks! It says a lot about the power of writing that so many of our original Helium gang keep in touch.

@ Rhonda: Keep at it! I'm sure you'll find success using your years of construction experience. I started out framing houses, too!