Writers Worth: Content Mills, Desperation, and More Effective Freelance Marketing

On Content Mills,
Desperation, and More Effective Freelance Marketing [Audio Post]
by Jenn Mattern
Content mills have been a pet peeve of mine for a long time.
I went after them harder than most for years, and for good reason. They target
both new and desperate writers and they have a tendency to twist the truth in a
way that makes exploitation sound like a good business opportunity.
As someone who, like Lori, spends a fair amount of time
trying to help new writers build viable careers, these companies are
infuriating to me. Thankfully, and predictably, content mills have been on the
decline. Some have made changes that left many of their writers out in the cold
in recent years. Some have even shut their virtual doors.
Rather than write yet another post about the “evils”
of content mills and why you should run screaming the next time you stumble
across one of their recruitment ads, Lori and I want to share something a
little different for this Writers’ Worth Month.
I launched a new podcast for writers last fall, and earlier
this year Lori became my second guest co-host. While the episode focused on
everyday marketing for freelance writers, the issue of content mills came up.
Unfortunately our conversation was so long that I had to cut quite a bit of it.
Today I’d like to share one of those cut segments — the one
where Lori and I discussed content mills, the lies they sometimes tell, and a
couple of ways new freelance writers can rise above them and find clients truly
deserving of their talents.

We both understand the desperation some new freelance
writers can feel, and why these “opportunities” can sound attractive.
But this Writers’ Worth Month, take some time to think about the real
opportunities you could find if you dig yourself out of this kind of low pay
Have you ever worked for a content mill? Are you still
writing for them? If you left, what made you decide to move on, and how did you
transition away from mill work?

About the author




  • Cathy Miller May 13, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    I've shared this story before. When I started freelancing, I did apply to a content mill. After being accepted, I explored their site and more about how it worked. I found it so inane, I walked (maybe ran) the other way. 😉

    I would never judge someone who goes that route for whatever reason. But knowledge is power and the more writers discover their worth, the more doors will open for them.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall May 13, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Twinship again, Cathy! I had a similar experience and found that they asked for too much and provided too little.

    Great segment, ladies.

  • Lori Widmer May 13, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Love me some Jenn Mattern wisdom in the morning! Thanks, Jenn.

    Cathy and Sharon, I've never gone that route. It was tempting when I was struggling, but I didn't go there. I took jobs that paid slightly more — those business.com blog articles that paid what? $100 -150? Not great, but just a little better.

    I think the reason people go this way is it seems like an easy way to get clips. It is. But I get frustrated when they get used to heavy workloads and little cash. Worse, these kinds of clips get you little attention from more legitimate clients. Content mills have a horrific reputation with regard to accuracy, plagiarism, and saturation of bad content. Best to find something that pays a little more and has a legitimate client behind it.

  • Anne Wayman May 13, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Yeah, Jenn and Lori… thanks for warning writers – there really is no 'easier, softer way.'

  • Paula May 13, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    I loved hearing that "outtake," and encourage anyone who hasn't listened the the actual podcast (or any of the others) to do so. Now. You'll learn more about what real writers think and do by listening to Jenn's free podcasts than you probably would by paying for several writing classes or webinars.

    I remember seeing listings for various content mills, but even at my most desperate I never fell prey because I earned my first clips writing features for a local newspaper that paid 10-cents per word. Within a few months I'd used those clips to break into some national markets. The clips from the local paper might not have the cachet of a major daily or even a regional glossy, but they were well written and published in a real newspaper that had been around for several decades.

    You know how writers say they'd rather flip burgers than work for a content mill? If I were that eager to build clips I'd rather work for a reputable place that pays 10-cents a word (for more than most mills pay) than flip burgers or work for a content mill.

  • Jenn Mattern May 13, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks ladies!

    Lori — Business.com was $200 per post. They worked out well in my case because the articles assigned to me ended up being very quick — less than an hour per post. And they were all approved by my editor as-delivered (from what you've told me before, I suspect you were working with a different editor).

    A while back I noticed that they moved the content to their main site, but they stripped our bylines. Not happy about that.

    Paula — That's a great example of how you can use lower paying assignments to land something better. Content mills don't usually work out that way. And even when they do, the progress tends to be slower. One piece with a widely respected publication or organization can do much more for a new writer, even if they aren't paid much for it.

  • Lori Widmer May 13, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Jenn, I think I was. Plus mine was about insurance — specifically, trucking insurance. There was something else I did for them, but I can't remember anymore. It wasn't a bad gig, but it started to become too time-consuming.

    Amen, Paula. Amen.

  • Ashley May 13, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    I did work briefly for a content mill on the editing side. I didn't need writing clips (I had nice, legitimate ones) and I could do editing faster, so it turned into a better hourly rate than writing for practically nothing. It was so mind-numbing that I didn't do it long. My problem was that I just didn't know how to pursue bigger clients. When I finally figured out that a little extra work on the front end resulted in a much bigger pay-off in the long run, I left content mills and never looked back.

  • Alicia Rades May 13, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    I listened to the whole thing. Great discussion! Thank you both for sharing. I'm looking forward to reading more on writer's worth this month, Lori! 🙂

  • Jenn Mattern May 13, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Lori, that could explain it. I think mine dealt more with recruitment and marketing for small businesses. If yours were more technical, I can easily see them taking longer.

    Ashley, I think that's a big part of it. People don't know what to do to move on to something better, and sometimes the ease of the content mill work discourages them from doing something they perceive to be more difficult (which isn't always the case). The information is out there. It's just a matter of those writers reaching the point where they're ready to put it to use and make changes.

    Alicia, Thanks!