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Insane Expectations and Lies

Insane Expectations and Lies

Express Writers’ current job post at expresses the complete and unrealistic expectations of every content mill, as well as the lie about pay. $20 to $30 an hour? Not a chance.

Express points to this page as a great writing example:

That guide is well done, however, it is also 3,222 words and involved researching 29 separate web pages. This would be exhausting work under deadline, with the quickest writer finishing a well polished guide like that in no less than 13 hours. That’s at 500 words every two hours.

Mind you, it’s not so much the writing but the reading and research one must do before any writing comes together. You need to understand something before you can write about it. You also need to figure out the right SEO tweaks. All of that takes time. Still, the example article represents an assignment with a potential of $390 based on $30 an hour.

Express later shifts gears in their job description, however, moving from their initial salary listing of $20 to $30 an hour to $20 to $25 for each 500 words. “This is not a salary position.” At $25 for each 500 words, that pay rate drops to $162.50. You’re working for $12.50 an hour if you’re the quickest writer out there. And if Express doesn’t kick back the piece to you for revising. Which will be on your dime.

Realistically, I’d expect a writer to take at least two days or 16 hours to complete the example given. You’re now at $10.00 an hour. Quite a distance from $30.00. And totally consistent with the false expectations and the lie about pay from every content mill.

Of course, the content mills know exactly how long quality writing takes, they just don’t want to pay for it. You can expect $25 or so from these employers for a 500 to 750 word article. That’s it. That’s common. If they’re paying less, they should advertise on a Philippine job board and you should not participate in their low rent hustle. No professional American writer deserves Philippine wages. And to think, you need years of writing experience to get hired at Express. Get lost.

I come to this post with a hard background. As a writer, I produced many 750 word articles for at a flat rate of $25 to $30. As an editor, I see our writers taking from two hours, exceedingly rare, to seven hours, also exceedingly rare, to complete a 650 to 1,000 word assignment.

If you want to dispute what I’ve written, tell me about your experience both as a writer and an editor. If you don’t have that experience, don’t tell me about how long it takes to complete online writing. You can stay in that alternate world the content mills occupy, with their insane expectations and lies.

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“I Used to Write for Sports Illustrated. Now I Deliver Packages for Amazon.”

Here is a great article by Austin Murphy, author and longtime Sports Illustrated senior writer. He penned thousands of articles for Sports Illustrated over 33 years, 140 of them cover stories. He interviewed five presidents. He now delivers packages for Amazon. Although Murphy was not a freelance writer, he was a professional writer. And professional writers are becoming extinct without some other means of support.

As I’ve written before (internal link), unless you are on the staff of a surviving hardcopy magazine or you work for a book publisher, article writing is not a paying profession. Regular, dependable income for a freelance writer is impossible today by itself. Those that say otherwise are feeding on the hopes and dreams of the future writer, ultimately contributing to their misery.

Here is a link to the article: (external link)


Slack Time is Over

I’ve been given the chance to redraft a book proposal, with the thought of making the title more marketable. I’ll have to redo the cover letter, make a new table of contents, and rewrite a sample chapter. All of this is a welcome opportunity.

Last month a local publisher asked me to sit down over coffee to discuss a book deal. I had done a great deal of writing for that proposal, penning two sample chapters and two sidebars. Alas, the publisher decided to pass on the project but I was glad to make a pitch in person, something quite rare in the book trade.

And what if the current publisher passes on my proposal to them? I’ll be fine with that because I can turn the writing into articles for Rock&Gem. And writing time is well spent, especially when writing with specific goals and requirements in mind. There’s a discipline imparted to what might otherwise be an open-ended project.

A freelancer has to be keenly aware that they can’t ramble on about subject they like at any length. Like an invention, a book is only worth something if someone wants to buy it. There has to be a demand. And that is what an editor and a marketing person at a publisher knows best. We may be able to write, but can we draw an audience?

Well, as I said, slack time is over. Time to go through my library, start gathering my thoughts, and get typing. I am trying to put down my new drawing tablet.(internal link) Although I am just making crude doodles right now, I am convinced this tool will let me go further. I think it will help me produce maps for articles that I have always wanted to make.

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Another Article on Spec

Once again I am writing an article for Rock&Gem magazine on spec. I’ve written about this approach many times. (internal link). With spec, you don’t have a writing assignment, you are on your own to create a piece that with luck will be accepted.

While writing without a signed contract may seem frightening — what if my 2,000 words are rejected? — there’s also freedom in that you have no deadline and no fixed rules to obey on style or substance. You try to model the magazine’s editorial approach and you send your MS in.

Although no deadline is involved, I usually set one myself. That’s to keep the project from being open-ended and stealing time from other things. One can’t endlessly edit forever. I’ll give myself four weeks for this article and then off it goes. That should be enough time given the other writing and editing I have to do.

Right now I am sending off e-mails for help and I am also ordering books and magazines where necessary. Coffee is in order, too. I may speed off to Madhouse Coffee (external link), my favorite 24-hour coffee house in Las Vegas. Or I’ll put some on the boil here. Who knows? That choice is up for speculation.

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The Literary Press World, The Needs of an Editor, and the Virtue of Reading Blind

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Ecclesiates 9:11 KJV

This quote crossed my mind after I read Peter Orner’s well done essay in today’s New York Times entitled Modern Love. I admired how well he wrote short sentences and incomplete ones. But was the essay any more fulfilling or technically expert than others I have read? Not really. How, then, did it get into the most widely circulated newspaper in America? What quality made it stand out? Or could there be other reasons?

One reason could be that the editor was looking for just such a piece when it crossed her desk. You never know what an editor needs unless they make it clear. Such desires, though, are rarely publicized by leading magazines and newspapers. Exceptions exist when a title’s submission page (if any) list requirements, when an editorial calendar for the coming year is published, or when there is a working relation with the editor. Failing that, making several short pitches at a time (internal link) is what I consider the most efficient way to solicit. Keep pitching!

The other reason Orner’s piece might have been picked was because of his credentials. The bio line says he is a Fulbright Scholar in Namibia and the author of four books of fiction and the essay collection “Am I Alone Here?” How do you compete against that if you are a non-academic and perhaps someone unpublished? That’s where the world of the literary press comes in. Although addressing a vastly smaller audience, most presses read blind, that is, you are usually under strict orders not to identify yourself in your MS. I am told this often extends to University Presses as well. True, the publication might disregard you after they’ve selected your writing, after finding out that you don’t possess an M.F.A., but that sort of pessimism can kill your spirit. Be positive, it’s the only way to go on. Now, let’s go back to Ecclesiastes.

All of us need luck. Time and chance happen to everyone. I once proposed an article at the exact time an editor was considering such a story. How often does that happen? But I will take that lucky break and move forward. Establishing a relation with an editor, no matter how it happens, even by chance, is the most reliable way to get more work. You become a known commodity and your e-mails get read. Keep writing and explore the literary world if you need to break in. Keep pitching and good luck.

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Feeling Humble Today

Got the latest issue of Outdoor California (external link) yesterday and I am feeling both pride and humility. I enjoyed seeing my two articles in the issue, of course, but there is something more than that. I am proud of being in the pages of such a visually stunning and well written magazine. It reminds me very much of Audubon Magazine that I read while I was growing up.

As I write my next article for the title, I am keeping humble thoughts in mind, aware that I am in the company of some truly great writers and photographers. Also, the editor did a tremendous job with my writing; the piece is far better now than when I submitted it.

Featured in the current issue is a major photography contest. Co-winners of Overall First Place in the 2017 Wildlife Photo of The Year Contest are these two photographers. You can see their work at these pages. Shravan won for his bobcat photo and Beth won for her sunflower with bee photo. Congratulations!

Shravan Sundaram

Beth Savidge

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Poll: Would You Consider LinkedIn For Seeking Freelance Work?

LinkedIn starts at $24.95 a month. Would you consider it for seeking freelance work? If you are using it right now, and you’ve been successful, vote yes.

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My Outdoor California Article is Going to Print!

It’s always a wonderful feeling when an article nears publication. I’ve been sent a .pdf of my most recent magazine article to review and to submit corrections. The article is on the Yolo Bypass which is near Sacramento. Entitled High Water Legacy, it chronicles the role the bypass plays in providing wildlife habitat and flood control. The magazine is hard copy only, so I can’t point you to any online presence. The photograph below isn’t the issue I am appearing in, it’s just a typical cover. What’s the magazine about? As they put it,

Outdoor California Magazine

The Official California Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Magazine

Each issue offers California at its best—compelling stories on the state’s native species and habitat, presented with page after page of beautiful photographs. All of this plus the Thin Green Line, which chronicles California’s war against poachers!

How did I get my bypass article query letter accepted? Although some of it is luck, because you never know what an editor needs at any given moment, some it is not luck.

I had previously written on the bypass for the West Sacramento News-Ledger. I became an occasional reporter for that paper by doing my first two articles for free. After that, I did a number of stories, all for $25 an article. But the money wasn’t really the issue. I got paid, something, I got a byline, and I got published. Look at my story titles below.

Can you see yourself working for a weekly or a community newspaper? Query the editor with pitches and see where it leads. The idea is that one door leads to another. Years ago, writing about telecom on the web lead me to be accepted by several magazines and then I eventually landed an appearance on the History Channel. Can you think how the articles below might lead me to other articles? Keep writing!

The Outdoors Next Door: Exploring the Yolo Bypass 

The Port of West Sacramento is on a Path to Profitability 

West Sacramento’s CERT: Educate, Prepare and Assist

The TBD Fest: West Sacramento Hosts the Area’s Largest Music Festival

West Sacramento Reacts to TBD 

The West Sacramento Historical Society: Looking Forward and Back 

The Yolo Education Center: Helping Students Achieve Success

All Politics are Local

Retired Assistant City Manager Carol Richardson Looks Back

A Historic Firehouse Reborn

The Sail Inn is Back In Port

Artwork for Joey Lopes Park

West Sacramento Waterfront Stories

Chando’s Tacos Expands to West Sacramento

The California Highway Patrol Academy

The Sail Inn

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A Content Mill Example

I enjoy writing for Some derisively call such sites content mills. But as a writer they are an opportunity to take on a variety of interesting and challenging work. Below is a recent article of mine. The assignment required certain key words and a link to the featured merchant but nothing more. The article title was “Creative ways to decorate with museum replicas.”

This article took two to two and a half hours to write from scratch. It may not be perfect but that’s not what I was aiming for. I want the piece to be in “substantial compliance” with what the editor wants. And I want to be efficient with my time with respect to what I am getting paid. The less time the better, unless the writing suffers.

Creative Ways To Decorate With Museum Replicas

Decorate with museum replicas to enhance your home or office. Well curated pieces bring a style and élan no local import store can match. Classic jewelry, sculpture, mobiles and more, will make an impression on you and your guests. But don’t limit looking to yourself. Think about a handsome gift for a friend. Or just a bracelet to brighten their day.

Stunning sculpture demands the right presentation. If you have a grand piano to place a Beethoven bust, great. If you don’t, think about a stand. An import store might have something appropriate but don’t stop there. The proper stand takes some looking for but that’s part of a process, a fun one, that matches your collectible to found items. Besides flea markets and thrift stores, consignment stores often have odds and ends that might work. You say the kids will knock over a stand? What about a different approach?

Does your home or office have any wall niches or alcoves? They’re not terribly difficult for a cabinet maker or a skilled handyman to make. Basically, you remove the drywall between studs, leaving a 16″ to 24″ gap in the wall. At this point a decorative shelf can be installed, with a backing of whatever material you think would make the alcove attractive. A rounded top to the alcove is a fine touch, instead of simply squaring up the opening. Small doors can be added to really bring attention to your alcove and your artwork.

Of course, no house altering work is required if you are thinking of photographs, prints, or posters. Hanging most artwork is fairly straightforward unless you have a heavy piece or are attaching art to something like a brick wall. Then, a knowledge of anchors is essential. You still have that handyman (or handylady) around, don’t you?

To decorate with museum replicas means thinking like a museum and using any and all spaces. Hang a mobile from the ceiling to float and twirl above your guests, giving movement to an otherwise static room. Pick a theme like art exhibitions do. Perhaps a room dedicated to a hobby like aviation or horses. And then start assembling your collection over time.

You don’t need a room of pieces, of course. Sometimes just one thing will do. Like a large table globe for the study or office. A scale model of a helicopter to grace a work desk. Perhaps a classic, ornate chess set sitting on a simple table. Or a peaceful Buddha resting on the third shelf of a bookcase.

Speaking of cases, presentation cases can be found through certain dealers. Sometimes jewelry fairs have people selling exhibition boxes to the trade. You can buy these to show off your museum replica necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. A lighted display box with a mirrored interior would be a spectacular case to encase your treasures. And what fun lighting it up for your guests!

You are limited only by your imagination once you start thinking of possibilities. You can begin with the house entrance and work inward. Does the door itself need a detail? Or would a pair of lions, sitting like bookends, one on either side of the door, perform a welcome for your guests? While a standard import store will provide only limited choices, and many bland at that, a museum company store is well worth checking out for the fun, the unusual, and the well-considered piece.

Good article on content mills here:


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Continuing Work at

In between other writing assignments and classes, I continue to write articles for This is a content generation site, what some might call a content mill. I call it another revenue stream and a way to keep writing. Any site that will give you a byline is worthwhile.  Click on this link to go to the page shown below (external link).