Word sweatshops

I wrote a couple of months ago about signing up for Elance, and promised to let you know how that was going. I had great hopes for it, especially as it came recommended by someone I know.  However, a couple of days ago I stripped as much of my information as I could out of my Elance profile. I’ve quit.

I took the basic – read free – membership, because I wanted to see if I could make any money at all before putting any money in. I read all the literature the site posted for newbies. Elance is a bid-for-jobs site, so you read the job description and, if you decide you could do it within their budget, place a bid to say how much you will do it for. Most bids are sealed; in other words, you can’t see what you’re bidding against.

I bid, altogether, on sixteen jobs in two months (which was all I could do with a free membership). Twelve of them went to much lower bidders. One ghostwriting job went to someone whose style the job poster liked better – she wrote me a nice little note, thanking me for my bid. One bid was declined because the poster wanted an experienced contractor to write a series of home renovation articles. (Good luck with that.) The final two jobs I bid on are still sitting on the board. The bidding has been closed for two weeks, and there’s no indication that the job posters have even looked at the bids.

Here’s one I bid on: text for an online Tarot game. The job poster wanted a description of each of the seventy-eight Tarot cards, the meaning of the card when upright and when reversed, and an overview of the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. It had to be all original work, not cut-and-paste from an existing reference. He wanted a sample writeup for one card as part of the bid. Budget: under $500 for 20,000 words.

I bid $350.00. That’s under $5.00 per card, with the overviews thrown in. I have thirty years’ experience with the Tarot,  and could do an excellent job. It’s not as much as I’d like, especially considering my level of expertise, but I could do it, I figured, in two days.

The job went to someone who bid $100.00. My other experiences were similar.

I also found online complaints about work done and pay not received, and work paid for, but not done. Put “elance.com scam” into Google and some interesting things come up.

I’m not saying that all these sites, or even Elance itself, are scams. What I am saying is that they seem to be a race to the bottom.This is not the only site I’ve tried. One woman who recruited me to write articles wanted five-hundred-word articles at $3.50 each. I turned her down. When I mentioned this on a writers’ site, another writer told me that was more than he was getting.

You can have it quick, or cheap or good – at most you get two of the three. Me, I’m already good, and as far as I’m concerned, good doesn’t come cheap.

Maybe I’m just bloody-minded, but if I’m going to be underpaid, I’m going to be underpaid for writing what I want to write.

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9 Responses to Word sweatshops

  1. RACNicole says:

    Hi Ecreith, this is Nicole Miller from vWorker.com (formerly known as Rentacoder.com).

    I’m sorry that you’ve had such a bad experience with Elance. Generally things work fairly well at that site even though as you pointed out, they could work a lot better. I just hope that you don’t give up on your online writing career altogether.

    Like you, I am a freelance writer and I got my start at vWorker. (Please excuse me for chuckling at ‘I’m going to be underpaid, I’m going to be underpaid for writing what I want to write.’) The thing is, you don’t have to be underpaid. So here’s what to do:

    1. Sign up at vWorker. vWorker’s employers select the lowest bidder only 19% of the time (see http://bit.ly/av0S4R for details) so you won’t compete against price all the time — you’ll compete against quality.

    2. Increase your number of bids. I got my first writing job the first day I signed up at vWorker because I made a lot of bids. 16 bids in 2 months just isn’t enough. I can’t remember, but I think I made that many in a day! Fortunately, there are no bid limits at vWorker and bidding is free. So join the site and bid away. The jobs are there for your taking.

    If you have any questions, feel free to call in to talk to a facilitator, or send email through the site’s feedback form. You can do this!

    Nicole Miller

    • ecreith says:

      Thanks, Nicole. I’ll have a look. The problem with my number of bids was that I wasn’t willing to pay to bid for jobs. A job I have to pay for is not a job I want.

      I have absolutely no intention of giving up on writing as a career, and I’m still exploring online possibilities. I really appreciate you taking the time to send such a detailed, encouraging response.

      • Bex says:

        Keep in mind that any fees you pay to Elance are tax deductible, including both your monthly fees and the 12% or so that they keep from each payment.

        I waited until after I got my first paid job there and used that money to buy a subscription and now that I have steady income coming from the site, I certainly don’t mind paying the $15 a month to cover the service of securing my income (we ALWAYS use Escrow or Auto-Pay now).

  2. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Thanks!

  3. Kay, thank you for your note; that was very kind of you. I have no intention of quitting. You know where to find me, obviously!


  4. WotV says:

    I have worked for Elance for over a year and am a Premier Provider in the Writing and Translation category. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but overall Elance is a very good freelance marketplace. Once you have a few jobs on your profile, work is easier to find. There will always be those jobs looking for the lowest bid, but there are tons of buyers looking for quality and willing to pay fairly.

    Good luck!

  5. Bex says:

    I have to say that I was shocked when I first started using Elance and bidding on projects, at the measly compensation that some people are willing to accept. But there are SOME people out there looking for quality over quantity. It took me a couple months, but I was able to find steady work in the perfect field for me, paying the same or more than I could make doing the same work in a call center somewhere (it’s a customer service and administrative role). I have also found 2 or 3 long term contracts for writing (ebooks and articles) that pay a very fair wage.

    As for the issues with contracts between client and provider not being fulfilled, Elance DOES make it possible to avoid these kinds of problems, but both parties mus insist on taking advantage of the Escrow or Auto-Pay functions and then adhere to the requirements involved.

    My most recent job was pointed out to my by a friend at http://JournalismJobs.com and I’m making an average of about $0.04 per word with them as an author on their blog. Poster on the site seem to, in general, have a better grasp of the work involved in quality writing.

    I’ve faced this same kind of competition in a few different industries and one thing has always remained true – some folks have a bottom line that is all about $, and others are willing to pay for real quality. Persistence is key!

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