How not to be an aspiring writer

Every so often I have to feature one of these articles where either it’s people trying to tell me how to run my website or people trying to use what I built to advance their careers. This one is the latter, and I’m going to feature two recent e-mails I received. I’m not going to change the names because I suspect they are fake anyway.

Here’s e-mail number one, from Jacob Fowler. He wants to give me six months of pro bono work.

Hi there,

I’m Jacob Fowler – a freelance writer from Sydney. But I am also dealing with an issue I was hoping I could grab your advice on.

See, I’m trying to become a full-time freelance writer. It’s all I want to do with my life.

But here’s the catch…I can’t get work without experience. And I can’t get experience without work!!!!

To break free of this paradox I want to create quality, original and 100% FREE articles for your website.

Why? This way I build a portfolio and move towards my goals. More importantly for you – you get more site visitors, engagement from your audience, and improved Google rankings.

Are you happy to hear my 3 article ideas?

No pressure to say yes. No obligations to accept. Just a chance to hear what I could help you with.

Let me know

Kind regards,

Jacob Fowler

The first e-mail I received from Down Under.

In rereading this, I have an idea: start your own blog.

I have plenty of ideas already, and unfortunately my previous two regular guest columnists didn’t work out in the long run – although I would welcome them back with open arms, they seem to have moved on with life.

I remember back a decade ago when the internet was still sort of a new thing and many thousands, perhaps millions, of bloggers saw what happened to some of the initial pioneers and said, “I’d love to get in on some of that money.” Seeing the vast amount of potential content out there, certain entities began to whisper that, while they couldn’t pay people right away, working for them would “create valuable exposure” when all it did was make someone at the top wealthy – meanwhile, those who began working and managed to scratch out a bit of a living at first saw their paychecks melt away thanks to the competition of “real” outlets who already had paid writers (many of whom were eventually downsized out of a job, too.) It was always an excuse of, “well, our ad revenue didn’t meet expectations, so we have to cut back the pittance you’re already making by reducing the already-microscopic CPM payout.”

Anymore it seems to be all about marketing rather than talent, and Jacob, my friend, you have marketed up the wrong tree. And by the way, you don’t discuss what happens after six months – am I stuck buying six more articles from you at full retail price because I got ten for a penny? (People who grew up pre-1990 will get the reference, I’m sure. But it will go over Jacob’s head.)

Now let me introduce you to Natalie James.

Hi there,

I’m Natalie – a freelance ghostwriter, which means I write articles for businesses to use on their websites.

I’m reaching out to you because I’d like to write for gmail.com. You’re probably thinking, “what’s the catch?”. Well I do get something out of it.

If you let me create free articles for your site you get an SEO boost, more site traffic, and a way for your site visitors to engage with your business and hopefully drive more sales.

In return, I get to build a portfolio that will help me kickstart a full-time writing career.

You won’t need to pay me. And I won’t ever ask for money. Just a chance to do what I love – which is write.

Please shoot me an email if you’re interested in hearing more.

Kind regards,

Natalie James

This was the second e-mail. Notice how they sound similar?

I believe I laughed when I saw the part about writing for gmail.com. Natalie – if, indeed, that is your real name – let me give you free advice: proofreading is your friend.

But let’s look a little deeper into this. If Natalie really is writing articles for businesses to use on their websites, wouldn’t you think she would have pointed out some of them? I’ve applied for and acquired a number of writing jobs over the years and, to a company or website, they have asked me for samples of my work. Free or not, I don’t believe writing for my small-time website that may get 10,000 readers a year is going to do a lot to boost your portfolio.

If you really get something out of writing for free, I’m going to give you the same advice I gave Jacob: start a blog. I believe Blogspot is still around; or you can work through WordPress.com.

This site is a labor of love for me, and as such it’s not something that pays the bills. A rattle of the tip jar happens about as frequently as an earthquake around here, which is why my PayPal account is dry as a bone. (That and I stopped doing record reviews and actively seeking ads.)

Natalie told me this would be a win-win, and perhaps it was: she got a little free advice and I got some content that hopefully held the reader’s interest for a little over 900 words, my part being about 650 of them. I wish both her and Jacob luck, because they’re going to need it.

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