Contest: How Can I Help You Fight the Writer Pay Drought?

Carol Tice

How to avoid freelance writer pay drought. Makealivingwriting.comIt’s an anxious time for many online writers. Those writing at rock-bottom prices are finding the opportunities are drying up.

Demand Studios writers are up in arms because the number of $15 assignments has shriveled. Parent company Demand Media’s stock has plummeted since its IPO, and investors are skeptical about the company’s future prospects.

I heard from one writer in Freelance Writers Den recently who reports she has to write 350-450 pieces a month for another mill, just to scrape by financially. That’s the kind of virtual-sweatshop slavery story that led me to start this blog in the first place.

Writers used to commiserate about all the ways they could be exploited online by the Internet’s low-pay ‘opportunities.’ Now, some can’t even get that.

Meanwhile, over in other parts of the Internet, writers are earning professional rates. Getting $100 for quickie articles and blog posts, $1 a word for web content, and $2,000 for fully researched features. I know, because those are all rates I’ve earned in the past year.

How can you find the better jobs?


How can you tell if a site is really a scam?

How can you negotiate and get a good rate?

I’ve got a system for doing all that — and I’m going to be teaching it in a 4-week, live Webinar bootcamp in November — How to Make Good Money Writing Online. Here’s my planned outline for the class:

Week one: How to investigate websites, identify good payers, and negotiate a great deal with I.J. Schecter, author of 102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less.

Week two: How to write query letters and letters of introduction for online markets that get you hired, with Renegade Writer Linda Formichelli

Week three: Essential elements of a pro writer website, with Angie Atkinson of WM Freelance Writers Connection

Week four: How to use social media marketing to connect with online editors and marketing managers, with Brandi Kajino, a social media expert with SOHO Solutionist.

Oh yeah — and there’s a bonus, 1-hour Story Idea Lab recording I created with Linda Formichelli that teaches you how to create ideas that get you assignments.

Five hours of instruction — four of them with live Q&A — to answer all your questions about how to move up and find better online writing markets.

Here’s the contest part:

What’s your question about how to find online writing gigs? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll try to offer some answers. Is there something missing from my outline?

Join my freelance writer community.


  1. Laurie Boris

    Wow, this sounds great! But one question that comes up continually when I search for online work: Several potential clients have asked for a “free” writing test…either a content article, bit of research, editing sample. Is this ever a good idea?

    • James


      I’ve found that, more often than not, these kind of job listings are either a scam (to get free copy) or at the best a complete waste of time as they pay pennies per word. Whenever I see an ad that requests a customized sample, I run away. Fast.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m mostly with James…only exception might be if you really have NO clips at all. And it’s a really legit company you’ve checked out. I did an article audition to get a staff job once.

      But in general, these are scams.

  2. Tiffany

    There’s this worldwide conundrum in all career paths that companies won’t hire you if you have no experience, but how can you get experience if no one will hire you? I think this issue has many starting writers turning to content mills and free writing opportunities just to “build a brand,” “get a foot in the door,” and gain experience, clips, and contacts. While I agree that writers should be paid for their work, I know I struggle to break into yet better paying markets because of my limited experience and credits. I’ve sort of become a niche writer and am having trouble being taken seriously by markets outside that niche. For me it’s not necessarily finding the higher paying markets, but convincing them to take a chance on a new writer. So, my question, in sort, is how can I get that to change?

    • Carol Tice

      You don’t say what your niche is, but is there a way to simply find better clients in that niche? As in writing for a national nonprofit instead of a bitty local one?

      • Tiffany

        My writing has pretty much all been expat related. I’ve currently write for every print and online publication here in the Netherlands as well as many outside of the Netherlands. So I’m not doing just local publications. I’ve tried getting gigs writing for other magazines and websites and writing for companies and websites and the general feedback is that they’re looking for writers with experience in those specific topics and that, while very good and my writing is very impressive, I have no experience writing to their specific needs/topic/niche/etc. They tell me to come back once I have more experience in those areas. But I’m having a hard time getting experience when I continue to be turned down for not having experience.

  3. Elizabeth

    What’s the most successful way to navigate around the brick wall “contact us” form?

    Do writers need to construct a significantly different kind of writer’s resume or CV or is their writer’s website the best choice?

    • Carol Tice

      Not sure I follow, Elizabeth — is your writer website or different kind of resume needed for what?

      If you mean do you need a different resume for online markets, I don’t think so. If you have one on your site that’s always better to link to, because then hopefully they will circulate around your site further and get to know you better and want to hire you.

  4. Debra Stang

    Carol, I owe you big time. If you hadn’t encouraged me to jump away from Demand Media when I did, I’d still be one of those writers scraping together hundreds of articles a month to try to pay my rent and my utilities.

    Instead, I’ve devoted the time I used to devote to writing DM articles to marketing instead. I’m by no means rich, but I’m making much more money than I was when DM was my biggest client.

    I also wanted to give you a heads up–your blog is on my list of my ten favorite blogs today!


    • Carol Tice

      Wow, thanks for the mention! And for the success story. I LOVE to hear that with a little marketing, you can surpass what you make on Demand. I’ve always felt that’s true, but great to hear a testimonial that you actually made it work. I think so many writers are afraid to take that leap and don’t realize that with rates that low, it’s not very hard to figure out how to earn more if you’re willing to spend even a modest amount of energy actively marketing your business.

      I’m headed over to check out your post…

  5. Marianne Smith

    What’s the best way to develop relatonships with magazine editors? Once I’ve been published, I don’t have the same kind of issue, but if they don’t know my work it seems almost impossible to get them to open the door…

    • Carol Tice

      Don’t know THE BEST way…or if there is one. My way is multipitch — presenting many story ideas that rock. Seems to do it.

      Winning contests also works. Great way to be seen by new editors and form relationships.

  6. Karen Banes

    OK, this is a question I have only recently had to deal with. My blog is growing and my “Hire Me’ page is drawing a lot of interest. But I’m getting lots of emails from (potential?) clients I’ve never heard of, who don’t sound particularly professional. Do I follow these up? Or is my time much better spent doing what I’m already doing: writing articles and short stories for established markets that I’m familiar with, working on a novel and a non-fiction book, and running my blog. I don’t want to take time away from a system that’s working for me to chase new clients that I have a bad gut feeling about, but I do want to diversify and have more clients/markets to write for.

    • Carol Tice

      Not sure what they’re saying that’s giving you the willies…but I usually follow up with every single lead I get, unless they’re saying “you’ll get great exposure” and it sounds like a no-pay scenario. Only takes a couple secs to compose a quick reply email and ask them about their budget.

  7. Dale Eldon

    First off I just want to say, I love your posts.

    Second, my problem is that I can’t afford great online or real-world marketing classes. And as a writer (soon to be working two jobs while writing) who barely scrapes by even with my decent income, is suppose to find a way around it? I would love to attend these events (especially online, no gas involved.), but with no budget for this I just don’t how to go about it.

    I am working on my quality of writing trying to make it as good as I can, but as a writer in this age, I have to be marketing savy. And I keep running into the “need money to make money, without money”.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks Dale!

      I think this is an issue many writers have — they don’t understand that they have a business.

      And if you want to grow your business — particularly, grow it FAST — you will likely need to invest in your business. Whether it’s subscribing to the Writer’s Market or taking classes or joining the Den or whatever you need right now…it really does take money if you want to not take years figuring out the whole freelance game.

      You have to take a risk. I know — I paid $1,000 I didn’t have to go to SOBCon in Chicago last spring (and about $600 more to attend again in Portland this past month!) in hopes it would help take my business to the next level. It paid for itself MANY times over.

      So in answer to your question, I don’t know that there is a way around it. The only other way is that it takes a very long time to figure it all out on your own and slowly, slowly move up. Don’t know about you, but my time is extremely precious to me. What’s it worth to me to learn how to earn more right now, instead of 5 years from now? A lot.

  8. Terri Huggins

    Although this doesn’t happen much, one of the things I am really afraid of is having a potential client ask to see my resume even after seeing my website/clips. Drafting a “freelance friendly” resume is still something I have yet to master. I realize that most times people are satisfied with past clips, but I do know that a handful will still require that resume. (It happens to me on few occasions). I feel as though mine still somewhat has the feel of “I’m looking for a full-time position” as opposed to I’m a professional, full-time business owner and freelance writer. Are there any key items or qualities you suggest, a freelance writer’s resume include to differentiate from a full-time job seeker’s resume?

    • Carol Tice

      I’m not sure I know, it’s been so long since I had a resume where I was trying to get a full-time job! But you could take a look at my site — I really don’t have a resume at all anymore. Instead, there’s a tab that tells the story of my writing career called Where I’ve Been. I recommend using even the resume as a chance to show some creativity.

  9. Bill Walles

    What are the three or four most important initial “money/time” investments a new freelance writer should make in his business? Are websites and resumes critical starting points? Networking? An ashram experience to quiet the noise? (I already have the three-hole punch.) Thanks, Carol, for one good idea after another stimulating question.

    • Carol Tice

      You’re basically no one and can’t compete for good-paying gigs without at least a basic writer website these days. Beyond there I think you can invest ‘sweat equity’ in marketing your business. That’s pretty much the most important investment, is to proactively market your business. We’ll be teaching some good ways to do that in the class.

  10. Carol Tice

    Just noticed part of the game contest rules seem to have gotten omitted — contest ends Sunday morning 10 am PST. I’ll announce the winner on the blog Monday.

  11. Christopher Hutton

    Hey Carol, You’ve inspired me to look for better writing work, especially since I am a young college student.

    Here’s my question: Since I am a college student, I was wondering what is the best way to market myself to prospective clients in order to get them interested working with me, especially since I have very little experience/samples?

    • Carol Tice

      How about…work for free or cheap for a few samples. Then, stop thinking you don’t have enough samples and just pitch like a pro and get gigs. That’s what Peter Bowerman did. I did a podcast with him that’s in the Den, and he talks about the pathetic, tiny portfolio he started with…and NO previous writing experience.

      I think new writers overestimate how much experience you need before you can start saying you have some.

  12. joolsstone

    Is there a good resource which lists sites which are known to commission content and maybe even indicates what they pay and what type of content they commission for? Often with newspaper sites for example it’s hard to tell what’s unqiue content and what’s simply re-purposed from the print version, unless you happen to have bought the paper on that day.

    • Carol Tice

      Not sure there’s a resource exactly like that, but the first session of the upcoming bootcamp is about EXACTLY that — how to research and find sites that will pay real wages for blog posts, articles, web content, and so on.

  13. Cesar Diaz

    Are blog posts a decent substitute for published work?

    • Carol Tice

      They’re not an equivalent substitute, but if all you have are blog posts, then use them. Pitch with the samples you’ve got now, whatever they are, is my philosophy.

  14. Laurie Boris

    Another question: I wrote some decent articles for two web sites, yet both sites have since undergone reorganization, my editors have moved on, and the URLs are broken. This amounted to a LOT of work; in fact, it’s most of my published portfolio. When I’m asked for published clips, are samples adequate? How does one maintain a clip file in this rapidly shifting arena?

    • Carol Tice

      Yes, I too have had magazines go bust and disappear with my links, Laurie. You’ve gotta PDF them or take screenshots as insurance against the day they may vanish. Also…try asking the publication for a PDF if you’re having trouble finding it now.

  15. Allen

    How established of a writer do you need to be before you can start writing for such rates? Can you get there with just online experience or do you need some real life experience as well?

    • Carol Tice

      For which rates?

      I would say most of the people earning really good rates have some ‘real life’ experience. You probably have some, too. Are you developing content for websites? Then you have real experience doing that. Next, you need to identify better-paying markets for that sort of work…which is what we’ll be doing in the bootcamp.

  16. James

    As you know, I’m a part-time freelancer. I’m getting to the point where I have to start thinking about dropping a client or two because I just don’t have the bandwidth anymore.

    How do you go about evaluating which clients to drop and which to keep? I’m sure it’s not just based on rate of pay…

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, that is a great question James! I’d give you the free ticket except…you’re already a Den member!

      I sort of have a matrix in my mind that takes into account rates, how fast they pay, how pleasant they are to deal with, the volume of work they give me, and how much I like their assignments. But thinking back, generally lowest payers tend to get the heave-ho around here, and they’re neck and neck with slow payers.

  17. Chelsea

    Hi Carol,

    I read your blog as well as a handful of other really good freelance writing blogs that I’ve learned A LOT from. However, I’m on the younger end of the freelance writer pool & don’t have 10 years of writing/editing experience. I have a really hard time getting past this with potential clients… I’m 23 & just graduated with my BS in May 2010.

    I know experience is valuable and no matter how idealistic you are, you can’t truly replace experience with “passion”. However, I was the #1 Journalism graduate in my class, have been published with a number of clients and I even recently got back from India working for a start-up content writing & web development company there where we worked with clients from all over the world.

    I think I’ve got a pretty impressive resume, and I take a high level of professionalism with all my potential clients… but haven’t ever been able to get anyone to pay my anything significantly higher than Demand Studios. At most, I’ve made $1 or $2 above their typical $15/400 word rate.

    My biggest question is how do I get potential clients to look past the fact that I’m “too green”? I know experience is hard to replace… but I want to get out of the cycle of needing high-quality experience in order to get high-quality experience.


    • Carol Tice

      Well, you’re way ahead of me, since I’m a college dropout.

      You sound like you’ve got some good samples. Have you worked your school connections to find legitimate gigs? I’d start there.

      In general, you’re not too green. You ought to be able to earn at least entry-level pro rates, which are well above what Demand pays. All I can say is…come to the bootcamp and I’ll teach you how to find better clients! It’s usually a question of swimming in the wrong pool. If you’re looking at online job ads, you’re swimming in the wrong pool. In the class, we’ll learn how to get out of that pool and into a better one.

      • Chelsea

        Hmm, ok. But I looked around & couldn’t find what times the webinars are? I realize you probably record them, so it’s not that huge of a deal, but I do have a traditional job during the day & I do a LOT better from these types things if I can listen live…

        • Carol Tice

          Chelsea — this is a members-only event for my community, Freelance Writers Den. Members get all the details about participation times and where to call off the Den email list, and it’s posted in the Den on the day of the event as well. It is during the day — I hold my events at noon PST. But in the Den you can always listen afterwards and then leave questions in the Den to get answered. The expert from each event is usually around in the Den for a few days afterward to answer more questions.

          • Carol Tice

            OK, I was obviously writing too late at night or something last night! With the monthly Webinar (which this Thursday’s event is), there is an option to just pay $36 and attend the one event. But few do that, since for only $25 you can get a whole MONTH of content, forum support, and access to all my past recordings as a Den member.

  18. Chelsea

    Oh! Also, how do you come up with a good pricing scheme?

    Some clients want to pay hourly & by word count – is there any sort of universal base rate other than basing it off what places like Demand Media pay?

    • Carol Tice

      Nope. No universal base rate. Boy, that would make things easier, wouldn’ it?

      And whatever you do, don’t base your rates off what Demand pays, unless you enjoy poverty.

      The Writers Market does do an annual survey that provides some ranges, but they’re pretty wide. Ultimately, my theory is there’s only what the market is willing to bear and what you’re willing to accept. Where those two meet, you’ve got a gig.

  19. Allison Todd

    You have covered some excellent topics for the boot camp. One question I would like to have more information on is, how do you determine your worth? I am fairly new in the professional market. My jobs are as a result of writing a creative letter that sales the attention of the reader. As we determine our worth, how do we put a portfolio together that demonstrates the like? Would you recommend certain types of pieces or specific topics to address?

    My question has multiplied in to three parts, forgive my ambition. Cheers!

    • Carol Tice

      Ummm…trial and error? Really, that’s basically it.

      You try to get a decent wage. You try to get fully booked at that wage. Then, you start raising your prices. Continue until you’re making the rate you want.

      The types of pieces you’ll put in your portfolio will depend on the sort of clients you’re looking to get. Magazines want to see magazine clips, companies want to see your web content or white papers or whatever it is you’re trying to audition for.

      As far as types of work and topics that are good-paying, in the Den we have a whole e-course on Great Writing Niches that goes through many, many niche areas that earn well…not space to go into it all here.

  20. Cindi

    I was wondering how does a writer determine what their niche is? Right now, I am developing websites for small businesses, writing web content, writing content for small non-profits, and sending queries to online and print markets. I have written on everything from construction to child-rearing. I’m not bored, but don’t know how to focus my writer’s website around one or two specific niches.

    Thank you.

    • Carol Tice

      Nothing says you have to focus it around just one or two niches. I have at least a half-dozen specialty areas, and I offer samples of each type on my site. I say I never know what someone will take a liking to, so I include lots of clips of different types.

  21. Ruth

    So far I haven’t encountered any scam employers which I am very thankful for. Knowing such scams exist can be discouraging. I love writing and getting paid to do that would make me happy. It is great that there is way to learn how to avoid being a victim.

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