A Writer’s Journey Through the Demise of Print Media

I couldn’t believe my luck! My first ever article – written completely on spec – picked up by one of my favourite magazines, Open Minds. The thought being published and knowing that my work would be read by thousands of people from all over the world was indescribable. I was paid $250 for 1,500 words and three images. Minus the international bank conversion, I ended up with around £140. Not enough to live off, but certainly enough shatter the negative prison of belief I was living in at the time.

Within one month of that first sale I wrote and sold articles to Fate, Digital Filmmaker and Black Belt. The pipe dream of becoming a writer suddenly became a reality and pushed me harder than ever before. Since then (2012) I have optioned screenplays, sold shorts, ghostwritten a book, and subsequently made a modest living (and I mean very modest!) writing for video and tabletop games – I even managed to bag a literary agent! It has taken four difficult years to finally make a living solely off freelance writing. But nothing will ever compare to that first sale.

However, my experiences haven’t always been positive. Little did I know, I was at the tail end of the demise of print – at least in the industries I worked in. In my short time working as a writer for specialist non-fiction magazines, I experienced first-hand the decline that so many before me predicted. The monthly magazines turned bi-monthly; the bi-monthly magazines turned quarterly; and then, all of a sudden, they were off the shelves. Two years after receiving my first pay cheque, I was spending more time querying editors than writing. I had gone full circle. As a writer who spent three years undertaking a creative writing degree at university, it was disheartening to say the least.

Of course, not every market suffered the same fate, but anything I was moderately passionate or qualified to write about was. Even so, to me it felt like the prophecy of a literary doomsday really was happening. While I am fortunate enough to have found writing (or related) work in other sectors, not all of my writer friends were quite so lucky. Even though specialist non-fiction magazines were once my primary source of income, I have since given up writing on spec and haven’t been published in print well over a year. But I won’t dwell on the past…

Last year I watched an interview with Billy Corgan – frontman of the Smashing Pumpkins – about the fall of the music industry. To paraphrase, he said, “Musicians need to stop whining about the Internet and work alongside it to create new and more profitable business models.” Funnily enough, it was this advice that made me change my outlook on my failing career and start pursuing other paths in and around writing. With the demise of print, I was adrift. But I knew there had to be something new in its place; something relevant and creatively (and financially) satisfying.

Afterwards I hooked up with a good friend of mine from England and we decided to pool our professions together – he’s an artist – and work on a story based card game. So here it is… after many months of toil I am finally proud to announce The Damned Children, hopefully the first of many chapters!


My Thoughts on Content Mills

Weeks after declaring my hatred of SEO content mills – during an anticipated state of question – my opinion was solidified when I received a handsome cheque of $300 from Black Belt magazine. I wrote an article called Forgotten Martial Arts of Great Britain way back in February 2013 – yes, over two years ago! Black Belt was the first magazine I approached.

When I initially queried the editor I had no print publications to my name and was naive to the process. It was a passion piece, so I never really expected to hear anything, but lo and behold, I received a reply within 24 hours. Shamefully, I hadn’t actually written the article, I merely had the idea (a white lie). I spent two days researching and crafting the text to the strongest of my abilities. After sending it out I checked my emails religiously for days… but heard nothing.

An entire year went by. During this time I proposed the article to a few other publications. While it received interest, I was reluctant to seal the deal as anything less than Black Belt would’ve been a huge disappointment. In October 2014, over a year and a half after the initial query, I received an email stating that it would be published in the following issue. There were a few hiccups along the way due to image copyright; however, the piece finally made it to the shelves in February 2015.

Two years… it took two whole years! But the reward was well worth the wait. I received the cheque in April, and while it wasn’t a particularly large payment, it dwarfed anything I’d received in the past from content mills with a similar word count. With ridiculous turnarounds, low pay and factory-like production schedules, the mills really do make a mockery of the writing profession.

Creative Burnout

When I tell people I’m a writer they always ask, “What do you write?” I hate this question. Why? Because I’m ashamed of the real answer. I tend to tell a half truth, “I write for specialist magazines, mainly martial arts, paranormal and film-related.” It’s not a lie, but it certainly doesn’t pay my wage. For the past fourteen months I’ve called myself a ‘writer,’ but in reality all I’ve done is sacrifice creative for financial freedom. A real writer has integrity…

When I look back on 2014 I see few accomplishments — I managed to finish editing a short film, but that’s about it. However, if I continue to look back another year I see many accomplishments; published articles, a poetry collection, a short film… even a novel. Not my best work, but it proves that I once had fire.

From now on I will give everything my very best, which inevitably means I’ll have to be more selective with my clientele. Whether it’s a spec script or piece of web copy, I will never again sacrifice creativity for money — it’s not worth my sanity. So to all past, present and future ‘professional’ clients, if you want a keyword stuffer who values links over quality, look elsewhere. I never want to hear the words ‘evergreen’ or ‘content’ again! It’s utter bullshit.