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If you’ve ever hung around sites such as Craigslist, oDesk or WritersBay, you may have noticed something: the pay for freelance writing work is absurdly low. Listed below are just two online writing “jobs” that I uncovered at the aforementioned sites:

Article Writers Needed for Long Term Projects – 25+ Articles Weekly

At least 3 writing samples in your PMB. If you do not provide any samples your bid will not be accepted. There will be a trial of 5 articles which we will pay for. Once we have established a good relationship and the quality is there the work will be provided on Monday and payment will be sent on the following Monday. If you do not agree to these terms please do not waste our time or yours. Our ideal budget for this would be $ 1 – $ 2 per 300 words.

25 Articles on Online Poker of 300 words each

My budget is fix. I will pay 1.5 $ per article, total 37.50 $ for 25 Articles. I will not be doing any escrow deposit or advance payment. Payment will be done after completion of the project. I am looking for very quick turn around with excellent quality. Please place your bids with relevant samples and the time you will take to complete this project.

When you have writing jobs paying you a buck or two per article, the current minimum wage average of $7.25 per hour seems pretty damn good by comparison. However, as piddly as the above earnings are, someone is bound to accept these rates. In fact, it’s what the advertisers of these jobs are counting on.

Why in the world would freelance writers agree to work for such low rates? I have a few ideas.

1. I’m writing for the love of it (i.e., I’m not in it for the money).

Many freelance writers, myself included, have grown up on stories of starving artists and famous writers who were destitute all their lives. What most writers don’t realize is that there is a big difference between writing for the love of the craft and writing for viewer traffic or conversions.

Let’s face it: Unless you are writing your own novel, you’re writing for profit. Your content is going to be published in the hopes of bringing in additional customers or pledges or sales. This is not the stuff you would write about if you had the choice. No, you are being expended to achieve someone else’s bottom line. Because your writing is strictly business-related, it should also command a real world, business rate.

2. High-paying writing jobs require experience/education/bylines.

It is true that many highly paid writers have reams of bylines and other credentials to their names. However, freelance writing is actually one of the great equalizers when it comes down to having the necessary qualifications. As long as you have a great idea and sure-fire way to pitch it, don’t worry about not having a degree in journalism or an MBA.

3. I don’t know anyone in the freelance writing world.

Sure you do- you know me. And aside from me, there are thousands upon thousands of freelance writers on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. Reach out to these writers or join in on their conversations, even if all you do is leave a comment on one of their posts (hint hint).

But you need to do more than just troll the online social media channels; you also need to get out and network. Start by perusing Meetup, a site that enables the locals to do meet-and-greets in the physical plane. Members can also start their own meetup if the one they are looking for doesn’t exist.

Your local paper probably lists local writing groups that get together at area coffee shops or bookstores. Get involved with one or two such groups. Not only will you make valuable work connections, you’ll get new ideas for your writing and where you can take it.

4. My writing query/application was rejected.

Rejection hurts- but you know what? As a freelance agent, you need to develop a thick skin. You also need to submit a lot of writing queries, pitches and applications.

I peruse potential writing gigs on a weekly and sometimes on a daily basis. I brainstorm writing ideas for potential clients almost every night. Then, I send my ideas to these potential clients. Quite often, I hear nothing back.


Do I stop sending my queries, pitches and applications because my last “brilliant idea” was snuffed? Nope. I scrape up what’s left of my bruised ego and move on to the next available gig. I also hold onto my rejected idea- it can often be edited and pitched at another market or client.

5. I’m waiting to hear from client X, Y or Z.

If you’ve already submitted a query to your dream client, that’s great. But don’t waste your time waiting for a ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ answer. Keep moving and pitching other clients. Given the best case scenario, you’ll at least have several writing offers to answer and even negotiate with for better pay. At the worst, you’ll have at least one of your queries accepted and your writing income secured- at least until a better-paying client comes along.

6. I’m too busy to pitch high-paying clients.

This was my personal contention back when I was stuck writing for content mills and working a full-time job and taking care of my mother. Luckily, I did at least peruse certain online writing job boards and apply on occasion. My pitching and querying was rather sparse; I think I sent a serious inquiry maybe once a month. However, even that small effort eventually paid off for me when a few decent-paying client emails landed in my inbox.

You might think that you’re super busy…but perhaps you just wasted the last hour watching TV or playing Angry Birds on Facebook. Or two hours flipping through a tabloid. Take stock of where your hours go and carve out a chunk of time devoted to your own career development.

That chunk of time need not be more than an hour or two, but it needs to be spent wisely and with a purpose in mind. So, no matter how busy you are, use your devoted time to look at available writing gigs and compose a query. Or, even better, start writing that proposed article now and adding individual sources and references along the way. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in just that small amount of time.

7. I can’t find anything that pays better.

Craigslist, oDesk and eLance do not make up the entire world of freelance writing work. In fact, most real writing jobs are never listed at all; it’s up to you to find a way you can fit into the organization and write for it. In this article, I provide examples of how to do this using LinkedIn.

Also, check out my post about job boards that list real online writing jobs. If you’re looking for copywriting jobs exclusively, keep in mind that most of these jobs will be listed under unexpected titles like “marketing expert” or “communications specialist.” And if you’d like to delve into technical writing, you can get a great start by working as a technical writer’s assistant first- such positions are frequently listed on job boards.

The bottom line? Your pay rate is what you make of it.

In the freelance writing world, your pay rate needs to cover your daily living and business expenses, plus account for employed work benefits such as health insurance, 401(k), paid time off, etc. Earning at or below minimum wage by taking on low-pay writing jobs will not allow you to survive as a freelance writer. So spend a little extra time and effort to find the type of work that won’t eventually have you looking for employment or being financially supported by your relatives/significant other/really good friends. Good luck!