Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Writing about food for Examiner.com 1 -- How it works

So, I haven't been too faithful about keeping this up. I find that writing about food but not talking much about the food itself is unsatisfying and kind of pointless. Still, as long as I'm writing about food for Examiner.com, I don't think I'm going to write much about food here, save to plant links to those Examiner articles, some of which, if I do say so myself, are quite nice and contain delicious recipes.

Instead, I think, at least for a while, I'll write about writing about food, specifically about writing about food for Examiner.com. This post will be the first in a series about my experience so far with Examiner, pulling essentially no punches on them and being as fair as is possible.

For those who don't know, Examiner.com is an online magazine of sorts, and its writers are independent contractors that get paid competitive wages (*more on this below*) for writing about any topic within their expertise once they're hired as an Examiner. The application process is easy: go to the website, sign up to write for them, list referrals (like me, see links below to my Examiner titles if you feel this article sways your interests toward writing for them enough to contact me so that I can properly refer you), write a short piece, give them a little bio and a profile pic, and wait a little while. As a tip if you apply to write for Examiner, keep that little piece via some version of copy and paste since you'll likely want to submit something you think is good, and you'll never see it again after the application. Keep your bio info too because there's an oddly good chance you'll have to submit it again and won't have access to whatever you spent time thinking up in the first place.

About those "competitive wages," they come in two forms, depending on your title. Everyone with Examiner.com starts as a local Examiner, which means that they're tied to and associated with the local area they apply to write for, usually the one they live in. Examiner pushes hard on an "everything local" initiative, and so local Examiners are expected to write about locally relevant content, although this can simply mean pointing a reader toward local resources for gathering more information or relevant stuff (like ingredients) to the article. In that, Examiner.com offers its local Examiners a "local incentive," via its "Rules of the Road," a short list of content rules that essentially boil down to putting a local spin on every article. That incentive is $1 per article for up to 5 articles per week (for a maximum of about $260 a year in local incentive pay, which is on top of "performance pay," by page views). That is about to double for sponsored local Examiners, which means local Examiners that are sponsored by some (local?) business.

In addition to "local incentives," Examiner.com pays everyone, including its more topical National Examiners, performance pay that works out to what seems to be about just shy of a cent per page view, taking into account a variety of factors that are kind of like a trade secret -- you never find out how they work, probably to help prevent you from gaming the system. Having subscribers (which means signing up for a free, no-spam e-mail alert system or RSS), however, seems to be more valuable than just random visitors, and apparently the time on site that a reader spends and click-through rate have something to do with it as well.

The other pay opportunities are recruitment tools and are pushed really heavily, and ostensibly very successfully: $50 per new Examiner referred and per new sponsor referred to the growing media network. It's possible to make some serious cash that way if you can talk a lot of people into getting on there to share their knowledge, but so far in my experience, people seem leery about signing up to write for them (more on that in the future too). The referral thing must work, though, because in three months I've written for Examiner.com so far, at least 7,500 new Examiner ID numbers have been given out, presumably one to each new Examiner writing on the site.

As for writing, the advanced editor they provide works very much like a blogging interface, so if you can work something like Blogger, you can definitely handle the Examiner editor. The basic editor is even easier to use and produces uniform but consistently nice articles that are relatively well laid out.

Examiner prefers its writers to publish 3-5 articles per week and requires at least one per month, but since they emphasize short, easy-to-read, attention-span-lacking articles (because of their success on the attention-span-lacking internet audience), it is certainly realistic to expect that articles can take between 10 minutes and an hour to complete, if you really want to spend an hour working on them. Personally, I believe in content, so I spend about 30-40 minutes on my articles, but I usually don't even bother proofreading them -- sure, quality counts, especially if you want to get "noticed," but I don't currently make enough money from Examiner on a per-article basis to justify the extra time. Besides, much to Examiner.com's detriment on the whole, most of the content on the site is utter crap -- poorly written, first-person, copy-paste, opinion-ridden, drivel that really should see some more editorial oversight. On the other hand, since each Examiner might be a rocking expert in their field, some of the content is absolutely top-notch and worth looking at and bookmarking, particularly some of the very creative, very successful recipes on there.

As for how the money works out... well, I'll go into super detail about that in a later post, but some Examiners literally make thousands of dollars a month just via performance pay. I don't think most of them write about food and drink, but on the other hand, some of the top Examiners in food and drink are getting at least thousands of page views per day, which comes out to possibly $10-50+ a day in relatively passive income at the low requirement of what amounts to probably about 2-3 hours a week writing time (which doesn't include marketing, promoting, or researching time). While this sounds highly enticing, I have absolutely no idea how to achieve numbers like that (again, more on that aspect later!) and don't come anything close to it yet. Then again, I apparently have absolutely no idea how the hell social networking plays a role in advertising except that I post many of my articles on my Facebook page and get a very modest number of clicks from that source (I currently consider my experiment with Twitter to have failed... I still can't get into that crap). I'm routinely in the top five Examiners in my local network (Knoxville, TN), however, which given my rather low readership is quite, quite the scary commentary on overall traffic to and through the site.

If you're interested in seeing what I've put on Examiner.com so far, I currently hold two local Examiner positions, the former vastly more successful than the latter (which is new but seems not to be growing very quickly):

  1. Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner (x-31650)
  2. Knoxville Coffee Examiner (x-39092)
Just follow those links to see a complete list of my articles under each title, which are handled and sorted separately. I'd love it if you check them out, especially if you subscribe, and if this article has made you interested in writing for Examiner, I'd appreciate an e-mail or a comment so I can refer you properly. If we communicate via e-mail, I'll be more than happy to share the upsides and downsides with you freely about writing for the site, so far as I see them now. For what it's worth, since I love writing and sharing what I know, writing for Examiner is fun, and it almost pays for my internet connection now (though not for my time), and the possibility for being "discovered" by someone that pays much more substantially is a nice bonus.

Click here to roll on through to Writing about food and drink for Examiner.com Part 2: Does it Pay?

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