Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. He writes supernatural suspense/Christian horror and is currently at work on another such book, much to his mother’s chagrin (“Why can’t you write a nice romance?”). In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Visit his website: Twitter: and Facebook:

How NOT To Get Published

Off To The (Content) Mill

We are fortunate to live in this particular age. Wonders surround us. You don’t believe it? Just turn on the TV and flip through the channels. We have cures for cellulite, achy backs, bad breath, doggie incontinence, senior citizen incontinence, “performance” problems (and I ain’t talking about the family sedan), memory loss, crow’s feet, flat feet, washtub abs, wrinkles, varicose veins, gas (and I ain’t talking about the family sedan), high mortgage rates, and the heartbreak of psoriasis.

So when will somebody come up with a cure for a lack of writing assignments?

Unfortunately, somebody has.

You’ve Gotta Be Kidding
Anyone who wants to write, and write a lot, now has that option. Between the rash of content heavy sites on the Internet and certain ebook publishers, the opportunities are almost endless.

They are also an insult to any decent writer with at least half a brain. These content mills pay a pittance―or worse, pay nothing up front―with the promise that you will make a lot of money based on the number of hits your page receives. Or worse, you’ll get tons of exposure. A naked Eskimo has a better chance of getting “exposure” in minus-20 degree weather than many writers who fall prey to the lure of a byline and a writing credit. These leeches (the publishers, not the Eskimos) are best left alone.

As an experiment, I sent a writing sample to one of these sites to see what would happen. And it wasn’t just any sample. Oh no. This one was really bad. Downright smelly. Bad spelling, funky grammar, incomplete sentences: this piece had it all.

And they offered to hire me and pay between $10 and $15 per 500-word article.

I made that much on the first two sentences of the project I had finished the day before I sent in this shoddy sample article. Let’s see, 2¢ per word or $1.48 per word...That’s a toughie.

If I take the projects I have completed over the past year and average them, my time is worth approximately $138 per hour. And for those who are now thinking, “Yeah, but you’ve been doing this for almost twenty years and I’m just starting,” indulge me for a moment while I pass along one of the great secrets of writing as it was passed along to me.

One Great Secret of Writing
When I first started writing, I wrote mostly short stories and essays. Short fiction in certain genres was hot, and I managed to tap into a few publishers who liked my work. I was making as much as $25 for a short story! Woo Hoo!! And I was getting about the same thing for the columns I wrote for 2 AM magazine. I was quite content until a certain “big name” writer acquaintance took me aside and asked one simple question.

Isn’t your writing worth more than that?

My reasoning was simple: I was a beginning writer and figured I would work my way up the ladder. Start with the low-paying gigs and move up the monetary scale as I gained more experience. His response was a real wake-up call: “Why not just let the writing speak for itself. If your writing isn’t good enough for a top market, then it is not ready for submission. Do your best work. Then start with the top markets, and if it’s rejected, move down to the next one. But don’t sell yourself short.”

My next story sold for $1,300.

Don’t Settle for Seeing Your Name in Print
While some people lament that traditional publishers aren’t hiring new writers, other freelancers are being hired by traditional publishers. And Web site owners, greeting card companies, public relations departments, school library publishers, print and online magazines, corporate blogs, and local businesses.

Get the idea?

And getting your fiction published is tough . . . especially if you concentrate on the “big houses” only. Don’t overlook the small publishers. Some of them are making pretty big deals. And don’t collect three rejections then pay someone to publish your work. Give your manuscript a fair chance.

Finding places to sell your writing takes work. But the work is out there. And once you get a reputation for doing good work and hitting deadlines, work finds you. Recently an editor e-mailed to tell me how much she liked the columns I write for a Christian writers’ magazine. By the time we swapped a few e-mails, she had contacted another editor at a competing house (hers didn’t publish what I write) and suggested that editor take a look at the novel I’m working on. The new editor liked the proposal.

But none of this happens by taking shortcuts, and while there is sometimes an element of luck involved, you can’t rely on luck either.

You won’t progress very far by giving your work to parasitic word mills that are in it for the massive amount of content they provide at the pittance they pay writers. It’s a case of quantity over quality, and while there are ways to make okay money through some of these places on occasion, the same amount of work for traditional publishers and other places that pay a decent price for quality work will produce good money.

Quit your day job money.

Does that mean there is never a time that you would write something for a lesser amount? Not necessarily. But it should depend on the circumstances and your reason for accepting less.

I just wrote some content for a medical Website. It paid only $55, but the upside is I wrote it in twelve minutes off the top of my head. (My wife is a diabetes specialist. Because we share an office, I asked her a couple of quick questions, and voila! Instant research). I also gave a high-end lifestyle magazine here in North Carolina permission to reprint an essay I sent them as a writing sample. It has been published many times (you gotta love reselling material), and in exchange for that “freebie,” I get a lot of real exposure: two feature articles around Christmas, and the possibility of writing a regular essay feature for one of the publisher’s other magazines.

I’d say that was worth giving them an essay that has already paid for two weeks at Disney World with all the extras.

Wrapping Up
So, when you see phrases like You don’t have to be a professional writer, It’s a unique payment structure, More details will be given to qualified applicants, or . . . with the opportunity to earn a significant amount of incentive compensation based on the number of page views of your articles . . . run the other way.

Your work is worth more than that.

Till next time, be somebody your mama would be proud of.


Soemthing Stirs