Monday, July 28, 2014

Fired from eHow

Copyright 2014, Travis Ross (Simple Man's Survival Guide)

Today I was relieved of my freelance writing duties cranking out garbage at Demand Media Studies for eHow and other Demand affiliates.

If you've ever Googled how to make a rug from your collection of shaved back hair or wondered how to cure that rash that started showing up after your weekend in Vegas, you've probably landed there. eHow articles use to clog up Google search results until Google rolled out an algorithm update a few years ago and Panda-whacked them.

I stumbled onto Demand around 2009 when I was exploring freelance writing jobs on the Internet. They paid about $15 an article at the time for things that I could crank out over the course of 30 minutes while watching Big Trouble in Little China or working my way through the Die Hard movies for the 100th time. I wrote a lot of articles along the lines of How to Express Your Cat's Anal Glands, How to Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich Without Cheese (or Bread), How to Delete Porn from Your Hard Drive, How to Fart Jesus Loves Me in the Key of C, How to Prepare Freezer Meals for the Zombie Apocalypse, and most importantly, How to Shave a Honey Badger's Balls.
You think I'm making this up, but I promise you these aren't far from the truth. So that you have a proper frame of reference for how silly some of these articles really are you can click through to Exhibit A, Exhibit B and Exhibit C.

Over time, the pay went from from $15 to $25, so I wrote a little more often. In the words of the wise and sage-like Todd Snider, it was all about that easy money, and I was just looking for the most I could get for the least I could do. And man, was it easy. The best part was, you could often write variations of another article you'd written previously. For example, I would write How to Shave a Honey Badger's Balls one day, How to Hold a Honey Badger Sideways and Shave Its Balls and How to Dance the Macarena While Shaving a Honey Badger's Balls. I would adjust the wording a little bit and add a tip or warning that said something to the effect of, "I'm glad you read this far. I've never actually done this. I was just in it for my $25. If you were stupid enough to actually try this and you're coming back to this article to figure out how to dress your wounds, I'd recommend crawling back into your trailer, pouring some Colt 45 over your wounds, picking up one of the rubber gloves you use when you make meth, bite it and then sew yourself up. Good luck!"

And while a lot of the articles I actually wrote were more along the lines of How to Turn Your iPhone On, How to Deal with an Abusive Wife, or How to Get Your Dog to Stop Humping Your Leg, early on I wrote a few cooking articles just to see how big of a hassle it was. My wife will tell you that there should be a law against me providing instructions to other people about how to cook anything. She'll tell you that if you ever want to kill someone and make it look like an accident, just have me cook for them. She'll also tell you that every time I cook, an angel loses its wings. I'm just saying this to advise that you avoid using any of the recipes on a Demand-powered site, such as eHow, because I'm guessing I'm not the only person out there who could screw up making toast that took it upon himself to write an article about how to prepare your own sushi, and if you eat it you've probably only got three months to live.

Over the course of the five or so years I wrote for Demand, they started to press for higher and higher quality, which meant you had to do a bit more research to write something that would pass through the system, which meant the amount of money I could make in an hour went down. I'm sure you're asking yourself the question, "Don't they have anyone doing some sort of fact-checking on this crap?" The answer is yes. They have copy editors. Ironically, for about a year I also worked in that capacity as well. I routinely reviewed things I had no clue about, and from the perspective of Remand that didn't matter because the person who wrote the article was supposedly an expert. So I just checked for grammar and went on my marry way, occasionally sending back requests for rewrites where I asked such probing questions as "Can you clearly tell the person how hard they should hit the nail?" and "Do you fully thrust or do you gradually ease the stick into the crocodile's rectum when seeking to agitate it?" That work paid $5 per article, but you could bang through quite a few of those in an hour, and for a period of time I could vacillate between writing and editing, doing one whenever I got tired of the other.

Eventually, they fired all of the copy editors and made everyone re-apply, and I was squeezed out of that side of the site. It wasn't a big deal because I could still write. So I wrote the occasional article and dealt with people occasionally sending me rewrites where they would ask such probing questions as "Can you clearly tell the person how hard they should hit the nail?" and "Do you fully thrust or do you gradually ease the stick into the crocodile's rectum when seeking to agitate it?" I complied with their requests so I could collect my $25 and turn around and give it to my wife. Because by and large, I was doing this to put money into our slush fund, and it helped make it possible for my wife to stay home.

Over the last couple of months the requests in the rewrites started to become more and more of a pain in the proverbial crocodile's rectum. I would write an article answering a question, and the rewrite that would come back would say, "That's great, but...." To continue the example associated with our poor crocodile, if I submitted an article that fully covered everything and informed the reader of the necessary amount of thrusting required, the copy editor would come back with a rewrite that would say something to the effect of: "Hi _____. This is a fantastic article, and you really covered all of the bases. However, I need you to add some value for the reader by adding some more information that discusses the differences in pressure that should be applied when shoving a stick up the rectum of a South American crocodile versus an African Crocodile." You can see where this is going. This would mean two hours worth of work for $25 that would only be useful to someone who worked in a zoo, and I hope to God that they're not going to Demand Studios (eHow) to figure these things out. Because I'm working for a half-baked content mill and not National Geographic, I got to the point where I would put some minimal effort into addressing their concerns and would write a note back along the lines of the following: "Wow. Thanks for the awesome feedback. I'd never considered that before. I did some additional research and added the incredibly awesome information you requested. Did I mention you're awesome? What a great suggestion. I'm going to print it and frame it. People must really like you. You must have lots of friends. I remember the feeling I got the the only time I gave someone an awesome suggestion, and you must get that feeling at least four times an hour. Do you gargle with amazing and pee awesome? I bet you do. I bet you use Old Spice. Do you have a fan club? Can I join? I'm gonna go print some t-shirts that say, 'I think (insert copy editor name here) is awesome!' I"ll print enough so I can wear a clean one every day. Do you think people will think that's weird? I don't care. I hope we cross paths again soon!" I wasn't that overt, but I used the type of corporate speak that clearly insinuates they should go curl up in a ditch because I'm not a National Geographic writer.

All that being said, the real reason for writing this is to apologize to everyone for the role I played in cluttering up the interwebs. If you're all bent out of shape about it, here's a Demand Sudios article that can help you overcome your feelings. If you work for a zoo, you can thank me for the article about the crocodile.

**If you want to continue laughing at the expense of this particular content mill, there's an entire website set up to hating them that I've always been a fan of. Check them out here.


  1. I miss the easy days too at Demand back in 2009-2011. I've dabbled back into it a bit off and on, grabbing some titles and getting some beer money. But man, I miss those days where you could write 10 variations on How to Turn on a Light Switch.

    Nice article by the way. Really great. Just can you give the reader some more value by linking to more References for How to Agitate an Alligator Via Rectum Stimulation. Thanks!

  2. Ha. I'm glad I don't have to deal with that anymore. I miss the easy money, but I don't miss the headache.

  3. Yes, I miss the days when I could crank out three $18 articles in an hour. Stuff like "How To Connect a Lexmark Printer to Your PC" and stuff I could write in a coma. Then they cleared the decks, and a few years later I re-applied. This time around, things weren't so easy. Suddenly an $11.50 "Quick Tech Topic" piece would take two hours, if it was accepted at all. So I bit the bullet and got my third article accepted, now waiting for my $50 "third article bonus" so I can move on to bigger and better things. I seriously doubt I'll be passing that way again...

    1. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad the temptation isn't there, lol.

  4. Hilarious! You sum it up so well. I was called an 'elitest' in the forums there - for saying that I believe topic experts should have some sort of formal education in what they are 'experts' about. I recently had a male CE tell me that even though he has never been pregnant, he would have to imagine pregnant women feel...