Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Would You Do for a Klondike Bar? How About a Byline?

Yesterday's post brought me this comment from an anonymous reader:

Be weary. I've heard Demand Studios isn't quite as they advertise:

I want to discuss this, because I have been reading quite a bit about DS and similar "content mills" and such, and opinions seem to be mixed. Whichever side they end up taking, though, people seem to be pretty passionate about their view.

I've sifted through nearly a dozen blog posts and articles (including the one the commenter linked for me), and the debate basically comes down to this: people who are for DS swear they could make a decent living, that it jump-started their careers, and that they are better writers because of it; people who are against it say it isn't worth it to write articles given the time and effort involved, that DS doesn't advertise accurately, and that anyone who wants to be a freelance writer should just find other work.

Although I have only been at this for a few days and cannot legitimately speak for the experience of trying to make a living off DS (they give you a limit of three articles when you first start, and two were accepted with no re-writes while the third is still in review), I can see both sides of the argument.

On one hand, it is true that if you do the math, DS doesn't seem worth it in terms of making a living. A lot of the writers who posted comments to the articles about it complained that, unless you're a machine and can churn out four articles in an hour or two, you're making peanuts. At a rate of $15 for most articles, you're pretty much earning minimum wage if you spend more than an hour researching or writing the material. A few exclaimed, "You might as well get a minimum-wage job for that rate!"

Here's my thing, though: I already did that. I started at the cafe two years ago, working part-time for minimum wage. I have had a few raises since then, but after all that time my take-home pay is still less than minimum wage if you factor in taxes and the benefits I was able to get as a store opener. When thinking of money, I'm trying not to look at it in terms of the pay per hour. I just got paid yesterday - my last paycheck before rent is due - and realized with horror that I will come up short for my share of the rent because I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago. So basically I have the option of writing a few articles or borrowing $30 from my poor boyfriend. At this point, I don't care how much I'm making per hour to produce these articles; I just need to write enough to provide for myself. And, given that I haven't been able to find another job yet and don't have the option to work overtime at the one I have, this is about the last resort before borrowing money and/or turning tricks on the street. (Friends and family: I know some of you would rather I turn tricks than hit you up for money, while others would rather the opposite happen; I assure you I don't plan on doing either.)

As readers of my blog you all know I've been trying like hell to find another job, so the argument that I need to "just find another job" is moot. The point I'm trying to make is just that, for me, anything is worth it right now since I have no other way of generating income.

Writers have also attacked DS's credibility and said that writing for them is useless in terms of one's writing career because no one in the business takes it seriously. Again, to explain where I'm coming from, I'm going to use Erin O'Brien's McDonald's analogy. If writing for DS is like working in fast food, then I know I'm at the very bottom of the writing hierarchy. I would be silly to think that writing for them would make me super successful and famous, just as it would be unrealistic to expect to pay a mortgage flipping burgers. But the idea is that it's a start. Many people work at McDonald's because they have no other job prospects, training, experience, or education, and hope to either eventually move up in the company or get enough experience to get a better job in the service industry or elsewhere.

In my case, I'm fresh out of college and have no professional writing experience. Just as a brand new worker with no relevant experience and/or education can't walk into an office downtown and score a CEO position, I cannot realistically expect that anyone would hire me to write for their magazine, newsletter, etc. based on my credentials. I find that, as I'm reading these comments from experienced writers snubbing DS, they seem to exclude those of us who are just starting out and/or broke. They are real freelance writers and can afford to bash DS from their fancy writing desks while sipping $5 lattes.

I'm basically doing now what they likely once did as brand-new journalists and copy editors working third shift in thankless positions for small newspapers, except I have more freedom from writing on my own time and can hold down a stable job while doing it. Yes, I do hope one day to write for national publication of some kind and make a living as a writer, but I can't pretend it'll happen tomorrow. I have to do this now, then maybe something a little higher-paying and respected, and then something better after that until I can get where I want to be. I'm willing and ready to put in the time, and am grateful for the practice. Perhaps this sounds naive coming from someone who hasn't slaved away for decades in the spirit-breaking world of writing, but at least I am willing to work hard and know that getting to "the top" is neither possible for many nor easy for anyone.

The other people who tend to whine about DS sound like they actually believed some of the exaggerated claims about the money they could make. Allow me another analogy: you know those ads for canvassing/sales jobs that tell you you *could* make up to $923,483,029,875,098,090,198 per month? Well, any reasonable person realizes that that is the absolute maximum. In order to make that much you would need to sleep about two hours a week and work the remaining 168, and on top of that succeed in every sale you attempt. Some people don't get that, and then cry and stamp their feet and call that job a "scam" because they didn't make $923,483,029,875,098,090,198 sitting on their asses.

I do not entertain some Carrie Bradshaw fantasy that I can spend a half an hour a week writing for my famous column and then spend the rest of my time galavanting around the city, having lunch with my friends (who also never seem to work), having sex, and charging designer heels to my platinum credit card. In my experience thus far, DS has never made any false promises of such a life. They tell you up front you can do really well with them, but only if you work very quickly and write according to their standards every time. And, from everything I've read that compares DS with other so-called "content farms," they are among the most reliable because they pay a flat fee for the whole article (instead of per page view) and pay consistently and on time.

So, in summary, I will continue to write for DS indefinitely because:

A.) I've found that it is not a scam,

2.) I can make SOME (if not a lot) of money off my efforts, and

D.) because I have no other immediate means of getting my writing out in the professional world.

It may not be ideal, but at least I'm not touching strangers' genitals in dark alleys for cash. Just sayin'.


  1. Well said, Kelly! This doesn't have to be about the money, because it's definitely about the experience. I'm proud of you for putting yourself out there to pursue your dream and being willing to start at the bottom of the food chain, knowing it may eventually get you where you want. Keep up the good work ;-)

  2. I just read your comment and thank-you, you are right, no I told you so's.... we are in a very similar situation-if you see my post from yesterday-you may find some of the advice useful... thanks as always for stopping by


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