Are There No GOOD Freelance Writing Jobs Anymore?

No jobs

I keep coming back to Jodee Redmond’s post “Will Taking a Low Paying Freelance Writing Job Hurt Your Career?” I already wrote about my thoughts on this topic and I don’t wish to bring it up again, however one of the comments is sticking in my mind. In fact, I’ve been mulling it over for days.

Content Sites Aren’t Keeping You From Higher Paying Freelance Writing Opportunities

In the comments  for that blog post, I mentioned how there have always been low paying gigs, whether they’re with literary journals or as the resident freelancer for a graphic design studio. In fact, I remember freelance writers clamoring for a gig paying minimum wage when I worked in publishing in the 80’s and 90’s. My point was that these jobs didn’t keep anyone from aspiring to do better or finding higher paying work back in the day, and the entry level opportunities we see today shouldn’t keep us from it either, if that’s our choice.

I said:

There have always been low paying opportunities for writers, for example, the literary magazine paying five dollars or the newspaper column paying $15.

None of these jobs lowered the rates or drove away the high paying jobs (though, in all honesty, there was a time I thought this would be the case). There have been a handful of freelancers visiting the FWJ community over the years who continuously speak out against he entry level gigs and their rates of pay, but has it really affected their situations? These writers set a standard and won’t go below that standard, yet still complain about the rates and the “content mill jobs” as if they’re affecting their livelihood. They’re not. Writers who won’t settle below a certain amount are still finding work, otherwise they would have thrown in the towel a long time ago.

The commentator posted this in response:

Check out the Indeed listings and others-dominated by the content mills. The literary journals never occupied position one.

No, because literary journals didn’t advertise on traditional classified advertising sites. We didn’t have all these Internet jobs back then so you can’t compare. Literary journals only advertised in the back of Writer’s Digest or other writing newsletters. I agree it’s annoying to see hundreds of ads for the same company occupying the hundreds of slots on the job search engines, but that doesn’t mean there are no good freelance writing jobs, it simply means you may have to dig a little deeper.

Stop Looking for Excuses and You’ll Find the Good Freelance Writing Jobs

For some reason, I have a reputation for “only” posting low paying gigs, which is kind of funny. At FWJ we post between 40 and 100 new gigs each and every day and very few of them are from “content mills.” Many of them are lucrative opportunities. Web content is just a small portion of the jobs posted here on a regular basis. I understand there are some people who don’t approve of entry level opportunities, but to say they’re the reason you’re not finding work is just an excuse. There is plenty of freelance writing work, even in this economy.

There have always been low paying jobs. We see them more now because of the Internet, but there have always been places that paid writers less than $10 – or nothing at all. We found high paying work “back in the day,” and we’ll continue to find high paying work now.  The “content mills” (and I) are a convenient scapegoat, but they’re not the reason you’re not finding better work.


  1. says

    I fully agree with you, Deb! There was a time when I thought there were no good jobs unless you were a super talented tech writer or something, but I’ve since realized otherwise. These days, I get paid quite well for my writing and have an overabundance of work. It’s just a matter of working hard to find the right jobs.

  2. says

    There will always be more low paying jobs than high paying jobs. And low and high pay is in the eyes of the beholder. I will say it again (and Deb, I think you’ve said this over and over too): writers must choose the gigs that work for THEM.

    I write for several high paying magazines and journals; I am an editor and contributing writer to a large and popular content site, as well as a client’s website; I write a weekly organic gardening column; and I write for three revenue sharing sites.

    And that’s work what works for ME.

    Everyone must find the right balance for his or her own needs!

  3. Star says

    The ludiciously low paying–one I saw today: “am looking for writers urgently. I will pay 2$ per 500 word article with the turn around being 10 articles in the next couple of hours. Serious bidders please do so asap”–are lowering all. I have had it happen. I have stated my personal experience many times–the major trade which cut writer fees in HALF because they had looked at the ads, they said, and no longer had to pay “New York rates,” as they said to me, in person, personally–this is not a friend of a friend report. Cornell-Weill’s newsletters also cut writer’s rates. We are not making this up. Oh, well–I am beating a dead horse with a broken record. If it’s “right” for you to type 5,000 words in a few hours–consisting of heaven knows what–have at it!

  4. says

    I weighed in on the content mill debate a couple of weeks ago on my blog and a writer commented that she has a client who insists he would NEVER hire a writer he discovered had written for such low paying sites. I fail to understand why it would matter as long as the content was presented as well written…

    That said, I agree with Jeanne. At the end of the day, I have to do what works best for me and my situation. I respect every writer’s choice to do the same.

    • says

      And that’s exactly why some business will remain in the 20th century, Kimberly. People who refuse to move with the times get left behind in the dust.

      Content sites are part of the new generation of writing. Print magazines were the thing of the 20th century….content sites are the 21st century. With new technology comes new ways to use it.

      Imagine, if you would, an individual who refuses to use a modern-day printer because (in his mind) the old-fashioned printing press is the “only” way to be authentic. He goes down into his basement every weekend and uses his hundreds-of-years-old antique to print up a handful of copies of a newsletter each weekend. Meanwhile, his neighbor down the street is pushing out that same newsletter…only he’s pushing out 50 copies a day because he’s using a modern-day printer. The guy in the basement firmly believes that someone who uses one of those “newfangled contraptions” is a farce because he is stuck in the past century. Meanwhile the neighbor is making boatloads of cash using the new technology and moving ahead into the new century.

      People who judge a person without ever actually reading their work are ignorant, plain and simple. It’s like the guy in his basement, refusing to acknowledge that the world has moved on with him. There are those out there who believe that content sites are “evil” because they are still stuck in the mentality that the print market is the only market that matters. It’s not. The print market started going out of style around a decade ago, and with the new push for greener alternatives, Kindles, iPhones, Blackberries, and other hand-held devices, the need for a clunky, heavy, wasteful magazine that takes up a ton of space once it’s been acquired are a thing of the past. That’s not to say that print magazines don’t exist, or that they don’t still provide a lucrative market for certain individuals. It’s simply that most modern-day thinkers have moved away from the old-fashioned way of doing things and are moving into the future.

      If someone wants to sneer down their noses at content sites, I say let them. My bank account and my reputation directly contradict their assumption that I cannot write quality content for any form, be it digital or print.

  5. says

    I’d say the content mills have made it more difficult to get the good freelance writing jobs, but the jobs haven’t gone anywhere–there is a bit more competition for those jobs though. I’d say the lack of high-paying jobs is the result of the newspapers and magazines losing readers and advertisers. We just have to keep searching for jobs that pay what we think is fair and hope to make ends meet.

  6. says

    Stop making sense. It’s not as much fun as fueling a good ol’ fashioned raging debate.

    I do often wonder why those who opt to exclusively pursue higher-paying jobs would give a crap what others were doing (or vice versa). I can’t imagine Bobby Flay worrying about the fact that some guy is applying at Denny’s right now.

    • says

      “I can’t imagine Bobby Flay worrying about the fact that some guy is applying at Denny’s right now.”

      This is officially my favorite comment quote of all time. I plan on using it. A lot. But don’t worry, I always give credit where it’s due.

  7. says

    How weird… I can’t imagine why my higher-paying clients would care one way or another how much a content site might pay.

    In fact, since my higher-paying clients tend to be older people who don’t quite know what a blog IS, I suspect they’d be impressed just to hear that I’m writing for a blog at ALL! (they think it requires high end programming skills and specialized equipment…)

    Of course, I’m one of those strange people who doesn’t understand why people get all wound up about who loves whom…


    • says

      Frankly, my clients wouldn’t know one way or another which site is revenue sharing, which site pays a low rate, and which site pays a high rate. Think about it for a minute. If your client is an online retailer selling baby clothes, why in the world would they know – or care? – that you were paid only $5 to write an article? How would they know? If you send them the clip and it’s exactly like what they need, and they like your writing style, you’ll land the gig. I’ve never had a client says to me, “Oh, gee, you write for XYZ, that means you’re a hack.” What they DO say is, “Have you written about (industry)?” And when I produce solid clips in that industry, they’re interested.

  8. says

    If, and I do mean if, some higher paying clients say they won’t hire people who’ve written for low-pay sites is true, doesn’t that mean holding out for higher pay is or can be a good idea?

    Once you’ve got a few credits you can pick and choose which ones to show on your website – you do have your own website don’t you.

    I’ve been utterly astounded at the anger that has been displayed over on my blog about Demand Studios… and on other sites about other low-pay article sites… it seems some would rather be angry than do what it takes to get higher paying gigs, or maybe being angry is how they feel alive.

    Love “I can’t imagine Bobby Flay worrying about the fact that some guy is applying at Denny’s right now.”


  9. says

    I also think it’s important that content sites stop being mislabeled as “entry level opportunities”. Many writers make a *very* healthy living working through content sites. My primary source of income for 2009 was content writing, and I don’t consider 25-30 USD an hour (or 50-60k USD a year) to be “entry level”, nor does the American government, according to the statistics for the average wage of the American citizen. I haven’t checked for 2009 but the median wage in 2008 was just over 40k a year, which came out to an average of 21 USD per hour.

    Median wage is the average job as defined by the average citizen with a college degree and a few years of experience. The average wage is not determined by entry-level wages; rather, it is determined by the average of jobs across the board. Entry level positions pay is around 15-18 USD per hour, while non-skilled positions pay minimum wage up to 10-15 USD an hour.

    Just because it doesn’t work for you (generalized “you”) does not mean it doesn’t work for other people. I can list half a dozen people right off the top of my head (myself included) who work primarily for content sites around the globe who are making over 50k a year, which is far from “entry level” in any sense of the word.

  10. says

    I’d like to note that newspapers were never a high-paying gig for freelance writers. Even when they were “the” source of info for a community, newspapers paid crap. So did and do trade book publishers when you’re not a marquee name.

    In those cases and similar, it was (and I think still is) all about legitimacy and cache – and NOT about income.

    In fact, I never hear people complaining about the price they’re paid for short stories (you get copies of the publication, if you’re lucky!) or for poetry (published poetry?!). And fiction? Don’t get me started. If you’re not Stephen King, you pay THEM (because 99 out of 100 times, you’re self-publishing). Academic publishers pay in copies for heavily researched 300 page tomes.

    Writers are like actors, dancers, and fine artists.
    We’ll do the bottom-feeder work if we need to to make a living… and we’ll work for free if it means a chance at the big time. This isn’t accounting or plumbing, this is an art form: and a great many of us are ego- and spirit-driven, not money driven (except when we have to be just to pay the rent).


    • says

      As someone who is slowly building up a fiction resume, I can echo what Lisa says. Unless you are a big-name author you are lucky to make a pittance through fiction sales. It is very much a “theater versus silver screen” scenario, where you write fiction for your passion, but do content to pay the bills.

      I’m reminded of Sir Laurence Olivier who absolutely abhorred doing movies…yet he went on to win multiple Oscars and other awards in his career, despite his main passion being theater. In his own words theater paid squat, and movies paid millions, so he did one for the money and another for the passion of the art.

      Most short stories sell for 100-200 dollars, if they are a 4000-6000 word short story…IF you assume a “reasonable” name in the industry. Big-name ‘zines will pay 400-500 dollars IF you are a big name. The average joe webzine or mag pays under 100 dollars per short story, so unless you are cranking out 30-40 of those suckers a month and selling them with regularity you can’t gonna be paying the bills with fiction.

      First time writers are lucky to get a 3-4 thousand dollar advance and 2-3% of the profit on royalties. Average first run for a newbie author is 6,000 books, give or take a k. Hardcovers sell for, what, 20 bucks these days? That means that if you sell every single copy and make a few % profit you are going to make a few grand at most. That’s why so many trade paperback authors push out 3-4 novels a year….it takes a few years to build up a fan base, but even then you need to sell an arseload of copies per year to really make a living out of it. That’s why most fiction writers spend 10 years or so working another job while they write fiction for fun, because it doesn’t pay squat.

  11. says

    BTW, I’m with TW (love the rhyme and meter there!) and with Anne.

    As a self-employed person, you are empowered to choose how to present yourself, and how to live. If you’re living a $100,000 lifestyle, then Demand Studios is unlikely to support that on its own. You’ll need to find other/additional income sources.

    Or you can work strictly for Demand, etc. and cut costs.

    You can market yourself as you see fit.

    You’re not stuck.

    That’s the beauty of freelancing: you can reinvent yourself every few days. I’ve got three or four different resumes, and a fairly complex website, because I “am” many different types of writer, depending upon the client’s needs.


  12. says

    I do a lot of different work, myself. I’ve done projects that pay over 90 dollars an hour, and I’ve done projects that pay around 18-20 dollars an hour. My bread and butter are content sites. I get incredibly rankled over people who claim that content writing is for “amateurs” and “entry level” writers, or that they should only be used as a “backup” for the dry spells.

    Anyone who claims that Demand Studios is low paying has absolutely no clue what they are talking about. Obviously it’s not going to pay a lot if you go into it with absolutely no idea of a given topic, but the beauty of the DS is that it allows you to skim for cream-of-the-crop content regarding your special little niche. That means no pitching, no negotiating, no wasted time. Instead you can go in, pick a few articles, bang them out, and move on. Every single solitary time I’ve used Demand Studios I’ve made over 60 dollars an hour. I don’t care who you are, 60 dollars an hour is FAR from entry level or “amateur” rates.

    To put it into perspective…if one were to write 40 hours a week @ 60 dollars an hour they would make 115,200 USD in one year, assuming 40 hour work weeks. I continually boggle at people who can claim that 115 grand a year is “entry level” pay or “for amateurs”. I’d love to live in your world where 115k a year is considered entry level, because it sure as shiznizzle ain’t the real world that the rest of us writers live in, where the average median wage is 40ishk a year.

    (Granted, the above example assumes you were able to write in your niche 100% of the time, but I can tell you this…every single time I’ve ever gone to Demand Studios I’ve been able to find 45-50 pages worth of articles in my particular niche that I could work on if I chose to, which basically boils down to limitless potential, and the site is only getting bigger and better as time goes on)

    • says

      TW – would you, could you, give a step by step explanation of how to find appropriate topics at Demand Studios? Every time I’ve looked, I’ve found only things like “how to fix your wankle rotary engine” or “how to use C++ advanced applications.”

      I know a LOT about “soft” topics like… homeschooling, fundraising, hands-on science education, green home topics, religion, crafts, general science (the difference between a star and planet type stuff). How do I find those topics??



      • says

        I write for Demand Studios and the way you find articles you want to write is simple. There’s a column on the right hand side of the page and you click what subjects you want to explore. You can filter titles by style of article or subject. I will admit some of the articles are in the wrong place. Sometimes when I’m looking for Health titles I’ll find something like, “How to repair a rotary cuff flange” or something equally strange. Hope that helps!

        • says

          Just took another look at Demand and now at WiseGeek – and have to say there’s not a single topic I could “just” write about. I’d have to go out and learn about virtually all of them! Guess if I were a technical expert on home improvement projects or knew everything about social security, I’d make some money there, but to make $15 I’d need to do at least an hour of research and then another hour writing and revising to make sure I’m hitting every editorial expectation (not to mention the fact that you’re not allowed to use the majority of major info sites as sources). I don’t think these content mills are going to become my personal income stream… sigh.


  13. says

    No worries.

    For example…my expertise niche is in home improvement, specifically as it relates to ceramic tile and natural stone installations, manufacturing, design, businesses, and anything and everything related to the business based upon 3 generations of family and 15 years of personal experience in the field. I simply hop on and plug in keywords related to the topic. A good example would be to use the keywords “ceramic, slate, granite, marble, tile, design” and I generally pull up 40+ pages. I then refine it even further based upon if I’m in the mood for How To, About, Strategy, or so on and so forth.

    I think your difficulty lies in simply finding keywords that relate to what you want to write about. It took me a few hours of refining before I figured out which keywords and categories suited me best, so my only real suggestion is just to play around with the keyword and category search option until you can get what you want to pop up.

    Here’s the thing: many people question why I don’t use DS regularly since I could make double what I normally make in other places. I’m in a unique position in the sense that I’m not required to make more than 10k a year to cover our basic living expenses, so I get to pursue the projects I really, really want to work on relating to travel, health, and focusing on my fiction. In any case…I get a real kick out of people whining about content sites because 100% of the time those writers have absolutely no clue what they are talking about.

  14. chris says

    I think it’s hilarious that people accuse you of being a low-paying leads site. I only use a couple of other job sites, but this is the only one that weeds out jobs below a certain level and sets a standard. If any of those critics took a moment to look around, they’d see not only content writing but magazine markets, quality editor/proofreading positions, copywriting, corporate clients, etc. I responded as such to the ill-informed piece by Michelle Rafter. It’s funny how quick these writers are to espouse the virtues of good research and in-depth analysis when criticizing content writing, but yet they fail completely to do any research to back up their strong opinions in their subjective posts/articles about the topic.

    I like the Bobby Flay quote too. When I was thinking about this debate last week, I was thinking in similar lines of a high-powered corporate attorney making $500/hr. and worrying about the independent ambulance chaser ruining it for all lawyers. Or perhaps taking a day off of work and cursing at his TV when all the daytime ads for personal injury lawyers came on. I’m guessing that doesn’t happen too often.

    Not everyone in the same profession needs to focus on the same market; in fact, that fact should be beneficial to others, not detrimental. What is it that makes writers so quick to be defensive over what others are doing to make a living? If the market’s there and the individual can make it work why do others need to question or insult it?

  15. chris says

    In any case…I get a real kick out of people whining about content sites because 100% of the time those writers have absolutely no clue what they are talking about.”

    Exactly. Nor do they care to take the time to find out. Decrying what others are doing and whining about how it will affect them is apparently much easier.

  16. says

    I’m just curious. It seems like most people who bemoan the preponderance of the “low-paying jobs” are claiming that they’re driving down the prices that other clients are willing to pay for other work. Is that true? I mean, it does seem logical, but has that ever been quantified?

    As for me, I’ve never done much writing for content sites. It just happens that I’ve mostly written for magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs and non-profits (for newsletters, e-newsletters and for their websites). Does that mean I’d never write for a content site? Never say never, right?

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