Monday, September 28, 2009

internet write-for-hire? INTERN would rather process a goat.

INTERN has been off the wire for several days, and in that time she had the chance to collect her thoughts on internet write-for-hire operations and learn hands-on how to de-gut and process a goat.

Yes, both those things in one weekend. Multitasking rules.

The short version?

Goat: totally worth it. Internet write-for-hire: totally not.

The long version:

A few weeks ago, INTERN started lurking around writing and publishing job boards, and came across the same postings all around the web: something to the tune of "make money writing!" or "now hiring writers!". She visited a few sites, and lo and behold, here were promises of real money in exchange for writing informative articles on an infinite range of subjects.

INTERN's Boondoggle Bell started ringing, and she knew she had to investigate further. So INTERN regis—um, "applied" for several of these so-called writing jobs. A few days later, the e-mails began to flood in: INTERN had been hired! Huzzah!

Deciding she didn't have time to deal with all of them, INTERN chose one website out of the several and threw herself into it for a few days.

The website INTERN investigated work like this: the writer logs in and browses through a long list of "assignments" that are up for grabs. If she sees something she thinks she could write, she claims it, and then has about ten days to complete the article and hand it in. Then the website coughs up $15 for her trouble, and she loses all rights to her work. Easy as pie!

INTERN, in her hubris, immediately claimed five assignments in different categories. Some examples: "What Is Scheurmann's Kyphosis?" and "How to Write an Emo Song" and, cryptically, "About Harmoniums". INTERN figured she could crank out the articles in a reasonable amount of time, say, one per lunch break over a week.

Indeed, it only took about half an hour to research and write the first article, about a spinal deformity affecting 8% of the population. INTERN grinned, thinking she would use her first Article Writing Paycheck to buy herself some of that nice greek yogurt.

But when she went back to the website, she found that there were still a few steps left to complete. First, she had to read and absorb the website's gargantuan Style Guide. Then, find a few more Links and some Photographs (with hard-to-find photo credits) to attach to the article. Then, copy and paste the article paragraph by paragraph, subheading by subheading into the website's baroque Article Input Form.

By the time all this was done, an hour and a half had passed. INTERN, a little grumpy, submitted her article. A few days later, the site sent her $15 as promised.

Thinking she would become more efficient as she went along, INTERN started her second assignment, "How to Write an Emo Song." This one was tougher to write than the first. The website had rigid guidelines for how-to articles, and wanted photos and references to back them up. INTERN struggled for an hour to decide which items one needed to gather before starting to write an emo song (a mandatory field): a black hoodie? Some skinny jeans? A cigarette?

Finally, after two hours, INTERN finished the godforsaken article and sent it in. She consoled herself by thinking about all the yogurt she could buy with that $15.

At home in the evening, INTERN worked away on her third assignment. Techie Boyfriend, looking over shoulder, asked "Why are you writing about harmoniums instead of working on your novel?" to which INTERN growled, "Need the money."

By the time INTERN went to bed at 1 AM, she had spent almost six hours on two articles: doing extra unnecessary research, hammering them into the website's format, and wrangling the complicated style guide and input fields.

The following evening, INTERN got an e-mail from the website: one of her articles (About Harmoniums) needed revision. There was too much about the history of harmoniums. Furthermore, the harmonium article was now worth only $7.50. Not $15.

INTERN (not a frequent drinker) poured herself a shot of her roommate's whiskey. The situation was dire. She'd already spent almost three hours on that article at $5/hour. If she didn't revise, she would get nothing. If she did revise, she would be working for about $2.50/hour.

"Are you on that stupid website again?" said Techie Boyfriend.
"No," said INTERN, too ashamed to tell him about the predicament she now found herself in.

After two more hellish days of article-writing, INTERN deleted her account and vowed never to Write for Money! again. Total profit: $60. Total hours of labor: more than INTERN will ever admit to. Degree to which the experience effed with INTERN's head: huge.

To wash the experience out of her mind, INTERN spent this past weekend with some friends who are essentially homesteading out in the countryside. When she arrived, they'd just slaughtered a goat and (though a vegetarian) INTERN hung around and watched and learned for several hours as they took its organs and guts out, skinned it, and butchered the meat. The organ part was actually kind of neat, like watching airport security unpack someones suitcase.

They took approximately the same time to process the goat as INTERN had spent on those infernal articles, and at the end of it they had food for a week, a goat hide, and all sorts of useful bones and membranes for making tools and cordage.

INTERN is sure there are people out there who find joy and fulfillment and make decent livings off of internet write-for-hire schemes, and more power to them. But when gutting a goat seems more fun and satisfying to INTERN than writing, INTERN knows there is something wrong with the writing. As far as INTERN is concerned, these websites are boondoggles designed to force writers to write low-quality articles with maximum effort for what often works out to be less than minimum wage.



  1. What on earth do they _do_ with these articles once they get them? Presumably they make more than $7.50 from a harmonium article. Is this a Google adwords thing?

  2. Hilarious. Don't write for hire unless you're getting at least 25 cents a word. Minimum. Or do a book for hire for a few grand.

    Only possible reason to do an article for $15 is if you are desperate for something with your byline on it. (I offered to write my first newspaper columns for free - I think they paid me $15 per column, but it was back in an era when 15 bucks bought more than some yogurt.)

    You did get a byline, right, Intern? Right? Intern?

  3. Just.... wow. THANK YOU for sharing your experience with this! I had looked and those and thought "Ooh, money!" as well. Now, I'll run in the opposite direction and go work on my novel!

  4. Sounds like you dealt with a semi-decent write-for-hire place. A few of the places I looked at (being as easily enticed as you) wanted me to do horrible things. I had to mention a certain phrase (say, Solar powered water heaters) at least ten times per article. Often they just wanted rewrites of pre-existing atrocious articles.

    I soon learned that it was all about search enginge optimization. One of the ways search engines measure importance is how often keywords appear. Search engines have gotten smart enough to see through simple cut and paste procedures, but not smart enough to realize that one article full of inane drivel is just a rewrite of another. Talk about prostituting the written word.

    I'd like to try cutting up a goat though.

  5. Many moons ago, I used to write term papers for money. The experience was similar to your own, although slightly better. It all depended on the assignment. After a few all-nighters I realized that it didn't make sense to waste my talent on such endeavors.

  6. I've helped in the processing of quite a few large hogs and have always been fascinated by the de-gutting part. What if you had to put all that stuff back?

    I'm still voting for the fire tower -- as long as you keep blogging.

  7. You know, you can make your own Greek yogurt for like half the cost. Maybe a third. Just line a colander with a coffee filter, place it over a bowl to catch the liquid (clear and yellowish, it's actually whey but with no spiders, and you can use it in place of milk in baking. Works great in biscuits), some plain yogurt (I use fat free!), and let it drain for a couple hours. Greek style yogurt, voila. Just make sure your yogurt doesn't contain gelatin, because that binds it and it won't work. Dannon is perfect. And an article will buy you maybe three cartons (in NY--in TX, about five-and-a-half) instead of two and a spoon.

    I don't know how it would work with goat's milk yogurt. Seemed topical to mention.

  8. Sarah Henry, I'll do you one better. Don't write anything for less than .50 cents a word. The only exception should be if the resulting clip will help you move into a higher pay bracket. (For example, writing for the AP or another major, respectable wire service.)

    Anything that works out to less than that isn't paying you a living wage. And probably isn't going to look that great on your resume/clips portfolio, either. I'm convinced that you are almost always better off spending your time pitching ideas to well-paying publications, than scrounging for anything that wants to pay you less than .50 a word.

  9. i also tried a writer for hire type site and i think it is good you are getting more of the word out there because the time that goes into those articles does not make up for what you get paid.

    better to write a decent essay for a lit mag and try to get that published!

  10. I think it depends on the company and also on the writer's idea of the job as they go in. I have worked as a web content writer in the past and I've been paid as much as $1500 for a 3 weeks of work and no I wasn't tied to my PC.

    Another company paid me about $15 an article as mentioned about, but I was able to do 3-6 articles a day or 30 - 50 a month (with 2 weeks off to myself to write do my own personal writing projects) and it was an OK way to supplement my income.

    Since starting out as a web content writer I have moved on to being a contributor on a couple of writing magazines where I write articles about writing. I saw those earlier jobs as a means to an end and that's all.

  11. I think that the Intern should put the novel (and definitely the writing-for-hire) on hold until she's got a publishing deal for a book called "The Intern" based on her blog.

  12. Does Intern ever get hired for her "hire the Intern" jobs? Just curious.

  13. I think I worked for the same write-for-hire website. I found the key was to stop caring about lots of research, and just do the minimum amount of work necessary. Then it only took an hour to pop out an article. And I figure, $15 an hour isn't bad.

  14. I am very excited to read your novel. I hope it's chick lit. Reading this blog is like a real-life version of the glamorized publishing life of chick-lit gals.

    Aside from gutting goats. I don't remember reading about that in DEVIL WEARS PRADA.

    As a side note, my parents had goats until I was five and I have traumatic memories of goat-gutting. I remember that a lot of goat insides are blue. And they smell when they are dumped in a spot beside a field to decay.

  15. This is a lot like agenting works. By the time you actually sell a project, you've made about .05 cents an hour for your work.

    Congrats! Now you're a pro! =)

  16. I've never tried the writer-for-hire thing... But, my senior year in college, after being accepted to med school, I got a job assisting a local pathologist with autopsies. Dr. S. heard I was accepted, so he said, "Come get my feet... er, ah, hands wet!"

    Kind of like processin' goats, only they're human - or were. You might find part-time work along those lines, if ya don't mind processin'!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  17. I did one of those sites for a while. Only, every time I turned in an article one of the "editors" would shoot it back for more fixes. Even when I followed the guide to the letter it would come back to me. And often, their "fixes" would be mad grammar, spelling, or they would tell me to fix something, then tell me to fix it back to how it was originally.

    I finally told the lady that I was done, because I don't work for $1/hour (which was me INFLATING what I would have made). But before I did that, I deleted all the words I'd written from their system.

    I literally got HATE MAIL from the woman, yelling that I was selfish for not leaving the research I'd done for them to use, and that she expects me to return the articles as soon as possible blah, blah. She sent me three emails in total, each more angry than the last. I finally had to report her to some random email I could find.

    Total mess. And I never did get paid.

    At least you got some yogurt out of it. ;)

  18. That was sad and funny all at the same time. But a great crash course, and you really didn't waste time if you think about it. You tried it out, and discovered very quickly it wasn't for you. Plus, what techie boyfriend said about getting back to your novel.

    My oldest is a vegetarian. Has been since the age of five, when he found out that cows don't produce bologna the same way they produce milk.

  19. What a scam!
    The writer-for-hire, not the goat.
    Although both seem rather painful . . .

  20. At least this resulted in a nice Consumer Reports style undercover post about the evils of these websites :-)

  21. Once again, the INTERN has saved the rest of us from bouts of fruitless toiling.

    And the goat story reminded me of my oldest son, who at the age of six or so, had an epiphany about the barbequed chicken he loved so well and what actually went into the barbeque-ing portion of the program. He wouldn't even eat a chicken nugget for the longest time.

    As always, your posts are delightful.

  22. Well, I need someone to give me query letter advice, so expect $50 in the next couple of days, little Intern lady. We're talking a tub of yogurt. Or two!

  23. Love the site, keep up the good work!

  24. INTERN say: glad to hear that y'all are mostly already in the wise when it comes to write-for-hire slave labor!

    Vacuum Queen: yes, INTERN is pretty much constantly doing editing and manuscript critiques from her "hire INTERN" notice, and it is the primary delight of her life. Keep on hiring the INTERN, fabulous people—it is a supreme joy!

  25. That sounds like pretty much what I suspected. Thanks for saving the rest of us from the time sucking wasteland!

  26. Sub-human zombies could make a better buck — in nice shoes, probably twice as much.

  27. Glad that you are a vegetarian. Not so glad that you mention the advantages of rendering goats correctly.

  28. Intern should share her identity when her book is published (or her internship ends), so we can all buy it.

    We all know that Miss Snark is Janet Reid anyway.

  29. Frisky DimplebunsMonday, October 12, 2009

    I've gone back and forth on these writer-for-hire things, feeling that EVEN if they pay what they say without a problem, it's too little for too much. No doubt I'm spoiled. When I started freelancing seriously in the early 2000's, I would get about $1,000 for a 2000 word article. My rate used to come out to about $50/hr., because I'm a fast writer. Now that seems like heaven!

    So I absolutely appreciate your having slogged through the process of the latest online opportunities for the rest of us, to discover how it really works (or not).

    Apparently some are able to use it as a stepping stone.

    I do think your forte is humor... hope you're working on the next book -- about the demise of literary agencies??