Recently I spent a few hours researching and writing copy for a software vendor who does point of sale systems for retail businesses. He wanted a piece about using an iPad to process sales. A retail business owner myself, I’ve had lots of experience swiping credit cards, getting the slips signed, and ringing up sales on a separate cash register. So I know about the need to cut down the steps in the operation. Once a customer decides to buy a product or service, the process is over for him or her, so as a retailer, you want to keep your part of it simple, cheap and fast. Any new system needs to be affordable to install and use; and much more efficient than what one is already doing.
I researched the various ways one can set an iPad up with card swiping and processing ability. I found some pictures of the devices you’d have to buy and of the iPad screens with which you’d work. Then I spent a couple of hours writing and polishing the copy.
Less than an hour after I submitted it, the piece was rejected for “inaccuracy.” No comments and no requests for revision. It was puzzling, since I was pretty sure I’d done the right research. So I went back to the website where I’d found the job and checked out the software vendor’s history. It turns out he has a 100% rejection rate, always without comments or requests for revision. And his reason is always “inaccuracy.”
So, I wondered, is he using us copywriters? Is he employing our work without paying us, by sending a rejection? The job was only worth a fraction of a cent per word, so I didn’t do it for the money, but because I wanted to build my copywriting credibility. I suspect the other people who submitted for the job were doing the same. At the rate of pay he’s offering, the software vendor’s not going to get an iPad point of sale specialist, or even a tech writer. He’s going to get generalists like me.
I’m left with the question of how to use websites that post copywriting jobs. The ones recommended by other writers all have the similar set-ups. You bid for the job, or just do it for a set rate, and submit your work. You’re paid through PayPal or direct deposit to your bank account. Bidding seems the safest route since you don’t waste time producing something that never gets paid for. However, my bids often get shot down because they’re too high. And since I’m a relatively new copywriter, I only bid at slightly above sweat shop rates. So my guess is that most of the jobs I’m finding are sweat shop jobs.
So how to get started? How does a freelance writer get herself to a place where she can set a reasonable rate of, say, 30 cents a word? My thought had been to do enough content mill jobs to establish a reputation and perhaps a client relationship or two. Then I could raise my rates. Since that wasn’t working, perhaps I shouldn’t use the content mills at all? My next thought was query letters. It’s an old fashioned way to apply for writing jobs, but it might put me in a better class of writers. Or I could frequent job boards in places that reflect my background as an academic writer and business owner.
The upshot is that I’m learning that content mills are just not the way to go. They don’t build up one’s reputation; on the contrary, sweatshop writers are seen as second rate, and they seem to get stuck doing poorly paid work for second and third rate venues. Rather than thinking of freelance writing as working one’s way up, starting with the easiest and least paid, it may be better to decide who my audience is and research how to get my work in front of them. Yesterday on http://www.contentandarticlewriters.com I found a job reviewing Korean students’ essays that was posted by Harvard University. A lightbulb lit up in my head as I thought, “This is the kind of work I’m qualified for!” and I immediately applied for it.
Like many things in life, becoming a freelance writer seems to involve knowing oneself, especially one’s strengths and weaknesses, and working from the strengths. Self confidence doesn’t hurt either.