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:

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 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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