Wait, let me guess. You thought it was a good idea to make a bit of extra money as a freelance writer at one of the many online content mills, and now you’re stuck, right? How did it happen? Well, it’s a no-brainer. The money usually starts coming in rather quickly and you are probably need some quick cash - or you probably wouldn’t have signed up with a content mill in the first place.
Straightaway you find yourself on an endless loop of ghostwriting with intolerable demands from content mill clients and editors.
Now don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with - as a writer - making a bit of extra cash on the side via content mills. And to be fair, I hold nothing against them. Nevertheless, as the saying goes "the devil is always in the details.” Giving the content mill thingy a try is understandable, as getting started with a freelance writing career can be tough. Besides, you need funds to carry you over until your career takes off.
The content mill assignments will start quickly and take up a lot of your time in the process. In the meantime, your writing skills could suffer. In fact, sooner or later you will come to the conclusion that the compensation is just not worth it.
After you figure in the time it takes to research the topic, write the article, edit your work, and send it off to possibly be edited again and/or rejected, you begin to question your sanity...and rightly so!
Then the cycle starts again. You justify why you put up with it, which comes back to why content mills were so attractive to you in the first place. It was the prospect of making a steady flow of extra money, remember?
If you are serious about writing, getting stuck in the content mill trap could be destructive to your career. Unless of course, you get out at the right time. If you have a balanced attitude about writing for content mills, you will see them simply as a steppingstone. Your actual career will begin afterwards.
Here are a few reasons why content mills can impede your writing skills and your career:
Creative Possibilities Are Limited
The company, or individual, will have their own ideal in regards to how they want the article written. For example, the client will prefer specific keywords or awkward phrases merged into the article. Sometimes these words or phrases are downright derisory. For example, they may ask you to include keywords or phrases like “sick dog two” or “living city enough,” in that order!
Being the audacious writer that you are, you won't mind giving it a go. Besides, your writing skills will improve right? Wrong! You will simply spend an extra hour or two finishing a piece that you will probably get paid very little for.
It’s literally like writing for free. Especially after you take into consideration the additional time it took to complete the editorial, edit it, then have it edited by the editors at the content mill, then sent back for correction....wash, rinse, repeat.
The Nature of the Beast
You'll be tempted to flaunt your writing skills, but it’s not about you, it’s all about the mill and their clients. There are some exceptions; however, for the most part, it’s simply the nature of the beast. The mill will have strict rules about how they want things written and there will be little wiggle room.
Many are tough on plagiarism as well; which is fine. The only problem is that if you accept an assignment writing about Levi 501 Classic Fit Straight Leg Jeans, undoubtedly, you will want to use the brand name in your content. Well, your writing could get labeled as plagiarism. Which doesn't make sense.
In most instances, it's tricky describing a product without using the product's name in your description. Thereafter, it's going back-and-forth with the editor - who is usually busy - to come to a solution. Then the client rejects it anyway. I know...it's sad. But there's always tomorrow. Chin up my friend!
Content Mills and Payment
One of the positives about the mills is that you receive your money rather quickly. Still, in all likelihood, you may feel ripped-off. Usually, the pay will not equal the time it took to write the piece or match your writing skills.
Content mills usually pay weekly, bi-weekly, or once a month on a per-word basis. Most pay via PayPal though some offer Skrill, Transferwise, and other payment options.
To be fair, there are some content mills that pay more and offer the option to develop your own client base via “direct orders” usually at a higher per-word price. Either way, the agency still takes a cut, whether you accept projects from the general writer’s pool or receive direct orders. For example, you accept a project, the price offered is $20.00 but you receive only $16.00. That’s a 20% take for the mill. Some take as much as 30% or more!
As a rule, content mills pay measly sums and there are many "aspiring writers" who will write for low pay. This significantly undercuts your bargaining power.
Hey, it’s business. The mill has to make money too. That money can go in your pocket if you make time for creating a private client base, which will eventually allow you to say goodbye to content mills.
The Client Is Always Right
The client is always right, even when it’s obvious they are wrong. For example, you write a piece, submit it for approval, and the client decides they want a re-write. Let’s say they want the keywords or article length modified to something different from their initial request.
It can drive you nuts! You’ve already invested enough time writing the piece and you want your money. Then comes the kicker. They could reject your article simply because they decided they no longer want or need the content. Sure, you get to keep the article, but where are you going to sell a piece titled “How to Get Your Dog to Understand Astrology?”
In most cases, you have no recourse and simply have to suck it up. All that hard work and you get no compensation for it. Which leads to my next point, no compensation. You will rarely win against a content mill or their clients, even when it's obvious they're in the wrong!
No Acceptance-No Pay
If your work is not accepted you won’t be compensated for it, end of story. You get zilch, zippo, diddly-squat! As I mentioned before, the client is always right and if they decide not to accept your work, well, that’s the risk you take.
Another thing. Check to make sure your article is not being used without your permission after a rejection. Sometimes a client will reject a writer's work but use it anyway. You can easily check by using a plagiarism tool on sites like Plagiarism.net.
If you find that your article is online and you haven’t been paid for it, see if the agency will investigate the situation. If not, learn from the experience and move on. To be fair, some writing agencies allow writers to reveal a preview of the article. If accepted, the other half is provided after payment.
Where Am I Going With This?
Generally speaking, writers who are serious about their career should avoid content mills. Nonetheless, there are times when you need extra bucks in your pocket and mills can come in very handy. Until you develop your own list of clients, you will, in all likelihood, have to do a number of things (legitimate of course) until you are established.
If you embark on a content writing career, you may not be able to avoid content mills. That's just the way it is.
Plus, let's face it. You'll be gaining experience in your trade while simultaneously sharpening your negotiating skills for better pay. Having said that, you can demand more, in fact much, much more, once you establish your client base.
The world of content mill writing is like a merry-go-round. But it's up to you how often and how long you want to stay on the ride.