Making the Cut: The Commission Percentage

Whether you are currently writing for a “mill” style writing site (where a list of jobs are posted and you pick, work and turn your piece in within the site itself) or just considering it, commission percentages are an important thing to consider.

Essentially, because the site is acting as a “go-between,” furnishing the job list and taking responsibility for things like the interface, payment arrangements, consistency in pay and so on, they take a cut of what you earn. The industry standard is right around 30%, but the way that’s expressed can vary greatly.

Determining Your Actual Freelance Pay Rate

Some freelance writing sites force you to do the math before taking a piece, expressing your pay as a whole – for example, a 300 word piece might be advertised as a $15 payout, but in reality, you’ll only make $10 after the commission is removed prior to payout. Others are up front and state exactly what you’ll pay, taking their cut behind the scenes. The latter is definitely preferable to most of us for the sake of ease, but it also keeps writers somewhat in the dark as far as what the client actually pays. Here is, to the best of my knowledge, a rundown of commission percentages that a few popular freelance writing sites charge:

HireWriters: 23% (Writer earns $7.70 for a $10 job; $1.00 withdrawal fee)

WriterAccess: 30% (Writer earns $7.00 for a $10 job; There are no fees for payout.)

(Note, 8/17/16: more sites coming as I can figure them out!)

It’s hardly a comprehensive list, but figuring out what *writers* make is actually surprisingly difficult. WriterAccess is essentially the only site that takes pains to inform clients about what’s actually being paid out, the rest seem to hide behind charts and complicated onboarding processes. (Zerys, in particular, is an absolute nightmare as a “client.” That’s a whole different blog post for yours truly, but suffice it to say I would have given up and gone elsewhere almost immediately).

Beware of “Restructuring”

Upwork (aka ODesk aka Elance) has also undergone a recent “improvement” in their freelance commission pricing structure, effectively penalizing one-off client/writer collaborations under a $500 budget by doubling their commission percentage from 10% to 20%. Ongoing collaborations, called contracts, can earn a “break” that essentially translates to what they were making before. Looks like they’re following the much-reviled eBay seller fee school of doing business.

….And a Shift to Pay Windows

If there was a refrain in the song of freelancing, it would be some combination of not putting all your eggs in one basket, nor counting those eggs before they hatch. Paypal is by and large the main method for freelance writer site payouts, but a shift in their way of doing business has spelled trouble for pay consistency on the writers’ end. Where a firm payday was once the norm – the 1st, 9th, 15th, and so on – pay ranges seem to be the norm now, with WriterAccess having shifted paydates from single-day payouts on the 5th and 22nd to potential date ranges: the “7th -11th” and the “22nd – 26th” – paying all of their writers at once on an unknown day within the range (most writers plan for the last day, and are usually smart to do so.)

WriterAccess, at the least, pays reliably: Zerys recently sent an email after missing their stated pay window for the second period in a row. Here’s the gist of the email they sent disappointed writers, courtesy of my writing peer Carrie:

“…I wanted to give you up an update on your Zerys payment. Unfortunately, some of our valued writers will be experiencing a delay this pay period. The delay was caused due to a spike in last-minute content approvals. We do our best to estimate how much money we need to transfer to Paypal to cover our writer costs, but sometimes this is difficult because we pay right up to midnight the night of the last day of the pay period. Since it can take up to 5 days to transfer additional funds, this can sometimes lead to payments taking longer than we would like.

We apologize about any inconvenience this has caused you. We are working on making several changes to our pay periods and payment processes to address these issues, including working with Paypal to see if they can speed up their funds transfer times in the future.

Some writers should see payments later today. All other writers should be paid in the next day or two.

Thanks for your patience and understanding. We really appreciate all you do.”

There’s a lot to mull over when it comes to payments, but the moral of this story is to do some digging before you sign up with a platform. Within a single platform, it’s easy to become complacent with rates and commission percentages for wont of comparison. Be sure to poke your head up now and then and make sure what you’re pulling in is fair compensation within the industry at large!

Freelance Writing Site Info: Review

What is Textbroker? is a content mill site for freelance writing jobs, which means that the site posts a variety of writing jobs from an array of clients that can be individually picked up by writers. Textbroker collects money from the client and, once the client approves submitted work, pays a portion of it to the writer.

How do I start at Textbroker?

To start at, you’ll need 3 things – your filled-out W9 form , a scanned copy of your US identification (such as a Driver’s License), and a 200-word writing sample. Here’s some information obtained directly from Textbroker, exclusively for the Freelance Writer Guide:

Our internal processes are not generally made publicly available and are subject to regular changes as we update the site, but I can summarize the current one briefly for you:

  • Author registers on under the registration link on the “I Write Content” page. Authors fill out all information.
  • An automated email is sent that with a link to click to confirm the author’s email address.
  • Author must log in and submit a writing sample of about 200 words.
  • Textbroker will review the writing sample and request a US ID by email in most cases.
  • Once we receive a scanned, faxed or mailed copy of the ID, we will verify it and rate the sample.
    • Authors are rated from 2-4 stars with sound writing fundamentals (spelling, grammar, avoiding fluff content and repetition) being high priorities.
  • Textbroker sends an automated email requesting a W-9 form. The author can begin to write.
    • We require a signed faxed or mailed copy of the W-9 before the author requests their first payment, but the author can start writing right away and build up a credit.

For expedited processing, authors should start the process with their state-issued ID and W-9 form handy. Depending on registration volume, we process the US ID and rating within about one business day each. We only accept US writers over 18 as well.


 How do I get paid with Textbroker?

Like many content mill sites, uses Paypal as a sole form of payment, so you’ll definitely need an account. Cutoff time for work (which must be accepted/approved) is Midnight Las Vegas time (PDT) each week, and the payout for those jobs will occur the following business day, though the time does vary. Payout minimum is $10, and your payout must be manually requested by clicking a button on your payout page.

How is the overall experience at Textbroker?

I have a special fondness for – like a passionate affair that ended on a sour note, I still carry a lot of good memories from the site and will always be grateful to them for kickstarting my now-thriving freelance writing career. When I really began in earnest there, it was taking up a long-forgotten approval that I managed to garner when I was with my ex-fiance, who constantly told me that writing wasn’t going to amount to any real money and really discouraged my exploring freelancing.

I poked at the site listlessly and wrote $10 here, $20 here, never cracking double digits for a month because I constantly heard that negativity in my head. When my ex and I split and I took up with my now-husband, he encouraged me to pursue my writing and for a long while it was our sole source of income as I flourished. I was offered five star status to work on a very prominent client’s roster through Textbroker, and eventually I was pulling in pretty decent paydays towards late 2010/early 2011, clearing more than a grand a month. Then the other shoe dropped and myself – along with many other 5-star status holders – were informed we were in violation of offenses that had never even crossed the radar in the three years prior – split infinitives chief among them, for me. My writing style and skill hadn’t changed, and in fact more than a few clients remarked on my skill, but Textbroker continued to find strange issues more befitting a college thesis than a 300 word piece on plumbing repair in Chicago, IL.

Error after error showed up in my random reviews, until one day my status was knocked down to 4. I attempted to talk to the higher-ups there, only to be rebuffed and handed the same strangely elevated standards with the edict that three perfect reviews in a row would grant me my status again – a feat that was essentially impossible at the time, and probably still is. The 5-star list took a massive hit in those fateful months, and a very large group of formerly 5-star Textbroker writers decided to pursue options elsewhere rather than tangle with the odd new demands.  Later, when the mass of 5-star ex-pats conferred on public message boards, it was found that a too-large-for-coincidence group had the same experiences, right around the time when the previously-mentioned prominent client pulled their account. In addition, those that had passed the proofreading test (a requirement for moving up to 5-star) and moved onto the review portion of their upgrade application had all received the same entirely-subjective ‘awkward phrasing’ ding that kept them from advancing.

The takeaway? Textbroker is an excellent place for new writers to start, as they usually have a good deal of work at the lower levels and they do pay promptly every week. It’s a good place to get used to the ‘system’ behind most content mill sites, but once you’ve got your rhythm down, head off for greener pastures, because 5-star status is inexplicably difficult to obtain and even harder to keep.

Helpful Hints for Textbroker

You can only take one open order job and one ‘private’ job at a time, so choose wisely. Your rate of dropping/letting articles expire is recorded behind the scenes and it will prevent you from moving up a star level, so treat deadlines as firm.