The strange world of “content marketing”

In my work as a freelance blogger I try to put worthwhile content into every piece I write. At least some of the readers should come away from it understanding something better than they did before. It may contain promotional material, if that’s what the customer asks for, but it has a solid core of useful information. That’s my understanding of “content.”

In the marketing world, though, it means something else entirely. The biggest market for freelance writers on the Web is “SEO writing.” That means writing whose main purpose is to provide “content” that search engines will rank high. The expertise for this isn’t knowledge about the subject matter but expertise in planting the right keywords and otherwise constructing the article to match Google’s current idea of what a relevant article is. It’s clickbait, only more sophisticated.
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Websites to sell your writing

The Internet features a lot of websites where writers can connect with customers. None of them pay as well as finding your own clients, but some do offer decent pay and deal fairly. Others have serious problems of various kinds. Here are some notes from my experience:
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Cruise on a ghost (writer) ship

Yesterday evening I went on a Boston Harbor cruise with some fellow ghostwriters — a haunted cruise, obviously. The host was WriterAccess, which I do some writing for. It was very nice to put faces on what’s normally a faceless operation, and to talk with other writers on how they use the site. I learned a few things as well as having an enjoyable evening.
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Note on Foundation for Economic Education

The website for the Foundation for Economic Education recently got a complete update. The page on article submissions shows a different structure; there used to be separate categories for Freeman articles and shorter pieces for Anything that’s Peaceful, but that’s gone.

The biggest change, though, is that there’s no longer any mention of payment. FEE has bought many articles from me over the years and even named me to its Faculty Network, but I don’t know if it’s paying any more.
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Writing for pay and for free

On my way to becoming a successful pro writer — not a glamorous writer of best-sellers, but one who makes a living working with words — I’m discovering a few things that are worth sharing. One is that it’s important to be clear on when you’re writing for pay and when you’re not. All of us write for free a lot of the time; no one’s paying me to write this post. We write for free to express our thoughts, to communicate with friends and businesses, to publicize ourselves, and to help people out. But we have to know which situation we’re in; the middle ground of vague promises offers only frustration.
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When the passive voice can be used

Self-proclaimed experts on writing often express contempt for the passive voice, whether they understand what it is or not. Language Log has a good discussion of what it is and where it’s a perfectly good choice. It covers obscure cases that most people don’t know about.

Rather than offering my own defense of the passive voice, I’ll just list some of my own favorite uses of it.
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Writing for money

Lately, as some of you know, writing has been my main source of income. I’ve had some single-article sales, including a number to the Foundation for Economic Education and one to LWN.net. In between, I’ve been writing for a number of content sites. They don’t pay as well, but they always have work to offer, so I can keep busy while looking for the better-paying gigs.

BlogMutt is the most enjoyable one to write for, though not the best paying. Clients post topics they want articles written on, and I pick from those topics. The acceptance rate is well over 80%, and there’s a lively and friendly forum for writers. I’ve sold well over a hundred articles there.

Constant Content operates on a different model. While there are some calls for material, the usual mode is that writers create articles and put a price on them, and editors review them before they become public. So far I’ve sold one article that way. Articles go through an editorial process that takes a long time, so not much of my material has become available yet. Per their rules, I use a rather transparent pseudonym.

I get the impression it’s not well run. Three of my articles are visible and one has made a sale, but five others have been in the queue since last week. This morning I got a message that one of them was deleted, with the message, “Please paste the entire article in the content editing box. Only your first paragraph is showing up.” The whole thing is gone, so I have no way of figuring out what went wrong, and I’m instructed not to resubmit it. I posted to their forum, which I registered for a couple of weeks ago, asking about this situation in a comment to a post on a similar situation. It was put on moderation. I haven’t seen any new posts to the forum in a while, so it’s probably broken. Right now I’m waiting to see what happens to my other submissions before I send any more.

WriterAccess takes yet another approach. There are calls for articles, and people submit proposals. One proposal of mine has been accepted so far, and I’ll be working on it today. I found the form for responding to the request confusing, but the help desk gave me a very prompt and useful explanation. Hopefully this will work out well.

I wrote a couple of articles for one blog on vague promises of payment out of ad revenue. It never materialized, and the person running it berated me for not publicizing the blog enough. Needless to say, I’m not writing for them any more. Being an unpaid writer happens occasionally, but being an unpaid writer and publicist is out of bounds.

The work suits me well, since I love writing, doing research, and disseminating accurate and useful information. I’m still learning the business and working on my technique. There are a number of writers, especially in the filk community, who have helped me by setting an example and offering advice to writers. If I’m going to name just one, it’s Debbie Ohi.

If you’ve got leads for me, I’ll be grateful. Take a look at garymcgath.com for details on what I do.

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Two articles on Liberty.me

Recently I signed up for a month’s free trial on Liberty.me, a libertarian site requiring payment to participate. It has some good articles, which you can read without paying, along with the inevitable noise, and it went to free subscriptions a few days ago, so the question of whether it’s worth they money is now moot.

I’ve posted a couple of articles there, to see what reaction they’d get; the answer turned out to be none. Here they are, for anyone interested:

Update: Just to clarify, I signed up with Liberty.me for the professional purpose of making contact with publishers and other writers. So far it hasn’t done anything for me that way, but I’ll give it a while longer.

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An unexpected honor

Today I got a letter from Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, inviting me to the FEE Faculty Network. I checked the web page and found it puts me in some very good company, including Doug Bandow, Marsha Enright, Robert Higgs, Israel Kirzner, and Ilya Somin.

Just to be clear, that and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee, and I don’t even drink coffee. But as the letter pointed out, it’s something to put on my bio and may help me to get noticed when I submit articles for publication. Besides, just getting an honor like that helps to validate the effort I’ve put into my writing.

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New article: Criminalizing recording in public

FEE graphicI’ve got a new article on the FEE website on laws which make it a felony to record speech made in public without permission. A couple of examples are from New Hampshire, which has one of the worst laws.

If enough people read the article, I get a bonus and they’ll like me better for future articles, so please repost the link if you’re so inclined.

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