Why are writers treated so badly?

When I was at school, I told my teacher I wanted to be an author and she said that was a very good idea.

I had it in my head that it would be a fantastic lifestyle, where I could sit in a cozy little cottage typing away on my laptop and money would magically appear in my bank account.

woman writing in notebook by water
I thought I could live my life like this. It turns out I can't - not yet, anyway.

Since then, I have in fact achieved my dream of being an author. What’s more, my debut novel is all about me, so I got to reach my goal in a particularly self indulgent way.

However, money has not magically appeared in my bank account beyond the advance - which was quite small, because my book was published at a small company.

I didn’t publish the book for the money, though. I published it because I wanted to share my mental health struggles with others, so they feel less alone.

This is what has motivated me to produce words as I’ve continued with my career as a writer. In other words, the desire to do something which makes a difference and create change.

I’ll never be a neurosurgeon or a paramedic. I’ll never actively go out on the front lines, saving lives.

But maybe I can create worlds for people to escape to when they’re waiting for their loved ones to get out of surgery. Doesn’t that save people in a different way?

person reading with legs crossed
Everyone should read more.

Real life doesn’t generally mean you get to make it as an author right off the bat, unless you’re extremely lucky. I’ve been extremely UNlucky in my life until recent years (more about that in my book).

When I got to Uni, I studied English because it made sense. I fell into journalism, and because I can string a sentence together, I made the move to London and started a career in tabloid journalism.

It wasn’t long before I realised I wanted to leave.

There are people who love working in journalism and don’t mind the hours, but I wanted something different.

The hours are long, the pay is not fantastic, and the work can be repetitive.

busy open office with workers
Sometimes I wanted to just sleep under my desk in between shifts.

So the move to content marketing worked for me. The words are just part of the story. There’s also SEO optimisation, content strategy, social sharing, paid advertising and brand building.

It’s perfect for someone like me who likes to think and create in a more dynamic way than simply churning out articles as one of the worker bees in the journalism hive.

In my first job at a marketing agency, part of my role was to take on the management of freelancers .

This was because the content needs were substantially larger than what myself and the other content executive could handle.

It was at this point that I realised a lot of agencies are fine to pay very low prices for writers on platforms such as Upwork.

They receive terrible copy, which is then either hastily edited - or not changed at all - before being uploaded to a site.

Woman using laptop and speaking on the phone
'Yeah, that'll do'

Unfortunately the over-saturation of SEO in the online market (more about my thoughts on that in another blog post) means that many sites can rank well for shoehorning in keywords on articles and uploading reams of terrible content in a short amount of time.

This is essentially the policy of a certain UK-based tabloid I won’t mention the name of.

Its content output is absolutely ridiculous compared to its top three competitors, and that’s why it ranks so highly in SERP wherever you look.

The quality is terrible, but they get results.

For basic SEO needs, that is.

For those who don’t work in the content industry, there’s a general consensus that ‘anybody can write’.

People click onto that, then go elsewhere on the site for the higher quality work that actually speaks to more than the search query they typed into Google.

typewriter with written words
Anything can technically be published online - but does that mean it should be?

This is part of the problem. For those who don’t work in the content industry, there’s a general consensus that ‘anybody can write’.

Yes, anybody can write. Anybody can also build a bookshelf.

It looks alright, but the minute you put something on it, it could fall to the ground if it’s not been built properly.

(This example might have been gleaned from personal experience. Carpentry as a side hustle is not something I will ever be doing).

The over-saturation of SEO means that many sites can rank for shoehorning in keywords and uploading reams of terrible content.

The thing is, SEO has snowballed in the last 6 to 8 years, without the regulations to go with it.

This means that a lot of people say they are writers, and then produce copy which is low quality - but ticks the boxes which meet Google’s site crawlers.

For now. You know, it’s not always going to work.

(But the topic of why vetting the quality of your content producers is so important is, again, in another blog post.)

The problem didn’t just begin with SEO, though.

Before the digital world became as natural to us as breathing, it would only take one poor quality article to have people presuming that all writers were unskilled compared to, for example, a doctor.

One issue is that there’s no regulation around the content creation industry.

For those who don’t work in the content industry, there’s a general consensus that ‘anybody can write’.

Within journalism, there are two MAs that are well respected, but one of them is largely seen as the ‘elite club’ into the market. There’s very little actual learning; just a lot of networking.

However, anyone who wants to market themselves as a writer can do just that with no obstacles standing in their way.

For example, I have a degree in English, but who is going to ask me to bring up my formal qualifications if I can prove I’ve been published on some websites?

How are those websites holding the writing quality to a standard that’s universally met? In my experience, publications are either so picky it’s impossible to get your foot in the door, or so busy trying to keep the content mill going that you can upload any old rubbish.

Until there’s some form of regulation implemented online - whether it’s on a global or a national scale - there will continue to be writers promoting themselves who have no experience, submit poor quality copy, work for less than the minimum wage, and probably shouldn’t be writing at all.

person using smartphone and laptop
Don't be fooled by someone who simply says they're good online.

Until there’s some form of training that’s required to be completed before people can work in a particular part of the content creation world, anyone will say they’re skilled in a particular sector and land work if they are cheap enough, know people or are in the right place at the right time.

There are plenty of people out there who are bad writers. But they continue getting assigned to work on platforms like Upwork, because they are cheap and do the bare minimum.

Is that what you’d accept from a neurosurgeon? They do a poor quality job and there could be long-term brain damage, but it was cheap so you’ll let them clumsily hack into your head again to save some cash?

People need to recognise that - yes, anyone can write, but that doesn’t mean

a) everyone is the same as the worst quality writers

b) it’s easy to create high quality copy that entertains, informs, persuades, sells or fulfils any other business need you want.

Bad writers continue getting assigned to work because they are cheap and do the bare minimum.

I take pride in my work, and I never submit results I’m not completely happy with. I’ve spent nearly a decade working on my craft, and I’d jump at the chance to take the accreditations to prove I’m a good writer - if they existed.

You know why? Because the people who are selling their shoddy work for cheap probably wouldn’t pass the assessments. They’d have to up their game to actually compete.

Because those who buy content would actually value it in the same way they value designers, developers, business development managers … all the other departments which make up an online business.

Anyone will say they’re skilled and land work if they are cheap enough, know people or are in the right place at the right time.

Writing cannot be judged in the same way that a maths exam can be graded. It’s subjective, not objective.

However, think about writing which brings in traffic - and keeps people coming back for more.

Think about writing which reels the reader in and persuades them to click on a button, then spend money.

I think that’s magic, and well worth paying top dollar for.