The writing life: The problem with the Craigslist Writing Gigs section

keith campbell

Guest blogger: Keith Campbell

See part two in this series here

It’s not easy being a writer, and if your name isn’t John Greene, Suzanne Collins, or George R.R. Martin, you’re going to need all the help you can get. Being part of an online writer’s community helps, but we can’t give each other jobs so we need to look to outside sources.

Like Craigslist.

I discovered the Writing Gigs section quite by accident around 2006 and I was amazed at how many offerings there were for temporary and, often permanent, jobs. Over the years, I wrote numerous articles for different clients’ websites on topics like finance and investing, real estate, martial arts, healthcare, plastic surgery, dentistry, travel; you name it, I wrote it. I found my first legitimate publisher on Craigslist. I got an amazing job with a TV ad agency in New York and had the pleasure of seeing some of my scripts come to life on TV. I wrote monologues for comedians, scripts for several web series, made it on the short list for a spot on a writer’s stable for a network sitcom.

It was all good. Until it wasn’t anymore.

Back in the day, I would spend about three hours a day just combing through ads in just about every major city in the US and applied to job after job, focusing on those that played to my strengths as a writer. I almost NEVER got scammed!

But like that old book by S.E. Hinton, THAT WAS, THIS IS NOW, everything has changed. The number of legitimate jobs or gigs began dropping as the number of scams, non-paying gigs, jobs paying less than minimum wage, and ads for jobs that had nothing to do with writing, began to dominate the Writing Gigs section. The pay being offered also dropped dramatically. Ten years ago, it wasn’t difficult to find a steady gig that paid $15.00 to $20.00 per five hundred to six hundred word article. For specialized gigs that required a professional background such as in the medical field or finance, you could easily get steady work for double the pay. Today $5.00 seems to be the standard for just about any article of any length on any topic.

As much as I hate to admit it, the blame partly falls on the writers. We have, to a certain degree allowed, and even been party to the problem. I mean, let’s face it. If no one was willing to write an article for $5.00, nobody would post ads looking for people to write their articles for $5.00. So yes, we have let the fox into the hen house. The question here is, how do we get it out and what are we willing to do to expel that sly old fox.

If you’re unsure the scope of the problem here, just take a look at the issue by the numbers on one particular day.

Out of one hundred ninety-six postings in CL Writing gigs in the SF bay area, forty-nine had nothing to do with writing. That means, right off the bat, twenty-five percent of the total ads are garbage. Of the one hundred forty-seven gigs that are for writing jobs, forty-one of those are non paying jobs. So, of the one hundred ninety-six postings, only one hundred six will actually generate an income. That means fifty-four percent of the postings are a waste of time. That doesn’t even include the gigs that are actually scams, or gigs that pay under minimum wage. Then there are the gigs that fall under the paid gig category but aren’t really a paid job. These are the ones where you are expected to write your article, story, or whatever they need, then if yours is selected you get paid. If that sounds shady, it can be, but isn’t necessarily a scam. For example, if someone is compiling an anthology they will naturally select the best ones that fit what they’re looking for, and pay those. Some will argue that all entrants should be paid, but I’m not going to argue that point. What I will say is, there are far too many paid gigs that use this method to get whatever article they need written, and get it for free. It’s a common and difficult to prove scam that I’ll explain in a later posting.

As you can see, our one hundred six paying gigs are getting whittled down slowly. Then you have the paid gigs that all-out refuse to tell you what the pay is. They use terms like TBD, negotiable, DOE, or will discuss with the right person. It all comes back to writers having to do everything involved in applying for a job before they have a clue what that job pays, if it even pays anything at all. That accounts for another twenty-two postings.

Finally, we’re down to eighty-four job possibilities out of one hundred ninety-six postings that day. If we’re being conservative, take another ten off that number to account for scams and that leaves you with seventy-four gigs to apply for, assuming you are qualified to write for every posting listed. In the end, that makes one hundred twenty-two time wasting postings out of the original one hundred ninety-six ads. That’s the reason I would have to spend three plus hours a day, just looking for a legitimate gig.

For those interested in helping expel the foxes from the hen house, here is a petition. Please follow the link and feel free to leave a comment as well: https://www.change.org/p/ceo-craigslist-org-take-craigslist-writing-gigs-out-of-the-hands-of-the-predators-return-it-to-the-writers

I am also collecting personal stories from writers who have either been scammed, or just want to add their voice to the petition. I think these stories will carry as much weight as the signatures.

In short, we are in part allowing the problem to exist through our non-action, so let’s change that today and make our voices heard. Let’s take Craigslist Writing Gigs away from the scammers and all those looking to take advantage of us. Writers, band together and be heard!

Keith Campbell is a prolific, self-taught writer and artist with a diverse background in finance and investing, martial arts, firefighting, and emergency medicine. All of which he has been known to use as fodder for writing. 

Keith is a founding member of the online writing community TheNextBigWriter.com and has authored eighteen novels and hundreds of articles for clients on such diverse subjects as finance and investing, self-defense and handgun safety, to real estate, motorcycles, and healthcare. Keith has written monologues for comedians, TV commercials and web series, as well as ghostwriting novels for clients. Taking a page from the life of his favorite artist, Pablo Picasso, Keith sleeps little and writes obsessively. 

Today Keith continues to ghostwrite for various clients while working on his latest darkly comedic love story about a non-traditional family unit with two gender switching parents and a teenage daughter who hates them both. 

Keith lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his two boys and his cat.

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  • screenwriterdan

    Great article which sheds light on the ever decreasing wage of freelance writers. I completely agree that Craigslist could greatly benefit from more active community involvement. To that end, I have signed the above petition and encourage other writers to sign as well.

  • Ram Muthiah

    Great article! As of this writing, CL writing section has ads for marijuana, egg donor, etc., Spammers and scammers destroy the internet. Organizations like CL has resources to stop this nuisance. I have signed the petition. I hope this motivates the CL and similar sites to keep their content genuine.

  • Uzal Roberts

    CL is a joke anymore. Nevertheless, I still make about $4,500 a month from ads posted on the site. Having said that, it takes more effort and I have had to hire someone to weed through all of the garbage posts, spam, and bullshit paying jobs. I grew weary of “flagging wrist” and now have somebody competent to do that for me.

    I signed the petition. Part of the problem is that CL has a minimal staff and the priority is “hits” to the page to generate revenue. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, CL is not concerned with the thievery, scammers, or the eventual consequences of posts on their site.

  • Brian Tart

    All good points. I wonder if Craigslist really has such little concern for its users. I get it, clicks equal money. Even though we use the service for free, we generate the clicks and the money just as if we were paying a fee. So we are Craigslist customers and should be treated as such. As far as the low wages go…
    Google has made their likes and dislikes well known for the most part and they still contend that they reward sites that feature original, relevant content and punish the rest.
    But it hasn’t caught up with the web as a whole and I don’t think our customers really want to be “educated” about this if it costs them twice as much for our work..
    So until Google puts its foot down, sites like Craigslist will continue to post gigs that pay far below what they (supposedly) are actually worth.
    But I still troll Craigslist for work.

  • Larfleeze Gaming!

    It’s about time something was done to address the issues with Craigslist. For far too long predators have been taking advantage of writers and I’m sick of it.

  • Diana Cleopatra

    We definitely have to do more than complain because nothing will be done if we don’t come together as a group and stand up for ourselves. They’ll treat us like idiots as long as we let them convince us that giving us credit or royalty rights is enough. Are you kidding me?? They sure don’t pay their bills with credit or royalty rights but expect you and I to do so! It’s insanely ridiculous!!

  • While I don’t dispute the numbers here in terms of scams, we all know that CL is riddled with bogus postings in all categories: other jobs, volunteer, personals, rentals, for sale, etc. It’s free to post and therefore attracts all kinds of stuff and weird posts. There are of course legitimate postings and success stories and I understand the concern about writers’ rates dropping precipitously over the years. That is a true concern. But to focus effort and time on scouring CL — that seems like an inappropriate venue for landing professional writing work. Would you go to CL to locate a doctor or other paid professional you’re planning to hire?

    I live in small-town USA in Bellingham, WA and there are at least 20 writers and editors groups, membership only and just get-together for coffee types, where I network and gain word of mouth leads every day. Or, I receive Freedom with Writing, an e-newsletter that lists a slew of reputable decently-paid writing gigs weekly:
    http://www.freedomwithwriting.com/freedom/uncategorized/5-websites-that-pay-writers-50-per-article/

    Again, low pay for writers is a true concern — one that I believe needs to be addressed in our profession by writers commanding and demanding pay commensurate with experience and talent. I believe that is a different story altogether than scams on CL related to writing gigs and other professions.

  • Keith Campbell

    Hi Jennifer,
    thanks for your thoughts. Some time ago you could actually get very good paying jobs on CL. I landed a job creating and writing TV ads for a Long Island TV ad agency. I also landed a job writing a pilot for a Network TV show. Sadly funding was pulled and the show never got off the ground. But those are just two examples of jobs I have landed over the years. I got my first, legitimate, real publisher on CL a long time ago and that worked out amazing. I am not the best nor the most experienced writer around so I’m guessing that there are a lot better writers that have had some amazing success stories.

    But those days are many years past because of what is going on now. I realize that the problem of pay for writers exists well beyond CL, but I had to start somewhere, and I was most familiar with that venue.

    Even if CL won’t change, I do know that we can, and are helping our fellow writers steer clear of some of these predators on CL.

    Again, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    Much appreciated.

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