As a freelance writer, don't ever let anyone tell you differently. If you can produce even reasonably high quality Web content, you can be doing much better for yourself than "selling out" to the hoards of webmasters expecting the world from their writers, for nearly no pay.
Are there any good excuses for writing free or cheap content for webmasters? Sure.
Here are a few:
1. You're not a native speaker of the language that you're writing in, and you're either content with low wages (because it's of higher value in your area), or you know your writing skills in the language aren't good, and you're trying to improve through writing.
2. You're writing about something you're passionate about, and don't care about the money... you'd just rather not be bothered with maintaining a site of your own, and publishing to someone else's is easier for you.
3. You write just for the sake of writing, more as a hobby, and don't really care about getting your name out there, building respect and your reputation as a writer, or earning money.
But for the rest of you, who do truly want to earn a living as a freelance writer, especially in the English-language market, there are also a few reasons why you shouldn't make the mistake of jumping on $5 writing gigs and the like.
The Wrong Reasons to Sell Out Your Writing:
1. You're a beginner, and you believe that the cheap content, SEO'd to death, webmaster marketplace for writers is really the best first step to a writing career.
Here's what's wrong with that: The fact of the matter is that it's beyond unlikely that you'll later move from a cheap marketplace into a significantly higher-paying one (such as going from the $.005 / word markets too often published to the $1 / word rates in many professional publications) - it's just not likely to happen. Once you devalue your work and yourself as a writer, you tarnish your reputation to some degree. Those samples you did cheaply for SEO work (as in the practically unreadable kind of SEO'd articles) will mean diddly squat if you submit them in a portfolio to a high-paying publication down the road.
2. You don't want to wait for payments, and the instant payment option of writing for webmasters is appealing to you.
Here's what's wrong with that: Are instant payments nice? You betcha! But do you want to know what's even nicer? Getting a $1000 check or more in the mail for a few hours worth of work. Needing a constant stream of income is a common need most writers have - we all have bills to pay, things we want to do, and places we want to go. But working in higher-paying markets doesn't have to be a problem. The key is getting past that initial transition period. If you're religious about your marketing efforts, and are constantly lining up gigs, once the payments start, they'll keep on coming. Nothing good is easy in the beginning. It takes a bit of time, and it takes work. If you want to be a successful freelance writer in any market, you need to understand that, and embrace that, first and foremost.
3. You think the webmaster marketplace for writers is the writers' market.
Here's what's wrong with that: The problem is that you're only believing what you can see. Since you see webmasters on forums, bid-based freelance marketplaces, etc. advertising tons of these low-paying, low-quality jobs, you assume that's what's in demand. Because writers don't see high-paying gigs advertised, they assume they don't exist... not true. Many are never advertised, and many high-paying gigs are available if you'd take the time to find writers' markets that are appropriate to your background, and query them. The keys to successful (and reasonably high-paying) freelance writing are:
- Networking - Network with other writers, or professionals in any area of the publishing industry. You never know when a contact might come in handy, and writers of the same caliber are often more than willing to pass along quality leads, and refer colleagues for jobs.
- Knowing Where to Look - The fact of the matter is that you're not likely to find many (if any) high-paying freelance writing gigs (even in online content writing) by hanging around webmaster forums and freelance marketplaces. You need to learn where to find better markets to focus on, and you can do that by browsing writers markets (like those posted here daily, or through services such as http://www.writersmarket.com), and higher quality job sites for writers (such as http://www.journalismjobs.com and http://www.mediabistro.com).
So stop selling yourself short! A transition might be tough in the beginning as you try to line up a steady series of higher-paying writing gigs, but if you have enough faith in your writing, confidence in your worth, a bit of patience, and (obviously) some skill, you can break out of the $5 and less per market, to start earning hundreds or even thousands of dollars per article. Look at it from a quality of life standpoint. If you wanted to earn $200 writing about a topic you love, would you rather:
a) Have to write 40 $5 articles, or
b) Write 1 $200 article for a moderately-paying market, and still have plenty of time left over to query other publications, work on your own content sites, etc.?
Think about it....