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Naomi Asked How to Get Paid for Writing on the Internet

Naomi sent me a message. She asked:

“What I would like to know, is when you are trying to get a paid gig online, how do you find out if it is legitimate? And if they refuse to pay you at some point, what can be done about that. Most of us cannot afford a literary lawyer, since they are so expensive.”

Her question is a real problem for writers whether or not they write for an online site or for a traditional print source. I’ve had a good deal of personal experience with the latter. I was a freelance writer for a Midwestern newspaper for nearly two decades. I was paid by the article and any accompanying photographs, and retained the copyright once the work was published. It was difficult for other news sources to copy my photographs because newspaper pictures are very grainy when copied. As for text, if another source used parts of my work there was either an attribution given to me or the newspaper where my work had been published. Things became more complicated when newspapers began to publish their content online.

Back in 2006, maybe even earlier, I received a message about a class action lawsuit that pertained to writers whose work was published on the Internet. Once a work is published online there seems to be a Wild West mindset where everything on the ‘Net is thought to be fair game for use rather than plagiarism. The suit aimed at seeking restitution for writers whose work had been used without compensation.

The suit has yet to be finalized. An issue pertaining to the suit went before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was argued in October 2009.  Early in 2010, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Second Circuit on a jurisdictional issue and sent the case back to the Second Circuit for further proceedings, which is where the case is pending at this time.

Even if the court were to eventually rule that writers should be compensated in full by anyone who uses their work, the enforcement of this finding would be very difficult, lengthy and costly to enforce. So what’s a writer to do?

Here’s what I told Naomi:

It’s my experience that there is little you can do to force anyone to pay you, give credit for your work, etc. A writer has every right to be compensated for their work, but achieving this isn’t a given. Finding a source that will pay is no different than purchasing an item on the Internet, the writer needs to research the site to determine if it is legitimate.

If a writer decides to contact a social media professional for assistance in learning how to effectively use the ‘Net to sell their literary product, one of the first things you’ll be told is to build a relationship with your intended audience. The bottom line to this advice is that you’ll have to give away content. That’s basically what a blog does. It’s free content. I know of no statistics with any numbers, research-based or speculative, on how many writers become successful and earn serious money by publishing content on the Internet. I have seen a variety of models such as subscription blogs and ebooks for ways to capitalize on online writing but, here again, I have seen no comparative numbers to assess what works, if anything works.

In my previous post I shared the story of one woman who has made a success using the ‘Net with ebooks.  She basically gave away her books in the beginning.

Learning to use the ‘Net successfully involves a steep learning curve; and, at least for me, a good deal of frustration. It took 90 days to learn the basics, 90 more days to see glimmers of results. The results are mostly contacts, not financial reward.

In her message, Naomi mentioned that she is her own agent, PR source, secretary, personal assistant, etc. I told her that was my job description too. Filling all these positions leaves me little time to write, but I’m a lot less frustrated and negative about the experience then when I started (read the full blog to see my growth). Soon I hope to have some exciting news regarding my own positive progress.

I encouraged Naomi to stick with the Internet. (I imagine Mentor Mama will shed a tear when she reads this.) I also suggested Naomi keep her day job, because money and recognition aren’t going to come overnight. Even if she was to achieve a viral success the ‘Net is fickle. Success is likely to be ephemeral. For most of us, the recipe for success is to keep at it, be resourceful and creative.

The first measure of success is that someone is reading your work. You know this when someone leaves you a comment. The next measure of success is when a writer is asked to provide content. I’m talking about a guest blog post. No money is involved. Eventually, if Naomi builds enough connections, a big enough audience, and a resume of posts online, then she’ll have evidence that she has a following, an audience, and can use this as a resume to get paid for her work by legitimate sources.

To read my other blog where I write stories about extraordinary women go to Living in the Heartland.

Read my book on how three women overcame life’s challenges on the way to success: Living in the Heartland: Three Extraordinary Women’s Stories on Amazon.com.

Click Living in the Heartland video preview.

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