Shocking Tales of Unexpected Success

Money for Nothing

I was planning to write an incredibly long, detailed post about the not-so-wonderful world of writing for websites that operate on revenue sharing models.

Part of that post was going to discuss a throwaway article I wrote several years ago for a revshare site on a lark, just to test the waters.  Due to a lucky combination of good timing, optimization for a virtually unexploited long tail keyword in a big money niche and what one can only describe as stupid luck, I’ve made approximately $600 from that article over the course of five years.  It took me approximately five minutes to find the primary keyword (there’s that luck) and about ten minutes to write the simple article.

I’m not underpaid, but I generally don’t make $2,400 per hour for lousy little pen-named articles designed for content mills.  I still chuckle every month when I see the mill make a deposit into my checking account.

Anyway, I wanted to mention that article because stories like those are one reason why so many people hop into the revshare world.  Unfortunately, they’re flukes.  Anomalies.  Luck breaks.  You can’t count on them.  They don’t happen too often.  I was going to put that particular article’s numbers up against the other four I wrote in the same week for that site long, long ago to illustrate the point.

I was plodding through the post about revenue sharing while listening to George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and just as I started detailing the story of the miracle article, I found myself half-singing along with Ring Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy”.

It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.

It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don’t come easy.
You don’t have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.

Well, in my case it did come easy.  I goofed around as an experiment and made a big ol’ chunk of cash from writing that I’d objectively value at approximately nothing.

Some days, Starr’s lyrics do ring true for a self-employed writer.

However, there are times when it does come easy.  The cosmic tumblers click into place and weird little miracles appear.

Accentuating the Positive

Instead of writing a post about the way things don’t come easy in the world of revenue sharing, I decided to write a post about the times things do come easy.  I figured it might be nice to celebrate the crazy flukes and accidental victories instead of focusing on the ugly grind of making a living with a keyboard.

Here are my favorite easy moments…  In no particular order:

The $600 Revshare Non-Masterpiece: This is the article mentioned above.  A nearly effortless bit of experimentation continues to pay dividends years after its creation.  There really is no logical explanation for why this article continues to earn and earn every month.  Somehow, it continues to fly below the radars of those who work in the niche and Google, pumping out steady earnings for the content mill and me.

The Three-Page Report that Made Over $5,000. I was driving down the highway and a simple idea crossed my mind.  Bum marketing (a simplified form of article-based affiliate marketing) was a hot topic in the Internet marketing world.  I realized there was a very easy way to boost the value of the articles and to insure at least some up-front cash value for them.  That relatively small cash payment could serve as something of an insurance policy for those who were writing free articles for directories in hopes of generating affiliate sales.

I came home, sat down and outlined the exceedingly simple process.  I added introductory and concluding paragraphs, converted it into a PDF and posted it for sale as an information product on a popular IM forum with a little off-the-top-of-my-head sales copy.  I set up a PayPal button and a quick automated download process for anyone willing to buy the guide.  From top to bottom, it took about two hours.

The next morning, I woke up to over $2,000 in sales.  Within three days, I made $5,000 off that simple idea.  The almost equally awesome part was the fact that the folks who bought the report actually liked it.  It didn’t take long for the concept to escape the confines of my hastily produced ebook and sales ground to a halt shortly thereafter.  I wasn’t complaining.

The Luckiest Celebrity Blog Ever: I noticed that my wife was watching a TV show featuring a woman I had seen on another show the day before.  Out of curiosity, I did some quick Googling and realized that her career was absolutely on fire and that she was poised for a major breakthrough.

At the time, I was experimenting with new keyword mining techniques and generating income via blogs monetized with contextual advertising.  A few minutes later, I had claimed a Blogspot blog with a domain name featuring a common misspelling of the celebrity’s name and was setting it up with a number of quick posts that were little more than silly notices of other articles about the celebrity, combined with a brief excerpt of the source material and a link to the original source.  It was a very crude homemade news aggregator, in a sense.

The site started making about $1 per day in Adsense earnings, so I kept adding occasional little posts.  The celebrity’s star power increased to the Nth degree and earnings went up, up and up.  Soon, it was making a solid $10 per day.  Then $20.  Then $30.  I outsourced one hundred additional news aggregation-style posts with some of the earnings, loaded them up and set them to drip feed at a rate of two per week.  The investment paid for itself within two months.

That site made a small fortune before people with real resources, strong content and a commitment to doing things the right way realized that a crummy little Blogspot blog was ranking in the top three for a series of high volume searches.  The competition didn’t find it hard to knock me off, but that blog put a stack of fat Adsense checks in my pocket before they did.  For what it’s worth, the site still generates about a buck every other day and I haven’t so much as looked at it in over two years.

Common Traits

All three of those weird winners share a few common traits:

They happened because I was willing to experiment. If I had been wholeheartedly committed to following THE plan and only THE plan, they wouldn’t have happened.  This serves to remind me that keeping an open mind and trying new things can be a lot of fun and a source of profits.

They all defied duplication. Efforts to replicate the results with similar projects invariably fall short of those anomalous originals.  I did have some luck with other Adsense-monetized blogs (enough that I still get a check every month from Google) and I’ve sold a few other information products here and there that have been well worth my time, but I’ve never come close on another revshare article.  This reminds me that luck matters more than we’d probably like to think.

All three of these happy accidents share one other trait.  They happened three or more years ago.

And You Know it Don’t Come Easy

I think that last fact may contain the most important lesson my three examples offer.  In the last few years, we’ve witnessed an absolute explosion in the number of people trying to make money online as writers, Internet marketers and everything else imaginable.  I think it’s an overstatement to say we’re near a saturation point, considering the web’s continued rapid growth, but the online world is certainly more crowded and competitive today than it was a few years ago.

I really do believe it was easier to mix some rudimentary knowledge with a little skill and a chunk of action to generate healthy chunks of cash back in the “good old days” (which aren’t particularly old at all, truth be told).  As I think about other cool little bursts of luck I’ve had, most of them happened during or before 2008.  I know I haven’t stopped experimenting with new ideas and I’d like to believe that my skills have improved.  I know my knowledge base is more expansive.

So, either I’ve hit a long luckless streak or it’s getting tougher to hit the big time with little effort due to increased competition.

I wanted to go from a somewhat negative post about the doomed nature of 99.99% of revshare writing efforts to a positive reflection on the times when the money rains upon request.  Instead, I think this post could still end on a somber note.

These days…  Well…  It don’t come easy.

Your Glory Days…  And a Prize!

Ah, who wants  to end on a down note?  Maybe it can come easy.  Even if it doesn’t, it did at some point and that’s worth a little party, right?

I open it up to you, the FWJ readership.  Let’s hear your stories of glory days, your memories of times when things that shouldn’t have been successful turned into moments of accidental greatness.

Maybe it was the unedited, typo-riddled query that still landed you a plum contract.  It could’ve been the time you sent off a piece of work you personally hated that the recipient loved so much you developed a profitable on-going relationship.  Perhaps you had a magic revshare moment, too.

I don’t know what’s happened to you, but I have to believe you’ve had times when it all came easy.

Tell your story.

Oh, and just to encourage participation, I’ll tack on a prize.  The best story wins a free copy of The Concert for Bangladesh on DVD.  You get Harrison, Clapton, Preston, Dylan and even Ringo in their full bearded 1971 glory!

Let’s hear your tales of mysterious moneymakers, accidental brilliance and those unexplained moments of magic when very little effort resulted in a massive payoff of some sort.


7 responses
  1. Franky Branckaute Avatar

    Awesome piece, Carson.

    Especially the part about the celebrity blogs. For years I have added occasional typos to content and especially URLs. The result always has been that after a while, especially on reasonably well ranking sites, it has boosted both traffic and revenue. I think my best result was dictionarry. I never believed how many people typo’ed that term until I saw the traffic flowing in. I then quickly bashed out some reasonably decent guest entries as well and within some months I ranked first for that term.

    Never misspelled it in the title or anchor text but always just in the URL. Yes, sometimes the small details do matter!

  2. Carol Avatar

    I’m not sure I get the win in that first example. You wrote an article, and then it took you FIVE YEARS to collect $600 on it? Have you perhaps been introduced to the concept of compound interest?

    I write an article and get paid $600 for it this week. I spend a few more hours on it up-front, but have the money immediately to invest and make more money. Somehow not feeling jealous about that “success.”

    The $2,000 instant quickie ebook on the other hand…now that I’d LOVE to duplicate!

  3. Carson Brackney Avatar

    Carol, if that doesn’t seem like a win, you need a new calculator.

    I do understand compound interest. That’s why I know that in order to duplicate that particular little feat, they would’ve had to pay me $300 on the front end for fifteen minutes of work and I would’ve then had to stick the money somewhere with a 15% annual return for the full five years in order to see the $600 I’ve made so far.

    Look, I can appreciate your distaste for revshare, content mills, etc. But this is one anomalous situation that actually worked. That’s the point. It’s the exception to the rule.

    OF COURSE you could write a $600 article today and earn interest on it.

    The point was that this was a completely effortless little fifteen minute experience that paid $600–not even real work.


    1. Franky Branckaute Avatar

      Carson, many of these articles combined can make a nice living and earning. Look at many a professional Squidoo Lens writer. I do know that there are people here making a living from projects paying more than $200/day but they MUST accept that they are an exception in today’s internationally open market that the World Wide Web is.

      I think now is when I should duck to dodge upcoming reactions of people who sniff at $100 and $200/day projects.

      1. Carson Brackney Avatar

        Franky–I was speaking more in terms of those who hope that submitting articles to Bukisa, etc. would be the ticket to effortless wealth. Maybe I should get around to writing the big, serious post I was going to do in the first place, just to clarify, lol.

  4. Heiddi Avatar

    Hiya Carson. Great post. My story isn’t so much about an article as an on-going writing job. In September of 2008, I was scanning Craigslist for writing jobs. Not just in my city (NYC), but listings in other major US cities. I found a posting for a discussion leader position in Seatlle for, a social networking site for moms. I didn’t see a listing in NYC so I sent a brief email about my interest and asked if they had a site in NYC. My info was passed on to the NYC site manager and the rest is history. I have been with NYC Momslikeme since then earning a monthly stipend that has really helped out since I’m a single working mom. It started out as a great hobby doing what I loved that also had the added benefit of a monthly check. I still love it as much as when I started and feel it was a fluke that I won on. Imagine if I hadn’t sent that inquiry email. I’d have been out several thousand dollars now. 🙂 Thanks for letting me share my story.

  5. TC/Copywriter Underground Avatar

    Carson, I was on your blog when you posted your $5000 ebook idea, then withdrew it hours later – and still have a copy tucked away.

    In other words, I got your big-dollar article idea for free, while everyone else had to pay for it.

    It doesn’t come any easier.

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