How One Writer Grew Her Pay — and Left Demand Studios Behind

Carol Tice

How One Writer Grew Her Pay — and Left Demand Studios Behind. Makealivingwriting.comBy Tiffany Jansen

I used to write for content mills. I know I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m not.

Working for Demand Studios taught me a lot: sticking to a word count, following guidelines, writing on a deadline, working with editors and, most importantly, that I could earn money writing.

After moving to the Netherlands in 2008, I found myself friendless, jobless and confused.

To pass the time and cope with my newfound expat status, I began actively meeting other expats and discovered that many turn to freelance writing. No work permit necessary and you can do it no matter where you are, how many times or how frequently you relocate.

Building relationships with these expats led me to Demand Studios. Once I realized I could make money writing I started searching for other paying gigs.

I had some clips from DS to get started. Now all I needed were connections.

I discover networking

Enter ACCESS, a non-profit expat organization here in the Netherlands. One of their services is a quarterly magazine which I heard about from a fellow expat writer who had done some writing for them. They liked my clips and introduction letter.

Although they don’t pay, they are an amazing networking source. The clincher was the fact that they produce a very professional-looking publication that would give me more serious clips. Through them, I was able to connect with a staff member at XM Magazine (an expat lifestyle publication in the Netherlands).

Through ACCESS I was able to connect with a staff member at XM Magazine (an expat lifestyle publication in the Netherlands), who asked me to pitch a list of article ideas. They chose two event pieces which I covered for more than $280. Quite a jump from $15 per article Demand Studios pays.

One thing leads to another

Unfortunately XM went out of business. But not before the assistant editor told me about the newspaper The Holland Times. This paper reports Dutch news in English for the international community, and I was eager to try my hand at journalism.

The editor responded to my letter of interest, inviting me to the next editorial meeting. I learned so much from hearing what other writers pitched and what the editor was interested in.

I came to the next meeting armed with story ideas and left with my first assignment. I earn $0.36 per word and have been writing steadily for the publication for over a year.

My editor at The Holland Times introduced me to the Amsterdam City Tours blog. Thanks to her recommendation, I was approached by the blog owners to be a regular contributor at more than $70 a post.

Another connection urged me to contact the editor at expat/travel magazine Transitions Abroad. I got a $100 article assignment, and I now contribute regular expat and travel book reviews to the publication.

As much as I love writing for the expat community, there are simply not enough paid opportunities to make a living. I need to branch out.

I get serious about marketing

With this in mind, I tried cold-calling businesses to offer my services. I quickly learned that businesses here don’t need or want English content, or hire a professional translator to take care of that for them.

U.S. and UK companies prefer to work with someone local, or at least living in the same country. Expat entrepreneurs typically don’t have the funds to hire a writer.

So I’ve turned to pitching magazines. Magazines are often keen to publish work by writers from another country for the unique angle those writers bring. Produce interesting, well-written articles by the deadline, and magazine editors won’t care where you’re based.

I’ve only just started querying, so I’m still waiting to hear if my pitches have been accepted.

Whatever happens, I’ll keep plugging away. I’ve seen that good paying markets do exist and I want to write for more of them.

No more content mills for me. My writing’s worth more than $15 per article.

Tiffany Jansen lives in the Netherlands, where she is a freelance writer and owner of the musical theater company Little Broadway. She is the author of two children’s books and a frequent Twitterer.

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  1. Michael

    Your story is amazing and emotional Tiffany. I strongly believe that we freelance writers are worth more than $15. Your story is quite similar to mine, I started writing for a blog 3 times weekly, and the pay was a meager $5. So, I was earning $60 per month. I knew I can’t continue like this, so I decided to contact offline magazine firms.

    Much to my amazement, I was hired on a freelance basis. Today, I earn at least $50 per featured article on their blog. Until freelance writers take a DECISION to diversify, nothing changes. But it all begins from the INSIDE. I enjoyed reading your blog post, congratulations and I hope your last pitch gets an upper hand.

    • Tiffany

      Hi Micheal,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m so glad to hear you’ve moved on to bigger and better things. It’s sad, really, how we can allow ourselves to do so much work for so little when we deserve to be doing bigger and better things. So far, I’ve been getting a lot of positive vibes and several bites. But it can only get better from here, right? Best of luck to you!

  2. Sarah

    Thanks for the interesting article, I have been thinking about contacting Transitions Abroad so maybe I’ll give it a go now!

  3. Leo

    I believe that in the writing field it is the networking that helps a lot. Writing is something that does not require you to be in the office. Any networks you make can be helpful in getting you writing assignments no matter what place of earth you are on. Networking has helped a lot in my writing career.

    • Tiffany

      Hi Leo,

      Networking is definitely key! And once you’ve gotten your foot in the door, opportunities often end up sliding right in your lap. Unfortunately, as you mention, writing is a solitary endeavour, so we really have to make the effort to get out there and make connections. Glad to hear you’ve been able to make networking work for you. All the best!

  4. Debra Stang

    Hi Tiffany,

    I also started my career as a writer for content mills. At the time I joked about being a “keyword concubine,” but I have to admit that I, too, learned some valuable things from my experiences with the mills. The most valuable lesson for me was having to conform to the formal style of writing they preferred. My writing is naturally more “folksy,” so this was a good lesson for me in making changes to meet a client’s needs.

    Congratulations on learning how to market yourself, and I hope the queries you are sending to magazines pay off big time!


  5. Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

    Wow – seems like this is the week of writing about what to charge in the freelance writing biz. First Copyblogger, now Make A Living Writing…and I covered this topic as well on my blog. I charge $125/hour (works out to more when I charge per project) and I’ve never had a client flinch at my rates. As freelancers, we have the flexibility to set our fees – obviously demand factors into the equation, but I’ve found a considerable demand for quality copywriting. I’ve never understood why talented writers would ever settle for less than they are worth. Perhaps if we continue to raise our professional standards, freelance writers will be less inclined to undersell their services.

    • Tiffany

      Hi Ruth,

      I very much agree. If more writers demanded the pay they are worth, we’d probably see a lot less of the pathetic payments so many are offering/demanding. While I think content mills can be a good springboard into the writing biz, far too many writers get stuck there and think they can’t achieve anything higher. That’s sad. Because of my location and the language barrier, I’m finding it a bit more difficult to break into copywriting, but I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind! Thanks for the comment

  6. cash4wealth

    As a financial writer i dont charge begarly because i know what am worth and can offer.Great post

  7. drhoctor2

    This is great. Congrats on being the author of a pro writing post that lists actual numbers and what’s expected to get those numbers oneself. You used market place figures, and that will be far more helpful to online writers than another restatement of “Find your voice” writing tips. I’m impressed. These posts from you are exactly why I lurk/follow you on Twitter. Always a treat. Off to RT the hellz outta this…

  8. Erin

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Tiffany! I am overseas fairly often and I am thinking of taking the plunge and moving over permanently at the beginning of next year. I wouldn’t write off US copywriting clients just yet, if I were you. Some many prefer a writer who is in-country, but others are less hung up on it, provided you are responsive to their needs and deliver good copy. Have you thought of setting up a US phone number that can forward calls to your Dutch number or getting a US number as well? Perhaps you could also frame your business as “international?” Depending on your niche, that can actually be in your favor. Good luck and keep us posted!

  9. Cleo Adkins

    Best of luck to you! If more writers demanded the pay they are worth, we’d probably see a lot less of the pathetic payments so many are offering/demanding. So far, I’ve been getting a lot of positive vibes and several bites. But it can only get better from here, right?


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