Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Writing Sweat Shoppe

At the end of an earlier post about submission fees I mentioned a site that claimed to send you writing assignments for which you'd be paid a minimum of $150, but they first required a $20 deposit. That was an obvious scam, but today I came across something legit, but almost as bad––a site I'll call "The Writing Sweat Shoppe". 

I found the ad in a respected newsletter that advertises only paying markets. I have no quarrel with the newsletter as I know from my time at The Rose & Thorn, you can't investigate every advertiser. That's why newsletters and writing magazines always include a disclaimer telling you to use caution. Besides, this was a paying market, but there's pay and then there's pay.

First, some explanation. I think I am every bit as good––in fact probably better––at writing nonfiction articles and opinion pieces as I am at fiction. My first editing job was craft articles, and what I didn't already know about article writing I learned from the excellent writer and editor I worked under. However, with the exception of The Philadelphia Inquirer I don't have really valuable published clips because I hate researching markets and sending query letters. It's one thing to read literary journals to find a match for your work, it's another to slog through Fence Post Manufacturers of America. The majority of my clips are on pay-per-click sites that, while they may demonstrate my writing ability, don't count for much in the scheme of things.

That being the case, my interest was piqued by an ad for a site that assigned contract work. The writing jobs ranged from topics needing to be researched and written to putting completed research in readable form. You could take on as much or as little work as you liked. Most of it was ghostwriting, but that didn't concern me. Ghostwriting is a legitimate business, and while my name wouldn't appear on the article, I wasn't looking for name recognition, just some income to support my expensive fiction habit. The company owner offered "if your writing is good, I'll write a letter of recommendation."

That "if" should have raised my antennae. How could they run a ghost writing service with bad writers? Instead, I sent an e-mail expressing my interest. The reply came back immediately, asking me to return the attached nondisclosure agreement on any information I might be writing about and include two writing samples.

Worrying that my pay-per-click samples might not be good enough, and refusing to get my hopes up, I waited until I had some time to carefully choose the pieces I thought best illustrated my writing and research capabilities and e-mailed them with the agreement (which I read carefully to ensure it put me under no obligation and required no sensitive information), then settled in for a long wait or perhaps no reply all. After that I trekked to the mailbox to post the required extra hardcopy of the agreement calculating, along the way, how many articles I could write in a week and how much I'd make at what I assumed must be a minimum of $50 per piece.

To my chagrin a reply awaited me on my return. The owner was ready to take me on (had this person even read my clips?), if I was satisfied with the rates––$3.00 for 375 words and $6.00 for 650 words and as much work as I wanted to take on.

I was and remain dumbfounded. Needless to say, I turned it down. Considering even my blog posts often take more than an hour to write, what kind of hourly rate could I make at that scale? True, my pay-per-click articles pay a pittance, but they are topics I chose to write about, and I have the byline, which, I might add, has paid off handsomely from time to time with requests for re-prints. That couldn't happen here. This is mostly ghostwriting.

What really boggles my mind is knowing there are people out there who will take this on. They are so desperate to have their writing accepted, even if they can't claim it, or to receive some kind of pay for which they can now officially call themselves "writers" that they will jump at the chance.  Of course, one has to wonder how much this contractor gets paid on her end for these articles––ten times at the least, I'd imagine, or it wouldn't be worth it. She sounded pretty desperate to add more writers, so if no one accepted her offer, she'd have to turn over more of her take. Sadly, I'm going to guess she'll fill all the slots plus have some writers in the wings she can call on later.

Then again, we should be glad she wasn't offering the work for free, 'cuz I bet she'd get some people to do that too.

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