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The Worst Way in History to Make Money from Writing Is Getting Paid Directly for Words

by | Apr 15, 2024 | Writing

Writers are the new Uber drivers.

Uber made driving taxis slave labor. The average Uber driver now makes less than minimum wage. When Uber first launched, a family member of mine made $100K+. Then Uber cut their pay without warning.

They had no say.

They had borrowed money to buy the car needed to meet Uber’s criteria. And they ended up losing big money and being replaced by cheaper overseas workers.

Now social media companies are making writers modern-day Uber slaves.

Newsbreak, Vocal, Quora, etc. They gobble up our content for free, then spit back peanuts in our faces and go, “There you go, ya pack of scum.”

Maybe this doesn’t alarm you if you write online. But it should.

The most popular way writers earn money

This screenshot I took from a popular writer on X tells the story better than I ever could.

Image Credit-Ayotheauthor via X

Most writers get paid by the word. If they’re not already making money from writing, their #1 goal is to get paid by the word.

Call the Donald Duck president. We have an emergency! See what I mean? Writers want the easy life. They want to get paid by the word like writers used to. I can sympathize with that.

But the world has changed. Getting paid for writing is now the lowest paid job there is and the annual value is plummeting.

The hidden dilemma of being paid by the word

A story from a writer I met explains the problem from another angle.

Hannah emailed me. She’s a dietitian, diabetes educator, and lactation consultant. During 2020 she got forced into lockdown. She thought her practice would go bankrupt.

She decided she liked writing more than seeing patients, anyway. She said business-to-consumer content paid her 30c to $1 a word. B2B medical content paid closer to $1 or more a word.

She thought she hit the jackpot.

So she began writing hard every day. She relied on middlemen to pay her for her words.

As they got more submissions from other writers, they started to slowly lower the pay and make her jump through more circus hoops.

In the end, she was making half the money and it took twice as long to write articles that would meet the elitist gatekeeper’s standards.

Elitist Mantra: “You want access to our audience, then do what we say and don’t dare try and ask for more money or think you matter. You’re disposable.”

That’s not the worst part though. She says the biggest lesson was:

“Writing content isn’t scalable, so my income is limited by my time.”

Getting paid per word is a hamster wheel with middlemen controlling the speed you must run. It’s modern slavery.

It’s about to get worse. There’s a better way.

The problem of getting paid by the word gets worse when you factor in the rise of AI-generated content.

The internet is now flooded with writing. Content platforms have a firehose of content and none of us can consume it all. And platforms can’t figure out what’s quality and is helpful, and what’s total crap.

As the AI revolution continues to explode, the amount of writing in existence is going to be overwhelming. You may be a better writer than Jane Austin, but trying to cut through all the garbage will be near impossible.

So if writing is your only solution to make money, well, I hate to say it, but you’ll be screwed harder than a male stud horse used for breeding.

The uncommon solution to getting paid as a writer

Let’s transcend from darkness to a place more happy than heaven.

Getting paid by the word is the dumbest strategy in the world. The online writers I’ve engaged with — Dan Koe, Justin Welsh, Sinem Gunel, Zulie Rane — do one thing differently:

They become a business.

That means the writing is a vehicle to help you gain attention and find customers for a business. It means your free content helps you solve a problem people are willing to pay for (a far more honest business model).

There’s one other subtle difference between get-paid-by-the-word writers and successful writers:

They think like a business owner instead of an employee.

Employees think “I worked hard and spent 5 hours so pay me for my time.” They’re entitled and want to get paid for showing up or having X years of experience or degree.

Business owners think “I created X amount of value and can get paid for a percentage of it through products and services.”

Bottom line: If you want to get paid as a writer, make money from everything outside of the writing itself.

Writing is a gateaway drug.

It gets attention. What you do with that attention determines whether you eat delicious roast dinners, or become another starving artist who screams life ain’t fair into the Tw1tter black hole while crunching on more Xanax.

Writers are now businesses.

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