Big Ideas, Delivered With Impact

An Open Letter to Helium

In Resources, Writing on May 22, 2009 at 2:33 pm

By Tim Beyers

Yesterday, as guest writer for Michelle Rafter’s WordCount blog I argued against writing for up-and-coming content aggregators such as Helium. In response, Barbara Whitlock, Helium’s New Member Outreach Manager, posted a thoughtful comment at Michelle’s blog. I’ve decided to add to the dialogue here by posting an open letter that further explains my thinking. Have additional thoughts of your own? Please comment at WordCount.

Hi Barbara,

I’m grateful for the response, as I’m sure Michelle is.

A couple of additional thoughts for you and for those who may be reading.

First, I’m not so sure that there are fewer freelance gigs today. In one sense, sure, there are fewer opportunities to place stories in The New York Times and other traditional outlets. But there are still thousands of paying magazines out there. Some webzines also pay well. Helium isn’t an attractive choice comparatively because the writer’s share of the kitty is so small.

Second, I think the “freedom to write” argument fails to pass the sniff test. Each query I send is for a story I want to write. Certainly my ideas can and often will be cast aside. Nevertheless, my freelance writing business is entirely structured around the stories I wish to write.

Finally, a few words of praise. Helium in fact does do a better job than most at encouraging well-written content and does so by supplying tools to aid writers who need the assist. I still don’t see that as a substitute for working one-on-one with an experienced editor but I absolutely grant that there’s a communal sense of respect for the written word at Helium that I don’t find elsewhere among content aggregators.

Of course, my beef isn’t with Helium’s quality standards. Rather, it’s with the message that low pay sends.

In starker mathematical terms, say you need to make $50,000 a year to make ends meet as a full-time freelancer. That’s $4,166.67 per month. Given Helium’s model and single-digit upfront payments, can anyone expect to make even one-tenth of that? I don’t see how.

Perhaps I’m wrong. If so, let’s talk. I’m willing to carve out time to follow a process of your design if there’s a reasonable chance of making half, or $2,083, per month writing for Helium.

Thanks much,

Tim

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