Writing for Dollars – My adventures at Helium.com

Once upon a time I was sitting around my house, with too much time on my hands, and too few funds at my disposal, when I decided to be a writer…

Ten weeks later:

Since mid January I’ve been writing for Helium.com.  People on the web, and Helium members as well, seem to either hate Helium or love Helium.   As for me, well, Helium and I are still in the “first date” phase of our relationship.  I’m waiting to see if they’ll pick up the check.

Helium and I met on-line.  I did some minimal research before I put my name to my Helium account and began writing; and then during my first couple of weeks I continued to peruse the web, looking specifically for anything prurient or scandalous. 

I found a couple of disgruntled former Helium members who’ve embarked on rather vehement vendettas against Helium, but I found those individuals do not ever address the counter arguments to their claims of maltreatment by Helium.  So, I felt pretty good about continuing the relationship.

Thus far I am satisfied that Helium delivers what they promise.  Though some Heliumites complain mightily that they were not fully aware that they were giving Helium rights to their writing “in perpetuity”, I found those terms spelled out clearly when I opened my account.

Complaints about Helium’s rating system are not completely off base.  The rating system is incapable of distinguishing between writing that is average (by real writing world standards) and writing that is actually good.  However most the writing on Helium falls below the average mark, and so the rating system does deliver a very very rough representation of relative article quality.   Keep in mind that the same genius minds that generate Helium’s mass of articles, also rate it.

Marketplace is an interesting place.  I’ve successfully peddled my writing wares there, about $300 worth so far, with more work awaiting final judgement.  I sold my first article about two weeks after I began writing for Helium.  I’m pleased with this.

Given that I am a previously unpublished writer, selling work at all within such a short time period prompts me to give a thumbs-semi-up (45 degrees from vertical) to Helium’s Marketplace, with the stipulation that I will turn the thumb WAY down if any of the publishers do not pay.   I hold the totally erect thumb in reserve until I sell work to publishers of merit who are actually willing to tell me who they are, and where I may find my work. 

So far I have seen one of my articles on the web, three others are sold to a known publisher with a reputation for using articles in unrecognizable (and un-Google-able) form.  I don’t mind this since I knew what I was writing, and what I was writing for, at the time; and this publisher has a very comforting reputation for actually paying. 

A fifth article, I wrote for a known client with a real street address and a brick and mortar establishment.  Fantastic!  So far. 

My sixth article, a longer, more back breaking endeavor sold for my highest take ever.  But the publisher (who is in turn selling the work to yet another party) chooses to remain anonymous.  This means I have sold my piece to a client through two middle men who both have an interest in making certain that a writer (me) cannot contract individually with the end user of the writing.   Bummer.

I’ve been told by Helium that I may search the web for my work the traditional Google way.  Yeah right.  I have no idea if it’s even going on the web.  I suspect my article may be intended for a small print publication, which I’ll never be able to find.  I will probably never know where it ends up.  How convenient for the “publisher”. 

Here’s my Helium Marketplace Lesson One: 

Helium publishers most often post their article requests under a pseudonym.  They do not reveal their true identity until an article has been chosen, and then only to the selected author; and they reserve the right to remain anonymous.   You won’t know if they choose to remain anonymous until after you agree to sell your article to them.

So, if you are writing for Helium in hopes of garnering clips for your portfolio, you may find yourself stiffed in this regard.  The money is all you’ll get in many cases.  Money is a great consolation, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but you should always be aware of rules of the game.   

Now, maybe you’re thinking – like I did – next time, maybe I shouldn’t write for that publisher.  Well, they can always post under a new pseudonym.   We writers may be none the wiser.  (Besides, the pay was okay.  I’d do it again.  Still, I find myself wondering how much the end user actually paid.  Hmmm.)

 Helium Marketplace Lesson Two:

Beginning writers, Helium is not your agent.  They represent themselves.  YOU represent you.  So, if you want to use Helium to your advantage, get your best business head in the game, develop some realistic expectations.  If you want to sell work, be prepared to work hard. 

If you can get some clips, try to move up in the writing food chain, because once again, Helium is not evil, as some will claim, but they are out to make a buck for Helium.  They are not specifially into promoting YOU. 

If you want to make a go of it in writing you can start at Helium, but ultimately you can’t rest at Helium.  You’ve got to somehow start writing for clients who are actually known to you.  You can find a few of these on Helium, but they come along sporadically. 

A Heliumite complaint with which I cannot concur: 

A handful of Marketplace writers seem to feel that they should be able to reclaim the rights to their Marketplace published work after a certain period, so that they can publish it again.  Their argument is that the pay is paltry for initial “publication”, and their words are more valuable than that.  To this I say, come on, you cannot be serious.  Just churn out some more of the same and forget about it. 

Even the best article I’ve “sold” isn’t worth hanging on to.  I can always write again on that topic if I want to.   You could say I own the goose.  I’m not too worried that I sold a golden egg too cheap.  Okay, aluminum egg – but the principle still applies.

I respect my fellow Helium writers, but some over estimate the value of their work.  I don’t count myself among those ranks.  I’m not saying I’m a bad writer, just that the English speaking world has a surplus of not bad writers.  I’m happy to be getting paid at all.   For the time being.

In summary: 

Helium.com is not out to take advantage of anybody, but they are a cheap date.  If you want to make any real money, lose the romantic notions.  Treat Helium like a business and head straight for Marketplace. 

If you can write decently, and you work at it, as you would any other job, you should not have trouble selling work (I have sold close to 18% of my Marketplace articles, and that number could rise, since another 20% of my submissions are still pending).   If after submitting twenty five or so articles to Marketplace, you do not sell anything, something is wrong with your writing.  Polish up your skills. 

With Helium’s current Marketplace set-up, writing for them is more of a stepping stone type relationship.   Just as with most other small time writing ventures, you will not make a lot of money.  You’ll need to move on to more promising prospects in order to do that.

Next installment will include:

  • Some of my observations of how the Helium staff interacts with members.  They’re nice, but it’s all business people, make no mistake. 
  • Also, is it a good idea to post creative writing on Helium?  Several pros and cons, if you’re trying to be a freelance writer. 
  • Fellow writers as mentors and champions of your work.
  • Plus, other stuff I’m sure to think of before tomorrow.

6 responses to “Writing for Dollars – My adventures at Helium.com

  1. I am thoroughly impressed by your thoughtful “take” on the whole Helium business model. Very fair and balanced.

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog!


  2. ordinaryreportage

    Helium has been pretty fair to me 🙂 When they begin to act nasty, I’ll tell yah!

  3. thehardcorefreelancer

    I had a really hard time with helium.com. I made about $0.20 from their site and decided that I wanted to use my articles somewhere else (magazine wants to pay me $50-$100 for one of them) but I couldn’t have them posted anywhere else. I emailed helium (at help@helium.com and at content@helium.com) 3-4 times and never received a response. In an (immature) attempt to get my profile deleted I purposefuly published inappropriate content then reported my inappropriate article thinking they might pay attention to that.

    Well instead of deleting my articles and my profile, they made me one of their premier writers giving the articles that I want to use elsewhere even more exposure. Not only that, but they have locked me out of my own account so I can’t post new work or edit my existing work and profiles. I’m absolutely livid. They don’t have rights to my work (by their own admission) and it’s to the point where if they don’t comply to my request in 48 hours I already have a lawyer lined up to help me take them to court.

    I recommend that you stay away from helium.com. My experience has been that they have absolutely no respect for writers and their artistic rights.

  4. Hello hardcorefreelancer,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I’ll respond to the following “They don’t have rights to my work (by their own admission) and it’s to the point where if they don’t comply to my request in 48 hours I already have a lawyer lined up to help me take them to court.”

    If you read Helium’s terms of use completely, you’ll see that indeed they do have the right to display your work. You retain the right to use your work elsewhere in addition to Helium’s website, but you do not have the right to remove your work from Helium or to sell exclusve rights to another website or publication.

    On any website, always read the terms of use thoroughly before you agree to them.

  5. I forgot to add that I wish you the best of luck with your magazine publishing.

    For web publishing with more freedom to delete your work, try Associated Content’s display only option which allows you to delete your article at any time. HubPages also allows you the freedom to delete your hubs.

  6. thehardcorefreelancer

    Yes, well we’ll let the lawyers sort it out. I contacted mine today.

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