Monday, January 5, 2015

6 Dark and Shady Sides to the Publishing Industry

When you’re an online content writer, or short story or book writer, after a few years of experience you’ll come to realize that there are some, how shall we say it, rather shady practices in the publishing industry.

I’m not talking about credit card or identity theft, but about certain practices that can leave a bad taste in the mouth. I won’t get into the vanity publishing industry here, which has been gaining more respect with the advent of e-book publishing. What I’m talking about are some really nefarious practices that you’ll experience when you’re trying to make a buck. Most of these are applicable to writing non-fiction articles or blogs, but some are also applicable to writing short stories and books as well.

I’ll bet Stephen King or Orson Scott Card never had to deal with any of the 6 dark and shady sides to the publishing industry. And, until you hit it big, most likely you’ll come across some of these practices too. We’ll get into the top six that I’ve encountered during my time as an online content writer and short story writer. 

1. Ghostwriting is becoming exceedingly popular. 
In fact, ghostwriters may now comprise the largest portion of online content. When I first started writing for Associated Content back in 2007, I always had my byline. Even when they farmed out my services to other websites, my own name was added as a byline. But with the advent of blogging, usually the person who posts the blog is the one who takes the credit. It even happened to me a few months back, when a client promised to use “by Mel Dawn” in the byline. For months I wondered why they never used my article. Then it “Dawned” on me. I went back and reread all their past blogs. Sure enough, there was my blog on their website, but claimed by a “well-known” writer. Can you believe it? So, chances are that even Stephen King and Orson Scott Card aren’t writing their own stuff either! In fact, I have ghostwritten many short stories for other writers. I even ghost wrote an entire novel! But nope, even if these pieces make it into the mainstream market, I won’t see any further royalties, or credit, though at least I did get a payment for them in the beginning.

2. Online content writers aren’t rich.
In fact, many online content writers are only paid a few dollars for the articles that they write. I’ve seen content websites that only offer $1 per article, and that’s before the site takes their cut, or Paypal takes their fee. I write for a variety of sites and while the ones that pay out $50 for a blog are great, these articles often take hours and hours to write. One famous blog writer told me it took her three days to write an article. You can start to understand how time-consuming the writing craft can be, when you factor in writing an outline, doing the research, writing the actual article, proofreading and editing your own work, adding in sources, footnotes, and references, and then having to format the article and email or upload it to the required address. 

3. Writers rarely get the full price of an article and are lucky if they get 5%.
Most online content writing sites pay writers a portion of the amount they actually receive from the client or customer. Oftentimes, if a writer has only been paid $5 for an article, the middle man is actually getting $50 or $100 for an article that the paying client has ordered. If you can find your own clients to pay you that $100, then great! That’s the goal you’re aiming for anyway.

4. Publishers, websites, and businesses buy Likes, Follows, and Shares.
Occasionally you may be impressed by the number of followers or likes you see on a Facebook page or Twitter account. But often these are purchased under the table. Why do they do it? Because the more followers and likes a page has, the more it’s validated in the eyes of real paying customers. Or, a publisher may take notice of a book that has hundreds of thousands of likes, before deciding to buy the book. It’s an underhanded but still legal way to market your website, book, or publishing company.

5. Corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on articles but never use them.
I’ve written over a thousand articles now, and have yet to even see a small portion of them posted online. Corporations buy up articles in bulk from an online content mill for thousands of dollars. And then, they never use them. We already know how wasteful corporations are, yet when it comes to employees, they cut them from the company, and farm out all the work. Except, it ends up costing them even more to hire a content mill for a $100,000 writing gig, when they could have hired a good writer for an entire year for $40,000. Yes, I’m bitter. 

6. A content writer may get paid several weeks down the road.
I’ve had articles sit in my queue for weeks. Until they’re edited and approved by the client, I don’t get paid. While I constantly ensure that I have jobs in my queue, thus ensuring a steady stream of income, getting paid three months later isn’t exactly an acceptable business practice.

After reading through this you may be wondering to yourself, should I embark on a writing career? Yes you should, because you’ll still get to work from home, and be in charge of more aspects of your working life. Let’s face it, working in an office, retail, food, or factory isn’t so great either. There’s a whole lot of crap that happens in the working world, that we try to brush over when we tell China how great it is to work in North America. But, the truth of the matter is that humans sometimes behave badly in all sorts of working situations. If you’re prepared before going in, you may decide to try a different style of writing, or avoid the crappy paying content mills. In the beginning a business seems fabulous to work for, until you learn all the ins and outs of the trade. 

I wish everyone best wishes in their future writing endeavours, and hopefully you can avoid some of the pitfalls of the publishing and writing industries.