Today we continue our insider look at with a guest post by Marisa Wright, another long-time Helium member. Responding to yesterday’s guest post, she warns that whether you like writing—and whether you count your writing time as work hours— makes all the difference in the world in your results. Marisa blogs at Get That Novel Published.

Thingywhatsit has written an excellent review of, from the point of view of the writing enthusiast. It’s a fun place and a great community to be part of if you’re an aspiring writer. But don’t even think of joining Helium if you’re not a writing enthusiast. The site rewards well-written, magazine-quality articles. If you don’t enjoy writing, you’ll get discouraged long before you start making any money.

Since the main purpose of “I’ve Tried That” is to give people accurate information on the earning potential of sites, I’m going to focus on that aspect of Helium in this article.

What can you earn?

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There are many Helium contributors, like Thingywhatsit, who are very happy with their earnings. However, they are all people who love writing and don’t count the long hours they’ve spent on Helium as “work”.

Paul Lines is a Helium enthusiast with around 1,000 articles on the site. He’s a good writer and has made $1,000 in nine months. Another writer recently posted that he was making $50 to $60 monthly, on 600 articles. Posts by other writers, and my own results, seem to back this up – on average, you can expect to earn 1 or 2 cents per article per month. If you want to translate that into an hourly rate, consider that an article can take anything from half an hour to 2 hours to write. I’ve been on the site since February and haven’t seen any writer claim to be making more than that (not counting Marketplace and contest prizes, on which more later). I’d love someone to prove me wrong!

Before Helium writers swarm on to the site to correct me – yes, I do agree that some articles are big earners whereas others will earn nothing. However, you can’t simply ignore the non-earners in working out your return. You still had to write them! And yes, you could “leapfrog” those articles to improve their earnings, but that would take more time, which you’d have to include in the equation.

Residual income
Writers often point out that it’s not the immediate earnings that count, it’s the fact that the articles remain on Helium in perpetuity and continue to earn income. That’s true, but let’s take Paul Lines as an example: this year, he’ll earn about $1,300 in return for the 1,000+ hours he took to write his articles. For the next five years, he should earn another $6,500 without lifting a finger. But that’s still a total of only $7.80 per article. And that’s assuming none of his articles will date, and that Helium doesn’t evolve into something else, or fold, within that time (it’s worth remembering that Helium started out as a “question and answer” site, and many of the articles contributed during that period are now being deleted – so the idea of Helium evolving and making current articles irrelevant is not that far-fetched).

Boosting your earnings?

Helium will tell you there are lots of ways to make extra money on the site. They advocate promoting your work on your own blog, on forums or on Facebook and MySpace. That’s fine, and costs virtually nothing in time if you already have a blog, participate in forums already or have a Facebook/MySpace profile. But if you have to create those things to do the promoting, you must include that extra time in calculating your return on investment. My own experience suggests the extra income isn’t in proportion to the extra time required.

Social bookmarking your own work (Digg, Stumbleupon, MyWeb etc) is also suggested. Some Heliumites have taken to this enthusiastically, with the result that Digg has already banned some Helium users for self-promotion and I suspect other sites will eventually follow. And once again, it’s important to take the time spent social bookmarking into account when working out your return on investment.

The Big Money?
If you’re lucky enough to be chosen by a publisher in the Marketplace section, or win a contest, you do earn a lump sum – anything from $10 to $150. For those who want to try Helium as a money-earner, one strategy would be to target these sections of the site only. However, both sections call for articles on specific topics which may require substantial research, unless they’re in your area of expertise. That means the articles can take much longer to write, so you need to look at the possible return before deciding whether it will be worth your effort.

Selling Elsewhere?
Helium makes a big thing out of the fact that the writer retains copyright on all articles, and can publish them elsewhere. It’s been suggested that you can hone your work on Helium, using the feedback from ratings and fellow writers, to improve its saleability.

That’s true, but there is a catch. Many sites are now starting to demand that the article isn’t published anywhere else on the internet – and it’s impossible to delete any of your articles from Helium, ever. So having an article on Helium restricts your ability to sell it elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

After all this, you may be wondering what I’m doing on Helium. The fact is that over the last few months, I’ve had regular brief pockets of unproductive time. I happened upon Helium and found it the perfect solution to relieving boredom. I enjoy writing, I enjoy the community and I enjoy the chance to pontificate about subjects in debates and to share my experiences in articles. I would recommend the site to anyone who would enjoy it for those reasons. But if you want to make reasonable money, realistically you should be prepared to devote 500 to 1,000 hours to the site – and I mean just to write the articles, not counting participating in the community or promoting your work. And personally, if I had that much time to spare, I can think of many more lucrative ways to utilise it.

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Join the Discussion

  • Bluerabbit

    If you really love to write, consider delving into your personal expertise. Everybody is an expert on something. For example, a teenager is an expert on the problems of teenagers. What do you know better than anybody else? I guarantee there is a real market for your expertise. You do not have to slog through a mire of ghastly writing by wannabes to “learn.” Get a copy of Writer’s Market. Write a proposal and send it to a real (print) publisher.
    There is one exception. If you enjoy the poetry (or short shorts) posted on Helium, you are already in the right place. The “market” for the most capable of contemporary “literary” writing is marginal. The market for Helium poetry is, well, Helium. It is, as you say, a social network. (If you want to learn about serious contemporary poetry, read Poets and Writers or visit the site of the Academy of American Poets.

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