If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either a long time reader of this website or you stumbled onto this article after googling something like “online writing jobs” or “making money writing online”. However you came here, if you’re still reading this then that means you must have some interest in the topic.
I’m no expert, or course. I can only speak from my own experiences.
I’ve been there. Being an introvert who hated working retail, I did everything I could to make money with my writing. But while I searched the internet for more information, every article I found gave a vague summary of sites that paid for writing, and most of the time these articles focused mainly on how much those sites paid. My goal is to tell you what I wish someone had told me when I started out.
Let’s start with the content mills.
Content mills are probably where you’ll start. They’re the easiest to join and also the most straightforward. Overall these sites have the same business model. Clients who want content – articles, blog posts, listicles, etc – go to these websites. The websites attract authors to sign up, and the website acts as a mediary party between clients and authors. The price for content and the price paid for content is set by the website. Oh, and attempting to make direct contact with a client goes against the TOS of almost all these sites and can get an author banned.
Almost all of these content mills have tiered systems for both clients and writers. Clients can pay more to ensure higher quality articles, and writers can be paid more if they’re shown to consistently produce high quality stuff. Different websites have different ways to sort writers, but usually it depends on how many jobs the writer has completed and how satisfied the clients were with those jobs.
Another thing to keep in mind: content mills are for ghost writers. If you’re trying to build up a portfolio, then a content mill isn’t the best place for you. For the uninitiated, ghostwriting means writing something without being given credit. When you sell your article to a client, you are also selling your credit. They can say they wrote it and not credit you at all. It’s just like how Elon Musk not only bought Tesla but the ‘Founder’ title as well.
Now that we got logistics out of the way, here are the content mills I’ve worked with over the years and an overview of my experiences with each one.
I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. iWriter is perhaps the lowest of the low.
iWriter, like many of these websites, stratify their writers. At the lowest you have basic. Then there are premium writers, elite writers, and elite plus writers. Every time a writer submits an article, a client rates it from 1 to 5 stars before deciding to reject or accept it. In order for a writer to make it to the next tier they have to sustain a high star rating and reach a minimum number of ratings.
A quick list if you care:
-Climb up to Premium with a 4.1 star rating with 25 ratings. -Elite with a 4.6 star rating with 30 ratings -Elite Plus 4.85 star rating with 40 ratings
I know what you’re thinking. “So how much money does each tier get?”
Writers get paid 65 percent of the price paid by the client (70 percent if the client asks for that specific writer). The price paid by the client depends on what tier they pay for. Here’s a link to iWriter themselves showing how much they charge clients for articles:
Allow me to calculate how much this is for writers (I’m only focusing on articles because that’s what I have the most experience with).
With slight variations depending on the length of the article (iWriter charges more for shorter articles), writers are usually paid:
About .5 cents per word for Standard About 1 cent per word for Premium About 1.5 cents per word for Elite About 4.5 cents per word for Elite Plus
Quite a jump at Elite Plus, huh? It sure sounds tempting. That’s $45 every 1,000 words. You do that full time, 8 hours a day, and you could make an actual living.
Well, it’s never that simple, is it?
The biggest obstacle between you and that sweet, sweet five cents per word is the actual quantity of articles you have to write. Keep in mind that you get one rating per assignment. You need to fulfill 40 assignments and hope the majority of your clients are kind enough to give you five stars in order to make it all the way to Elite Plus.
In my experience, clients usually give five and four star reviews, but I wasn’t immune to a one star or two star rating (even when the client accepted the article without asking for revisions). After all was said and done it took me about 30 articles to get to Premium.
But let’s say you’re a really good writer, and let’s say that your clients always give you five stars. Okay, 40 articles seem doable. You do one article a day and it’ll take you a little less than seven weeks. You do two a day and you’ll be set in less than a month. Feeling ambitious? Do ten a day starting Monday and you’ll be done before the weekend.
But you can’t complete jobs that aren’t there.
When I was active on iWriter, I would be lucky to get a single article in about a week. Jobs are first come, first serve, which meant that you had to be quick with the clicks to nail down an article before anyone else could.
It took me about 3 months to get to Premium.
Right now, I’d like to point out that it’s been years since I was a part of the iWriter ecosystem. Who knows, maybe there are more articles now. But even if iWriter suddenly became the biblical land of milk and honey I would never go back. You want to know why?
They have no qualms with scamming their writers.
Imagine this. You sign up for iWriter, and you go to their list of assignments. At the very top are the Elite Plus assignments. They just give you a couple random ones, and at the bottom of the category is a little arrow you can click to show all assignments in that category. There are dozens of them. But you can’t write any of them, not yet, so you go lower.
It’s the same thing with the Elite category. They pay a bit less but there’s way more than in the Elite Plus category. Go even lower to the Premium category and you’ll see hundreds.
It’s a lie.
After weeks of scraping the bottom of the barrel, I was so elated to finally move up the ranks into the Premium tier. I sorted the available assignments and isolated the Premium category and found…five jobs waiting for me.
What happened to the hundreds I saw not a day earlier? Hell, if I know. They were probably old, already written articles that iWriter kept around to pad their stats, or they never existed in the first place.
Just to make sure, I made a second account with a different email. Just like that, those premium articles were back. More than a hundred of them. And yet on my original account there were hardly five.
I was so disgusted I closed the page and never looked back.
When it comes to content mills, you can definitely do worse than Textbroker (see above). Just like iWriter, Textbroker separates it’s authors into a hierarchy, with those writers with high ratings given access to higher paying assignments. Writers are rated with stars. Unlike iWriter, authors start in the middle with three stars.
Assignments are also sorted by stars, and any writer can do any assignment that matches or is lower than their own star rating. So how exactly is a writer’s star rating (or ‘quality level’) raised or lowered?
I don’t have a clue!
Here’s what the website says:
“Your quality level is based on orders selected by an algorithm using statistical calculations and relevant criteria. Our Quality Assurance team will rate these orders and provide detailed feedback with personalized suggestions on how to improve your writing. In addition to this feedback, please review the AP Style Guide and our author blog. You’ll find the link to the author blog at the bottom of each page in your account.”
So there you go. Algorithms.
That said, you start off making one cent per word. Not bad. (Actually, it’s very bad, but it’s not the worst.) Unlike iWriter, there’s plenty of three star and two star assignments. There aren’t as many four and five star assignments, but there are some.
Just like iWriter, the amount your paid increases slightly as you get a higher star rating. At four stars you get 1.4 cents per word. At five, you get 5 cents a word. But in order to reach level 5, you have be level 4 and also pass a proofreading test administered by Textbroker.
The main thing you have to understand about Textbroker is that the amount of work available ebbs and flows throughout the year. Sometimes there will be hundreds of assignments at all star ratings, and other times there will only be a few dozen in the two star category. Usually, however, there’s always something you can write so long as you’re not too picky about the topic.
My advice: write like crazy during the times of feast and save for those times of famine.
But for some people that’s just not possible due to time restrictions or monetary needs. It’s quite possible that this unpredictable nature isn’t compatible with your life. Try doing this for a while as a side gig, see where your production pace is at, and plan accordingly.
The only people getting rich off textbroker are the clients and the website owners. I’ll say that much.
Verblio is both the most unique amongst the content mills and the most likely to provide a living. They pay the most, by far, but that also means that they expect a much higher standard of writing.
I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah, okay, but how much do they pay?”
Hey, I hear you. That’s what I would want to know right away.
But have some patience.
First, I got to tell you about their system.
Verblio doesn’t work quite the same as iWriter and Textbroker. They charge their clients a subscription, you see. Other places make their clients pay by the article, but Verblio has their clients pay by the month. And what do they get for this monthly subscription?
You see, a Verblio client will choose topics for authors to write about. Let’s take a law firm, for example. One topic will be “Asset Protection”, another might be “Criminal Defense”, and still another might simply be “Divorce”.
These aren’t one time articles, they’re topics. It’s up to the writer to figure out what exactly they’re going to write about. One writer might make an article titled “The Importance of a Prenup”, while another might write “10 Reasons to Hire a Divorce Lawyer”. There is no limit to the amount of articles in each topic. If a topic has twenty articles, you’re more than free to write yet another one.
Those articles are put into a queue. And the client gets ‘credits’ with that monthly subscription. Let’s say there are ten articles in each of the topics the client has placed. He gets three credits per month and so gets to choose which three articles he wants to buy.
What happens to the articles that aren’t picked? They stay in queue until they’re rejected or bought next month when the client chooses three more.
You’re not technically writing on spec (that is, writing without guarantee of payment) because, ostensibly, the client will get to your article eventually.
Thankfully, Verblio’s UI allows you to see the amount of topics the client has, the amount of articles in a given topic, how many total articles the client has to choose from, and (most importantly) how many credits they have that month and at what date their subscription renews.
In order to really profit from Verblio’s system, you have to be selective about which client you write for. Always write for clients with more credits than active submissions (unless you want to wait a month or two for them to buy or reject your article).
Now that you know their system, let me tell you about payment.
Payment is based on word length. At the bottom end, you get paid 3.5 cents a word for a 300 word article. At the top end, you get paid 6.5 cents a word for a 2,000 word article. Not bad. Not bad at all. But there’s a catch.
Like the other content mills I’ve written about, writers need to rise through the ranks to get access to longer and better paying articles. However, the way Verblio promotes their writers is quite unique.
You’re level one when you first sign up. You’re a new author and so you can only write articles between 300 and 550 words. Your first article will have to be reviewed by the editorial team before it can be shown to the client, but after that you’re basically on the honor system unless clients complain enough.
For every article of 300 to 550 words that you submit to a client, you get two points. If they give you five stars on that article you get another 4 points. If the client actually buys that article? 18 points. Was that article one of the first five articles written for a brand new client? Congrats, you get some bonus points too.
You need 750 points to write 600 to 950 word articles. By then you’ll be level four, and the amount of points you get for submitting, getting five stars, and selling are doubled. You’re on your way!
You need another 2,750 points to write articles between 1,000 and 1,400 words.
From there, you need to be personally vetted by Verblio to reach the top of the top: the 2,000+ category.
Daunting? Absolutely. But keep in mind that they pay their writers a few pretty pennies per word when they start out. It’s very possible to make a living on Verblio.
But a word of warning.
Clients on Verblio, as well as the Verblio editors and staff, are very selective. You’re allowed to see articles the clients have accepted and rejected in the past, as well as the reasons for an articles rejection. The most common reason for rejection? “Declined by Admin”. This means that a Verblio editor has rejected the article outright for spelling, grammatical, or stylistic mistakes.
Verblio has a style guide, and they want you to cite your sources. You’re not dealing with clients that will be satisfied so long as an article doesn’t read like a Google translation.
Bring out your best and you’ll do well.
Content mills aren’t the only places I’ve written for, so I would like to briefly talk about some other experiences I’ve had working for some other websites.
I hated being a writer in Freelancer.
First, let’s talk about systems.
Freelancer connects, uh, freelancers with clients. Unlike content mill sites, however, clients and authors are basically left to their own devices once the initial contact is done. Freelancer provides an on-site messaging system, an hour-logging system, and an escrow system (provided by a third party) that makes sure writers are paid for the work they’ve done.
And that last point is incredibly important. Always, always, always deal with clients through the website messaging system. Always, always, always make sure that they pay you through the website. If someone says they want to communicate with you and pay you directly, outside of the website, then run. Or tell them to fuck off.
Once, when I was young, dumb, and full of shit, I worked for someone like this. We agreed on a per word rate, and I was writing for them. No contract, no escrow, no nothing. I worked for a month without a single cent before I wised up and refused to write a single word more until they paid what I was owed.
I lost about a thousand dollars worth of work.
Don’t be like me. Be smart. Protect yourself. Always have a contract. Always know who exactly you’re working with.
Anyway, the way Freelancer connects clients with authors is simple: clients post their projects, and authors bid on them.
Oh, and bids cost money.
Okay, okay, that’s not exactly the case.
You can sign up as a freelancer without paying a cent, but the free tier ‘membership’ gives you just fifteen ‘bids’. Want to give a client a quote for a project? It’ll cost you a bid. You get the job? Congrats! You used up that bid and you have fourteen left. You didn’t get the job? Aww, man, that sucks. You still used up that bid.
Now those fifteen bids don’t seem like a lot, do they? If you use all of them and don’t get a single job, then you have to wait a whole month for your subscription to renew. Want more bids? Then you’re going to have to buy a membership that gives you more bids.
I already hate freelancer websites in general because of the way they force writers, programmers, engineers, illustrators, and other creators to compete against each other in a race to the bottom. Add on this horrendous bid system and it’s too much for me to bear.
Nevermind the other ways they try to squeeze money out of writers. Pay a dollar to highlight your bid so it stands out to clients. Pay five to ten dollars to make your bid a sponsored bid that is both highlighted and placed at the very top of the list of bids.
Fuck off, Freelancer.
For the record, I haven’t tried other freelance sites like Upwork. Maybe they’re better. But saying a freelance site might be better is like saying swine flu might be better than mad cow disease.
Transcription sites like Rev and TranscribeMe hire typists to listen to an interview or speech or focus group and write down what people are saying. There are style guides to keep in mind, as well as distinctions like Verbatim and Non-Verbatim, but once you get the hang of transcription it’s a nice way to make money.
As an example of what you might transcribe, when I was doing it full time a few years ago I got focus group after focus group of Indian women giving their thoughts on beauty products (Indian women seem to care a lot about having their skin glow), as well as a few business-to-business calls of people trying to sell telecommunication services.
Websites have different ways to assign work to transcribers. One might let you pick and choose from a list of available assignments. Another might have you list how many minutes or hours of audio you can transcribe before a deadline (usually some time in the next day). Either way, plan on spending three to four times the length of the audio on transcription. If you have an hour of audio, it will probably take you about three or four hours to complete it.
Fair warning though. Recently, there’s a lot of demand for immigration hearing transcribers. These…are rough.
Anyway, if you feel like transcription might be your thing, then I highly recommend a free program called ExpressScribe. Linguists use it to record and playback audio for analysis. With it you can slow down the audio, put down flags to mark a specific time, and boost the volume. Not only that, but if you have a USB pedal you can slow down or rewind the audio by applying pressure to the pedal. It’s super handy for transcription and great for older computers or laptops that might have trouble running Audacity.
These websites also pay a premium for transcriptionists that can also translate foreign languages to english. At the website I worked for, you made about 30 to 60 cents per audio minute transcribed. That went up to about a dollar or more for translators.
Some websites even promote high quality transcriptionist to their Quality Assurance department. Usually, you get paid less per audio minute as a QA person, but it’s much faster to get through audio as a proofreader and editor. Especially if you know the style guide inside and out.
And that about sums up my experience writing online for money. Overall, my time writing for websites was grueling. While in the lower tiers I was constantly tabbing through each website and pouncing on whatever work I could get. I thought it would be easier once I reached higher tiers. I would make more money, and I would finally be financially stable.
That’s the thing though. It takes a lot of money to be stable. More than you think if you’re self-employed. With a regular job you have to worry about rent/mortgage, health insurance, car insurance, etc. If you’re a self-employed freelancer you also have to worry about tax. Income tax, social security, medicare, (can you tell I’m American?). All in all, about a third of your income will have to be set aside for taxes. If there’s anything left over, consider it your tax refund.
Technically, I make a living off writing for these websites. But it wasn’t really a living. Sure, I could pay for my groceries and rent and even some health insurance, but that was about it. I had to scrimp and penny-pinch to save up for clothing. I didn’t have a tv or cable. I had the crappiest, cheapest internet I could find. I couldn’t go out with my friends, or even by myself. I barely had a life. The only thing I did all day was write articles about the best hotels to stay at in North Carolina.
I was always just scraping by.
Hell, I’m still just scraping by.
In the end, I stopped trying to make a living by writing online. Not because I wasn’t making enough money, but because I was spending so much time trying to earn enough for subsistence. I didn’t want to spend my one and only life writing shit I didn’t want to. Fuck, why did I go to college for writing? To write up reviews on Forex trading platforms? No!
I write because I like telling stories, and I put that on the backburner.
The best way to make money through your writing? Write what you want to write and figure out how to make money from that. Start a blog about something that interests you and use Google Adsense or Amazon Affiliate links to monetize it. Promote your freelance writing directly and charge a livable wage for articles. Write a book and either shop it to literary agents or publish it to Amazon, iTunes, or Smashwords.
But whatever you do, whatever you write, just make sure you’re happy. Life’s too short to waste on anything else.
Oliver is a novelist, freelance writer, and animator, has a Bachelor’s in Writing and Rhetoric, and lives with his large family including three dogs.