In this Matador Notebook post, Michelle Schusterman writes about what it’s like to write for “content mills”–you know, About.com, SEO-driven stuff–and why, as a writer, it’s not a good idea for YOU to build a career out of it.
I’m not against these websites, and I’m certainly not against people wanting to make an honest living out of it. But, as a communicator and editor who has been trained in the rigors of the craft of writing, I’ll have to agree with Michelle on this point:
Content mill writers celebrate when their work passes through with no edits. Some mills offer guides on how to avoid rewrites and revisions by getting the article “right” in the first draft. This is the attitude content mills foster; the idea that you have achieved success when editing isn’t required.
Good writers welcome editing. Good writers need editing. Experience and skill have nothing to do with it; editing is about getting critical feedback from an objective party with a sharp eye. It’s not always about correcting, it’s about improving. A writer whose goal is to avoid constructive criticism is a writer in a stagnant, dead-end career [boldface mine].
A good, professional writer knows that the writer-editor relationship is key, and that getting edited is STANDARD in any worthwhile publishing endeavor. When I edit my writers’ works, it is because I am looking for clarity, or more information about an experience, or more color and depth. When I edit someone’s work, it’s because I was interested enough in the piece, or cared about the writer enough, to read it thoroughly (at least three times), reflect on it, and make it want to shine. This is the same kind of time and attention I expect of my own editors when I submit a piece for their publication.
All of Michelle’s points are valid. (Read more by clicking on the link above.) I will have to add that when you want to build a career as a credible writer, the stuff you publish in these content mills can’t really be taken as portfolio pieces. In short, you might just be wasting your time writing about things that don’t really matter much, for work that won’t really count much toward a sustainable, fulfilling writing career.
My bottomline on this topic: If you want to continue writing for content mills for money’s sake, go ahead. But if you want to pitch to an editor like me and show proof that you CAN write–and write well–don’t show me a content mill piece. You’re better off working on a really terrific feature article (born out of a really great concept) on your blog and showing me YOUR own writing voice.