How I went from Demand Studios to better paying clients

This scene is a lot more satisfying when you’re making more than $15 an article

Hi, my name is Tiffany and I used to write for content mills. I know, I know. I should be ashamed of myself.

However, while content mills have a dirtied reputation, I don’t regret my time spent writing for them. I learned a lot, and I would recommend that any beginning writer struggling to gather the nerve to get started hit content mills first.

Demand Studios was my first paying job, and though I see now that the pay was terrible, back then, it was such an ego boost to see my wallet fattening up on account of my writing. Through DS, I also learned about SEO, writing with a specific word count to set guidelines under a deadline, working with an editor, and matching relevant photos to my articles.

It also showed me that my writing was good enough to earn an income. With this new-found confidence, I began pitching other publications. And, thanks to DS, I had clips to pitch with.

I mixed my DS efforts with free writing for non-profits and eventually made my way to publication in magazines and newspapers, all of which pay more than three times what I got from DS. Then I discovered paid blogging and creating web content. Soon it became clear that I was wasting my time on content mills.

My main reason for holding onto my “job” at DS was because of my position. I’m an American living in the Netherlands. With that being the case, I run into a few problems most freelancers don’t have.

For one, my Dutch is not good enough that I can get work writing for Dutch companies. This means I’m stuck with English language publications, and there aren’t too many of those. I write for almost all of them and it’s simply not enough to make a living.

My Dutch is good enough for Dutch-to-English translations, though, so my next step was to try to captialize that skill.

Freelance powerhouse Carol Tice often recommends cold-calling small businesses to get work writing for them. But the majority of small businesses here are Dutch-speaking and don’t need or want English content. The larger companies hire professional translators and expat entrepreneurs don’t typically have the budget to pay writers for content, so my opportunities are slim.

As a result, I’ve found a market writing for magazines. I freelance for publications in the Netherlands, the UK, and the US.

When you’re a writer living overseas, you need to really market yourself and exhaust all your resources. My first step is to use my connections from publications I already write for. I always ask fellow contributors about their writing careers and they’ve been more than willing to share the other markets they dabbled in. Editors have been extremely helpful in passing along names of other editors and publications, often recommending me to them as a writer.

I also subscribe to newsletters like Funds for Writers, Writers Weekly, and European Writer, and do frequent job searches on MediaBistro. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, published annually, also covers agents and publications in Australia, the UK, and the US.

Most of my work comes from interest generated via LinkedIn, Twitter, and my blogs. Social media networking is by far the best way to find writing opportunities no matter where you are based. A strong social media presence has gotten me and my writing noticed and I’ve forged very valuable relationships via each of those outlets.

The most valuable lesson I learned from Demand Studios is that I can get paid more for my writing than $15 per article. Much more.

These days, I don’t write for less than $50/€50. Have I been offered less? Sure. Lots less.

When those offers come, I make sure to be very clear as to what my rates are and that I will not settle for less. Typically, the inquirer will agree to my rates. And, if not, I move on to someone who does.

Because if I’m going to settle for low pay, I might as well go back to the content mills. But with so many markets paying such excellent money, why on earth would I do that?

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Step-by-Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success

How I met Chuck Palahniuk

Yup, it’s a book too.

Years ago, I saw the movie Fight Club starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Normally that’s not my type of movie, but I really enjoyed it. I had no idea it was a book.

A few years later, a guy I was dating was deep into reading this book by an author I’d never heard of before. When I asked if it was any good, he said “Oh yeah! It was written by the guy who wrote Fight Club.” Well, I’ll be danged – you learn something new everyday!

I caught a glimpse of the author’s last name and, though I couldn’t even begin to guess how to pronounce it, the spelling of it seared itself in my brain.

Fast-forward 8 years and I’m at a Pub Quiz here in Utrecht. The question was “What book by Chuck Palahniuk was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton?” Of our 10-member team, I was the only one who knew the answer.

A few weeks after that, my husband and I were enjoying our weekend stroll through the city center of Utrecht when we passed the bookstore Selexyz. Selexyz often has author signings and I’ve made it a habit of checking the announcements to see if there are any I recognize. There never are.

This particular day, however, there was one name I did: Chuck Palahniuk. I pointed the notice out to my husband telling him it was the guy who wrote Fight Club. “I didn’t know that was a book,” my husband said. Nevertheless, we both agreed that we would do our best to make it to the book signing.

When we got home, I went to go write it on our calendar only to find out that we would be in the US that day for my 10-year high school reunion. Bummer.

As the time for our vacation drew nearer, we found ourselves with a buyer who wanted to move into our apartment by October 1st and no place to live once we’d moved out. We had our eye on a house and, when our bid was accepted, it was cutting it super close to departure day.

At the suggestion of friends and in-laws, we decided to have a technical inspection done on the house before signing a contract. Which meant that contract signing would have to be postponed until the technical report had been done and we’d gotten the results.

The technical report was scheduled at the earliest possible time: seven days before we were supposed to head State-side. Needless to say, we had to push our trip back by a week.

But this meant we could attend the birthday party of one of my husband’s dearest friends. This friend has a thing for books. Doesn’t matter what kind of book it is, he’ll buy it and read it. My kind of guy. So, the obvious place to shop for a birthday gift was a bookstore. And that’s exactly what we did.

We stepped over the threshold into Selexyz and stumbled right into a long line. People were waiting with books in hand for a nerdy guy in glasses standing at the other end of the store. A book signing of some sort. We walked right by and found the perfect book: the book of Genesis in graphic novel form.

On our way to the checkout, I decided to be nosey and see who this writer was. Wouldn’t you know it, we’d ended up at Chuck Palahniuk’s book signing!

My husband and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and grab a Chuck Palahniuk book for Hubs’ friend as well as a copy of Fight Club for ourselves and stand in line.

And that’s how I met Chuck Palahniuk. Not only can I now pronounce his last name, but we finally have a copy of that book we never knew existed with Palahniuk’s chicken scratch on the title page saying:

“Enjoy your fights.”

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