Amish Romance Ghostwriter Wanted: 1 Penny Per Word

Folks, does anyone actually take these offers? This is an addendum to my June post on the ad I found for Amish romance plot writers. A number of you chimed in explaining how bad their deal was. Here’s what some of you with professional writing experience had to say then:

Boyce Rensberger:

The fees offered are absurdly low. This must be some kind of rip-off. I was a professional writer (staff and freelance for newspapers, magazines and four books), and even a generation ago those fees would have been considered way low.

Karen:

Earning just a Penny per word is ludicrous and I would never want to support a company that thinks so little of the writer that they would pay such insulting wages. There should at the very least be an advance and a percentage offered on the book sales!

Frank Comstock:

I’m a mostly retired freelance writer for newspapers and magazines. I’ve also written and published many short stories in literary journals and I’ve published two novels. My last check for about a three thousand word article in a fairly major online magazine was more than twice as much as what this company is offering for a 20,000 word novella.

Thirty dollars for a plot? Absolutely ridiculous. Should be several hundred dollars, at least.

I used to receive requests for freelance work from people in various overseas countries where the pay rate would run from a tenth of a cent to about a penny a word.

That offer I shared in June was from a foreign source, and came out to be a little over a penny per word.

Well, a new offer just appeared on Upwork, and looks like things are getting worse. Have a look at what they are asking for in this ad:

Each story will be 15,000 words of high quality, entertaining content devoid of fluff and filler. Include the words “I’m ready” when bidding to reassure us that you can follow directions. The finished project will meet the following criteria:

-Well-researched to rightly represent the Amish way of life at Christmas
NB: Bear in mind that Amish romance differs from standard romance stories. Write to the audience’s sensibilities and expectations.

-Written in Times New Roman in 12-point font

-Single-spaced

-Have a hyper-linked Table of Contents and other formatting for e-readers (e.g., Kindle)

-Include a summary of the story along with 12-15 bullet points of its content

-Each story will be episodic (meaning that there is a conclusion at the end of each story, but it entices the readers to want to read more, and the next story flows nicely from the previous)

-Submitted in .docx

-Transfer all rights to us once you have been paid.

Fulfill all those criteria, and the lucky writer will get a check for $150. I shudder to think what the hourly rate comes to.

Maybe they will find what they’re looking for. I’m not sure that it would be a story I’d want to read, however. I’d be inclined to file this one under “disconnect between expectations and reality”. Confusingly, the ad also lists a “Fixed-price” rate of $450 – an improvement if that’s the actual offer, but not a ton better.

After I came across this ad, another one appeared. This one is from a publishing house based in the UK, which is also odd in itself (the ad I linked in the first post was an Israeli offer – as Frank suggests above, this might be a business model that thrives for whatever reason overseas). They are offering about the same kind of money – 1 to 1.4 cents/word.

I do wonder where exactly these offers are coming from. Are these companies who act as middlemen for better-known writers? Could some of them be ads from writers themselves?

Doesn’t a fiction writer achieve success by developing a following on their own, through a style which their readers come to appreciate enough to make repeated purchases of books? I would doubt any Amish fiction writers you’ve heard of are involved in this.

Furthermore, I did not find any reference to ghostwritten novels in Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s extensive 2013 look at the Amish fiction industry, Thrill of the Chaste. At the same time, I did find an article in Forbes from last autumn titled “Fiction Ghostwriting Is Bigger Than Ever.”

I can believe that – I’m just not seeing what either side hopes to achieve at these rates. The only thing I can come up with is the companies making the offer are trying to find some at least mediocre-quality writing from a first-timer trying to break into the writing industry, and thus willing to work for a smidgen above “free”.

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    6 Comments

    1. Walter Boomsma

      Writer/Publisher Perspective...

      It’s been said that most fishing lures are designed to catch fishermen, not fish. To continue the analogy, Upwork is actually fishing for people who have a dream of writing. They are not looking for the writing, they want the name and contact information of the people with the dream. They actually don’t hire anyone–they list you on their website as a freelancer and, if you do manage to get hired by someone (who is looking on their website for cheap) Upwork takes a significant “commission” on any payment you receive. Read the fine print–if you can find it. Google search for reviews of the company. Yes, it’s a way to get started but it’s not for the faint of heart or naive.

      It’s a step above Vanity Publishing where the writer pays to be published, but it’s a small step. One other point to remember is the Internet is global. $150 USD is a lot of money in some countries.

      As a writer and publisher, I can assure you that finding people to pay you to write is a lot harder than writing–and writing well is not easy. Be diligent (maybe even suspicious) before placing your career in the hands of Upwork or similar companies.

      (Sorry I missed the June post.)

    2. Geo

      Business

      I guess it’s just business. “Buy low sell high”. I’m reminded of the Thomas Kinkade (SP?) mass production artwork. It was never a secret that he had many artists producing “his” artwork, and yet it sold very well. After his death maybe even more so. Go figure.

      1. Guest

        Retirement

        Time for retirement if the figures are always wrong and not necessary.

    3. B.R.

      As weird as it sounds, there are two markets in indie publishing (I’m not referring to an author self-publishing here, I’m referring to small presses and syndicate authors). Ads like these are placed by syndicate authors, not legitimate publishing houses
      (obviously!). To explain:

      The first market, small presses, are focused on some balance of quality and quantity. You have to sell books to make money, so you ideally want to publish books on a regular schedule for your readers. However, keeping the brand integrity intact is also key, because if you start diluting that, your readers may go somewhere else for their stories. So many reputable small presses may not have professional rates, but they will try to come as close to them as they can afford, they have a slush pile of submissions, and they pick the best pieces for their press. It’s similar to how larger publishing works, just on a smaller scale.

      On the other hand, you have a growing trend in the indie publishing scene that I call “syndicate authors”. These people are often single person operations where the amount of content is all that matters. The focus is on sales, not necessarily on building a brand or having repeat business. So you find your niche and genre, you find your keywords for search engine optimization, and then you go place ads on Upwork and similar sites.

      These ads will almost always:
      -Pay 1 cent or less per word
      -Pay absurdly low fixed rates
      -Ask for a complete book or an absurd amount of articles for the price
      -Sometimes there will be a general theme or plot or subject specified.
      -If the syndicate author is particularly lazy, they may also insist you format and edit the thing so they don’t have to.
      -You will have to sign away all rights to your work.

      So essentially, these syndicate authors are farming out multiple books a week, getting something back within a few weeks, they may or may not do some quick editing and rewriting, they’ll slap a cover on it from Fivver, and then they’re on to the next one. The idea is to produce a book on something as cheaply and quickly as possible, and then flood the market and make sales via keywords and SEO.

      I’m not a fan of this, obviously, but it works in general because syndicate authors almost always target overseas writers who will take a lot less money for their work, and because they produce so many books so quickly for so little money out the door, they actually do turn a profit – think of it like the publishing equivalent of a sweatshop. It’s ugly, and unprofessional, and low-quality, but there’s no doubt it makes money for them. The poor ghostwriter, not so much.

      I will note that there are a few more legitimate syndicate authors that actually do try to build a brand and a level of quality for a specific pen name, and these are the ones that often pay better rates and do their own editing and re-writing to deliver a consistent tone. In general though, if the offer looks absurdly low, you’re best avoiding it, unless you simply can’t get any other freelance work. Ghostwriting can be quite lucrative, but not for this sort of content-churning.

      1. Kensi Blonde

        Exactly

        Exactly. I’m also an indie writer but I actually write my books, and have found I’m probably in the minority these days. Most fairly successful indie writers farm out their books to extremely cheap freelancers (and increasingly, AI software). They then might do a pass on the book to polish it. They then slap on their pen name and a cheap cover (which are surprisingly high quality) and put the book into Kindle Unlimited (usually). Quality doesn’t matter. Readers gulp down the genre they love (usually romance) and are not discerning. Trust me. The only thing that matters is getting out as many books as possible, usually one a month.

        Many times the freelancers aren’t even writing the books, they are stitching together content from other authors – plagiarising. As Amazon doesn’t use plagiarism software, it’s not caught unless a reader happens to notice it. Welcome to the world of indie publishing!

    4. nt

      They’re self-publishers who use Amazon to publish their “books” where anyone can self-publish.

      They’re the same type of people who were taking books with expired copyrights, writing custom prefaces and then selling them through Amazon. Amazon cracked down on that so now they’re expanding into ripping off writers who have no clue that these scammers are making massive profit off of them.