Content writing and “real” journalism can co-exist

April 8, 2009
Ever feel tied to your work? I know I do

Ever feel tied to your work? I know I do

At the beginning of this year, as I watched an alarming number of my print clients shut their doors or slash their freelance-writing budgets, I made a decision: I was going to try something new.

So I signed up for Associated Content, Demand Studios, Suite 101 and

But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to pursue print opportunities at the same time. So, it’s been a busy first part of the year, with me juggling content writing, blogging for business clients and drumming up new print assignments. I’m also continuing to pursue my dream job of writing comic-book scripts. (We all need something fun to write to keep us sane.)

And how are things going so far? Pretty good on some fronts, a little below average on others.

First, the content sites: I’ve ditched Associated Content. There seemed to be little respect for writers there. I’ve never gotten started with Demand Studios. Again, though I can’t put my finger on it, there’s something depressing about the topics they have available for writers. I’ve written 26 stories for Suite 101, the vast majority of them in the first three weeks after I signed up. In March, while doing very little actual writing for the site, I earned $28 for those stories. At Examiner, where I write about telecommuting, I’ve gotten off to a slow start. But I do see hope here: My page views are steadily growing. (Though my craven attempt to generate extra page views by putting the words “American Idol” in the headline of a recent post did not bear fruit. Serves me right, though.)

On the “real” journalism side, my income for the first three months of the year is up about 20 percent from last year. So that’s good news. The bad news is that I’m sending out more pitches, and writing more stories, to get that income. The other bad news is that two of my highest-paying print clients are cutting back significantly on freelance stories this year. One editor even told me that her publisher had put a moratorium on any stories having to do with solar energy, because that’s not where their concentration of advertisers are.

My business blogging is holding steady. I thought I lost one client — an insurance company — but he came back the next day and changed his mind. He wants to continue his blog. That’s good. The two blogs I write for real estate companies are holding steady. And the one blogging-network job I’ve kept is doing OK, too, though my page views haven’t risen much since the start of the year. This is the one part of my business I’d like to grow the most. But I’ve had a difficult time finding new clients since the start of the year. I suspect I need to do more marketing.

Finally, my comic-book writing is doing well. I’ve teamed up with a wonderful artist, and together we’ve produced short graphic stories that will appear shortly in three different anthologies. I’ve also been assigned by another publisher to write a comic-book biography of Nancy Pelosi. (Weird, I know. But apparently these kind of comic biographies have become quite popular.)

So, there you have it. That’s my busy writing life right now. I’m hoping by the end of this year the content sites and the business blogging begin to produce more income. But you never know.


Suite 101 update: My first “disabled” story

April 3, 2009

Turns out, those Suite 101 editors aren’t all pushovers after all.

I’d run into very few problems with the first 26 stories I’d submitted to Suite 101. I’d get an occasional note from an editor reminding me to capitalize words in my headlines and subheads. (They’re big for capital letters at Suite 101.) Another note might ask me to insert an additional subhead in a story. (They really like their subheads, too.)

But that all changed. Last week, an editor disabled one of my stories.

Most of what I write at Suite 101 has to do with mortgages and homebuying. Those are topics that seem to attract a lot of views. But my disabled story was one of the handful I’ve written about freelance writing. In this particular story, I wrote about blogging networks, and whether they were worth a writer’s time. (Short answer: No.)

The editor who disabled the story cited some problems with my subheads and headlines, of course. (No editorial critique at Suite 101 is complete without headline or subhead commentary.) The editor also mentioned a spelling error.

But the real problem was that my story sounded too much like a blog post. It was also more of an opinion piece than a “how-to” or newsy story.

Well, that editor was right. I wrote the Suite 101 story shortly after having trouble collecting money from a blog network I’ve been experimenting with. The people in charge of the network had been ignoring my messages. I wasn’t happy with that, so I wrote a column telling writers how unreliable blogging networks are.

By the way, I do believe that is true. I’ve written for two blogging networks now that suddenly changed the way they pay writers. Both times, of course, my pay would have drastically plummeted had I stayed on board. I’ll be writing about both blogging networks in future posts.

I don’t fault the Suite 101 editor. I probably won’t make the changes she recommends to get my disabled story back to life. It’s just not worth the time or effort. It’s a good reminder, though, that Suite 101 does not want anything that smacks of an opinion piece.

Why are writers turning to content sites?

March 31, 2009

Why are the content sites, places like Associated Content, Suite 101 and Demand Studios, suddenly so popular? Why are writers flocking to these sites to make a measly few dollars per story?

That’s a good question. It’s one I’ve asked myself, too. I mean, I’m doing the same thing. I’ve made less than $40 at Suite 101 for 26 stories. The saddest part is, I don’t think that’s too bad, either.

I suppose two factors are at work here: First, the economic downturn has caused so many print magazines — which pay far better than do online content sites — to go out of business. There are fewer places now for freelance writers to submit their work. This is why I’m experimenting with the content sites. If I have a few moments between sending out pitches, I’ll write up a quick post for or begin working on an easy Suite 101 story. At least these posts provide some money.

The second reason, I suspect, is even more important: Places like Associated Content, Demand Studios or aren’t exactly picky when it comes to approving writers. I briefly wrote for, a popular blogging network, and that organization would accept anyone who could string three words together.

So it’s easy to get approved by the content sites. And being approved makes people feel like “real” professional writers. It’s far harder to get an editor at a trade or consumer magazine to assign you a story. At, you can be hired quickly and then write whatever bland, boring story you want. At magazines, editors demand stories that are interesting, informative and clever. That’s not the case at the content sites.

I’m glad the content sites are out there, though. They’re easy writing. And maybe some day, they’ll actually generate some decent money. I just don’t think of them as “important” writing. They’re junkfood, basically, that clutters the Internet.

Is life sweet at Suite 101?

March 29, 2009

First, let me apologize for the bad pun in the headline. Secondly, let me answer the question up there, too: I wouldn’t say it’s sweet. But I will say that it’s oddly not so bad.

I joined Suite 101 on Feb. 7 as a specialist in mortgages. I know that doesn’t sound too exciting, but I really do write about mortgage lending and real estate quite often. Besides, I figured mortgage-related stories would generate a lot of page views and, hopefully, some decent revenue.

Here’s the results so far: In February, my stories generated 2,222 page views. From March 1 through March 28, they’d generated 2,159 page views. I’ve written a lot of about mortgage lending, of course, but I’ve also written about freelance writing, selling a home and writing for comic books. By far, the mortgage-related stories draw more hits and, I assume — though I can’t tell for sure — more of the ad clicks that generate revenue at Suite 101.

You don’t make money off page views at Suite 101. The money comes when readers actually click on the ads that Suite runs alongside your columns.

As of the writing of this post, I had 27 stories on Suite 101. From Feb. 7 through March 26, these stories had generated $36.73.

Yes, that sounds bad. Yes, it’s little more than $1 a story, and I’d never consider writing a print story for $1.20, or whatever that average comes out to.

But there ‘s more to the story here. I’ve written about mortgages and real estate for years. I can bang out Suite 101 columns quickly, sometimes in less than 15 minutes. I don’t interview anyone for these stories. Research is basic. Writing them is rather formulaic. No, they’re not going to win any Pullitzers, but the stories I’m banging out do contain real information.

Plus I’m told that as you put more stories up, your revenues get higher. We’ll see.

I think I’ll stick with Suite 101 for a while. My goal is to get 100 stories on the site, which isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds, so long as you can write fast and stick to topics you know well. My hope is that with 100 stories, I’ll generate about $100 a month in passive income, meaning I won’t have to write new stories for that money if I don’t choose to.

Like all other content sites, Suite doesn’t pay all that much. But it does at least have the potential, once the initial work is done, to generate passive income. That, at least, is a positive.

A little about me. (And, yes, you’re right: I’m not that fascinating)

March 29, 2009

I won’t give you my real name. I’m sure to be a bit negative when discussing the content sites and blogging networks I’m writing for.  But everyone needs some name, even if it’s not real. How about this one: Dwrite. It’s a handle I use on forums across the Internet. Should work well here.

Here are some of my credentials. I’ve worked as a freelance writer since the early 1990s. When I started in this business, I couldn’t Google anything. I had to find information the old-fashioned way: by digging  it up. Today, I honestly think I’ve forgotten how to do that.

My stories have appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Business 2.0 Magazine, Phoenix Magazine, the Chicago Reader, BusinessWeek Online, CareerJournal, Home Magazine and a countless stream of trade magazines. Today, unfortunately, many of my favorite places to write for have gone belly up. Many others have put a temporary freeze on their freelance budgets.

I have turned, too, to online writing. As a freelancer today you have to. There’s a lot about it I don’t like. Mostly, it’s the pay. Why does online writing fetch such dismal fees? Can it be because online writing is usually horrid, rehashed garbage that’s been floating aroun

This photo just says "writer," doesn't it?

This photo just says "writer," doesn't it?

d the Web ever since Yahoo! took the world by storm?

I’m sure there’s a relation there.

I blog regularly today, for both blogging networks and for business owners who want blogs but don’t want to write them. The second group pays far more than the first. But this blog, Content Writing Madness, focuses on the first group, the blogging networks, along with the content sites, places like Suite 101, Associated Content, Demand Studios, and the like. (And don’t tell me that is an online newspaper and not a content site. It’s a content site. Believe me.)

My goal is to share my frustrations, rewards (I hope!) and challenges as I try to master the world of online content writing. I hope, too, that the readers of this blog — and I hope to get readers soon! — will chime in with their own experiences and, yes, success strategies for making actual money at places like Suite 101 and Constant Content.

Check back tomorrow. I’ll start my online adventures with my experiences at Suite 101. Then there’s the suddenly popular to tackle.

Content writing, huh?

March 29, 2009

I’ve worked as a freelance writer since 1991. That’s a long time. But never have I felt as challenged, and frequently frustrated, as I do today. Since mid-2008, seven of my regular print-magazine clients have gone out of business. Several more have gone solely to in-house writers as they struggle through this horrible economy. I’m surviving, but I’m juggling more assignments than I ever have to meet my monthly income goals.

I’ve also dipped my toe into the largely unsatisfying world of online content writing. You know what I mean: places like Associated Content, Suite 101,, Demand Studios, b5 Media and the rest. They’re content mills that place greater value on quantity than they do on qukeyboardality. Writing for them is a bit brain-numbing, I admit. But a writer’s gotta’ do … well, you know.

I have one advantage in this strange new world: I can write fast, really fast. And when I’m writing for content sites I can write especially fast.

‘Course, that doesn’t mean I necessarily enjoy content writing. And I am still learning as I go. I’ve found content-mill writing to be extremely frustrating at times, especially when it comes to search engine optimization.  I also find myself getting overly excited when one of my online stories earns even the smallest amount of revenue. I wouldn’t touch a print-magazine story for anywhere near the same amount of money. I’d consider it an insult.

I set up this blog to share my journey through the content-writing landscape with my fellow freelance writers. Three times a week — at least — I’ll post my experiences with content sites. I’ll let you know how much I’m earning, how quickly I’m doing it and whether I enjoy what I’m doing even the tiniest bit.

And I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me, too, on whatever content writing you’re doing. Maybe you love it. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you recognize that in the world of online writing, speed is king, quality is  not necessarily a priority and earnings are small.

But, again, if you’re fast enough, if you can really pound away at that keyboard, those small earnings just might add up.

Or maybe they won’t. I’ll let you know.