Online Writing Nightmares: 4 Scary, Soul-Sucking Places for Freelance Work

Carol Tice

Where Online Writing Nightmares Come True... your freelance life gives you nightmares, you might be chasing online writing jobs in some scary places. It’s a recurring problem I’ve heard from writers for years. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Do you go to sleep at night feeling good about your online writing work?

Or do you toss and turn, have nightmares about writing for pennies, and wake up in a cold sweat?

Being a freelance writer can be scary. So many online writing opportunities are out there beckoning you to walk down a virtual dark alley without a flashlight.

I’ve seen it happen. And heard too many nightmare tales from freelance writers.

Some shady online writing client lures you in like an unsuspecting victim in a horror movie. And before you know it, you’re hooked into writing copy for soul-sucking rates.

If you don’t want to be stuck in an online writing nightmare, beware of these four places in the Underworld of Freelance Writing that are guaranteed to put your writing career on the road to nowhere.

1. Content mills

If I see one more self-appointed “expert” tell writers that content mills are a “great place to start out and get online writing experience,” I’m gonna scream. Why? This is what you get writing for content mills:

  • Lazy writing habits. Content mills teach you to write quickly slapped-together junk that no one wants to read. You learn lazy writing habits. You frequently wind up with nothing you’d be proud to put in a portfolio.
  • Poor portfolio samples. Mills’ crappy reputation could actually damage your chances with many legit magazines and other good markets. Meanwhile, pay is so low you have to write constantly just to survive, and never have time to do marketing to find better online writing clients. It’s the stuff freelance writing nightmares are made of.
  • Experience that doesn’t count. The type of writing you do for content mills bears little relationship to the writing any good-paying client would want of you. I’ve seen writers say their mill work gave them practice, built confidence, and helped them find their voice. You can do that on your own blog, or writing for your local newspaper, too — and you’ll get clips you can use to get better gigs.
  • Frustrated and ripped off. They also have rules that change often, and editors who are often capricious and/or nasty. They can bar you from the site for random stuff they decide. Don’t give any site this much power over your career — especially one that pays $20 per piece or less.

I’ve mentored too many writers who wasted years on mills, only to discover that if they want to earn more, they’re starting from scratch building their career. That can be terrifying. Don’t let this be you.

2. Revenue share sites

It’s a dying model. But there are still online writing sites that promise huge payouts if an article you write generates loads of traffic.

These are much like content mills, except that instead of guaranteed low pay, you don’t know what you’ll get paid — but it will likely be less than you need for gas this month. It all depends on how many eyeballs or ad-clicks your pages draw, depending on the particular site’s pay plan.

The revenue-share model nightmare

Unless there is at least some guaranteed compensation, don’t fool yourself that this is an income-earning opportunity. It’s a scary way to try and pay the bills. Revshare is for hobbyists, and the owners of revshare sites have told me as much. Don’t pretend this is a place where you could create retirement income that will keep paying you for years to come.

First off, because there’s no viable business model here, these sites close down on a regular basis. Demand Studios and Helium are just a couple examples of online writing platforms that have shutdown, crushing freelance dreams in the process. Second, many of them stop paying you when you stop regularly writing for them.

As far as reputation and building a portfolio here, see #1.

3. Bid sites

“I just signed up on or Upwork.” I get emails like this every day. “Do you think that’s a good option? All of the online writing jobs seem to pay frightfully low wages.”

Welcome to the race-to-the-bottom world of bid sites. Yes, you might occasionally find a decent job here. But problems include too much time spent bidding on online writing gigs you don’t get, poor client communication because there’s an intermediary involved, generally low rates, and low regard for freelancers.

Too much competition = low rates

The model of competing against every other writer in the world for the same gig is not going to bring you happiness, my friend. Your dream gig is not sitting on a mass freelance platform’s dashboard waiting for you — not as long as someone in Malaysia or Kenya or somewhere is willing to do it for $5, and has access to the same clients you do.

4. Craigslist ads

I know many writers who consider their marketing work done if they’ve checked Craigslist for writer job ads this week. Sure, most of the ads they never heard back on, and the ones they do are offering peanuts — or are outright ripoffs. But hey, they’re so easy to check! Listings in every city, too.

Beware of scams and rip offs

It’s true that once in a while, a real client wanders on here who doesn’t know that Craigslist is a cesspit for freelance scams. But the huge amount of time you’ll spend mining for those few tiny gold nuggets means it’s not worth the effort.

I recently mentored one writer who reported she’d been ripped off and never paid for her writing work no less than five different times, doing gigs she got from Craigslist ads. It shouldn’t take this many bad experiences to realize this isn’t a useful place to find good writing gigs. It’s mostly a waste of time.

Ready to kick the habit? Take my 1-month “no-Craigslist challenge.” It works like this: You may not look at Craigslist ads for 30 days.

You’ll have to take action to find clients, rather than responding to mass job ads. This is so much more effective, I’ve rarely seen a writer who takes this challenge go back to checking Craigslist.

The smart way to find online writing clients

If these are the worst places and you should avoid them, how do you get started or find online writing work that pays pro rates?

It’s simple. You want to write for successful magazines (yes, plenty of them still exist), or successful businesses that sell a real product or service in the real world. Ideally, they’ve been around a few years.

Yes, this means doing some research to find clients, and then doing proactive marketing — going to a networking event, sending an email, making a phone call, getting on LinkedIn. And that can be scary. I know.

But after coaching thousands of writers, it’s the only reliable route I’ve found to earning a substantial freelance income. Steer clear of clients in the Underworld of Freelance Writing. And put in the work to find your own clients.

Need help getting better online writing clients? Let’s discuss on LinkedIn or Facebook.

What kind of freelance writer are you? (New Writer, Mid-Career Writer, Just Thinking About Writing?) Tell me and get a free custom report. Get Your Report.


  1. Candice

    When I first started freelancing I used Craigslist and I found a lot of success. In the last few months I’ve learned what to reply to and what to leave alone but it is time sucking sometimes. One of my worst clients did come from Craigslist so I haven’t used it lately.

    Networking is the way I’ve found my very best clients so I agree with you on that point. I would love to know if you pitch much these days or if your clients just find you.


    • Carol Tice

      I think when people say they found “a lot of success” on Craigslist, what they got paid on there is not something I would consider a success as a professional freelancer. It accustoms you to super-low rates and makes you think that’s all there is…actually ALL four of these do that. Yet another problem with them. They become your frame of reference for quoting gigs.

      We find new Den members often need smelling salts when they start finding out what professional rates are, because they are so radically underpriced.

      To your question, at this point my marketing is totally inbound. I turn down most of what I’m offered, as I take few new clients at this point. Instead, I refer those leads to our Freelance Writers Den job board for the members to take a crack at. 😉

      • Bex

        I average probably about $100 an hour from clients I have found on Elance and Craigslist within my niche. I spend very little time looking for work thanks to their targeted search features, and having a well-placed profile where clients often come looking for me and invite me to bid. Having been burned by clients before, I very much enjoy having the escrow service and have no trouble getting clients to pay the extra service fees on top of my rate. And being able to withdraw payment immediately to a prepaid credit card instead of waiting a month or two for the international check to arrive, or paying massive Paypal fees to get it to my Canadian bank, is a major bonus.

        It isn’t my only source of income, but in my particular niche I’ve had much more success bidding clients who I know are looking for writers than trying to find clients to pitch to who aren’t already doing their writing themselves.

        • Carol Tice

          I think the key phrase here, Bex, is “it isn’t my only source of income.”

          Too many writers sign up for one of these platforms, and then rely upon it entirely for all their leads. Sure, you might score a good gig off Elance now and then — good for you having other places you look for gigs.

        • Candice

          Agreed Bex. I’m in a very similar situation.

      • Amel

        I, too, have had success finding clients on Craigslist, including one who provided me with nearly $50,000 worth of work within a two-year period. You really need to know how to analyze the ads in order to determine what type of client is posting. Like Bex, I work in a specific niche, and I do not answer generic ads. I target ads in my niche and do not answer any ad that appears flakey. So, although Craigslist (and job boards, in general) can be a waste of time, that is not always the case if you are scanning the jobs with a critical eye and have a specific type of client in mind.

        • Carol Tice

          That was definitely my approach back when I looked at mass job ads — I replied to nothing that didn’t cry out for a specific expertise I had in spades. I’d spend maybe 5-10 minutes, three times a week looking at those.

          When you spend that little time trolling mass job ads, it leaves plenty of time left to do more productive marketing.

    • Heidilynn

      I started on I haven’t made a whole bunch, but it’s something. And I am gaining experience on expectations, and working with clients. This was a major hurdle for me to overcome. But, I’ve tried all the above, and they were more of a headache than anything. Thanks for the emails and the great advice! I feel like I’m actually heading in a good direction, finally!!!

  2. Ankita

    I have been bidding for jobs on for over a year and have sadly landed just a couple of good jobs. I enjoyed the work but the pay was too low. I’m from India and its the biggest drawback when you are not from a native English speaking country, because clients on sites like Elance and Odesk will not consider non-native writers although they have good writing skills. 🙁
    Its high time I stop bidding for jobs on Elance. I have expertize in writing for Psychology, Ayurveda, Yoga and Travel but have still not gathered the courage to pitch magazines or businesses. Any pointers on what would be the best way to start?
    Your posts always motivate me. Thank you. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Ankita, you’re a Den member, right? We have plenty of resources including a query review forum where you can post queries and moderators help you improve them before you send them out.

    • Amel

      Dear Ankita,

      You might also enjoy Mridu Khullar Relph’s blog, located at

      Mridu is from India and writes for high-profile publications, including The New York Times, Psychology Today, and others. On her blog, she frequently provides tips and inspiration for overseas writers.

      In my experience (I am from the United States but spend a lot of time in another country), you have to treat your location as an advantage and not as a deficit. Look for clients who will benefit from your expertise and knowledge. They are definitely out there–and if you write English well, there is no reason you cannot succeed in the global freelance market.

  3. Joseph E Rathjen

    All good tips, Carol, and the shocking truth!

    I’m one of the lucky ones who has a good-paying, full time job so I can spend quality time trying to build a decent, starter-portfolio and build solid relationships with other successful writers. That’s like holding highly-valued, treasury bonds in the bank for future use.

    The thought of writing $5 articles is abhorrent to me, and I don’t understand why anyone would settle for that. Some of the ads I see at some of the freelance job posting sites are a joke. $15 for five,1000-word articles. Are you kidding me? You can pitch article ideas for well-established blogs instead that pay for guest posts.

    Here’s a perfect example of how Craig’s List ads suck you in. I saw an ad for a writer for a mediocre, online women’s magazine. I checked it out and it looked good – fancy layout, blah, blah, blah, and they had been around for years. I wrote four articles at the promise of $50 an article. I figured it was a good place to start. They were published (which was great for clips) but I never got paid and 4 months later the magazine shut down. I’ve never gone on Craig’s List since.

    Although my situation is different from others, I still would never write for such crappy wages – it’s insane and demeaning. It’s no different from going to work in a sweatshop.

    Well, that’s my opinion anyway.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Joseph — While it’s good to have resources while you build your freelance biz, I think working a full-time job makes it pretty tough!

      I’m with you — getting hosed on Craigslist once was enough for me. I did a whole analysis of my marketing at one point that helped me see that though I’d gotten some clients from Craigslist, they were never my best clients, and that it’s too time-consuming to wade through the ocean of junk on there versus other forms of marketing.

  4. Kevin Carlton

    Hi Carol

    Faced with a choice between writing for these types of clients and stacking supermarket shelves or cleaning out sewers, I’d much rather go for the latter choices any day.

    At least I’d earn enough money to live. What’s more, they’re actually a better career option if you want to get into writing.

    Why? Because you might have a bit of spare time and cash on your hands. And extra time and cash frees you up to find better copywriting gigs.

    • Carol Tice

      You also get useful life experience that you could use to pitch relevant industries and human interaction.

      • Kevin Carlton

        Yeah, on the surface, stacking shelves and working down the sewers don’t look like the ideal life experiences to bring to the table.

        But you can make good capital out of virtually any experience if you know how.

        And I’m sure there are clients out there who are crying out for a writer with something real and different to offer like that – rather than the same old writers who’ve been on the same old treadmill and all want to do novel or travel writing.

  5. Leslie Jordan Clary

    It’s been almost exactly a year since I “re-launched” my freelance career and began reading this blog. Because of finding it at a very timely time, I spent less than 24 hours on a content mill and haven’t tried any of the other usual traps. I did spend several months without making any money, but that’s the tradeoff for marketing to better paying clients. I’m happy to say that a year later, I have several places I write for regularly including one business that pays me well to write a few articles a month about African art and culture. Struggling for a few months with no money was way better than settling for $20 articles which is almost worse than getting nothing. I really do believe if you value yourself and your work, others will too. And the ones that don’t, you don’t need.

    • Carol Tice

      I completely agree, Leslie — thanks for sharing how doing proactive marketing paid off for you!

  6. Laura Roberts

    Tangentially related, another bad place to start is by pitching a magazine editor, getting a positive response from the editor that asks you to send a writing sample, and then never following up! When I’m on the editing side of the desk, I seem to get this fairly frequently, and it confuses the heck out of me. Why would you pitch an editor, but then never actually send them any of your writing?

    • Carol Tice

      You know, we see this with a lot of Den members…they pitch and then courage fails them. Sad to see that missed opportunity! Or they don’t have samples, and then don’t know how to counter. Don’t know to build a portfolio with pro bono stuff first. They don’t do stuff in the right order.

      Like writers who write, turn in the piece, and then ask how much they’ll be paid. We see that a lot, too.

      • Laura Roberts

        The weirdest incident was when I had a writer pitch me, saying she used to write for her student paper, and when I asked for a sample of her work, she said she couldn’t send a link because the paper didn’t publish online. Really? And you didn’t grab a copy of the paper when it came out so you could scan it? I would even take a simple Word .doc of whatever she wrote, but I still needed a writing sample, and she seemed to be doing her best to avoid giving me one. I was quite puzzled by that approach, since was the one pitching me.

        • Carol Tice

          I find a lot of writers don’t *think* they have samples, for a number of reasons. Many writers seem to think if you wrote something while at a staff job, it doesn’t “count,” for instance! Or as you note, that they couldn’t scan a print copy or send the Word doc version of an article.

          Writers should use anything and everything they have to show past writing. You can make it more slick as you go — but pitch with what you got.

    • Jessica Burde

      I’m ashamed to say I actually did this once. First and last time I pitched to a magazine. In my case the why way a combination of personal life going to hell (my partner is disabled and right after the editor accepted my pitch he took a massive turn for the worse) and crippling anxiety (I literally got panic attacks at the idea of writing to this editor to say I wouldn’t be able to complete the article).

      The anxiety is actually one reason I’ve stayed on Elance as long as I have–it’s familiar so it doesn’t trigger attacks. These days I’m branching out and finding other clients, with a focus on pitching to local businesses where, again, familiarity makes the anxiety less of an issue.

      • Carol Tice

        I have a post coming up about feeling ‘safe’ pitching that I hope will help on this, Jessica!

        I think flaking out after you get a ‘yes’ from an editor is more common than people realize.

        • Jessica

          Looking forward to that post!

      • Lindsay Wilson

        Jessica, I can empathize with you. That is why I stayed on Textbroker so long. I got rid of it eventually, but even now my business is growing at about half the speed it could be due to my own anxiety about approaching potential new clients. (At the moment most of my clients are business contacts from previous jobs.)

        This is such a great post, Carol. Thank you for it! I’m enjoying getting the emails about comments still coming in several days after you posted it.

        • Carol Tice

          THIS post definitely struck a nerve!

  7. Burlingtina Vines

    Excellent post! I completely agree with you’re saying. Writers need to market by contacting businesses to get quality work.

    Is it common for prospects to say the following? “You’re right. You’ve convinced us. We do need a writer, but not you. You don’t have enough experience.” I keep hearing that over and over on the phone and in emails.

    Thanks again!

    • Carol Tice

      Doesn’t matter whether it’s common generally, Burlingtina — it’s common for you. And you need to fix it.

      That happens when you don’t target clients you’re a perfect fit for, and don’t successfully make the case that your expertise and track record means they’ll get great results and it’ll be a breeze to deal with you. Work on your presentation, I’d say.

      • Burlingtina Vines

        Thank you so much for the reply! I’ll work on it.

        I think I’ll try making a document just for each company outlining the many ways I could help them with examples from their current marketing and see how that goes. Maybe, they won’t complain about my portfolio so much that way.

        Thanks again!

  8. Najua

    Hi Carol,

    I’m from Malaysia but there’s no way in hell I’d take on a writing job for $5. The bulk of my work comes from corporate clients in my home country but I’ve also pitched publications in the US and have been published in a couple of trade pubs over there.

    Been reading your blog for quite some time now 🙂

    • Amel

      Yeah, I’m not sure why Malaysia in particular was used as an example. Lots of people in Malaysia speak excellent English and are paid decent rates for writing in Malaysia itself. My impression from friends is that Malaysia has quite a robust freelance market.

      • Carol Tice

        I’m sure whatever country I’d say, someone would take umbrage…just trying to say standards of living are much more affordable in 3rd World countries, allowing those writers to take lower rates if they like, where a US/Canadian/UK writer would starve on similar rates.

  9. Dan

    I just signed up for an account on Elance. I have heard of writers being successful on there by only accepting projects with decent rates. What are your thoughts on that site?

    • Bex

      I think with Elance it really depends on your niche, your experience and your skills. If you are in a niche with a lot of competition, you may find it difficult to get things started.

    • Carol Tice

      I think you just read them in this post, Dan! It’s a bid site…see that section.

      I’ve ‘heard’ of writers being successful on there, too…in 6 years of talking to thousands and thousands of writers, I’ve come across two or three of them. Perhaps that gives you a sense of the odds.

      • Jessica

        I’ve been successful on there in the sense that I’ve been able to (barely) support my family almost entirely through elance jobs. However we have scraped our expenses to the bone to manage it. I can make $15-30/hr on elance jobs if I’m very picky in what jobs I bid on–but there aren’t enough good paying elance jobs for me to get full time work at those rates.

        • Carol Tice

          And $15-$30 an hour is not “good” rates, Jessica. That’s why you’re going broke — freelancers have to earn a higher hourly rate to make it, because of how many hours are unbillable, and how many expenses we’ve got that employees don’t have to shoulder.

  10. Lindsay Wilson

    I witnessed a crossover horror story involving two of these four “chambers”. A friend I know through Facebook was scammed by someone on Elance offering to pay very good rates to write SEO articles. My friend gave this person a week of her time, and then requested to be paid and never heard from the scammer again. The assumption was that the scammer took her articles and sold them to a content mill under their name.

    I admit I started on Textbroker and it was a good place for me because I needed money but not that much money, and I didn’t have the confidence to market or even share my name in a byline. I was in a very dark place, and it gave me the opportunity to write and get paid. But then I came out of the dark place and got mad about the low pay, and just quit. I haven’t touched TB in year. I fact they still owe me seven euros. I need three more euros to cash out for that pittance, but I can’t be bothered writing another abysmally paid article for them in order to collect it.

    • Bex

      That’s really too bad, especially since Elance specifically has technology in place to prevent this from happening. Their escrow service is one of the main reasons I still use their site.

      • Lindsay Wilson

        That’s interesting, Bex. I thought they had an escrow service. Maybe the scammer convinced my friend to take the project off Elance after the bidding and awarding process. I will have to ask her.

      • Jessica

        I got hit by something similar once. The escrow service isn’t used for hourly jobs, instead the clients supplies a verified credit card. But the card is only verified once. The scammer can cancel it and neither the site nor the freelancer has any clue there is a problem until the first payment is denied. It’s one reason why I advise people who do work on elance to never take hourly jobs.

        • Lindsay Wilson

          That must be it, Jessica! I do seem to recall her mentioning that it was an hourly job. (I think it was mentioned in a comment about a ridiculously early wake-up call to start work.)
          I guess the lesson with this is that if you do use Elance, stay away from the hourly stuff. To many scammers out there, anywhere in internetland. 🙁

    • Carol Tice

      And the moral of the story is: When you write for a week for a new business client without a 50% up-front deposit, you get screwed over. Nearly every time.

      Wish writers would stop doing that! Asking for the advance is a great litmus test of whether it’s a legit offer.

  11. Rob

    This is a subject you return to frequently, obviously because a lot of your readers come to you after having tried one or more of the four worst places. We try them for a variety of reasons. In my case, it was because I needed money fast and couldn’t afford to wait for a magazine to publish something. I was able to get some work on Elance quickly and eventually got a lot of work there. The pay was terrible, but it was better than nothing. Out of 50-odd clients, I found 3 that were keepers that stayed with me after I left the Elance system. One of them still provides me with my bread and butter 4 years later, at 4X the original rate. Another just gave me a very well paying assignment for a corporate client. The third still gives me occasional work when their website needs updating (at a much higher rate).

    I agree with you, but not everyone’s circumstances are identical and sometimes “ya gotta do what ya gotta do” to survive. Not giving up is the key, I think.

    • Rob

      ps: I do some writing for magazines, now. Thanks to regular work, I can afford to wait until something is published to get paid.

    • Carol Tice

      I note a theme of desperation in all of the comments here about why people sign up with content mills or Elance. “I was in a dark place.” “I needed money fast.”

      When I need money fast, I get a business client to send me a 50% deposit on an upcoming project. There are other ways to get money fast — and more money — than relying on mills. But you have to have a marketing process in place where you’re developing relationships with clients and getting referrals…and many writers prefer not to do that work.

      • Lindsay Wilson

        I think the internet, with its facilitating of bidding sites and content mills, has created two types of work-from-home writer. The first is the traditional kind, the kind that want to make a career of it and grow their income, and the kind that aren’t looking for much out of it other than side money. I belong to a couple of Facebook communities where I see queries about work-from-home opportunities, and I see a lot of interest in the content mills because they’re easy to get into and you can dip in and find work whenever you need it. I think a lot of the serious freelancers also find their way into the content mills and bidding sites, etc. thinking they might be a good opportunity, and either realize that they are not a long-term solution and get out, or get stuck in a cat-and-mouse game with money or a head game with confidence. It’s this crossover area that is the problem. If you have people happy to work for $5 for a 500-word article and loving the flexibility and having no desire to turn freelancing into a sustainable business, fair enough. It’s effectively a minimum-wage job you can adapt to your own needs. These two types of freelancing remind me of a comparison that was made on this blog at one point – like the difference between working for McDonald’s and being a professional chef. The problem is when you have serious aspiring freelance writers toiling on content mills because they feel they have no other option.

        • Carol Tice

          Beautifully put, Lindsay.

          Absolutely — dabblers who just want a little side income now and then and would never want to market or build a serious income live happily ever after on content mills. I once knew a home healthcare aide who said she made more per hour writing for Demand Studios than in her day job! And was so happy to have them to supplement her income. These are ideal people to write for mills. It’s just that pro writers who want to build more of a career should stay away.

          • Barbara

            I still think there’s a subset in there who lack confidence. If I didn’t need money to write, I’d spend all of my writing time on my poetry, plays, and volunteer communications for organizations I care about. Why expend the effort for $5 on a random topic for a content mill? Why not research the topic and go for a book project or op-ed to the Times? Even the home health worker: why not buld toward writing work that pays more than the low-paying job and the content mill? I think some of that’s about wanting the reassurance of being a “real” published writer.

      • Charlotte Hyatt

        Some of us who need money don’t know how to do what you are talking about, and don’t have connections like that.

        • Carol Tice

          Charlotte, you don’t need any ‘connections’ to prospect and find clients. You might check out the ebook here on the blog, the Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success — it lays out exactly how to start building a pro portfolio and find clients that pay professional rates.

  12. Ryan Chang

    Well, I do wish I knew this earlier! Wasted about a year writing for content mills and Rev share sites , earned, well, a bit here, a bit there, some places never got the money or didn’t have enough $ to cash out…..

    Then I realized that the best way to find jobs myself – and the first editor I pitched paid me $250 per article – about 100 times what I was getting paid before.

    One thing to note, Problogger’s job board is actually quite good and I found some ok-good paying jobs there.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Ryan –thanks for a great example of why I recommend avoiding these 4 places in favor of proactive marketing!

      I find Problogger’s job board spotty — we scan it for my own Junk-Free Job Board in Freelance Writers Den…and don’t find many gigs that meet our standards. We don’t accept gigs that don’t state any rates, ask for free samples, or pay less than $50 a blog post or $100 an article at a minimum. There can be the occasional gem on there, though.

      • Ryan

        Yeah – that day I found a gig paying $100 for 300 words – pretty good for me 🙂

  13. Jon

    And here I was thinking the $5 per article I’m getting at Odesk was a high rate, especially considering every job listing I see putting 500 word articles at $1 a pop. Totally confused on how to make livable wages off of my lyrical musings.

    • Carol Tice

      Your confusion is not uncommon, Jon — I run into many writers who’ve been hanging around these Underworld places who have no idea what rates are. We get a lot of Den members who go into shock when they run their bid quotes by us and find out what they *should* be charging.

      I just wrote a feature for Forbes that was 1200 words for $2,000. I’ve written many 800-word features that paid $700. Hopefully, that helps you understand what an article should pay!

      Of course, that pay wasn’t for my “lyrical musings.” It was for doing an assignment a client wanted, to their specs. That’s where all the money is. Any platform that boasts “and you can write whatever you want here!” pays squat.

      • Jon

        I merely reference my writing in such a fashion as romantic irony, as the pay-rate I’m getting is so laughably low compared to the quotes I’m seeing referenced throughout this website, which I just stumbled upon today. I’m half-debating sending a link to this site to my client. Or maybe I can write them 5 articles instead to pay for a month’s membership and find some real work.

  14. Laura Reagan-Porras

    It worked! I was reminded to use my networks and focus local from my first skimming of your new e-book, Step by Step Guide which I purchased Saturday, two days ago. I emailed the editor of a new upstart online and limited print magazine, this weekend. I pitched him my ideas about an interview a week (as coached in the new book) with a female change maker in our community. My expertise is in the non profit sector so I tossed in the idea of doing a regular column about “Making A Difference,” also. My expertise lined up with his desire to be a positive voice for good news in our region. I sent him the link to my writers portfolio online and my resume. He called me back! He didn’t email. He called me back today, Monday – 2 days later!! He loved the idea and says he wants to send me a contract and confidentiality agreement over tonight. I’m feeling bold enough to try to negotiate a higher rate for the column part. Woo hoo!! Point being I acted on the advice, make a little effort at research and pitched by email and I have a gig. Its a decent paying gig for me and it gives me more local exposure. I’m so excited! A regular gig as a feature writer and/or columnist.

      • Laura Reagan-Porras

        Yes, exactly. Some themes from your new e-book like using networks, starting local and pitching interviews and column ideas came from my first skim of it. Sorry that wasn’t clear. I comment on it now with the blog because its not only personal success but it is NOT the content mill approach. Thanks!

        • Carol Tice

          Well, that’s for sure — it is the anti-content-mill, old school, proven approach to getting a solid portfolio together fast and getting yourself some real, decent-paying clients.

  15. Elisa

    Hi Carol

    I agree with you on all sources. There may be some good work on Craig’s List, but the time it takes to find it would eat up any margin.

    My main feeder source for new clients is LinkedIn. I’ve had terrific success with it and used right, it’s an amazing resource for any solo professional – including writers.


    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, I loooove the job ads on LinkedIn! They’re mostly fulltime — but you use those as a great source of freelance leads.

      • Elisa

        Interesting. I’ve actually never looked at the LI job ads. I get all my work through LinkedIn either because prospects contact me because they found or profile or like my contributions, or because I use it as a good research tool to contact them at the right time.

        Looking at job ads….. that’s a good idea, too!

  16. Daley James Francis

    I love Mark Twain’s quote: “Write without pay until someone offers pay”

    I’ve started to live by that rule and it’s served me pretty well so far. I know it won’t work for everyone, and I know that some writers will be in a better position financially than others, but from a personal standpoint, momentum and mindset are everything, and nothing kills both quicker than writing for any of the four places you’ve mentioned there, Carol!

    That isn’t to say that I haven’t written for all of them at the beginning! 15 months in, and I wouldn’t write for them if I was broke and desperate. I’d rather start a niche blog from scratch and build it up from nothing – and feel of some worth – than dig myself into that hole again!

  17. Don Simkovich

    I have 4 websites, blogs I’ve started and 2 (at this point) rev sharing sites. I have PR agencies call me to write up their clients because they’ve seen me on the rev sharing sites. My pieces are well received and I get nice compliments but it does stop there.

    My own sites lack new content and I’ve been debating about not writing to the rev sharing sites and only posting to my own sites. I can be my own sponsor as well as seek other sponsors.

    This article is making me consider doing just that … I still need to make that final decision.

  18. Stephanie Modkins

    Thank you for telling the truth about content mills and other places that don’t really take you anywhere as a freelance writer.

    Unfortunately, I am trying to re-invent what I started YEARS ago as a freelance writer. As a result, I have been doing the research that would have been helpful to me previously.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m sure that research will be helpful to you now, too, Stephanie!

      • Stephanie Modkins

        Yes – the research is helping me a lot. One of the things I did this week is create my own website.

        • Carol Tice

          Nice! Congrats on getting a site up.

  19. Rikki

    You’re right about getting trapped in the content mills. I’m trying hard to break out of them now, but have had some major expenses that had to be paid, and had not time to find anything better. I do try to write better than what they expect, so I can possibly use my work there as examples, but it’s still a drawback in applying for magazines and legitimate jobs. I will break away from them, though.

    • Leigh

      I hear you. I always had good writing skills, so when my health prevented me from keeping a full-time job, I started writing from home. I’ve had some good-paying gigs, but not enough to pay all of my medical bills. It’s easy to get stuck in the “I need money now, so I can’t afford to spend time querying and waiting to get paid net 60 or net 90” cycle.

      • Jessica

        For a while I thought the options were content mills/elance or pitching to magazines, with the 90 day turnaround time you mention. And since there was no way in hell I could wait 90 days to pay rent, I stuck with elance. Since then I’ve found several other options, largely thanks to blogs like Carol’s. I’m taking my time making the transition, but I know now that with a lot of freelance work, especially corporate work, it’s possible to ask for 50% upfront, or something similar. Hell, my first big client off of elance expected to pay 100% upfront.

  20. D

    First off, I just want to say thank you so much for posting this article. It was very helpful.

    I just have a question:
    I am still in school. Is it possible to work for a magazine (preferably a literary magazine) before I earn my degree?

    • Carol Tice

      I’d say yes…since I’ve never earned mine!

      If you don’t make a big deal out of still being in school, they’ll never know. 😉

      I don’t know what “literary” magazine you might have in mind…it’s possible they might care more about degrees than many other types of freelance opportunities. But I can definitely say there are many great opportunities out there where a degree is irrelevant.

  21. nida

    Thanks Carol for the encouragement. I had been on bidding sites for several months now, but got frustrated after I only found one good-paying client, while the rest bids so low! I was surprised to find out they bid $1 for 500 words technical article? Where’s my ego there?Another client did not pay me for the test writing where I wrote three long travel articles.

    Am also now in some revenue sharing sites, but it is too time-consuming and earns so low.

    I need to find clients who will pay me higher so I could earn right.

    Thanks a lot.

    • Carol Tice

      That’s right, Nida!

      Please don’t write any more ‘test writing’ – that is all scams.

  22. Ernie Heavin

    I am really concerned. Some say Content Mills are worth it; others say they are not. For example, Writer Access, what do you think about them? I would hate to spend so much time taking one of their tests and writing a sample article if it just isn’t worth the time and effort.

    Thank you in advance,


    • Carol Tice

      All I can say is…reread this post again, Ernie.

  23. Nur Costa

    Thank you so much for your advice! I love your website! Just found it and I think it’s very useful the content you write.
    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend a couple of hours reading your blog 🙂
    Kind regards

  24. Jessica Wood

    Sadly when I started out as a freelancer I relied almost entirely on bid sites to find work and by the end of the year I was almost broke. I won’t be making that mistake again…

    • Carol Tice

      It’s because of writers like you that I started this blog, Jessica! I hear occasionally from someone who’s figured out how to do well on bid sites, but it seems very rare…and for the most part, I believe building your own business is always going to work out better than trusting a bid platform to bring you gigs.

  25. Barbara

    I think there’s also ego at stake. I finally came to the conclusion that I’d rather supplement well-paying writing jobs with well-paying non-writing work, when necessary, than do low-paying, low-quality, and boring writing jobs.

  26. robert

    Which magazines would you recommend, personally? I’ve tried other methods of earning revenue, but now I really am determined to make it as a freelance writer.

    • Carol Tice

      Robert, that’s really going to depend on your interests and your experience. Start researching the publications that are out there! You’ll be surprised at how many you can find, if you really start digging.

  27. motolady


    I have discovered your website 2 days ago. A friend told me about this. I have read lots of articles written by you, but I still didn’t find the answer to my question.

    Let’s say you are newbie, talk with an editor from a magazine and he agrees to pay for some articles. You deliver those articles, but what is your guarantee that you will be paid? There is a contract, or something?

    Thanks for answering me

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly…there should be a signed contract before you start writing.

  28. robert

    Ok, thanks Carol.

  29. motolady

    Thank you for the answer. From now on, I suppose I need an electronic signature, since I don’t have any chance to meet face-to-face any editor, no matter from where he is.

    • Carol Tice

      There’s also signing and faxing copies over…I do that a lot.

  30. motolady

    That’s a good idea. I didn’t think about this. Thanks 🙂

  31. Alex Pierce


    You’d be surprised by the number of clients trying to take advantage of writers! It’s unspeakably measly, unethical and totally sickening. The worst part of all? It happens everywhere – content mills, bidding sites, etc.

    I’ve been consistently reading your blog, but I’ve never seen any mention of iWriter, which is the epitome of low-paying writing jobs! Check it out and make sure to read the job descriptions – it’s excruciating to think someone would ever write 150 words for $1.01!

    I’ve included a link to my recent post – you’ll see for yourself what I mean.


    • Carol Tice

      There are so many crummy platforms like this, if I wanted to write about each one specifically, I’d never write about anything else!

      Yes, I’ve heard iWriter is awful.

      But what’s truly awful is that writers accept these conditions. If writers stopped, these platforms would vanish overnight. So my point of view is that it’s on us.


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