When writing doesn’t pay the bills


A few months ago, a high school girl told me she wanted to become a journalist when she got older and wanted my advice.

“Don’t,” I said, and immediately laughed.

I did give her some honest advice: get a great education. Intern. Get lots of experience. Learn the industry.

Also, be prepared to work a second job; journalism is undergoing a shaky transition from print to online, and many jobs do not pay well. (Try to freelance, and you will see exactly what I mean). And if you ever get married, I told her, make sure your husband makes a good living.

Even if you don’t work in journalism or have a paid writing job, you can still blog. And journal. And write down your thoughts on whatever issues tickle your fancy. Maybe you won’t be published today, this week or this year, but perhaps someday that can happen.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

The joys of freelance writing

A friend referred me to a freelance writing website. One assignment already helped me in part to get my brakes repaired.

Still, there are growing pains.

I have learned that even when you lower your bid to about half of what the person lists as their maximum amount, they may still decline your bid as too high. Perhaps it’s in how the bid is worded, or perhaps the person doesn’t grasp that when it comes to professional writing, they will get what they pay for.

Here’s an example: I just paid $205 to have my brakes replaced (calipers, rotors, brake pads). I had been leaking brake fluid, which is a sign that the brakes need to be replaced NOW. I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d told the mechanic I’d be willing to pay him $20 for the job? My guess is he would’ve looked at me, blankly, waiting for the punchline. And when it didn’t arrive, explain to me that if I want to pay $20 for the job, then I should trust the job to someone who has no idea what they’re doing.

So, you press on and keep bidding.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com. Contact Richard if you need freelance writing work done.

What I’m up to as a writer (besides 5’8″)

Actually, I’m probably around 5’7.5″. I was measured as short as 5’6.75″ in the Army and as tall as 5’9″. The last time I was the doctor’s office they measured me at 5’8″.

To quote that great dimunitive major league baseball player John Cangelosi, “It sounds taller”.

When I was a lad, John Cangelosi reminded me of the dimunitive British pop star Leo Sayer. (Don’t ask).

Back to the ranch…

Saturday, I will meet with at least one potential freelance writing client. It would be a quid-pro-quo instead of a financial agreement, which would still work well. Once I have more details I will share them with you.

I plan to resume work soon on my novel Randy and Rhonda. These days, it seems far more autobiographical than ever. Sorry, but I would rather not share details yet of what it’s about. I think I have a great idea and would like to keep it classified for the moment. I did, though, send the first few chapters to a college friend.

Richard Zowie is a professional writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Deciding whether to terminate a ‘free’ client

I recently blogged about this topic, so I’ll try to keep this “revisit” brief.

My wife and executive editor, Jennifer, is a firm believer in my writing career. One thing, however, she has very strongly encouraged me to do is limit the number of “free” clients I have.

In my career, I’ve written for free for several publications. My column, From A to Zowie (originally titled My Two Cents and then Richard’s Ramblings), has appeared for free in the Beeville Bee-Picayune since 2001. My Christian issues column, Richard’s Two Shekels (originally My Two Shekels) has appeared for free in the San Antonio Christian Beacon, Saworship.com and the Olive Branch Press. I’ve also blogged for free or for next to nothing at several locations.

There is one client, whom I will not name, that I am about to end my relationship with. It’s been one where my name and my blog–when I do blog–get posted on the website of one of a daily metro newspaper. The publisher of the blog talks frequently about, sure, he can’t pay bloggers any money, but bloggers who write without charge will get offered paying writing assignments from interested clients who read their postings.

In the year I’ve written postings for this client, you know how many paid assignments I’ve been offered?


I’m not the best writer out there, but I think I’m a darned good one. On many occasions my writing has resulted in freelance checks that have paid for rent, electric bills, propane, auto repairs and groceries.

What also disgusts me about the website is that it’s supposed to be geared toward a certain genre of writing, but more often than not the blog postings that generate the most attention are the ones that focus on sex: the prettiest women in this region, the nicest breasts in this region, and so on.


It’s as annoying as the auto magazines that show on their covers near-nude double-D-cup women with erection-inducing bikinis and five-inch high heels.

So, I am starting to believe it is no longer in my best interest to keep blogging for this client.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Distancing myself from ‘free’ freelance writing work

For about a year I had been blogging at a sports website. That is coming to an end. The blogging pays nothing. Yes, it’s nice to sometimes hear from readers and receive kudos, but at this stage in my writing career I am narrowing things down to where I write for free only in certain circumstances. That blog was just too much time for no pay. The same goes for another blogging assignment that would take me an hour to write and to format and load–for $2.

Steve, a colleague and friend who writes for a famous magazine and wrote a book about Tiger Woods, once told me to avoid potential clients who say, “We can’t afford to pay you, but what we can do is give you a byline on our website.” I might add that, professionally, you should respond with: “Um, HE-LLO, McFly! [Knock on their noggin] Anybody home? Of course you will publish my name on writing work. But if you want me to take time out of my life to work for you, I expect to get paid.”

Conversely, I wonder what my landlord, internet provider, electric company, cell phone company and other monthly bills would say if I told them instead of paying my bill, I’d blog about them and make sure their name got out on the internet. Somehow, I think they’d threaten to cut off my services after laughing themselves silly.

A few years ago, I had a Christian information website called the Alpha Omega Chronicle (I say that name freely because if I ever do the site again, it’ll be under a different name). Every few weeks I’d pose a question and solicit responses from various Christians. I had people writing opinions on issues for me but I began to grow very convicted about not having the money to pay them for their services. I’ve come to this conclusion: if I ever re-launch the website, I will pay each person a fee for their opinion. No free writing. Likewise, I recommend to others who want to start a website requiring the services of writers and other professionals: don’t do so until you can afford to pay them.

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Waiting on one potential client, passed on two others

The one pays modestly, and that’s being polite. If the articles can indeed be written in 15 minutes and if enough are given on a regular basis, it could work.

I passed on the two others for different reasons: one pays glorified slave wages (such as about 50 cents for a 500-word article, which would only ). The other turned out to be for an adult site.

Some potential clients require strange formats

One was a King James Bible website (I prefer the King James but know of wonderful people who use other versions) and another is a site where you use keywords and write detailed articles. The Bible site wanted trivia questions written in an Excel document while the other client wants files written in an .rtf document. Others insist on .pdf.

Perhaps I’m stuck in the 1990s, but what on earth is wrong with a Microsoft Word format? Or how about just copying and pasting the text into an e-mail and sending?

If anyone can, please feel free to enlighten me.

Richard Zowie has been a professional writer since 2000. He’s been a journalist, columnist, blogger, copy writer and even fiction writer. Post comments below or e-mail richardzowie@gmail.com.

Why writers like me require ‘day jobs’

Currently, I have two part-time jobs (totaling about 54 hours a week) and I do freelance on the side. With one PT job I work at a newspaper run by some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. Professional, classy are great words to describe them. The other job is at a gasoline station. You learn to further develop your sense of humor and acquire a thick skin. With the freelance, I currently am waiting for some new assignments from a recreation magazine. This client’s been very good to me. Satisfying work and I get paid very well for it. On more than one occasion those assignments have helped to pay past-due bills or buy my wife, kids or myself much-needed items.

I tell my wife that I could ever get two or three more regular clients like the rec magazine, things would look up for us financially. Yes, I’d be very busy and would probably have to take naps more often (something I rarely do), but we could get done a lot of things that we need.

With that, I visit freelance websites frequently in hopes of picking up a few more clients. Out of every 25 or so lines I toss out, I catch a fish. Most of the time, the fish turns out to be far too small and must be cast back into the water.

And then there’s this one I received.

The company requires well-researched, well-written articles without any filler words. Rates are:

Tier 1 Flat Rates: 200 words for $1.40, going up to $5.60 for 800 words.

Tier 2 Flat Rates: 200 words for $2.00, going up to 900 words at $9.00.

Tier 3 Flat Rates: 200 words for $ 3.00, going up to 1,000 words for $15.00.

It’s something I may try out: the e-mail says these are the types of articles that can be written in 20 minutes. If indeed they can, then these pay rates could work. But if it actually takes about three hours to write a Tier 3 article at 1,000 words, then you’re looking at $5 per hour, which is even less than minimum wage.

We’ll see how it goes…

Richard Zowie runs several blogs. Post comments below or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Adventures of a freelance writer

Freelance writing, with the countless websites offering jobs, could take all day. Even then you still probably wouldn’t scratch the surface. I have a few sites I go to and try to on a daily basis look and submit to which ones sound good. Sometimes it’s tantamount to being one of thousands of fishers at a giant lake the size of Lake Superior, vying for those two fish who are swimming around somewhere. You have to use the right bait, jerk the line at the right time and hope to reel in the fish.

I recently applied to become a blogger at a New Year’s Resolution site, and hopefully the story I told them (a true one) will help me get that gig. Then there’s the TV blogging, the proofreading, the web site content writer and so on.

Which ones do I skip? The ones where the ads are badly written with lots of misspellings. I realize they may need writing help, but such an ad just looks unprofessional and suggests you might get scammed for your services. Others that are a red flag are the ones that say something like this: “We don’t have any money to pay you, but we can compensate you by giving you a byline on our website.”

Big deal. 

Unless you’re desperate to get your name out, I’d recommend you avoid this. Often, this type of policy comes from a site that’s not really even that well known and one that, chances are, will be gone and inactive in a year or so.

So, the best thing to do is keep plugging away and be persistent. Every once in a while you apply and get something great.

Richard Zowie blogs at several websites, including three other blogs on WordPress. Contact him at richardzowie@gmail.com.