As a writer, one of the most thrilling aspects of my work is receiving feedback on my words. It’s hard to put yourself out there, especially if you are just beginning. One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my voice – a big change from the copywriting and communications I work I was doing by day.
Enter writer mills. They deliberately appeal to unpublished writers who need to build their portfolios and an audience. These mills make it look easy – and they emphasize that you don’t need to market yourself.
So what is a writer mill?
Erik Sherman has a fantastic definition: “These organizations bring in writers, grind them for whatever word juice is available, and pay a pittance.” Well-known examples include Demand Studios, Examiner.com and Helium. Recently, Erik wrote about two new mills: Voyage.tv and Trails.com.
I would also include large websites (and start-up websites) that approach writers for content with no offer of pay. Many of these sites use the line, “We can’t pay now, but maybe when we get enough interest and advertising!” Please note that I am not referring to group blogs, which is a blog written by a small group of people around the same topic. These blogs (or “grogs”) are usually created to help the bloggers achieve common goals.
Paid to write, right?
The stereotype is that writers are never paid well and you can’t make money with words. Not true. Okay, so I don’t pay my rent with personal essays, but my freelance copywriting work is interesting, more than covers the bills and leaves me time for creative nonfiction.
Compare that to a writing mill. Many of these companies require people to research and write their articles – and promote them. It’s entirely possible that you won’t get paid if your articles don’t get enough views. Flat rate fees can run $10 for a 1,000-word article. That’s $10! That is $0.01 per word. A 1,000-word article for a reputable magazine can earn you $0.50 to $1 per word, which is $500 to $1,000.
You would be far better served to spend time pitching your article idea to newspapers, magazines and well-paying websites than earning $0.01 per word.
Building credibility? Not so much.
As more is being revealed about writer mills, their payment practices and their unrealistic demands, the more it can hurt you to be associated with them. Editors have been quoted as saying that they may be less likely to consider hiring writers whose only credit is Demand Studios, Examiner.com or other such sites.
You can build up your skills and portfolio in better ways.
- A blog is a great starting point to showcase your writing. It’s also a wonderful way to start networking with other bloggers and building a supportive community. This can help you if you need a second opinion about a questionable opportunity or want some advice on breaking into a new market.
- Writing for non-profit organizations is another option to get your work in front of people, create some portfolio pieces – and build your network. And it’s far more likely to lead to you paying assignments that will keep your refrigerator well stocked.
Do your research.
May 15 may be Writers Worth Day – but writers should stand for what they are worth every day. No exception. Educate yourself about these writer mills and ways that can better help your writing career. It can sometimes be hard to sort out the mills from the legit, well-paying gigs because the mills advertise on respected job boards, like Media Bistro. You must do your homework!
Here’s some eye-opening reading to get you started.
- Erik Sherman’s WriterBiz. “Two More Writers Mills: Voyage.tv and Trails.com” and “Another Writer Mill: Atlantic Publishing Co. (APC)”
- Angela Hoy’s WriterWeekly. “How Much Are Examiner.com Writers Really Earning?”
- Lori Widmer’s Words on a Page. “Spotting a Raw Deal” and “Walking Away”
Have you had an experience (good or bad) with a writer mill? Is there a resource or a must-read blog post about these sites? Please share in the comments. The floor is yours!