So you want to be a writer, huh?

I’ll be honest with you – it isn’t easy. It took me years of work and learning the hard way from multiple mistakes before I hit some semblance of a stride. Split infinitives and post-colon capitalization lurk in my peripheral vision, and spellcheck saves me a minimum of a dozen times an hour, even a decade after I first got the notion to do this for a living. I’m a good writer – an imperfect one, perhaps, but halfway decent if a bucketful of happy clients is any indication. You can be too, if you’re willing to work at it a little and keep persistence as a constant goal.

I started The Freelance Writer Guide to…

Continue reading

Why Free Work is a Losing Proposition: Part 2

So, you say, there are a lot of downsides to writing free articles for exposure, but if I decide to do it anyway, there’s no real harm in it, right? I don’t mind writing about (x) subject, after all. Unfortunately, there are ripples that continue to disrupt the freelance market each time a writer takes on a task gratis:

The “just one more thing…” issue. If you think that a site is going to be happy with a single piece of free work, it might be time to guess again. Once many of the unscrupulous sites out there soliciting for free work realize that you’re willing to cough up quality pieces for nothing more than a vague promise of “exposure,” they’ll keep hitting you up like a font-filled piñata. Product descriptions, ads, articles, blogs, social media likes and comments – the list never ends, and your inbox never empties as wheedling plea after plea for free writing work floods in.

Devaluing your coworkers. If you’re willing to work for free, it doesn’t hurt anything but your own schedule, right? Wrong. Freelancers are already facing an uphill battle to be paid fairly and considered as legitimate workers; free writing work muddies the waters and convinces clients that writing isn’t a “real” job that requires fair pay. If you wouldn’t walk into a store and work an eight-hour shift for free, you shouldn’t be willing to devote your time to writing for free either.

Your work may not stay yours. Ghostwriting is a common practice in freelancing, in which writers give up claim or name on their work in exchange for being paid. If a client alters an article, uses it as spam, or engages in other nefarious purposes with your work, you don’t have to worry about it coming back on your reputation because you’re behind the scenes. Without the explicit work-for-pay agreement in place, it’s not unthinkable that an “exposure” client may be tempted to play fast and loose with your free work, yanking your name off of it or feeding it through an article spinning program until it barely resembles your original piece. If your name is gone or your work has been turned into garbage, suddenly “exposure” can leave you pretty darn exposed.

There are (very few!) exceptions. Certain large projects – hundreds of product descriptions, several websites’ worth of landing copy, etc – may request a project-specific sample to ensure your skills fit with the project. The key is not to respond to cattle calls (think craigslist ads) with this specialized content that can’t really be used elsewhere; save your efforts for the 2nd or 3rd volley of back-and-forth with a client on a freelance platform such as Odesk. These specialized samples, which should adhere to the word counts mentioned above, can also be used as a bargaining chip – offer to do a small snippet to “help with the decision-making process” if it’s a job you just gotta snag.

My advice is to start your freelance career by writing samples – pick a favorite lamp off of Overstock, create a fictional dentist office in your town, and so on – and describe and/or write for them. Product descriptions should be about 100-150 words, while landing pages and articles are appropriately sized around 300-400. Whenever a sample is requested for a prospective client, toss one of your (expertly written and polished, natch) samples their way. This keeps the freebie frenzy to a dull roar and keeps value in your work – you’re worth it!

Don’t “Expose” Yourself: Why Free Work is a Losing Proposition

Even as a beginning freelance writer, you could throw a digital rock and hit half a dozen ‘opportunities’ that would happily accept your work in exchange for not paying you. While I don’t doubt that somewhere, somehow, there are a handful of companies that legitimately have the stature to elevate your position in the freelance writing sphere, the vast majority do not.

Casual news-scanners would be hard-pressed not to turn up one of the multitude of internship ethics articles hitting the media stream in the last few months. If you’ve happened to miss these, the gist of it is that companies are shaving down their “real” jobs and putting hapless interns – who aren’t making a dime – in their positions, one task at a time. These interns are worked mercilessly, and are often expected to pull hours a paid employee wouldn’t, and do so without complaint. The theoretical training and experience that they’re working the internship for in the first place take a backseat to the glut of expectations dumped on their shoulders. These free labor sources are very seldom hired to “real” jobs in the same company once their internships are finished.

While writing internships are few and far between, that doesn’t stop unscrupulous companies from trying to cash in on free work, especially from naive freelance writers just starting out. Don’t fall for their lines! Here are a few red flags to keep an eye out for:

  • The concept of “exposure.” Long a buzz word for shamelessly soliciting free labor from freelance writers, exposure makes the case that a client will see your work on (x) site, find themselves impressed by your skill, and seek you out to write for their own site. This is a strange and nebulous concept with logic that likely won’t hold water, once examined.
  • Why would a website want to make a case for a rival to take you for themselves? They’ll be left without a consistent tone (set up by your free work) and strengthen their rivals’ sites and sales.
  • How much traffic is the “exposure” site actually currently getting? If they’re just starting out – as is often the case – you’d have better luck starting a blog and writing articles about your skills to attract clients directly. It isn’t your job to contribute free work to a struggling site in the hopes of making it popular enough to deliver the exposure you were promised in the first place!
  • What would your byline look like? If the person soliciting work from you gives you the equivalent of an email shrug, or worse – doesn’t know what a byline is or isn’t willing to give you one – the whole thing’s a sham.
  • They demand credentials for your free work. As updates to Google have gradually been introduced to the marketing world, online identity aggregate tools like Google+ authorship have gained significant weight and value in search algorithms. To use a metaphor, a sketchy site demanding you use your G+ profile to author and link an article is like a really rude loser of a bar fly striding up and saying that they’ll “let” you date them and in exchange brag about the fact you dated them to every potential date afterwards. Sure, it makes them look good to their potential partners, but it’ll send yours running for the hills.Protect your G+ authorship credentials and only attach it to articles – and clients – that support your legitimacy as a freelancer.

Guest Post: Kevin Casey on Constant Content

Blog Owner’s Note: I met Kevin Casey through the comments on this very blog, and I was very impressed with his knowledge of a very tricky site – Constant Content. I nudged him about a guest post to help my readers navigate this sometimes confusing but potentially profitable venue, and he was kind enough to agree. Below is his guest post, and for a more advanced look into his tips and tricks, I highly recommend his e-book, which you’ll find linked at the bottom of the post.

Getting paid to write articles for Constant Content – 5 things you need to know before you jump in

By Kevin Casey

Do you love writing, but hate marketing yourself? Do you want to get paid to write, but won’t lower yourself to write for 2 cents a word at typical content mill sites? Then Constant Content could be the answer. Like every freelance writing option, it has its advantages and drawbacks, of course. If your grammar is better than average and you can churn out a steady volume of articles in the 450-800 word range, Constant Content can be a convenient way to make extra money when your other writing gigs slow down. I sold close to $2000 worth of articles during my first two months on the site, writing about 17 hours per week. I sold over 80% of the articles I wrote. There are some writers, however, who seem to struggle on CC. If you’re one of these writers (or someone who wants to try writing for CC for the first time), these proven tips will help increase your profits on Constant Content:

1. Read the site’s guidelines before you submit your first article –

This is absolutely crucial. Go to CC’s forum, look for the ‘Questions and Answers’ section and find a page called ‘Must-read Resources – New Authors Start here’. Here you’ll find the Quick Writer Guidelines, Extended Writer Guidelines and a ‘How to Succeed on Constant Content’ article. These tips will tell you what to expect from the site, and what is expected of you as a writer.

2. Don’t worry about the editors at Constant Content –

Every article you submit to CC is reviewed by on-site editors. If it’s approved, it goes up for sale on the site. If it’s rejected (for spelling, grammar or other reasons), the editors will tell you what needs fixing so you can resubmit the article. If you have heard about the strictness of CC’s editors and wonder if you’ll make it on this site, there’s only one way to find out – give it a try. If English is not your first language, you might struggle. If having other people critique your writing skills irritates you, you may want to find a different site. But if you’re a decent writer who can write engagingly on a range of subjects, you should be okay. After all, you and the editors are after the same goal – to keep the quality of articles high.

3. Proofread like it’s the most important thing in the world, because on this site, it is –

Many article rejections occur because of sloppy proofreading. I use the MS Word spell check, and sometimes I’ll use a site called Pro Writing Aid to scan my article for grammar blunders, word repetition, etc. Do not rely solely on online checks to detect errors, however. You should proofread each article twice while it’s in MS Word, and a third time in the CC submission box, before you hit that ‘Submit’ button. If there is an extra space between words, for example, you’ll get an automatic rejection. Diligent proofreading is the best way to prevent rejections on Constant Content.

4. Writer Pools and Public Requests offer the most consistent income –

To be eligible to write for Writer Pool requests on CC, you must have at least 10 articles approved on the site, and an approval rate of 60% or more. You may then be invited to participate in these projects. Writer Pool requests often involve 5 or 10 articles at a time; you then ‘claim’ the block of articles you want to write. I pocketed $325 in 3 days with one of these. Public Requests are a bit different – they go out to all CC writers, and the customer then buys the submitted article (or articles) they like best. Once you’ve been on the site a while, you may even receive a Private Request from a client who wants your writing skills exclusively for their website. That’s where the big money is, because you can negotiate a premium cost for top shelf content.

5. If there is a ‘secret’ to succeeding on Constant Content, it’s sheer volume –

Constant Content’s statistics show that about 70% of all approved articles will sell at some point. It’s also interesting to note that if you submit 5 articles, you have a 97% chance of selling at least one. What does this mean in practical terms? It means you need to keep writing and build up a healthy volume of articles on this site. It’s simple mathematics, really: a writer with 170 articles sitting on Constant Content is far more likely to make money this month than one who has only 8 articles for sale. If you can churn out a nice collection of quality articles, a kind of semi-residual income comes into effect. I always like getting an email from CC that says “Congratulations! Your Article Sold!”, but it’s even nicer when it relates to an article I wrote months before and completely forgot about.

You won’t become a millionaire on Constant Content, but a decent writer can definitely make money there. If you’re after some extra part-time writing income, Constant Content is certainly an option worth considering.

Kevin Casey is the author of The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making Money on

If you want to start a career in freelance writing, it’s not enough to ask. Information, much like gasoline, is an important resource, but if you don’t use it, it will simply sit and age until it isn’t useful anymore.

Gasoline forming a dollar sign.

I’ve had more than a dozen people approach me this week, all of whom I’d already given this website to in the past, and ask me about freelance writing. Naturally, I’m always happy to assist those just starting out – that’s why I made the Freelance Writer’s Guide, after all – but sometimes it can be a little tough repeating yourself 3 or 4 times with months in between because it can feel a bit futile. It got me thinking about the freelance spirit, and why motivation is so important when it comes to writing for money online.

Quick-Trigger Responses

While work is plentiful across several sites, it isn’t necessarily always plentiful on a single site. Dedicated workers know that the lists, boards, or other project postings need to be consulted a minimum of a few times a day for the best success rate, and sitting on one’s hands simply isn’t an option.

“Oh, I’ll just check the site tomorrow…” sends your potential money heading straight for another freelancer, so stop hitting your own brakes and get to it.

Physics and Freelance Writing

An object in motion tends to stay in motion, right? The same goes for an object at rest. The more you write, check, correspond with clients and build your profiles, the more likely you are to keep at it. If you sit for a half hour and make a halfhearted attempt to fill out a profile that you’ll “Get back to…” before you start playing Candy Crush – you’re probably never going to get back to it.

Give writing for money online its due and devote a few hours, at least, to your fledgling effort. It will spur itself and you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish when you’re in the groove.

Freelance Writing = Research

Writing freelance, especially articles, involves a lot of digging, hunting and reading to turn out a product that isn’t composed of equal parts “fluff” and BS. If you aren’t willing to dig into the site and at least read the Freelance Writer’s Guide in full before asking a slew of questions, you’re indicating that your time is more valuable than someone else’s (either mine or another writer’s) and that you lack the discipline necessary to research – which is a solid 50% of most writing work. This isn’t, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, a very good starting point for a freelance career.

Read first, ask questions after; there’s a very good chance that the things you’re curious about are already answered in the Freelance Writer’s Guide.

The Cut: Writing Site Commissions

For beginner and long-haul freelance writers alike, content mills tend to be fairly popular places to gather up steady work. Once confronted with an open order listing and barred from off-site communication with clients, it’s easy to take article prices at face value and forget that what we’re paid is not what the client’s paying.

Why Should We Care?

Okay, so the client pays a higher price to the content mill – how does that affect freelance writers? The client-writer relationship is just like any other relationship – communication is key. Knowing your client’s mindset will help you put things in perspective and realize that “picky” sometimes just means “expects what they paid for.” For example, if you pay for a $20 burger in a restaurant, you expect a damn good burger for your money, right? If a client pays for a $20 article and the content mill passes on $12 to the writer, who then has to pay $1 to retrieve their own money, that writer isn’t typically inclined to produce a $20 level article. The client may place additional demands on the freelance writer – finding a source, rewording a paragraph, etc – with their original price tag in mind, and the writer in turn may bristle at the “cheap” client that seemingly wants everything at a discount price. Things get a lot less tense when both sides realize how much money is being diverted to the mill site.

Textbroker Pay Scale

Textbroker’s Client Pay Scale

The real use of this research, however, is when solo job assignment and pricing come into play. The client may toss out an initial offer that he or she feels is generous, not realizing that the site takes a substantial cut to act as middleman. When negotiating for a higher rate, a freelancer stands on much better ground if they can say, with authority, that their content mill site “takes a 30% cut of all payments, including tips” rather than a vague “the site takes a cut of my pay.” Numbers and facts imply that you are a stand-up worker, and you know you stuff – normal clients are more likely to pay you what you’re worth and shady clients are less likely to try and bilk you.

Some Things to Remember

When you work for a content site, you are consenting to their setup – deadlines, client communication rules, and pay. While most sites hover around the 20-25% mark as far as commissions taken out, some are substantially higher and may employ practices such as charging your commission before the job has even started, such as, or charging you a percentage penalty of the job’s potential pay for missing a deadline, such as  While some of these practices are a little stern and/or exploitative, it’s important to note that you are compelled to live with them if you choose to work for that site. Likewise, you are free to walk away from a site that you feel takes too much money or is too restrictive – just don’t do it in the middle of a job. A client does not “owe” you an additional x% to recoup what the site takes, so never bring that attitude to the negotiation table – freelancer writers aren’t exactly scarce, and an entitled attitude is the fastest way to usher your client towards another writer.

iWriter Scam: The Hits Just Keep On Coming

I’ve long maintained that a successful product sells itself; that a positive and upwardly-mobile workplace attracts talent without needing to try to0 hard. When I come across a freelance writing scam site or con, I do my best to write about the reasons why I consider it a bad choice for freelancers, and I don’t tend to bite my tongue when I’m dishing out deserved criticism. When I wrote my blog entry Freelance Writing Site Info: nearly a year ago, I figured that I’d detail the issues I found with the site, steer others off, and leave it up perpetually to serve as a warning. I didn’t expect I’d get a lot of comments on it – the review was pretty straightforward – but I did get a surprising chorus of agreement from people that had been burned financially by the site.

Almost unanimously, my visitors agreed that the ethics behind the site were questionable at best, even if they were claiming to have earned some money with them. My blog post might have answered the basic question of “Is a scam?”, but it was the commentary below it that drove the point home to casual browsers.

Yesterday, I got an email from iWriter, with the subject line “We’d like to deposit free money into your iwriter account balance.”

Here is the text of the email I received from iWriter:

Hi Delany, the holiday season is upon us and I thought it
would be fun to give away some free money sent straight to your
iWriter account.

And it’s valid until January 1st. Here’s how it works:

Also, I wanted to let you know that I’ve added a blog to iWriter,
which you’ll see when you visit the link above.

And we’re in the process of adding a feature to allow you to write
Press Releases for clients, which has been a highly requested

Lots of good things to come in 2014!

Have a look at the page below to see how you can earn free money
deposited by us, straight to your iWriter account balance:

Happy holidays! :-)

Brad Callen
Bryxen Software, Inc.

Bryxen Software, Inc. 2159 Glebe Street, Suite 270 Carmel, IN 46032

Essentially, the link leads the reader to a page that’s offering a buck or two for every post they get out on the net that promotes iWriter. This morning, my queue on WordPress for my iWriter review piece – the one with over 20 negative comments about how much of a scam iWriter is behind the scenes – is suddenly filled with post after post about how wonderful and amazing and profitable the site is. All of these comments popped up mere hours after the email was sent…

….and if you think that’s a coincidence, I’ve got a bridge to sell ya.

iWriter and everyone spam-posting for the site – you’re embarrassing yourselves and muddying the waters of those looking for legitimate freelance writing sites. You’ll find no “safe harbor” on this blog when it’s so abundantly clear what’s motivating your posting tone.

Help! How Do I Create Writing Samples?

Although most freelance writing sites will have either a proprietary piece submission requirement, writing samples are important to have waiting in the wings. Stepping into the freelance writing gig with your arsenal already loaded means that you’ll be able to be more nimble and jump on job opportunities – getting paid with writing is about 1/3 timing, 1/3 prep and 1/3 solid writing, when you get right down to it.

Write Like You’re Getting Paid

Avoid the temptation to recycle that Brit Lit paper from sophomore year and crack some knuckles; you should really be writing your samples from scratch. The more you write, the better you’ll get, which is why example pieces, barring rare cases of high-profile clients or publications attached to them, should be as fresh as possible. As you write them, try and convince your brain they’re for a job – they’ll end up with a more professional edge and go further towards convincing the client to pick you up. These aren’t fun pieces or fluff, this is your interview on paper so be sure to treat it that way.

But What Do I Write??

Okay, here’s the thing. Hit up a site like (which you should really be signed up for anyway) and scan through the jobs available after searching a keyword that matches your preferred writing style or skill. Love writing press releases? Pop “PR” in there. Prefer to cover the news? Type up “News Articles” and see what you get. As you scan the jobs, you’ll probably see some trends and common themes, and that’s what you’re aiming for. Pick a concept or field and go forth into the great wide Google to get your source and ideas ready and just…write. For myself, I prefer product descriptions, so I headed over to my favorite online store, grabbed 2 or 3 products that I could see myself buying, and rewrote their descriptions entirely. This allowed my enthusiasm and passion for those products to shine through and give my writing a natural boost. Plus, linking the high-profile site to demonstrate the original description didn’t hurt my cred with the client – they don’t necessarily have to know that you weren’t hired to do that piece for that company, but do be truthful if they ask directly.

Your pieces should not be the new War and Peace. Keep it short but simple, folding in a 300 to 400 word piece along with a few 200-ish ones so you have a body of easily-digestible work for the client to leaf through. If you need a refresher on how to write an article, click here. Essentially, for web writing, you want to have a short opener and closer, cap paragraphs at 100-ish words, and use subheaders for each paragraph.

Some Final Tips:

  • After you’ve written one or two pieces, don’t be shy about hitting up friends and family and asking their opinion – it’s sort of like a phone-a-friend lifeline for an interview, and it’s a rare shot at assistance you should make use of. Pay the most attention to what they think of the overall flow and tone, because those are the important bits.
  • Save these pieces in a “normal” – e.g. compatible-with-Microsoft-word format, using size 12 Times New Roman font, which is pretty much industry standard. Save it to your account at (and if you don’t have a writing gmail address yet, you get a smack with a rolled up newspaper. Go do it.) so that you can access it wherever you need to, whenever you need to.
  • Take exclamation points out. This is an article, not a used car sales lot ad. Unless it is, in which case leave em in.
  • Look through your piece with a careful eye and see if you’ve repeated any concepts or thoughts. If so, get back in there and rewrite them into different ideas. If you’re relying on repeating your own work to fill a short self-selected piece that you have free reign on, you can bet the client is going to notice.
  • As Mark Twain once said, “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Take this to heart and also swap out the word “great” for another adjective after you’ve used it once in a piece. Trust me, it’s a pain in the ass but man will it help your writing.