Word Count Woes? How to Break Out of the 'Content Mill' Mindset

Word Count Woes? How to Break Out of the ‘Content Mill’ Mindset

The topic of rates for article writing and copy-writing came up in a networking group I’m in and it really got me thinking (AKA riled up!)

Hear me out.

I want to address something for all those who are struggling as freelance writers and working to find their place on the scale that is FREELANCE PAY RATES (capitalized because I want you to read that in a loud announcer voice in your head!)

The group was discussing whether $.01 per word is a reasonable rate for an article that needs intense research and development. 

I really wish we could, collectively as writers and publishers, get off this “per word” rate merry-go-round. It is, quite frankly, complete nonsense! 

The *best* writing is tight and concise. This means it needs more time spent on editing and refinement to flow well and engage the reader. It will also have less words to boot!

Sorry to be coarse, but literally anyone can brain dump a bunch of words in 20-30 minutes. That’s not talent. 

Being a great writer means editing that word vomit into something that:

  1. Sounds good
  2. Makes sense
  3. Really engages the reader!

When I get in my groove I type about 50 WPM. Sometimes in NaNoWriMo I can type even faster. If I succeed in turning off my inner editor I can generally smash out at least 1000 words in 20 min.

Is it all worth reading? Absolutely not! It’s mostly nonsense. More words does not equal better writing.

Also, have you ever read something written by someone trying to sound fancy? They add a bunch of flowery language and look up the longest syllabled synonyms in their thesaurus to try to sound smarter. 

It doesn’t fool anyone. It screams of inefficiency and naiveté. 

A marketing tagline can take weeks to research, test, and develop and it’s only six to eight words! Does that mean it’s only worth eight cents? No!

Brevity is the actual *craft* of writing. It’s distillation. It’s editing ourselves until every word has a point and a purpose.

Please, if you are a freelance writer, stop thinking of your skills as a per-word rate. Instead, start marketing yourself as a writer who is great at his/her craft. You’ll see the bigger ticket clients come.

A coder doesn’t charge per line of code, right? Writers shouldn’t charge per word.

There is an old joke about expertise. Lots of versions of course, but the one I know goes something like this…

“The Graybeard engineer retired and a few weeks later the Big Machine broke down, which was essential to the company’s revenue. The Manager couldn’t get the machine to work again so the company called in Graybeard as an independent consultant.

Graybeard agrees. He walks into the factory, takes a look at the Big Machine, grabs a sledge hammer, and whacks the machine once whereupon the machine starts right up. Graybeard leaves and the company is making money again.

The next day Manager receives a bill from Graybeard for $5,000. Manager is furious at the price and refuses to pay. Graybeard assures him that it’s a fair price. Manager retorts that if it’s a fair price Graybeard won’t mind itemizing the bill. Graybeard agrees that this is a fair request and complies.

The new, itemized bill reads….

Hammer: $5
Knowing where to hit the machine with hammer: $4995.”

Being an expert writer, or an expert copywriter, is more about “hitting with a hammer in the right place” (i.e. moving an audience in a way that inspires, motivates, and achieves goals) than it is knowing how to wield a $5 hammer.

A much better way to calculate your writing jobs and projects is on a project-based rate.

Project based generally means deciding what your skills and experience in a certain type of writing are actually worth as an hourly wage. 

Now, you don’t have to tell anyone your hourly wage per se (and quite frankly, no one needs to know how many hours a project actually takes you!) But if researching and writing an article, or white paper, or blog post, or homepage/sales page is going to take you anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks – and needs to be be at a certain level of *skill* – then make sure your charge your hourly rate for that level of writing accordingly. 

You feel me? 

Said with love.   

Thoughts? Counter arguments? Additional advice to newbies? Let us all know in the comments below. 

Janet Kozak is the Community Manager for Noor Kids as well as the Founder of and Her passion is Content Marketing. Janet helps businesses and bloggers craft PR and Content Marketing strategies for their brands.

Janet’s bylined articles are featured in dozens of print and online publications including; About Islam, Al Jumuah, Islamic Horizons, The Islamic Monthly, Productive Muslim, SISTERS Magazine, and Women’s INC. She’s also been interviewed for The Huffington Post, Glassdoor, Work At Home Success, My Corporation, The New York Public Library, and NBC News.

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