Content Mills Got You Down? Research, Query, Write!

With the recent changes made by Google hitting certain writing sites squarely over the head, I hear the drums beating and the people calling – how will I continue to make good money as a writer? While I’m not here to judge how you make money writing, I have a few tips that might help. I, too, have done articles for a few content houses. It’s never been a main source of my income, however, and I feel for those depending upon these avenues as their livelihood. If you’re freelancing, or want to hit bigger markets in print (or the web), consider how it works for me.

“Research, Query, Write!” first appeared as a response to Hope Clark’s newsletter. I wrote an op-ed piece and she loved it. Purchased and published the piece in FundsForWriters. I’ve tweaked the article a bit for today’s audience, but the wisdom holds true. Going back to 2009, when my business was taking off in a grand way, I vowed never to become dependent upon one client, and certainly not one publisher. It’s 2011, and I think you can pick up a few jewels as you mine through this piece. It works for nabbing clients, querying magazines and writing strong articles editors love.

When I scour the forums and work at home boards, I read countless posts about “Where can I write?” and “Who will hire me?” Say what?

Is the old fashioned way of writing dead? Or is the market wide open for those who would research, query and write?

Call me a mixture of modern and antiquated.

While I agree that writing for content houses can pay some bills, I am a firm believer in reaching as high as I can. Rather than sweat it out for a residual site or pump out thousands of words for lower pay, I prefer to take the road less traveled: research, query, write.


Mornings and late evenings are my prime times for figuring it all out. I lay the plans for the following day before I close my eyes and in the morning, I take more time to digest where I’m headed. This quiet time is my magic, my source and the place I draw ideas from.


Once a story is conceived, I discover if it’s viable. I look for sources, gather background information, etc. From there, phone calls, email, and leg work. Less worthy stories die on the vine, while strong ones gather speed. When it feels juicy, I know it’s hot. By then, I’m mentally prepared to query.


This is the most frightening aspect of writing for newbies and clearly, the most often overlooked. Grab Writer’s Market at the local library (or better yet, subscribe and get your markets online) and make a list of publications you can write for. Google subjects you’re interested in. A strong query can open the door to writing for the publisher of your choice. Find local and regional publishers and query the editors. Next, put the query together. This is your time to shine, share and have fun! If you need help, enlist the aid of a seasoned writer. This process seems terrifying at the onset, but believe me, when an editor emails back, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.


This is when I sit down. I know what’s expected, I’ve got the slant and the clock’s ticking. Sitting in the chair and writing, editing, fact checking, calling a source again, and editing, editing, editing can be mind-numbing! However, the end result is the crown jewel of what I do and most of all, I love weaving words. I’m extremely careful and my pieces take a lot of time to produce. If the writing’s not up to par, if it’s not what the editor wanted, if I missed something, I’m out of a check.

For those who long to be published, reach as high as you can. Dream big and do your homework. Continue honing your craft and never, ever give up.

These times seem uncertain, but the long and short of it is this: times change. That’s the nature of business. We’re all in it together — writers, clients and prospects. The written word isn’t going away, and with new technology, there are abundant opportunities for good writers. You may have to stretch a bit, but holding the bar higher is a great thing. Go for it, give it your best and let me know how it works for you!

About Laura Townshend 91 Articles
Laura's a native Texan. Besides loving Texas and horses, she's a marketing consultant, writer, and blogger who lives in the western Hill Country of Central Texas with her husband, their daughter, and a bunch of dogs and cats. Reach her at

14 Comments Posted

    • Hey Bailey!

      I couldn’t agree more…I don’t want to pick on anyone, because it’s their choice about how they make money. But…there are *so* many opportunities, and clients who’d love to have a solid, strong writer turn their copy into gold. 😉

      Thanks for reading and commenting – I really appreciate it!

  1. Such great advice, Laura. These words can be used for almost any work at home industry. Do you want to work for someone else, or do you want to work for yourself. It is something I struggled with when I first started working at home and was contemplating moving into a full-time VA business.

    My time came a lot sooner than most, but it was the best, and hardest, decision I have had to make thus far. I certainly don’t regret it.

    • Amen, Angie. I left a cushy, very, very good position Seton Healthcare Network in 2008 and have never looked back. While I’m extremely proud of my work there, and how the network helps Central Texans, it was time for a big change. Do I miss the perks, bonuses, comps and bennies? You bet. That paycheck coming in every other week was a Godsend for six years. Being self-employed and doing my thing now, however, is a way of life, and something I always dreamed of. It takes guts and thick skin but you know, at the end of the day I am so very grateful, and deeply happy. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and reading – hope to see ya again soon!

  2. I have 2 Writers Market books. One from 2004 and one from 2009. Most of the information is still very useful. My website subscription ran out, but they sent me an email today to renew, and I think I am going to do that. I also renewed my subscription to the magazine as well as Poets & Writers magazine. My biggest problem is feeling confident enough to write and send a query letter. I have never sent one, so I really have no clue.

    • I have an old Writer’s Market, too. From 1997. 😉 It’s gold, however. I read the articles periodically – the core info is still relevant.

      Since you write articles, you can write a query letter! Pick up Six Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger or Jenna Glatzer’s Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer. There are prime examples in both books, and they also teach you how to “read” your target markets. Good luck and thanks for reading and stopping by, Chrystal!

  3. I think one thing as freelance writers we all need to know is that we must always keep looking. I have written for some content mills, and will likely do so again in the future. But we need to open our eyes and step out of our comfort zone.

    I also want to add that a couple of years go Google changed their policy and companies/bloggers have learned to cope. They will find a way to master Google’s new indexing plan. You just have to wait and cope.

    Great post, by the way!

    • Thank you, Sarah!

      I totally agree – maybe sometimes freelance writers forget they’re in business for themselves? 😉 You can never become complacent or stop marketing, even in the good times. If you buffer yourself from the beginning, it’s not as hard to have clients change lanes or discontinue projects. I don’t even use Google anymore – I’m very content to sit back and see if Big G cleans its act up and what the fallout, if any, may be. As a writer and researcher, all I want is a clean, targeted search. 🙂

      Thanks again for stopping by and reading! I really appreciate your input.

  4. Totally agree. I think people limit themselves- lord knows I’ve had my share of negative nancies trying to tell me what I can and cannot do or how it’s done.

    Boiling it all down- “Who do I write for?”
    Is best answered: “Why, yourself, of course!”

    • Amen!!!! Well said, concise and to the point. 🙂 I’m glad you’re not listening to the Negative Nancies. Thank you for reading and commenting — I very much appreciate your support!

  5. Well said. My rule of thumb for new writers? One or two for a content mill that will give you something to link for, but no more than that. Your own blog is even better. Good advice.

  6. Terrific article! I think that this content mill fiasco is going to do two things – 1) more writers will be following the route you outlined above and 2) there will be more of a premium on quality online content with proper keyword research and a good hook for social media. All in all – I’m very excited for the future of writing!

    • Hi Courtney!

      I totally agree with what you’ve said. While some writers are in angst with recent changes, I keep repeating how wide open the writing profession is. There’s nothing to be afraid of – keep on writing, hone your craft and have fun! There are abundant opportunities and great clients hungry for talented writers. You’ll have to look a bit harder and market your arse off, but the end result is pure gold.

      Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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