The Outsourced Writing Experiment

Side Hustle Nation is dedicated to improving your personal profitability. To do this, we often partner with companies that share that mission. If you sign up or make a purchase through one of our partners’ links, we may receive compensation—at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

For my latest book project, I had this wonderful idea that if I could get someone else to do the writing, I could get it to market faster.

I was super busy and eager to expand my self-publishing efforts.

The Idea

You may have heard the stories of successful Kindle authors who actually use ghostwriters to create their books. The “author” just researches the topic they think will sell, and then hires someone to produce the content.

Since I’m all about efficiency, I figured it was worth a shot.

In this case, it was both.
In this case, it was both.

I had my book idea, a checklist of elements that small business websites should include. The idea came from some video site audits I’d been doing on Fiverr.

Note: While those audits were fun, they were a little too time-consuming at that price point. This book was going to be part of my strategy for increasing the average order size. And in the meantime, I was happy to be collecting the experience and feedback from actual (even if just $5) clients.

So I did my research and compiled my list, actually turning it into a pretty detailed outline.

Next, I was ready to find my writer.

Setting Up the Ghostwriting Job

I crafted an awesome job description and posted it to Elance and oDesk, following the tips you’ll hear in this week’s podcast. (I know, such a tease.)

elance proposal summary

Specifically I noted:

  • I was looking for a native-English speaker.
  • The finished project would be between 12,000-15,000 words.
  • Plagiarism would not be tolerated.
  • There would be the possibility of additional future work.

I also made sure to include an “Easter egg,” which is outsourcer-speak to ask for some specific detail the applicant should mention in their response so you know they actually read and understood your post.

For example, you might ask freelancers to include their favorite movie, or to begin their reply with the words “O’Doyle rules!”

The Applicants

In total I received 14 proposals; 7 from the US and Canada, 2 from the UK, 1 from Croatia, and 4 from South Asia (India/Pakistan/Bangladesh).

The fixed price bids ranged from $10 (from a girl in Pakistan who obviously didn’t read the job description) to $500.

As is typical, I removed the outliers high AND low, as well as the people who didn’t include my “Easter egg,” which was to begin their reply with, “Hey Nick, you’d be dumb not to hire me because…”

Ultimately I settled on a writer from Canada who had an excellent profile history on Elance and lots of positive feedback.

elance profile summary

Her bid was $220, which was middle of the road, and she promised to deliver the book in 1 week. Great!

So far so good.

Working on the Project — Immediate Red Flags

Things got interesting almost immediately after awarding her the job.

I sent her my outline and we set up a Skype meeting to discuss the project in more detail. She actually suggested the time, but then missed the meeting entirely. Later, I got this note:

“I gave you wrong time my bad.. I’m right now in gym give me 2 hours and I’ll get back to you. I sincerely apologize for the confusion.. I hope you not mad at me. :(“

Hmm, I’m beginning to think my writer really isn’t a native English speaker. A native English speaker wouldn’t write like that.

When we finally did connect on Skype, her “flag” showed as Australia, not Canada, like was indicated in her Elance profile.

Both her Elance and Skype profile pictures were blank. Something to hide, perhaps?

Still, she assured me she understood the project and would get to work on it immediately.

A couple days later, and one full week after I sent her the outline, I got this message:

“Please provide me rough outline your promised me in project description… kindly update me asap. :)”

Umm, I sent you that a week ago, and if this is how your writing is going to be, we’re going to have a problem.

But I understand online chat is more informal and maybe she really is a good writer. After all, she had a strong profile and tons of completed work.

The Results

Ten days later, I had to ask for an update on my “one week” project. A few hours after that I had her draft in my inbox.

I was nervous to open the file, and for good reason.

When I did, I found the text to be … passable. Suitable. OK.

I’d give it a C grade. Maybe a B-.

She followed the instructions and the outline and delivered what we agreed on. It was 12,700 words.

I mean, it was technically proficient.

But something was missing. There was no voice. There was no storyline. There was no me.

The sentence structure and word choice in certain parts confirmed my suspicion that she was not truly a native English speaker. Something was just a bit off, you know?

Still, she technically followed the directions and kept up her end of the bargain so I wasn’t in a position to ask for a full-scale re-write or to dispute the job.

I released the funds in Elance and marked the job as complete.

What Next?

I literally re-wrote the entire book. I might have salvaged a sentence or two, but essentially 99.9% had to be scrapped.

Since I was expecting to sell the finished work under my name, I wouldn’t have been comfortable charging money for what I knew to be C-grade level content.

I wouldn’t have been comfortable putting my name and reputation on the line with that sub-par writing.

By the time I was done, my version had more than 25,000 words — double what she had.

And hopefully some personality and voice, too.

What I Should Have Done

If you’re publishing under a pen name you don’t care about, go ahead and outsource the writing. But even if I’d found a native-English writer, I don’t think I would have been comfortable with it.

It just wasn’t me.

That was an important lesson to learn, and thankfully it was only $220.

One thing I should have done to reduce my exposure would have been to trial three different writers at 1000 words apiece (roughly the length of this post), and see which one came back the strongest.

That would have been a $50-60 test, instead of a $200 one.

See? Even experienced outsourcers make mistakes.

Live and learn, and chalk it up as another interesting side hustle experiment.

Like That? There's More!

Join the 100,000 Who Get My Best Stuff via Email

I'll also send you my free guide: The 5 Fastest Ways to Make More Money.

Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

6 thoughts on “The Outsourced Writing Experiment”

  1. Hey there brother,

    It was nice to see you be so transparent concerning your unfortunate mishap with your ghost writer book. I’m also a fiver/odesk user.

    I’ve been fortunate to have found an American writer that has a phone #. And check this out, she answers her phone and asks questions as she move forward.

    My point is, outsourcing is great when you do it the right way. You definitely left some helpful tips for future endeavors.

    Could you link some of you fiver gigs? I’d like to see what your doing over there.

    Besides that, great work with the podcast. Keep it up. If your ever in Las Vegas, hit me up. I’d like to buy you a coffee.

    Tony Mendoza

    • Hey Tony, thanks for stopping by! That sounds like a great find for a writer — good work!

      I’m nloper on Fiverr —

      A couple of gigs are on pause right now because I’m traveling but I should be back up and running full-steam soon. Are you a seller there as well? (I love Fiverr as a buyer too.)

      I’ll actually be in Vegas in early January for New Media Expo. If there’s time, would love to meet up!



  2. Thanks for responding. I’ve only purchased on fiverr. I’ve contemplated a few things but nothing I’m really committed on doing.

    I know NMX is crazy. So if you’d like to break off from the wildness let me know. You can come and have and Italian dinner with my family. We can probably even throw in a cheesecake.

    Nice meeting you my friend.

  3. Your trial idea is the way to go when you need someone new. If you get a good freelancer, he or she will be happy to do a trial. It protects the service provider as much as it does the client. I do a lot of work on a Elance as a writer, and I’ve had several clients turn out to be duds. But I almost always start small, so it’s much easier to part ways, if needed.

  4. You get what you pay for, mate :). If you’re going to Elance etc. for a ghostwriter, you’re going to get exactly what you got.


Leave a Comment

Usually Hustling, Occasionally Social

plutus winner

The Company

4580 Klahanie Dr SE #155
Sammamish, WA 98029

The Fine Print
Terms of Use
How We Make Money
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.