Friday, June 14, 2013

Freelance Writing: A Bullet and A Life-Preserver

As I said in my last post, I've branched into freelance writing. I love fiction writing. My favorite part is connecting with readers who've identified with my story and a world that was born in my head. Indie publishing was just the icing on the cake. Fun stuff, Superman. But I also like to pay the bills. So the freelance decision falls under the category Sometimes Ya Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do.

Hence, what better idea than to share with The Clever Writer blog that journey as a resource for other writers.  A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....aka Earth about fifteen years ago....the only way to successfully freelance write was to do the legwork yourself to hustle up clients.  It was a risky proposition and not for the faint of heart.  Don't get me wrong.  A lot of writers took that step and made a success out of it.  If I had been in that position, yes, I'd be job hunting along with you.

Into 2013

Step forward to today.  You are a good writer. For whatever reason, you need more cash flowing into the budget.  You have a diversified field of choices now.  There is still a bit of risk, but with solid planning and hard work, it doesn't have to be the determining factor.

Last March, faced with the end of my alimony and not enough money coming in, I followed the advice of a friend who is an active freelancer.  I visited Textbroker International.  She recommended this particular service for several reasons:  frequent paydays, lots of work, and minimal steps to get accepted as a writer.  (She gave me two other sites, which I will be share in a later post, but I have yet to get accepted at either of those.  There are also lots of other work sites available with varying degrees of pros and cons.)

The application procedure for Textbroker is simple.  You write a sample on one of their suggested topics.  Nothing big.  250 words.  Then they review the sample and if they like what they see, they approve your application.  But hold up there, Jimmy.  No, you can't start work right away.  You have to do IRS forms and send documentation to their Las Vegas home office.  Once they log in receipt, they will clear you to work. 

Four Pointers and A Word of Caution

So you are ready to jump in with both feet and start making the big bucks. Not so fast.  I was under the illusion too. Once accepted, I expected it would be a simple feat to start earning enough money to bring home the bacon, so to speak.  Here's what's wrong with that picture.


1.  Take your time on your writing sample.  Take this more serious than you took your SAT.  Before you attempt the test, be sure you visit the Textbroker style guide.  They follow AP Writing and Punctuation Rules.  If you've been fiction writing, it'll be a tad bit different.  Comma usage in this business is a deal breaker.  So spend some time studying and make sure you understand.  I recommend a thorough read of the Textbroker blog.  I also bought the Associated Press Guide to Punctuation and AP Style Quiz Book.  Take a moment and visit You Tube and watch the Textbroker Comma Video.  For more information about all aspects of Textbroker, visit this you tube channel.

I did not do any of this.  I thought I had a pretty good grasp of writing - active sentences, kill passive, grammar, punctuation, etc.  Why was that a mistake?  Because my writing sample may have gotten me accepted, but I was only cleared for 3 star content.  What happened?  Commas.  Textbroker has a star rating system from 1-5.  While you might be able to make grocery money, you cannot make a living at the 2 and 3 star level. More on that in a minute.

2.  Textbrokers system is divided by Open Order, Team Orders, and Direct Orders.  When you are first approved, you can work the Open Order area.  Categories include business, real estate, law, home and family, internet, etc.  There's a long list and that's only a few.  You cruise the folders and see what needs to be written and take what interests you.  If you find you can't accomplish an article you've taken, you simply release the article back into the pool with no harm, no foul.  The client can accept an article or return it for revisions (you have twenty four hours to execute or it gets dumped back into the open pool).  I'll talk more in length about this in another post.  You cannot join Teams unless you are at the 4 level.  What's the difference?  Three level is 1 cent a word.  For a 500 word article that's $5.00.  For a 4 star level, it's 1.4.  That same 500 word article is $7.50.  Teams pay higher.  You can assign your own rate for direct orders.  Two star level is considered legible writing.  Three star is considered good.  Four star is excellent.  Five star is professional.  You can support yourself at the four level.  If what I have observed over the long haul holds true to this first couple months, there is always work at the 4 level.

3.  How did I get to the 4 level?  I had two agonizing months working in the Open Order pool at the 3 level.  While I had the writing skills, it's learning to research and to do the job the way the client has requested that takes the most time.  Like any job, there is a learning curve to get the words right, follow instructions, and proofread for grammar, punctuation, and repetitive words.  The clients are able to rate your articles, but the more important one is Textbroker.  They continually review your work to be sure you are maintaining your assigned level of writing or move you up if you've demonstrated a higher ability.  So to answer you question, I flubbed the test.  I was assigned the 3 level.  I was picky about my first five articles and tried to write high quality pieces.  Why only five?  Because Textbroker stops you at 5 written articles for a review.  I was on hold for a little over a week without being able to work while they reviewed those pieces.  Fingers crossed, I hoped for a 4.  BOMB.  Still a 3.  What was the problem?  Commas.  Go back and review #1, because I pulled out those resources and began to study.

4.  Then Textbroker - who has been exponentially increasing their available work - sends all the 3 writers an invitation to their new Textbroker University.  They want to help their 3 writers get to a 4 level to help with the workload.  I jumped on the opportunity.  Part of that class was the comma video in #1.  In the meantime, though, I'd written 15 or 20 articles on the three level and had been waiting for a new review.  Part of the university work was to review the videos and then write ten articles for them to rate. Before I finished the class, my 15-20 articles were sorted through and rated.  I was bumped to the 4 level.  YAY!  Of the rated articles, a couple were still 3.  Why?  Commas.  Are you sensing a theme here?

My best advice, then, is don't get cocky.  Even if you think you are the best writer, review commas.  Then review them again.  Getting assigned a 4 star level is critical if you want to make a living freelance writing for Textbroker.  While I haven't worked for anyone else yet, I like Textbroker because there system is easy to learn and use and they pay on Fridays through PayPal.  It can provide a life-preserver for your budget.

But....there was a silver bullet.  My fiction writing took a hit as I spent copious amount of time to learn this new job. I had to significantly slash what I had intended to publish this year.  I calculate I would have lost this time anyway if I had brushed off my resume and gone job hunting.  At least this way, my work hours are my own.  If you want an income that pays the bills, practicing a bit of self-discipline is a must - but this might be a solution for you as it was for me.

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