September 02, 2008

Freelance Doldrums

As (all two of) you know, for the past few months I have been trying my hand at doing some writing for a living. On some days, this is a great feeling: I’m making an attempt to do what I’ve always wanted to do! Sometimes people actually pay me for it! And if I fail, at least I can say I tried. It’s fun and good and I’m learning a lot.

But lately I’m becoming discouraged. People posting jobs for writers more often than not want search engine optimization (SEO) content – just a bunch of keywords on a page - and do not care about the quality of the writing at all. I recently ran across an ad on Craigslist looking for someone to “churn out” articles of “moderate quality.” The ads often say, “This is easy work for anyone with reasonable talent.” Well. Those are some high standards. Makes me really want jump right in and say, “Yes, I’m mediocre! Sign me up!”

As you can imagine, the pay is equal to the requested quality. Here’s one job poster’s info about compensation: “Payment: Actually it's not about money now but about making great things together.”

The thing is, someone will take them up on it. There are so many people offering to write these days: College students, stay-at-home moms, people who are sick of commuting. The competition is fierce, even for low wages. I participated on a bidding site for some time, where employers post jobs they need done and providers are welcome to bid on them, and I frequently lost out to guys in India who are willing to write 30 articles for a dollar. It’s not that I charge unreasonably high rates - I simply can’t compete with that. (Interestingly, you will often see these same low-paying jobs reposted later on, because, well, you get what you pay for.)

I took a few SEO jobs, writing page after page on a single topic, and they become sort of tedious. I am glad I took on the jobs, however, because now I know how to do it, and I know what to expect, and it expands my portfolio. But what is really beginning to depress me lately is the fact that everything is about web site traffic now. Where are the people who are theoretically reading all this content? Doesn’t anyone write anything of decent quality anymore? Where are the interesting ideas or funny dialogue? No, it’s all about getting hits on your site. Who cares how they get there, or if they read anything, as long a a search engine picks up your page, or the site is ranked higher with Google, or your AdSense ads generate two cents more per day.

I blog and Stumble and Digg and Twitter with the rest of them. I sometimes look at my blog stats, because I think it's fun to see how people randomly end up at my site. But the content wars and machinations of internet traffic are starting to overwhelm me, and as far as my job goes, it’s just getting a little sad to look around at the assignments that are available for writers and to feel like writing, as a skill and a talent, just isn’t worth anything anymore.


Cowgirlinthesand said...

Did you see the search I performed last week that led to your site? Can you guess which one it was?

Invictus said...

Hello, and greetings from sunny Moscow, ID! I know it's easy to get discouraged with all the crap ads out there (been there, done that, still have the photos), but don't lose heart; there are actually decent jobs out there in-between the SEO dreck and "churn-'em-out" sites. I've been able to glom on to a number of reliable clients over the years, and I found virtually all of them through Internet ad postings. Granted, I had to weed through a mountain of crap to get them, but there you go. If your professional skills evince the same attention and care your blog posts do, you'll find work.

Jennifer Pinkerton said...

Invictus, thanks for the kind comments. I was definitely feeling discouraged this week, but this is what I want to do, so I will do my best to give it a go. I will persevere! :)