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How Can You Attract the Best Writers? A Top Freelancer Weighs In

Editor’s note: Every week on Contently’s The Freelancer, freelance writer Nicole Dieker answers a question from a reader in her “Ask a Freelancer” column. This week’s column seemed very relevant for The Content Strategist’s readers who are looking to attract great writers, so we decided to share it here as well. Enjoy.

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I run a writing website that pays (not a lot, but not nothing) and have trouble attracting people. What can I do to attract more high-quality writers?

—Head (Hunting) Editor

I have been waiting my whole life for someone to ask me this question.

You attract high-quality writers through the integrity of your publication and the clarity of your submissions process. You keep them through your ability to pay competitively, and—most importantly—promptly.

Your submission process

When I take a look at your publication, the first thing I want to see is good writing. Is this a site that values each word? Or is it just another site peddling clickbait adjacent to ads?

The best writers write for sites that value their best work, plain and simple.

If your site looks interesting, I’ll probably read close to 10 pieces to get more of a feel for what you publish. Then I’ll check out your submission process. Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • A mission statement that includes the types of pieces you run and the types of pitches you’d like to receive
  • An indication of whether you pay writers and, if so, how much
  • A description of how the editorial process works and how long it takes editors to respond to submissions

If you are like The Toast and indicate that you respond to writers within three days at the latest, I know I can pitch you topical pieces. Tor, which has another fantastic submissions page, promises to respond to nonfiction pitches within two weeks.

If you respond within 24 hours or three days, I can send you my best and most immediate work. If you say you’ll respond in two weeks or one month, I know I can’t pitch you any topic that might become irrelevant before you get back to me. That’s fine—plenty of topics can outlast the news cycle—but be aware of the message you are sending to potential writers.

If your submissions page states you don’t pay writers, I will click away from your publication so fast. As a standing rule, I don’t pitch sites that don’t pay writers unless you are The Rumpus, which is one of the few non-paying sites that values good writing and would provide my best work with enough exposure to make the effort worthwhile.

You’re not The Rumpusso pay me.

Your payment process

I am assuming you are willing to pay competitively, but many publications pay $25 an article, and you may get people to write for you at that rate, but—as with any other low-paying job—they’ll leave you the minute something better comes along.

If you want high-quality writers, offering “competitive” compensation means at minimum 16 cents per word, or $100 for a 625-word piece. Keep in mind that a lot of us are working for publications that pay double that. If you pay 32 cents per word or more, not only will you get the best writers, but you’ll also get writers who will stay loyal to your publication, pitch often, and send you their very best work.

Almost just as crucial as paying enough is letting writers know when exactly they’re going to receive the money.

Publications pay me in three different ways:

  • On submission, which is how The Freelancer pays and is my preferred method of payment. Turn in article, receive money. Hooray! (Then tackle necessary edits afterward.)
  • The weekly or monthly payday, which is how the majority of my regular clients operate. I like payday, because I can plan for it, and because I know I’m working for a publication that treats writing like a job, not an avocation.
  • After the piece is published, which would be a reasonable method, except publications often don’t tell me when they’re going to publish my work. I have to spend three months hitting “refresh” on a site to see if my piece is up yet, and then I have to wait another few weeks after publication for the check to arrive.

When I don’t know the exact day I am going to receive my paycheck, I can’t treat it like real money. I can’t schedule it into my cash-flow budget, for example. I have to treat these kinds of unscheduled paychecks like surprise checks from Grandma, because you can’t guarantee they’ll show up in time for rent or groceries.

What happens when I work for a publication and realize I can’t treat their paycheck like a reliable payday? That publication drops to the bottom of my pitch list, no matter how much it pays.

So, Head (Hunting) Editor, if you want to attract more high-quality writers to your site, start with these ideas and see if implementing some of them helps improve your pitch rate. If you’re still not getting the response you want, don’t be afraid to contact writers directly. We love to be invited to contribute to publications that show initiative, regardless of whether you have an audience of 100,000 or 1,000.

Nicole Dieker would love to hear more questions from editors, such as “How can I stop writers from getting all huffy when I edit their work?” If you would like to ask Nicole that question, or any other question, email her at dieker.nicole@gmail.com.

Image by Adam Foster
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