A Writer's Note to Potential Clients
July 19, 2012 | ~3 mins read time.

On the Road Manuscript, #3
Image: Thomas Hawk via Compfight
If your instructions look like this for a 200 word article, they are too long.

I've picked up a few articles here and there on several sites that hook writers up with clients for a percentage. It's not a bad system and some of the articles pay better than others. I have noticed something a little irritating of late, though. See, the sites in question either pay a per word rate that's less than five cents per word or a writer has to negotiate with the clients for the fee. Some are asking writers to write 500 words for $1.00 and are demanding perfect style, grammar and spelling.

When you're used to making anywhere between 5 cents and 60 cents per word, that certainly doesn't cut it. Now, I do pick up some of the articles that pay one to two cents per word as filler. It's worth my time to bang out 100 to 500 words, depending on subject, in 5 to 20 minutes. I go with the ones that don't require a lot of research. Research can be time-consuming. I'm not going to hunt down journal articles or book references for citations when I'm only being paid one and a half cents per word.

The time spent on a piece has to work out to a decent hourly wage or it's not worth it. Not for those of us that live in North America, the U.K. or anywhere else with a high cost of living. On top of this, many of the clients have gone nuts with the instructions. Is it because some so-called writers can't follow decent instructions like:

200 words on [whatever topic]. Write in the third person, adhere to Chicago Style. Oh, and use [keyword] a couple of times. Thanks.

Others have certain guidelines they want followed for their own sites. That's fine. I'm perfectly willing to start a section heading with ## or !! or whatever double symbol they want in there. Formatting guidelines aren't a big deal. However, when clients want 250 word opinion pieces on certain topics and then proceed to provide 700 or more words worth of instructions on how to word the piece, including semi-contradictory instructions, I have to wonder why they're not writing the thing themselves.

If you're going to go through the trouble of giving me specific paragraphs and sentences to use, why not just write the thing yourself and ask someone to proofread and edit it for you? It seems that it'd be quicker in the long run. I'm sure others out there are okay with getting paid $2.00 for a piece that takes a half hour to complete — 25 minutes to wade through the instructions and hope you picked the right contradiction to avoid revisions and 5 minutes for the actual writing.

Most of us, however, are not. $2.00 per half hour does not compute to a decent hourly wage. That's likely the reason why your orders sit there for weeks on various sites that pay writers a fixed per word rate. Shorten up the instructions and simply provide style guidelines if needed.