Breaking Free of Content Mills

I know I’ve been talking about content mills more than my normal zero amount, but I get an incredible number of inquiries about how to find them, how to use them to get to better work and on and on.  So, I’m making some blog posts about them.  For you.  My fucking audience.  You fuckers.

Content Mills and the Real World

The truth is that the content mills have a vital place in the writing food web, as I discussed here.  That being said, your job as a writer is to get the fuck out of there as quickly as you can.  There are several reasons for this, but these are probably the most important:

They don’t pay for shit.  Face it, that content mill you’re working for is paying you pennies for your work.  You may console yourself by saying that it’s better than flipping burgers, but believe it or not, those burger flippin’ motherfuckers get a great deal more street cred than you will at a content mill.  Get what you’re worth — even an eager youngster with an ear for language should be earning $15 to $25 per blog.

They’re incredibly unreliable.  In the last five years, I’ve watched numerous content mills crash and burn.  They’re full of assignments one day and totally empty the next, or worse, they simply fold and take your hard earned money with them.  That’s not great, so if you’ve got to be at a content mill, bust your butt, do your best work and get the fuck outta there as soon as you can.  Also vet your content mills to see who has the best track record for staying alive.  The ones I recommended above have all been around a while, even if they’ve not always had work.

They don’t allow you to develop as a writer.  Last, but far from least, working for a content mill means that you’re working with a million different editors doing exactly the same thing you are — trying to hang on, trying to break into this world.  The problem with working with a million random editors is that you never really learn anything.  One editor says to do it like this, another says to do it like that and a third will just fix everything to save time.  Working with an established editorial team helps you hone your craft — it’s a beautiful relationship you should cherish.

Gettin’ the Fuck Outta There

So how do you get off the content mill merry-go-round?  It’s not as hard as you’d think, actually.  After a few months of hard writing, you should have collected a decent number of words — and that means you’ve got a portfolio, whether you know it or not.  Make sure to keep copies of every piece you do, then you can use Google to track them down later.

Pick a sentence or two that aren’t terribly generic and paste them into Google inside quotes.  Like magic, your article should pop up.  Save the link!  Before you share it with the world, though, check it carefully to make sure that your random editor or mystery client didn’t introduce embarrassing errors.  I know it’s frustrating when that happens — trust me, I feel your pain — but there’s not much you can do there.  Just keep looking, you’re bound to have some other good stuff floating around on the net.

Once you’ve used all that content mill stuff to put together an organized and beautiful portfolio, you can build your writer’s package (resume, samples and cover letter) and start applying for grown up jobs on brokering sites like oDesk and the myriad of job boards across the web.

Now, it won’t happen overnight, but when that first job offer comes through, you can start to let go of your content mills.  You land the first one, then another and another until you’ve got enough clients that you don’t have to go back to the content mill, not ever.  After a few years of landing clients and doing good work, you’ll start getting referrals — and man, those are sweet.

We’ll talk about that some other time, though.