Writing for Pennies: The Dawn of Internet Writing
By Lisa Maliga © 2001-2015
I’ve been an Internet Writer since 2000. I began writing articles for a company named Write for Cash, which bought nonfiction on just about any topic imaginable and paid a one-time fee ranging from ten to twenty bucks. The articles were input into the major search engines and were there for all to see. A byline was optional. Three months later, I was able to view some of the articles I’d written and at the very bottom was my name, along with the keywords I’d supplied in order for it to show up efficiently in the engines. By year’s end, the company posted a ‘closed’ sign on their site: “We have temporarily stopped accepting new proposals and articles so that we can focus on publishing our backlog of articles.” I scrambled to find a new writing opportunity.
Themestream’s web site was brought to my attention. With 1,700 categories, many of my rewritten articles and several unpublished works could be placed on that site. The paltry two cents per click was bargain basement, but maybe if I posted a few, I’d earn something. I didn’t expect to be moving into a mansion or buying a Ferrari, but maybe there was a possibility of getting my work noticed.
Aromatherapy was a popular topic and as the hits grew, I added articles and recipes about bath and body products. Unlike Write for Cash, I was could post short stories and essays. I never lost track of one important factor: it was vanity publishing. This was even more obvious when I finally sold a story to a paying [online] magazine and the editor suggested some revisions. Was I grateful? Yes! On Themestream I rarely received constructive criticism. I’d find ;) and thank you notes on my comments box beneath the article. My ego was routinely massaged with kind words and trite phrases.
In addition to writing, I was also a promoter. The Lisa Maliga Advertising & Publicity Agency was unofficially launched as I surfed message boards, posted free classifieds, contacted friends and relatives, submitted each article to the major search engines, and used my new web site as a veritable linking system to my articles. One of my recipes was continually racking up the numbers and I promoted that one further by using link exchanges with fellow crafters.
The expert Themestream Writers/Promoters wrote about writing more articles, which would increase clicks and revenue. I did, sometimes posting as many as three or four articles per day. Two months later, I had almost 80. Not all were bath and body recipes, although those continued to receive the most reads. There was a problem with my missing paycheck, which I was to have received in early February. I contacted the accounting department, only to be sent a form email. My doubts about the legitimacy of the company in Silicon Valley intensified as I noticed that after midnight the clicks were minimal or nonexistent. As I’d been contacted by people in such diverse locations as Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and South Africa, all places where at midnight Pacific Standard Time it was daytime for them, my nocturnal observations turned to suspicion.
On February 28, 2001, the death knell resounded throughout the Themestream community as a memo from the editors arrived in our mailboxes. It began by complimenting us, but around paragraph five the purpose became clear: “…we are implementing a significant change in how we compensate our contributors. Beginning March 1, 2001, 12:01 a.m. PT, Themestream will only pay for articles that are read by registered users.”
The memo assured the contributors of one thing: look elsewhere to earn money as writers. This affected every contributor. Especially those of us who had tried diligently to promote them utilizing every honest means cyberspace offered. While I didn’t mind surfing message boards in search of a person who needed a new craft idea, there were other things I could be doing with my time. Writing my new novel was one of them, yet it was put aside in order for me to act as an online cheerleader of my works in order to earn money.
I launched into the third part of my writing online adventure. I heard from disgruntled Themestream writers about The Vines Network, which paid up to three cents a click. As the labyrinthine site required lots of mouse movement to read an article, let alone publish one, the various ad banners that popped up informed the viewer/writer that someone was making money. I posted about 20 of my articles, as I owned full rights. I was “posting” not “publishing.” Payment for reading and rating articles, discussions, and creating new vines all guaranteed more income. After a few days, I ventured into my ‘info’ section to check my revenue. The number of page views was impressive – 997! Wow, that was more than most of my articles over on Themestream. The earnings were less than stellar – fifty cents! I decided that no more articles would be posted on vanity sites. Like the article I had sold to a real e-magazine that paid me before it was published, I knew that writing for pennies didn’t mean navigating streams of themes or big bucks advertising vines of confusion – it meant writing for legitimate online and print publications.
I could relate to the late Jim Thompson, author of “The Getaway” and “After Dark, My Sweet” who wrote in his autobiography [“Rough Neck”] “I have many sharp memories of that winter in Oklahoma City. Of writing two novels and selling neither. Of selling 300,000 words of trade-journal material and collecting on less than a tenth of it. Of distributing circulars at ten cents an hour, and digging ditches at nothing per.” That was written during the Depression.
Have things really changed?