I’m a Content Writer, and I’m underpaid – How do I break the Barrier?

The one thing about freelance writing that really boiled my blood was the fact I couldn’t make the connection into higher payouts. I had the education, I had the experience, and I had the right contacts. Yet, even after a year of striving for higher-paying jobs, I was being paid in peanuts.

All journalists have to start somewhere. Take my case, for example; I started out as a 17 year old kid in high-school, looking to make a few dollars here and there. I took two semesters of college writing related classes, and nothing more. At first, I was ecstatic that I could write a 500 word article and get $6 instantly. I didn’t have to wait for a bi-weekly paycheck, and the work was fun. I even started earning around three times as much money per hour as my real-life job earned me! Obviously, things were going great.

A year later, I was a lot more experienced- and I had been noticing something. Everyone that worked at the rates I worked at barely spoke English most of the time. And half of the time, they could barely write a complete paragraph without having heavy grammatical errors. I started to feel cheated from the low rates I was being paid, since I was on a completely different level than they were. The question was, “How do I get paid more, for the same work?”

I tested the waters to see if I could convince one or two of my returning clients to shell out a little more money. Both requests turned out poorly, and I hit a brick wall. I then turned to my peers, who said to network myself and look into other ways of marketing. At first, I decided that a better way of marketing would be to try out the popular service at Constant-Content. Constant-Content, also known as CC, is a resource for writers to sell content. I gave them a try, but failed to even post one article without getting suspended for not knowing a few specific rules they require writers to follow. Instead of helping me learn the system better, they suspended my account. Yet another brick wall was hit.

Finally, I gave up writing completely. I wasn’t going to write for peanuts anymore. A few weeks passed by, and I noticed a few people on a forum I frequent, Digital Point, requesting very specific content. This content was very technical in nature, which meant that just not any content writer could fill the position. This type of work required experience, a background in the subject, and passion. There were no replies to the requests, which threw a red flag in my head- had I found the solution to my problems?

I quickly studied the subject in question to more detail- I had previous experience, but wanted to make sure I could deliver an article that would promise a high payout. I immediately went to the bookstore and bought $100 worth of books on the subject. A few days later I posted a request on the same forum for a buyer- and I had written a very good sample to attract the type of money I wanted! Lo and behold, the offers came pouring in. I finally settled for a whopping 10 cents per word- over eight times what I was previously making!

The barrier was now explained: I wrote over a broad range of subjects. Sure, that guaranteed me work, but that also meant I could be replaced. This became even clearer when I asked a peer of mine about the type of writer he would hire. The client claimed he would go to a writer that had specific experience in a certain subject, long before going to a general content writer. Everything seemed much clearer!

All writers will break the barrier eventually, if they have enough drive and ambition. Finding out what is stopping you is the key to overcoming your obstacles. When you embark on the road to higher payouts, make sure that you leave the “General Content Writer” tag behind. Instead, slap on a, “I Provide Better Content through Specialization” tag- serious buyers will notice it, and so will your wallet.

2 thoughts on “I’m a Content Writer, and I’m underpaid – How do I break the Barrier?”

  1. Hi Zac,

    It was really very good to read what you had experienced while starting out as a writer and it was really insightful about what makes a writer stop earning a higher amount per article.

    I am surprised that digitalpoint has writers who are able to earn anything between 5c to 15c per word and even above but I was not clear about how they earn that much.. I am always scared to get a client go away after making an inquiry thinking it will be very tough to get clients.. my experience says the number of prospective clients is extremely high.. i.e. the demand is very high and the supply is considerably low in some areas. My point is,

    how do I get clients who I can comfortably charge some 5c-10c per word at forums.digitalpoint?

    The number of inquiries that pounce on dp forums are quite higher but the normal pay scale due the fierce competition between the writers is fairly low. that makes even more difficult to attract a client who is willing to pay that much what I would love to charge regularly.

    Until now, I have charged a few of my clients 5c per word and if I try to increase my rates, they wont or maybe they will, I am sure if they have to, remain with me for a long term basis.

    What I want is consistently attract and retain clients that pay 5c per word and above, now how do I do that irrespective of where I am from and what country or religion or sex, or caste I belong?

    I know, I got to get my site up and market it through the SE. Then I can comfortably make anything around $50 per article. Maybe thats too less for Jen or even you in that case. for me, its a nice way to bring your self up and running. So, what do you say? Please discuss the way to work at dp forums to attract wholesome higher paying clients.

    I know, I got to have a specialization as you said and thats what I have learned by reading from most writers, the established writers I mean though it takes a little while to specialize in any specific field. I think it would be great if you could elaborate points to choosing what should a person specialize. Maybe a great blog posts would do the needful or even a reply to this posts by sending a copy to my mailbox would be awesome.

    Jen has some really good insights about freelancing and O boy! she’s absolutely awesome! wishing you a great life and a happy writing career. I think she’s really life to writing!

    Jen and Zac! Thank you for all that you are doing for all the beginners in the field! I feel you’re making a difference to the whole world. God Bless!

    P.S. Do send me a reply as I would love to get in touch with you folks on Linkedin and other ways by MSN, Yahoo, Skype, ICQ chat stations.

  2. Here’s the best advice someone can give you… move beyond the DigitalPoint forums! While you’ll occasionally find clients willing to pay higher rates there, they’re not the ones who are likely to openly post job ads looking for writers (because they don’t want to be bombarded with requests from the lower-rate and under-qualified writers all over the place there). The clients willing to pay more generally find their writers through referrals from people they trust, and the deals are often done privately. Here are a few tips:

    1. Specialize. If you work as a generalist, you’ll have a hard time convincing people to pay you more. If you’re the only one there with an expertise on a certain subject, all of a sudden your work can look more attractive.

    2. Write a lot of posts on those subjects if appropriate, without directly trying to promote yourself. For example, I run a PR firm, so I have expertise related to press releases that most of the writers there offering that service don’t. I post a lot on that subject, demonstrating my expertise of the subject. People see that I know what I’m talking about, and they tend to remember it, then hiring me when they need one for themselves.

    Don’t just look at forums though. You need to make a decision as to what’s more important to you: a quick buck or larger payments. Most publications and sites paying more don’t actively advertise; you’ll have to query them. Payment usually isn’t immediate, which can make the transition hard, but if you want a steady flow at a certain rate, you’ll have to put the legwork in and work past that kind of transition. That’s just a fact of life for writers, and why so many end up staying in the lower-paying markets… it’s “easier.” Start by doing a basic search for things like “$.05 per word,” “5 cents per word,” etc. or look in the writers’ markets section of this site for some leads you can query.

    As for choosing a specialty…

    For a lot of writers, it’s easy. You specialize in the area you’re educated in. For example, I’ve studied, PR, marketing, and other business subjects, and that’s where I specialize predominantly. I have a second specialty of independent music based on my work experience as a music publicist and connections in that industry. If you’re an engineer, tech subjects would work well. If you have a degree in the pharmaceutical industry, you could specialize in that niche, etc. If you don’t have a formal education, it’s going to be hard to specialize in a professional subject matter where you would be expected to have a degree to call yourself an expert or authority source.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t specialize. Think about your hobbies or things that you’re simply good at or passionate about. Do you show dogs? Then maybe dog breeding or grooming would be a good topic for you. Are you a twin? Then maybe writing about twins would work. Does your garden always come out just right? Then maybe a niche in gardening would suit you. Are you a video game addict? Then write about video games. Pick something you already know a lot about, and something where there’s a demand for content from people with experience. Also keep your rate hopes in mind. For example, most indie music publications pay less than $.05 / word, and many don’t pay at all. So narrow it down to a list of like 5 or so possible specialties, and then do some searching for online magazines and such to see what they’re paying. If most pay what you want or more, go for it. 🙂


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