Wednesday, 12 October 2011

How Much Are You Worth?

Another guest post from David Robinson - and one which all freelance writers should read and absorb to make sure they don't undersell their talents.

A couple of weeks back Lorraine advised a chap on a site that asked him to undergo a “writer’s test” after which they would keep and perhaps use the piece without paying him. He was dealing with a “content farm” and it reminded me of an incident just a few months ago.
To give you an idea where I’m coming from, I sold my first piece (500-600 words) to a newspaper almost 30 years ago for the princely sum of $15. I’ve sold a good many since then for varying amounts. I now concentrate on self-publishing book-length work. I don’t make a fortune and like any other writer I’m always keen to make a few pounds where I can. So I, too, looked at content farms.
The rates on offer were disgraceful. I found one site offering as little as $1-2 per 1,000 words. Even back in 1985, the newspaper rate was $25 per 1,000 words. Not only that but as this chap complained to Lo, you first have to submit a test piece, which they do not pay for but which they can use at their discretion.
Another writer, a friend of mine, working on a site paying by page views, admitted to me that he’d taken to clicking his own works on a particular site in order to improve his rankings in the hope that surfers would click on them, too (the site didn’t pay him for his own clicks, obviously). He spent four hours a day clicking all his pieces and his reward? $1 per day.
I pointed out to him that I make more than that when I sell a single book on the Kindle and although I’m nowhere near the bestseller charts, I average more than one book per day.
Crossing the content providers off my list, I next checked out the bid sites. Once again, let me give you some history to put matters into perspective.
In 1996 I pitched a 5-hour serial to the commissioning editors of a British TV production house. The director and I had jumped through all the early hoops and this was a face-to-face meeting. My fees as a TV newcomer were $6,500 PER HOUR of drama. That serial was worth almost $35,000 to me as the writer. Over and above that, there were the rights to consider since it was an adaptation of one of my novels. All up, it was worth about $50,000.
All right, we didn’t get the commission. We gave it our best shot, but it floundered on production costs. Reality TV was beginning to make its mark and five hours of drama would cost half a million to produce.
That’s the background.
Surfing the bid sites, I came across someone who required a 90-minute TV script. He would provide the story line, the writer had to produce the script. Budget? $250. I can write a 90-minute draft in three days. To bring it up to production standards would take no less than 6 months, and ideally, I would prefer a year. For $250? I’d earn $10,000 a year stocking shelves in supermarket.
Neither the content farms nor the bid sites are interested in quality. They’re concerned only with price. To prove my point, I wrote an article for the same pay-per-click site my friend was so keen on. It was a blatant plug for one of my books, 1,000 words long, it took less than an hour to write, correct and upload. It was trite, hackneyed dross which I wouldn’t even put up as a Flatcap blog post.
It was accepted without question, categorised incorrectly, and the last I heard, it had earned me the princely sum of 13¢.
I’m not in the business of advising other writers. I write from the seat of my pants and what I know about the process could fit on the back of a post-it note and still leave room for Hamlet’s soliloquy. But I reserve one piece of advice for writers when it comes to content farms and bid sites. Avoid them. They devalue the written word. Far better to invest your time and energy in one of the many fine writing communities on the Web, where others will help you along. Far better to put your money into a course like the Writer’s Bureau where they, too, will nurture your talent and help you hone it (and no, I am not on commission.)
And the pay-per-click piece I put up? I am notoriously outspoken and I told them exactly where they could stick the 13¢… penny by penny.
David Robinson is a freelance writer, novelist and humorist, who self-publishes his book-length titles on the Kindle and Smashwords. You can find him at while his alter-ego, Flatcap, grumbles insanely at
The Writer’s ABC Checklist
Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition


Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! I've also been down the content mills and bid sites routes but concluded that they are just slave labour and are not about good writing. Great advice, thank you.

DW96 said...

On behalf of Lorraine and myself, thanks for stopping by, Vanessa. I never set out as a writer to make a fortune (but it would be nice) but I was making more than these sites off when I worked as an apprentice heating engineer in 1968

Marit said...

A great guest post, and again spot on. Thank you, both.
I put up quite a bit of work on an American site (named after the stuff they pump into balloons), and rankings were good, earnings dire... you have to earn $25 before being paid - and they won't let you take your stories down at all, so there they sit, even the rubbish.

Lorraine Mace said...

Marit, unless you signed an agreement to that effect, they cannot legally stop you from taking down your work.

I would suggest looking at your original documentation and threatening legal action if it doesn't specifically state that you have given up the right to remove your work.

Pranav Lal said...

As regards the bid sites, I have been on a few of them; people post what they want. I have heard two schools of thought; one is the school expressed on this blog that bidding sites are not worth bothering with and the other that tehy can help as a marketing vehicle at least for beginning writers. I cannot comment on writing quality since I have not had any bids accepted yet. Still, I like the idea of writing my book and am working on a non-fiction e-book.