Pros And Cons Of Being A Professional Writer
Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Feb 20, 2017
No matter what it is you do, you get to consider yourself a professional at it if you’ve ever been paid to do it. For 14 years I was a professional wedding singer, even though I didn’t charge a lot most of the time because I was doing it for friends of mine. I was a professional songwriter because one person along the way paid me for the rights to use some of my music in a one-woman show… which turned out to be bad. lol I’m also a professional speaker because I’ve been paid to do that on a variety of topics; that’s pretty cool. And many of you know that I’m a professional consultant in leadership and health care, as well as social media here and there.
I’m also a professional writer. I’ve been getting paid to write for other people since 2009. When I started out I was getting paid a penny a word; that didn’t last long. At some point I started getting paid better, but it’s a tough game to play sometimes. It can also be rewarding and intriguing. The best part of it is that you can do it from wherever you want to; home, in a store or coffee shop, while on vacation… with pen and paper or a tablet or laptop, it’s all on you.
In 2015 I talked about the process of writing my 2nd book on leadership titled Leadership Is/Isn’t Easy, and I admitted that it didn’t turn out to be as easy as I thought it would be, yet it felt good when I was finished. This time around I’m going to talk about pros and cons of being a professional writer. Let me know if any of these pertain to you.
Pro – You learn about a lot of things
When I first started writing, most people wanted relatively short posts. You’d think that would be really easy but most of the time it was time consuming. There’s a lot of different topics I took on that sometimes I cared almost nothing about, and others that ended up fascinating me.
I learned about turkey hunting; epilators; weddings and wedding dresses; green products and the ecology; law; personal health; financial things; and lots of other stuff. I still remember a lot of it; that was pretty cool.
However, it took a lot of time to research some of these things. For instance, turkey hunting took a long time because the guy who commissioned the articles wanted 25 of them and wanted the areas to be covered to be in the southeastern part of the country. I spent 5 or 6 hours researching it in the library because there was almost nothing about it online, and it turns out some of those states don’t actually have turkeys, but there are places that ship them in for hunters who want the experience. I mean, who’s ever heard of such a thing?
Actually… I did, since I researched it! lol It’s an interesting way to break out of your comfort zone when you agree to write about something you know little about initially, but you do it if the price is right.
Con – Pay isn’t always commiserate with what’s requested
We might as well tackle this one now, since it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Over my years as a consultant, I’ve learned that people who want your services have no idea what you should be paid, so they low ball you from the beginning. Then they get incredulous when you tell them what you want, or should, be getting paid.
This definitely applies to writing. It’s one of the most devalued services in content marketing, yet most of the people who request writing services hate doing it themselves. I’ve had people want me to write something between 1,500 and 2,000 words and say they’ll pay $50 for it… if they believe it’s up to their standard. That comes to just over 3 cents a word; they’re out of their minds!
Early on I took less just to get in the game and to see what it was all about. Within 6 months, I was asking for at least 10 cents a word for a thousand words or more. That’s when the overall market for my services started to tank to a small degree. Even with Google and their Panda warnings, some people still want to pay you as though you were writing 500 words or less, and they’re finding people who’ll accept it. It’s tough to be in the market when you’re competing with those folks but I figure that the only person who knows my worth is me.
Pro – You get to decide who to write for
Even in a tight market, nothing says you have to write for just anybody. If you’re less picky than me, there are a host of folks out there looking for someone to write their content for them. Some of them are nice; some will get on your nerves. Some topics are interesting even if you know little about them; some will be hard to research or write about.
I’m one of those people who has learned by now that it’s better to be happy than to worry only about money. I’d rather write in my style with few limitations, write more about topics I already know or find interesting enough to put a lot of time into, and of course write about something I have a fair chance at doing a great job for.
I get asked to write a lot of articles for finance companies that aren’t in the United States, and I often have to turn them down because their terminology and the types of services they have aren’t the same as here. Yet I know a lot of writers from other countries will write articles about things that pertain to the United States… and should know that they’re out of their element (I can tell you that from experience). The best thing to do it write about something you absolutely know you can get correct, even if you have to do a lot of research, and that you’ll end up caring about knowing yourself.
Con – Too many formulaic writing requests
Last year I wrote 4 articles for this one company. Two of them were over 2,000 words, one was around 1,500 and the last was barely under 900. I got paid $300 for each of them, and I got to write them in my own style. The only caveat I had was the topic I wrote on, which initially was elder care, and later solar power for homes and buildings.
Then… the company decided they wanted to change things up. What they wanted were articles specifically between 750 and 1,000 words, 3 to 5 subheaders with H2 tags, specific keywords, at least 3 links to outside sources, and I had to find them free images that matched up with the content. They wanted to reduce the pay to $35 per article also; sigh…
Many of the requests I see for writing that people like me are expected to bid on ask for things like this. My issue isn’t that I feel above the request; it’s that it makes for horrible writing, and ends up with the kind of content that got sites like About.com and a host of others getting penalized for content that was deemed generic and not all that authoritative.
Some people love writing like this because it doesn’t take a lot of thought to do. Frankly, I find it confining and irritating. I don’t mind things like keyword and keyword phrases; I do mind writing something that reads like pablum.
Pro – You have better control of your output and income
There are real “working” writers, people who have found a way to write 4 or 5 articles a day, at least 5 days a week, and make a pretty good living at it, even if it’s physically and mentally tiring. There are also people like me who can make money in other ways and thus gets to be a bit more selective in what they’ll write about and how often.
Like every other industry, the more you can produce the more money you can make. At least in writing, even if you don’t get to control all aspects of the process, you’re personally in control of what you decide to apply for and how much you’re willing to put out. Try doing that at a regular job.
Con – You don’t own most of what you end up writing
For someone like me, who has a lot of copyrighted material, this is the toughest thing I have to deal with. I have more than 5,000 articles on the internet, but most of them you’d never know that I wrote them. Heck, these days there’s a lot of them I don’t even remember writing.
You have to be ready for others to get credit for your creativity. I’ve done that for the most part. I write for a few blogs now and my name isn’t on almost any of it. Trust me, most of the time that’s a good thing. lol
There’s the other side… which may seem unethical to some but I believe it’s perfectly okay to do. Two years ago I took content from a discontinued blog that was about me and posted it here. That wasn’t the first time I did it either, and I talked about it in the article I just linked to. I’ve taken articles that I remembered that I wrote after doing a Google search on my name (y’all should get into the habit of doing that occasionally to see what’s being associated with your name) that was on a discontinued blog or website and reposted it on one of my blogs… and I have no shame in doing it.
Something else I’ve done is kept some of the articles I’ve written for others that I got paid for. Every once in a while, I’ll open one of those articles that I think might be pertinent to a subject I write about, do a Google search and see if it’s still out there somewhere. If not… it’s mine! 🙂
I will slightly rewrite those articles though, because many of them were fairly short based on today’s model, which of course makes it newer and more relevant to today’s standards. That’s another lesson all of us need to do; keep copies of everything you write, even if it was for someone else.
I could go on with this but now it’s your turn. If you’re a professional writer, what types of things do you come across, and what benefits do you see in writing for others?