Guest Post: Does profit the freelance writer? by Chris DeBrie

A calculating examination of Examiners' pay.
A calculating examination of Examiners’ pay.

Sometimes we have an idea and don’t act, because we figure someone else much be working on it. We didn’t want this to be one of those times. No one is currently asking the question, so let’s do it here.

The issue is that of freelance, part-time and casual writers working for websites like Avenue Books is ‘bumping’ this conversation thread on the Inter-Web.

Does writing for content sites profit the writer?

Apparently, there was a time leading up to 2007-08 when online writers enjoyed a bubble. These writers could farm out their talents to sites like Examiner, pick a topic, and plug away, actually seeing some fruit of this effort.

I missed the bubble, writing fiction and blogging on my own, never considering content writing until 2009, when flesh-and-blood jobs in town were drying up and we were in search of supplemental (residual?) income. I signed up for every farm I could find: Associated Content, Examiner, Suite101, Constant Content, even a place where site owners supposedly bid on your content called Ghostbloggers. There were others that blurred past. I never tried, nor any similar “how-to” sites.

I remember a lot of excitement from these sites’ communities. Some of these people were making profits that rustled, not jingled; or they were getting exposure, or a combination. I pulled in $3,000 last month, you would see in the threads. My first month was maybe $250. Like listening to a trucker’s story, it’s best to be prepared for exaggeration. But there was an optimism and a sharing of ideas on platforms like Suite.

Like most writers, I didn’t understand how much it took (if you actually want to make cold profit)

One former top earner at Examiner estimated that
One former top earner at Examiner estimated that “it takes about 1,000 short articles” before you start to make real money. He said it took about seven months for him.

to really build an audience around those sites. I didn’t see results quickly enough, so I tagged out of the grind early, having other means to pay the rent. Examiner and the like require you to write a lot for other people, knowing that a payoff is distant at best. There needs to be a foundation of your stuff, a continuity that people might put into their routine. Meanwhile, you keep on churning and building your own web within the Web. Same as the Space Shuttle, which uses up so much energy just escaping the atmosphere. But maybe it wouldn’t have mattered what I knew, because things were changing in the online freelancer world that I had barely put a toe into.

The freelance community excitement turned into griping at unseen computer geeks who had done us writers wrong. At some point, Google and other search engines began adjusting their algorithms in ways that denied these writers the same earnings. [I know very little of the technical or monetary reasons; feel free to expound.] Added to that was the fact that many of these ‘content mills’, as some term them, seemed to be taking a larger chunk from the advertisers. The writers were at the bottom, knowing that pay had been lowered but never able to get straight answers about rates.

By 2010, writing for ‘pennies a click’ didn’t seem worth the time. Why spend hours a day writing articles that can’t be used as professional clips? when I could concentrate on ONE article, query it, sell it, and get paid for what it takes the girl 100 articles to reach? There was a memorable response  to that reasoning in one site; someone asked, Aren’t you basically writing for free and uncertain when you are querying, shopping from editor to editor?

Many in the publishing industry have said that the pros doesn’t respect any of this online writing; in fact, at least one headhunter claimed if she saw Examiner writing samples in a resume, she would trash the applicant.

Arguments that are pro-writing for these sites include the very real benefit of name exposure. An independent or self-published writer who likes working outside of the editor-publishing-media machine sees a lot of good in Examiner. She can get her ‘brand’ out there, find an audience that will recognize her name in the future… if, of course, she knows what she’s doing in terms of topic, writing style and quality, SEO knowledge, and that good stuff.

“The key is to write topical articles and SEO them very well,” wrote a successful Examiner from the Cleveland area.

Exposure doesn’t matter to some. They are just trying to pay the bills. A swift, motivated writer can finish an Examiner article in a few hours. To them, it is definitely worth it to spend the equivalent of a part time job’s hours, in trade for months of potential monies that will collect while they aren’t even writing. Then again, both AC and Suite famously shut down…

That seems to be what bothers some freelance and professional writers—the, blogger-type who puts out his own ebooks seems some kind of threat. Not a threat to the pro’s livelihood, necessarily, but to his very worldview. To the old school, the online writer who zips out popular pieces on Rihanna and the Jenners is an abomination. Such a writer has lowered the bar and lowered rates, according to the professionals. They have dodged the gate and entered by some other way. This is why many writers for those sites use pseudonyms, one commenter wrote.

This is the same horror that the music industry showed. The big labels went ballistic once digital sharing became an actual thing—‘ripping’, or stealing music is wrong, but it’s not the true issue. The underlying theme of the little guy doing his thing without a cosign from The Man… that shakes the gatekeeper. You can apply it to any industry…

Haven’t seen many updates on those comment sections in months or years. Obviously a lot has changed since those days. So we bring the issue here, to you.

All of this is just musing. Correct us where we’re wrong. Write your experience and opinion.

This is an open call to all you ‘writers-for-hire’… tell me a story.

Chris DeBrie is the author of many novels, comic books, and short stories, including the acclaimed mystery “Cap’n Random.” He earned a B.A. in Communications/Journalism, and has hundreds of writing credits both online and off since 1986.

Links to past discussions on this topic:


2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Does profit the freelance writer? by Chris DeBrie

  1. Having freelanced exclusively for about 7 years, I understand both the value of these sites and the downsides. There was a time when I wrote for Examiner, albeit briefly, but found my time was better, and more profitably, invested elsewhere. Now, in my mind, writers worth their weight can do much better contracting with business clients, real publications and platforms that pay more than peanuts. I blame content mills for the trouble that writers have now, finding high quality paying freelance gigs. Trust me, they’re out there if you know where to look, but the number of gigs “offering” writers “exposure” or “incentives” for page views rather than real payment is crazy and cheapens the industry.
    On the other hand, there are writers for whom these opportunities work. But they are a small and select bunch. Namely, those who aren’t that good. That’s not to say that all people writing for content mills suck, but that if they don’t suck, they can do better elsewhere. Leave the sucky paying and non-paying gigs to the people who need the practice. If you truly consider yourself a quality writer, aim higher.
    Great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the input! There are still a lot of outlets who will give fair pay for the craft. I do treat content sites like a blast range sometimes–publishing on topics I am researching for books, for example. Otherwise, the average writer shouldn’t expect a lot from glorified blogging.


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