Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Making fast, easy money...a price.

*Yawn* Oh boy, am I tired. I guess I haven't mentioned here that I am seven months pregnant. And being heavily pregnant, running after a toddler, trying to build/sustain a writing career, and doing all the other stuff that one must do, is really taking its toll on me. I used to be a monster of efficiency during the 12 hours of babysitting I have a week. Now, I find myself trying very hard not to spend most of that time napping.

Because I'm getting close (sort of) to my due date, I've slowed down on writing queries. Usually, I spend most of my time working on pitches for features for my dream magazines. Now, I am afraid that one of these magazines might actually pick up on my pitches. Wouldn't it figure if I get my first dream assignment right around the time my baby is due? Ugh, I get all tense and quivery at the very thought. So, instead of pitching feature ideas, I'm working on "front-of-the-book" pitches, articles which don't require as much research and have a low word counts.

But I've been working on something else lately that doesn't require much time and that I can stop and start whenever I want: writing articles for a website that funnels your content to other websites. I write for Demand Studios, which I think has one of the most reliable and well-paying programs of all the content sites I've looked into. You're not going to get rich writing for them - a 400 word article only pays $15 - but it has been great to have some spare cash, and to see my bank account increasing on a regular basis. Plus, the articles are easy to write and you don't have to spend much time thinking about what you're going to write, as DS provides the titles for you.

This is how it works: you apply by filling out an online application, providing a CV and three short writing samples. After your application is accepted, you are allowed check out the thousands of titles of the writing assignments available. There are about 15 broad categories, including subjects such Animals, Computers, Business, Health& Fitness, Sports & Recreation, Science, Weddings, Travel, and hundreds of subcategories for each topic. When you see a title you're interested in writing, you click on the assignment and it goes into your personal queue. Initially, you are allowed 10 assignments in your queue and have one week to complete them. Each article is reviewed by an editor after your turn it in, and either it is approved or you are required to do additional work.

Some articles pay a flat-fee of $5-15, others are valued through a revenue-sharing program. This means that you get paid a portion of the revenue that the article brings in, presumably from advertising. The idea is that the article will eventually earn more than the $15 flat-fee you would have been paid up front. But it’s definitely a gamble. Me, I prefer receiving the money upfront rather than getting it in dribs and drabs. (Then again, I’ve only been doing it for about six weeks. I’ll be watching my revenue-sharing articles closely to see how much they earn – so far, I’m not wildly impressed. )

I have always hesitated about writing for such websites - and now I see my hesitation was well-founded. First, writing for DS threatens to be a huge distraction from my “real” writing. It’s so nice to see cash flowing into my bank account on a weekly basis that I am tempted to write for them more and more and more. Writing queries gobbles up far more time and energy that writing these short, easy articles. And even as I write the queries, I know that I might get absolutely nothing in return from all my hard work. No money and not even a rejection letter from an editor. So, working for DS provides a certain satisfaction that my other writings don’t: I’m guaranteed to be paid for my work and words. But it’s not the writing that really thrills me. I write on topics like, “Urinary Tract Infections in Infants,” and “How to Establish Revocable Trust,” and “The Health Benefits of the Goji Berry.”

My second reservation is that writing for DS does not produce great writing. You write in an extremely stylized way (basically, you’re just plugging information into a prepared form)* and the work can’t be used as a writing sample for a reputable magazine. Sure, you have to be grammatical and interesting, but let’s just say that no one will win a Pulitzer for such content. The gig is only profitable if you write as fast as you can, and fast writing usually doesn’t equate quality writing.

On the whole, I can recommend Demand Studio as a solid way to earn money. And it’s a gig you can do it as an expat freelancer as long as you’re an American citizen, have an address to which they can send a tax earnings form at the year-end, and have a PayPal account. But be careful! Don’t let the money distract you from your larger writing goals.

As a compromise, I almost never write DS articles when I have a babysitter. I write them early in the morning before the kid wakes up, during his naps, or when he’s playing quietly by himself (ha!), or after he’s gone to bed. My babysitter time is reserved for complex, career-advancing work. And naps.

*I know there are other online content websites, such as Associated Content, where you have more flexibility in how you structure the articles you write. AC pays less up-front (from $2-15 an article, with most articles averaging around $7), but also pays you a share of revenue earned through the number of page views your articles receive. So, it’s in your interest to promote your AC articles heavily to make money. But I don’t have time for that. Moreover, it's still not a great writing sample since the editors accept pretty much anything that is grammatically correct. Magazine editors like to see writing samples that have met stringent standards.

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