Friday, November 23, 2012

Writing for Free: Part Three: Nearly-Free

By Josi S. Kilpack


A few years ago, like many of you, my family and I were facing a lot of financial-stress. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say there were a lot of conversations in the dark of our bedroom at night that tiptoed around “What are we going to do?”  

I had just begun my Sadie Hoffmiller series and hadn’t yet gotten royalties (I get royalties twice a year) and I have no skills beyond raising kids, running a home, and writing novels. I looked hard at what I could do to bring in some income and in the process I stumbled upon some interesting options I hadn’t known existed. None of these turned out to make a lot of money for me, and yet they expanded into other things that have been very interesting. This is by no means a list of everything out there—not by a long shot—but they might be a starting point in helping you generate ideas that might pay off for you in the long run.

·      Demand Media is a company that provides content to all kinds of companies, like Livestrong and eHow. They get their content through a sister company (or maybe it’s the same company, I don’t know for sure) called Demand Studios. As a freelance writer, you can join up and take on ‘assignments.’ I joined and took four assignments I then spent the weekend writing. I knew that the content would be bought and sold and resold and that I would get a royalty, what I didn't understand was that my royalty would be, in some cases, pennies. It wasn't what I expected, so I didn't pursue it, and yet every couple of months I get money deposited into my PayPal account. I’ve probably only made $200 over the course of the three years since I did these articles, but I received a PayPal deposit a few weeks ago for $14, which means the articles are still selling. It’s important to note that most of the articles didn’t include my byline—in fact, maybe none of them did. So I didn’t get value out of audience, I did, however, get value in writing to guidelines as each of them had a very specific format to follow. And I got the value of ‘practice’ in my writing. As I said, it didn’t pay off the way I wanted it to, but it was a reasonable use of time none the less and it’s still generating money, which I find fascinating. If I had more time, I would love to write up more of these articles—they are short and simple—and see where it could take me. Who knows.

·      At the same time I wrote these articles for Demand Studios, I put an ad on Craigslist, advertising myself as web content writer. I had managed my own website for a few years and gotten some encouragement and tips from my friend, Able Keogh, who writes web content for a living. I knew my credentials for this type of work were weak, but I put it out there all the same. I got one call, we talked for a little while, he said he’d call the next week and then he never did. I was insecure enough that I never pursued it further and soon took over the bookkeeping for our company and didn’t have the extra time anyway. I didn’t think much of it until he called back almost a year later. He offered me a freelance job of writing ‘blurbs’ about different music loops. I learned more about music loops than I ever thought was possible. He paid me $5/blurb, and in time this expanded into rewriting several websites he owned as well as a separate freelance rewrite he sent my way. In all, I probably made close to $1000.00 over the course of a few months working with him and could probably still be writing for him if I had the time--I was the one who said I couldn't continue the work. The most powerful part of this experience was the connections I made through it. He ended up re-doing my website and continues to function as my webmaster, though I do 99% of the work myself. What started with $5 blurbs that took me an hour to write due to the time I was spending trying to understand what the heck music loops were, resulted in a few different websites in my portfolio which, should I decide to explore this field further, gives me more of a foundation than I had.

·      When Heather Moore started this blog, we wrote for free. About a year ago, she said that though she couldn’t afford to pay us for the time we spent on the blogs, she did want to show that she valued it. She pays us a small amount per blog that we post. It’s not a lot, but it’s something and it does increase my motivation to blog here, which in turn strengthens the blog, which in turns grows an audience.

Again, this is not a do-as-I’m-doing list or a request for you to do any one of these things, but I do hope that it helps you realize what might be out there and the value that can be wrapped up in seemingly small opportunities. You have to go into these things with an understanding of what your time is worth and what your goals are, but assuming you are clear on both of those things, there are some really interesting free or nearly-free opportunities out there that can expand you as a writer and, possibly, put a little money in the bank.

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