The 30 Day Marketing Boot Camp for Freelance Writers

Break Studios—Here We Go Again

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on February 26, 2010 in Freelance Writing Business, Freelance Writing Jobs
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In this series, we personally test traditional online freelance marketplaces to share first-hand experiences and honest assessments of marketplaces and resulting jobs, as many freelance writers turn to these outlets to find writing gigs. You can read all the posts in the series here.

When I was eight, I frequently wore a single, sequined glove and I took break dancing lessons. I was in love with Michael Jackson, wore my hair in a side pony tail and used to make my neighbor hold up a flashlight and point it at me while I danced in the street on my own, imaginary episode of American Bandstand.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m getting old, that’s why. And old people like me enjoy telling the same boring stories about their youth over and over and… well, you get the drift. The thing is, if the following content mill blog post sounds the same as all the others, it is not because I’m getting old, it is because, so far, a content mill is a content mill is a content mill... sort of.

The Story

This week I worked with the relatively new content mill, Break Studios. I was actually excited to write for this mill because this is what they are looking for:

“Highly trafficked Break Studios is looking for freelance writers for our community of highly popular and humorous websites, including Break.com, MadeMan, Holy Taco, Cage Potato, Screen Junkies, and Chickipedia.”

So, alright, they need a little personality, eh? A little ho-ho-ho on their ha-ha-ha? Great, I’m in.

The Deal


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Applying to Break Studios is easy. You send a resume and some samples, they approve you, and you fill your queue with 10 titles. They have How To articles, 10 Best articles, and Strategy articles. Some of the titles are misogynistic and others racy and some require an advanced familiarity with porn—but hey, at least they are trying a new content mill model.
You write your articles, editors review them, they get approved then you get paid. Right now there is no steady pay date, you simply get paid one random day each month.

The Pay

The pay is where it falls apart for every content mill, and Break Studios is no exception. In fact, the pay for this content mill is low enough that they might want to change their name to Break Neck Studios because writers will need to work at a break neck speed in order to make any serious dough—and with as slow as their editors are (we’re talking at least 5 days for article approval) your queue is unable to accept more titles for many a day after you finish writing the ones you’ve got.

Oh, right, the pay. $8. $8 for a 250-700 word article. It's... well... yeah... it's not very much.

What I Made

I wrote five 300-word articles in an hour. So I made $40 in an hour. Once again, I used my SlimTimer to time myself and that time does include the time it took me to select the titles.

Final Verdict

I don’t have to tell you that I am not a fan of content mill for full time freelancers. And while I'm sure many folks will say, "But $40 an hour is awesome" it really isn't. $40 an hour is a tough full time income to live on once you factor in taxes, social security, retirement savings, business expenses (yes, even freelancers have those), sick and vacation time.

But you know what? If you needed a part time gig or a little extra shopping money, spending 2 hours writing with Break Studios is not such a terrible thing.

There is a very specific reason that I am saying this. Break Studios wants personality. They do not want you rehashing a Wiki article and then citing it in the references—they want you---your experience, your knowledge, your voice. The editors do not have a Napoleon complex, and they don’t have ridiculous editorial guidelines and thought police. And, most importantly, I actually had fun writing the articles I selected (and no, they were not about porn) which is a lot more than I can say for some of the other content mills.

*Important note: You must use some variation of your real name when writing for Break Studios. That means, if you choose to write about their racier topics, it could have a negative impact on those Google searches potential employers and editors do. Just sayin'.

 

UPDATE: Break Studios contacted me to let me know that they have always allowed authors to use pen names--so either I hallucinated that information or I misread it. Also, they now pay biweekly.

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Yo Prinzel
Yolander Prinzel is the profit monster behind the Profitable Freelancer website. She has written for a number of publications and websites such as American Express, Covestor.com, Advisor Today, Money Smart Radio and the International Travel Insurance Journal (ITIJ). Her book, Specialty Ghostwriting: A New Way to Look at an Old Career, is currently available on Amazon.

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The 30 Day Marketing Boot Camp for Freelance Writers

Yo Prinzel

37 Comments

  1. Jennifer Mattern February 26, 2010 Reply

    A content mill wanting personality? *gasp*

    As usual, it sounds like something a hobby writer might have fun with, but not something for a professional looking to make a serious career of it.

  2. Star February 26, 2010 Reply

    They would have to have a you-know-what-load of “hip” to make eight bucks look good.

  3. Carson Brackney February 26, 2010 Reply

    Yo-

    I think you’re right about this one. The upside is the fact that they actually seem to want people to have a little fun with the work. From what I’ve heard of the topics, there’s a chance that some people might have hobbies and interests that line up with the topic choices.

    There’s one thing I’d like to know before I made a “not such a terrible thing” recommendation like yours–are you forced to write under your own name?

    I grabbed an account in hopes of giving it a test run like you, but I didn’t see an immediate way to set up a pen name. I haven’t been back yet to poke around, though. Do you know?

  4. Yo Prinzel Author
    Yo Prinzel February 26, 2010 Reply

    @Jenn, exactly–hobby writers will love it.

    @Star, yes, I do-know-what.

    @Carson their site says they want your real name because they want to know _you_ and work with _you_ so no pen names. Initially I was disturbed by this (you can still use a first initial, last name deal) but then I thought it was a good thing. Unlike Ehow where you can read an article about the causes of anal bleeding by TooMuchTrouble69, the Break Studios sites give you more professional names with “Top 10 Girl on Girl Scenes of ’94” so you can really feel secure about the information you are getting.

  5. Carson Brackney February 26, 2010 Reply

    Thanks for forcing me to clean my monitor. The spray of Folgers resulting from your comment was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    That set up is hard to believe. I can’t imagine that Bobby Ray Witherschmidt or his potential employer will be thrilled to find “Top 10 Girl/Girl Scenes of ’94” upon Googling his name.

    Even hobby writers need to watch out for their names. Racy content aside, the anti-pen name policy seems wrong for this kind of project.

  6. Yo Prinzel Author
    Yo Prinzel February 26, 2010 Reply

    You know, I just assumed people would know better than to risk their names like that… but you are right. I’m gonna edit the post to make sure this is included.

    Now, back to my porn… er… research this morning.

    • Jennifer Mattern February 26, 2010 Reply

      The pen name issue kind of reminds me of DigitalPoint when someone posts something incredibly stupid with their name (or company name) attached, and then they’re oh-so-shocked when they discover “oh my god! This site gets indexed in Google? I had no idea!” Then we get the begging and pleading to remove it because it’s outranking their own site. We refuse (don’t delete unless it violates our rules). And then they proceed to do something even stupider b/c lessons are just too hard to learn.

  7. Lorraine February 26, 2010 Reply

    Yes, forty dollars an hour is squat for an experienced copywriter.

    But I must tell you, I’m impressed that you churned out FIVE 300-word articles in an hour. I couldn’t write half that many first drafts–let along polished pieces–in that amount of time.

    Guess you chose articles that required no research and–what else?! Spill your speed-writing secrets!

  8. Sue Jeffels February 26, 2010 Reply

    Racy, hmm, probably just as well that it’s another site that doesn’t accept UK writers.

  9. Yo Prinzel Author
    Yo Prinzel February 26, 2010 Reply

    Great question Lorraine–all the articles I chose were budgeting articles–a topic I could write on in my sleep. Also, because the pay was so low I did not actually outline, write, let it set overnight and then edit. Instead, I did it “Writing Down the Bones” style. Went back, corrected errors and then submitted. As soon as they are published, I’ll give you a link so you can see them :)

    In my opinion, the content mill model only comes close to working when you have an expertise in something and that’s what you write about. There is no time to research, learn, and develop. You simply have to write what you already know. In addition, it is different than client work because you aren’t analyzing who the reader will be and working to develop something for that target group. It is completely different from individual client work and the two should not be compared.

  10. Wolfster February 26, 2010 Reply

    Okay, I’m going to have to admit if I do a google search and the material that comes back to me is from an content mill I usually skip it and move on but now I am really curious (I guess I am also impressed by ~1500 or more words in an hour).

    So to pull this off the average person does no research, is not citing a reference, and is just pulling info from whatever is in his or her head?

    I guess the reason that I am surprised by this is: who would buy or pay for this? Even most experts in their field cite other references. Makes me wonder how content mills can survive – I’m going to assume other content mills have a similar model.

  11. Yo Prinzel Author
    Yo Prinzel February 26, 2010 Reply

    @Wolfster well, yes. You have to actually KNOW the subject you are writing about. Keep in mind, I’ve been in the financial industry for 10 years–I don’t need to do research to write about puts and calls, insurance, bids and asks, spreads, margins, etc. Budgeting ideas can be ultra simple, unless you want to spend time being innovative which, for an $8 content mill article done to research this blog post, I did not.

    And no, most experts in their field do NOT cite other references unless they are citing a study that has been completed or quoting something specific. To be an expert you must know your subject and be an authority, not someone who needs to research the topic to understand it. When the topic is something that you are intimately familiar with, know inside and out, people are looking to YOU to be the resource–they don’t want you to cite other resources. Consider a PR expert. If you hire that expert to write a press release for you, he or she should not need to go research how to do that–they should know because they are an expert. If they then write an article telling other people how to do it, they are still not going to research it–because they’ve spent decades honing their craft and they *know* it already.

  12. Carol Tice February 26, 2010 Reply

    Reading this made me want to get out my Toot-a-Loop radio, lie down on my parents’ dichondra lawn and just relax…guess you get the picture…you’re not the only one who’s not 18 anymore!

    Carol Tice
    Make a Living Writing blog: 21 Ways to Market Your Writing: The Social Media Edition

  13. LaToya Irby February 26, 2010 Reply

    On citing references: I can do a basic article within my niche in about 5 to 15 minutes with no research required. I don’t need to research because I already know what I’m talking about. I also know how to quickly (and I mean within seconds) find sources for any content mill that requires you to cite references because I’ve done plenty research over the years. That and the fact that I’m great at web searches.

    I actually question whether I can quickly pull references when I choose a topic. It’s like if I had to write about disputing credit card charges, I know that came from the Fair Credit Billing Act and I can just go copy and paste the link to the law from Google real quick. Citing references shouldn’t slow you down if you’re writing on what you know. But like Yo pointed out, if you’re hired on the basis of your expertise, then you are the source.

  14. Yo Prinzel Author
    Yo Prinzel February 26, 2010 Reply

    @Carol… *sigh*

    @LaToya Exactly.

  15. Carson Brackney March 4, 2010 Reply

    For what it’s worth… Got an email from Break Studios today. They are allowing pseudonyms. I didn’t notice the option when I first logged in and you didn’t seem to think that was an option, so maybe it’s a new development.

  16. Mr.Choice March 5, 2010 Reply

    The site looks awesome at the moment. I think Break Studios will become a perfect website for novice freelancers.

  17. Yo Prinzel Author
    Yo Prinzel March 5, 2010 Reply

    That is good to know Carson.

  18. Biju March 17, 2010 Reply

    I totally don’t get this. $40/hour is great, what are guys doing, buying BMW’s every other week!? If you can maintain it for a full time job (I’m not saying you can) that’s $70,000!!! Yes, yes, factor in taxes, factor in insurance, factor in anything you want. If you can’t live off 70 gran a year, then you’re in the wrong industry. Are there better jobs out there? Absolutely. But as a start, that’s an amazing opportunity, even if you can’t maintain it for 8 hours a day. And hey, worst comes to worst, you got a gig writing at $40/hour on your own time, wherever you want in the world (with internet), with no boss, and no mandatory cubicle time. I don’t understand why people are so down on content “mills”, which is why I wrote a more robust piece entitled “In Defense of Content Writing ‘Mills'” http://www.thelonewriter.com/?p=25

    • Jennifer Mattern March 17, 2010 Reply

      As for mills, I suggest doing some further research and reading. Your misconceptions about the rate and sustainability issues are common ones, and the other arguments are more than adequately covered here and elsewhere (often from experienced freelancers who have been there, gone through it, bought into the “greatness” of mills at one point or another, and learned from it after moving on to much bigger and better things). I doubt many of us have the time or ambition to keep having the same conversation over and over again. It’s all out there.

      But hell. Why not? Here we go again. Just to give you a very quick summary: $40 per hour freelancing is far from the same thing as $40 per hour as a normal job, you’re neglecting the long-term image and reputation issues if you later want to grow your career, content mills have proved unreliable time and time again, no one should put too many of their eggs into one basket, and maintaining the breakneck speed needed to churn out content constantly is not sustainable for most people. Here we write for writers who are serious about building long-term freelance writing careers — not those looking to fill the gaps necessarily (in which case, as we’ve repeatedly said, mills might just be fine and dandy for a writer who needs a temporary fix or who really can’t find better). And by the way you’re acting like things like insurance, self-employment taxes, business expenses, etc. are not that big of a deal, I can only assume you haven’t crunched the numbers. Try it. They’re a huge deal.

  19. Biju March 17, 2010 Reply

    Jennifer,
    I am merely responding to the argument in the original article by replying that $40/hour isn’t anything to laugh at. I admitted that sustainability is an issue in my original comment, but that isn’t what was being discussed in the original post. What was stated was simply that a $40/per hour rate was bad, or that people are unable to live off it.

    Nor am I saying that content sites are “great” – I admit that there are problems with them, but it isn’t all bad. I think that people definitely get stuck at crunching out sub par work at content mills, when they could work on bigger and better things. My point is that it’s a good stepping stone for beginners, and especially for someone like me, who started out churning out SEO articles at 1 cent/word.

    As for not crunching the numbers, I’m living the numbers. I pay quarterly taxes, insurance, and rent, and have plenty to live off of, and although I am trying to go after bigger ventures, right now I live off content writing. And I know for a fact that there are others like me doing the same thing. When the alternative is spending 8 hours in a cubicle and being too exhausted to write, I’d pick the content writing venue as a better opportunity. Not the best. But much better.

    As for the link at the end of my previous post, I thought I made it clear, it is piece I’ve written about content writing mills, the pros and the cons, but one I think is a little more balanced than most sites, which seem to portray them in more of a negative light.

    • Tara M. Clapper May 27, 2010 Reply

      I agree with your comments regarding a livable wage. I make at least as much working for myself as I did in multiple previous positions in publishing–including one managerial job. I see this as a way to do what I want in my field without limits on my income–unlike the industry at large, which has been closing up shop in Philadelphia for years.

      If you think that $40/hour is low, I suggest researching demographics in different areas of the country. I believe that’s usually well above average.

      I also agree that sustainability is a major problem with content mills. My strategy (when I need to write for them instead of small business clients) involves rotating to prevent boredom and frustration.

      • Jennifer Mattern May 28, 2010 Reply

        The issue has nothing to do with employment demographics. The issue is that $40 per hour freelancing is nothing like $40 per hour as an employee (what those statistics are based on). And $40 per hour freelancing is indeed very, very low especially in the professional spectrum.

        We covered this in much more detail in the recent post on Demand Studios with a specific example. As it turns out, just the base freelance rate for a journalist had to be 56% more than the base hourly rate for a salaried / employee journalist to actually be considered an equal earning level — meaning in that example you’d have to actually earn $62.40 per hour freelancing to earn the equivalent of $40 per hour in an average job in the industry. And that still doesn’t account for the increased taxes, any business expenses, etc. that come out before you even get to actual incomes. We’ve gone through the numbers time and time again, and it’s always the same. No matter how low people think the costs are, they add up much quicker than they think. And what sounds like a good freelance rate on the surface almost never is.

  20. GlobeTales March 20, 2010 Reply

    Sounds like a more interesting sort of gig from the usual how-to article content sites. I was planning on applying, but it doesn’t look like Canadian writers are accepted. No love for us northerners…

  21. CeeCee Queen April 5, 2010 Reply

    I have to say that maybe where you live $40 an hour isn’t much, but where I live, it’s pretty damned good. I don’t see myself knocking out 5 articles an hour for Break Studios, but seriously, 3 would be fine with me. I guess you all much have big lifestyles, because I can live fine working 40 hours a week at $20 an hour, even with taxes. I don’t have insurance, true, but there are a lot of people working for close to minimum wage with no insurance, so I’m just one of many. Still, I used to work for $10 an hour, so at $20, I could probably buy my own insurance.

    You know, it’s great that you are all professional copywriters, so please stick to that and leave those of us who are happy with what we do alone. Yes, my reputation is important to me, but not important enough for me to not be able to pay my bills. Yes, I write under a pseudonym for content mills, and use my real name only for what I consider a legitimate site.

    In this economy, maybe YOU can afford to turn down jobs that only pay $40 an hour, but I can’t, so get down off your high horse and leave those of us you consider beneath you alone.

    Instead of putting down the site, why don’t you tout it as a great site for someone just getting started to hone their skills? This constant negativity is killing our industry, and this country.

    My grandmother used to say that anyone who put you down for doing an honest day’s work was someone who would let himself starve rather than admit he was wrong. I think you and most of the people who commented here are in that category.

    • Jennifer Mattern April 5, 2010 Reply

      CeeCee, you’re entitled to your opinion. At the same time, you very clearly do not represent the target audience of this blog — writers looking to build or expand serious freelance careers. And that’s fine. There are many other blogs out there, and I’m sure plenty would suit your needs just fine. We aren’t here to coddle however, or to tell any writer that “good enough” is something to strive for. If a writer can’t afford basics like health insurance, then they have a long way to go. I would argue that a salary doesn’t even touch that “good enough” level until it covers those basics and gives the writer at least something extra to start putting towards retirement.

      Making excuses for why they’re not doing better rather than putting in the time and effort to actually do better is how so many get stuck in the ruts they’re in. And unlike you, they do want to get out and do bigger and better things. That’s what we’re here to help them do. We are not here to make sure everyone feels warm and fuzzy, and our primary goal is not to make sure we never hurt your feelings. For every writer like you, there’s another who comes to us thanking us for the kick in the pants. I’m sorry you disapprove, but that’s what’s so great about the blogosphere. If one blog doesn’t suit you, there are always others. I do hope you find one (or many!) that you can enjoy more.

    • Jennifer Mattern April 5, 2010 Reply

      Oh, and just for the record I’ve never had a problem admitting I was wrong. I’ve done it here. I’ve done it on much harsher platforms than this. I know for a fact that the author has too. But the fact that you have a differing opinion doesn’t make mine (or the author’s or any of the other commenters’) “wrong.” In fact, several people here have also talked about situations where mill work might be just fine and dandy for a writer. That’s why it’s a good idea to get all the facts before jumping to conclusions.

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel April 5, 2010 Reply

      Somehow you read this post and felt I was putting you down. Huh, that is interesting.

      I talk about the content mill model and why I don’t like it. Nowhere do I say anything about people who choose to work that model. I think you might be reading a little too much into this. You do what you need to–if you read my entire series you’ll find that I say that a lot. I’ve even mentioned a few times that if my kitties were starving or we couldn’t afford my hubby’s medication, there isn’t much I would say “no” to work-wise. Don’t automatically go on the defensive if people write something negative about a place you decide to work for–it really isn’t about you.

    • Yo Prinzel Author
      Yo Prinzel April 5, 2010 Reply

      Also, and this IS me taking your comment personally, you may want to rethink your assertion that to be unable to afford to live on a gross income of $40 an hour one must have a “big lifestyle.” I am the sole wage earner in my home, I own a home with a very small mortgage (my mortgage is less than most people’s rent and I’ve lived here for a decade). I drive old, paid off cars and don’t have any loans other than the mortgage. Our “big lifestyle” involves me scrambling to pay for insurance to keep my husband alive and the kitties fed. Woooooooo big lifestyle there, huh?

      And as far as leaving you alone–I didn’t come to your house and poo on your posts, you came to mine. Well… you came to Jenn’s house but I stay here, so it’s my house too ;)

      • Jennifer Mattern April 5, 2010 Reply

        LOL I like to think of you more as a squatter Yo.

        • Yo Prinzel Author
          Yo Prinzel April 5, 2010 Reply

          Either way… squatter’s rights!

  22. Le Doofus April 22, 2010 Reply

    Break Studios, like Associated Content, is a nice little backup place where writers can pick a cheesy pen name and write cheesy, mindless articles for a little cash. I have a couple of big paying clients whom I have wrote for for a couple years now, and they make up the brunt of my moolah, but sometimes there’s a pause between articles, and for those rare times, it is also nice to have these little backups.

    I also like being able to wake up one day, decide that I want to blow $100 on things I want but don’t need, and I can peck out some of these articles to help offset the costs.

    And no, Break Studios wouldn’t let me make my pen name ‘Le Doofus’, but I tried :D

  23. Dahloan October 28, 2010 Reply

    What kinidof money have you guys made in the past? I’m a laid off school teacher who made 25 dollars an hour. The writer here says he made 40 an hour? Welcome to lousy pay? Do you know most people work for less than 20 an hour? Geez, if I could work three hours a day and make 120, that would be about equal to what I make teaching school, minus taxes, gas, and lunch. Think about it, working 35 horus a week teaching, plus the 10 commuthing, plus the 10 doing lesson plans and paperwork at home, for 55 hours a week. Or 15 hours a week at home for what I make teaching? I was just accepted for Break Studios. I’m happy to be with them. :)

    • Jennifer Mattern October 28, 2010 Reply

      Dahloan, before you get too excited, take some time to learn more about freelance rates. That $20 per hour isn’t much better than minimum wage in the employer / employee game. You’re comparing freelance rates with rates from a salaried job — two things that are not even close to being directly comparable. Search for our articles on freelance writing rates here, or other sources if you prefer. Get to know the concept of working vs billable hours, employee salary vs cost, and freelance expenses and taxes (which add up to quite a bit more than many people think). The second is the most important. Or use the freelance writing rate calculator we offer in our freebies section (linked at the top of this page) to find out what bare minimum rates you personally really need to charge. If you can do it on $20 or less per hour freelancing, then by all means go for it (if you’re happy earning around your minimum rather than building a career in a better market — that’s your choice).

      • Dahloan November 5, 2010 Reply

        Oh by all means, i want to make more writing, but I have only been at this game for a little over three years. If there are other places I can earn over 20 an hour by all means, let me know. Also, I think it is rude to be a writer for a site, and complain. They could be a no pay, just ad site. I think you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinager as the phrase goes.
        Dahloan :)

        • Jennifer Mattern November 7, 2010 Reply

          If you’re happy with it, don’t complain. If you’re unhappy about it you have every right to speak up if you feel taken advantage of. And when you’re talking to other writers about career opportunities, it then also becomes your responsibility to let them know about those issues so they can make educated decisions. If it’s all “honey,” no one knows what they’re getting into. Every option has upsides and downsides.

          As for writing for 3 years, that’s far more than enough time to be earning more than $20 per hour (which when freelancing is actually much less than $20 per hour as an employee — the way people tend to think about and evaluate rates). As for the where, take some time to do the research. For years we’ve taught writers how to earn far more than that. So have many of our colleagues elsewhere. Peter Bowerman is just one of many resources you should take advantage of. Visit his blog, read his book, get his e-books, etc. — (WellFedWriter.com). Anyone who honestly wants to earn more and who is willing to work for it can figure out how to do it. It’s hardly a mystery with all of the information available.

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