Sunday, January 31, 2010

Make Money Writing 101

It’s hard to gauge how well I am doing as a freelance writer. The thing is, I’m not a pushy person. It is not in my nature. I have a hard time “selling” myself. (Not because I don’t think I’m great- clearly I’m awesome- but because I’m petrified of “annoying people.” I am SHY, world. The world does not accommodate shy people, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Just the same, I’ve been freelancing now for almost a year and I’m generally pleased with how far I’ve come. I have enough regular clients that I don’t have to search out new work, unless I really want it. I have gained one excellent client through a referral and am really actually enjoying the research and writing (for the most part) I am assigned.

I’ve slowly upped my pay-rate and have turned down many, many potential clients whose pay-rates were too low (too low even for illegal immigrant laborers!) No, I will not write you a 500 word article for $1.00. One guy came back and said… okay, okay. $1.50. I took it. (No, not really.)

Several people have contacted me wondering how they might break into the freelance writing biz. It’s actually not that difficult. As with any home business, it just takes time to set up. For those looking into getting started, either as a career possibility or just for fun, here is Holly’s Make Money Writing 101 course for the interested.

First you have to KNOW what you want to write about. Being a housewife/mother with a degree in English, I felt like my potential writing topics were limited. However, there is a market out there for parenting/ family-life related articles. I’ve also found a niche in health-related and fitness topics, arts-and-crafts topics (which is kind of a stretch for me) and literary topics. (My favorite current job is writing short blurbs for the backs of classic books-on-tape.)

The good news: there is a market for nearly any kind of writer. The bad news is that it’s easy to get distracted and try and create too many “niches” for yourself. Freelance writers who specialize in a particular niche are more desirable than the jack-of-all-trades writer. Professional resume writers, academic writers, and lyricists who have experience and success in their fields can expect to be paid well. Figure out what you want to write about, find out where your market is, and take the time to get really good at what you do. It will take a good year to establish your “business” and longer to make decent money.

People will pay you for:
• Blog writing
• Magazine articles (print and online)
• Book reviews
• Newsletters
• Sales letters
• Song lyrics
• Press releases
• Web copy
• Brochures
• Manuals
• Resumes
• Greeting Cards
• Academic papers
• Ghostwriting
• Grants
• Scripts
• Fliers
• Technical writing
• Interviews
• Biographies

People will also pay you to proofread, edit, and will pay for consulting services.

If you are talented, dedicated, and headstrong, you can make money writing e-books, your own relevant blog (NOT A FAMILY LIFE, PERSONAL BLOG LIKE MINE!!!), or one of those antiquated dusty things with bindings that people used to peruse through before the internet. Regular books, I think they’re called.

E-books are taking off. Lots of non-fiction, informational books are being published as e-books and can be viewed on the computer or on ebook readers like the Kindle, the SONY Reader, or Apple’s brand new iPad.

Making a LIVING as a freelance writer requires intense marketing skills, which I greatly lack and hope to improve upon this coming year.

Where do you find your first writing gig? They don’t just fall on your lap, unfortunately. You have to be proactive.

I have found most all of my work online. Proactive people seek out jobs. They send query letters to various magazines or they send informational letters about themselves to local businesses advertising their services. A lot of writers find business by advertising themselves on Craig’s List. I have a “professional” website now that will probably never land me a new client, but it is useful: I use it as a reference when I apply for a job.

Here’s a list of online resources where you can find websites that pay, job markets, and writing contests and informational articles. This has been a work in progress and I may add more later.

Sites where you can bid on jobs: There are a number of sites where you can sign up as a freelancer (writing, graphic design, etc.) and bid on writing jobs. The lowest bid, of course, doesn’t necessarily win. Buyers look to get cheap, high-quality writing. You are competing against people from all over the globe, some perfectly happy to write for $2.00 an hour. However, sometimes, there’s a great job on these sites that pays well. It just takes time to sort through the slave-labor jobs.

You can join some of these sites for free while others require a monthly fee. The sites usually take a percentage of the buyer-provider transaction, something to take in mind when you are bidding! I found my first regular client on I’ve found that seems to have the best paying buyers.

Content providers: There are a number of sites that pay for and then distribute content on the web. I’ve already written about my experience with The problem with these sites is that the quality of writing can be low because there are few to no editorial guidelines, and the pay is weak. However, a lot of people use the sites to network or just to write about something they actually care about. Here are the most common content sites: (Pays for academic papers.)

A lot of these sites are pay-per-click sites, meaning that you get paid according to how many people actually take a look, no matter how long, at your article. Some provide revenue-sharing, which means that you could make decent money on an article over a long period of time. Demand Studios pays a flat fee of $7.50 or $15.00 for an article and it also offers a revenue-sharing option. (For a content site, that’s not too bad, actually.)

Constant-Content has fairly stringent editorial guidelines and reviews each individual article. You can get paid up to $75.00 for selling full-rights to your article. I wrote a 600 word article on adult acne (something I happened to be researching for personal reasons at the time-sigh) and sold it within two days for $30.00. I’ve only bothered with Demand Studios, Constant-Content, and Textbroker. You have to really comb through Textbroker to find good-paying jobs. I like that I can make $30.00 in an hour at Demand Studios if I really put my mind to it. (Typing super fast helps.)

Making money on content sites requires some SEO (search engine optimization) skills, marketing knowledge, and choosing topics that sell. For instance, the #1 Examiner on is the Twilight Examiner. Twilight as in Edward and Bella. A parenting blog marketed to a local audience just wasn’t gonna make me a lot of money, even if I spent hours promoting it. However, these sites are great for someone who wants to write about something they care about while making some grocery money.

(Read this article for an interesting look at content-mill websites: “I Was Sucked into Content Mill Writing by Anonymous.”)

Writing Markets: There are a ton of free writing markets on the web. Good jobs get taken fast, so I subscribe to various ezines make sure I’m on top of the job market. Here's a small sample of the best markets out there:

Worldwide Freelance Writer: Sign up for their newsletter and receive an e-book with 25 writing markets that pay at least .25/word.
Writer Gazette: Krista Barrett’s freelance writing site is a Writer’s Digest top writing site. Krista is just a normal girl who shares a lot of information for free. Sign up for her weekly newsletter and check out her job board and contest listings. Their job site lists freelance opportunities and full-time job listings for writers/ journalists/ editors. It also has links that tell you how to pitch ideas to specific magazines like Self, Redbook, and Sports Illustrated.
Writer’s Market: 5.99/month will get you a listing to pretty much every writer’s market out there. Or buy the book; it comes out once a year. The “paid services” section online has hundreds of free listings of contests, conferences, and other useful stuff.

Fiction and poetry writers:

Duotrope’s Digest: Has over 2800 poetry and fiction markets.
Poets and Writers Magazine: Literary markets, contests, grants, job listings
Writer’s Digest: Writer’s markets, competitions, and tons of useful articles for writers.
Funds For Writers: Exactly what it sounds like.

Old fashioned methods are still really great ways to find freelance writing gigs. Again, it takes some persistence and personal drive.

• Cold call local businesses, organizations, educational institutions and see if they are in need of someone to write marketing materials/ brochures, etc.
• Check out the no-name pamphlets and/or magazines in your doctor’s office. Someone writes those inspirational stories of people who live with rheumatoid arthritis or those informational articles about what vitamins will make your hair look shiny.
• Contact your local newspaper with story ideas. (Small-town newspapers, too!) Write articles for local magazines; those free circulations you grab at the supermarket are always looking for quality freelancers.
• Know someone famous? Are you tenacious enough to try and get in contact with someone famous? Interviews are ALWAYS marketable. In fact, you can probably shop a good interview around and get a great price.
• I was audacious enough to contact a business owner and point out the many spelling and grammatical flaws in their promising website. I offered to revamp the whole thing. Surprisingly, he agreed! We are working out a contract.
• There’s a market out there for book reviewers. You can always get a free book in the deal, but if you are confident enough, you can get paid well to review an author’s book. Often, they require that you post a review on several different sites. Of course, it takes time to actually read the book. With the rise of e-books, more and more authors are desperate to find third-parties to market their material.

Other interesting places to visit:

The Beginner’s Guide to Freelance Writing

6 Sites that Pay You for Writing Book Reviews

The Answer Factory: Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model

5 Tips for Marketing Your Freelance Writing Business

This past year, I have done a lot of technical writing, a lot of fitness writing, some reviews, a lot of website copy, and I just found out a short essay was accepted to be published in an anthology. I recently submitted a short story to a literary magazine. I hope to have time to write more fiction this year, but have also promised the official husband of Holly Goes Lightly that I will write my thesis proposal and get the damn thing done with. Argh. It just feels like such a waste of time and money… but I could use the actual degree.

This year, I would also like to try and submit to actual publications instead of doing so much ghostwriting. Again, this takes me being proactive, and that just seems so… exhausting. I am also trying to network with an online community of writers to garner support and to share ideas. Which brings me to to my question, dost thou haveth ideas to shareth?

To fellow writers: please use comments to suggest other great ways for freelancers to make money writing and to share your writing goals for the year. Holly especially needs marketing advice!


Brittany at Mommy Words said...

Wow Holly this is a ton of information and I really think I will check some of these respurces out. I have tons of essays and researched topics that do not really fit into the blog. I wonder if I culd get something for them. I will let you know how it goes!

Brittany at Mommy Words said...

So clearly my spelling while typing and nursing sucks. Please forgive me!

Lauren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauren said...

Thank you so much. That was quite a comprehensive list. You also provided some great points, specifically about not trying to carve out too large a niche. Then you risk the danger of falling into the abyss. As an ADDer, that is my biggest problem, taking on too many projects.

marion said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


MGBR said...

I am officially overwhelmed. But thanks for spelling this out, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Mercenary! Now we know why you were threatening to give up the Holly Goes Lightly blog. You're tired of giving away good stuff for free!

But we'd pay for it if we had to.

hypermom said...

Wow! Really informative post, thanks so much :)

hokgardner said...

I am also a freelancer, and I've gotten all of my work by word of mouth. I make sure everyone I know knows that I am a freelance writer, and I'm not shy about saying, "If you ever hear of someone looking to hire a writer or editor, I hope you'll mention my name." It was hard to do at first, but it really works! I've gotten lucrative, long-term gigs just by putting the word out there.

Lindsay said...

Thorough list with lots of sites for folks to check out. Squidoo is a fun one, though your earnings are in your hands, as with starting your own blog.

Holly said...

Brittany: I'm impressed with your typing while nursing skills. I could hardly manage reading a book without seriously compromising the safety of my infant. Please let me know if anything works out for you!

Lucy- thanks for visiting- I will check out you site!

Hokgardner- YOU ARE BRILLIANT! I really need to start doing that. You've really gotten all your work that way?

I've never looked into Squidoo- guess I didn't realize you could write for them! Thanks so much for the info!

hokgardner said...

I really have gotten all my work that way. Someone I know knew someone who was looking for a writer and gave that person my name. It's why I never have very good advice when people ask how to become a freelancer. I kind of feel like I just lucked into it.

Essay Writing Help said...

it's good to see this information in your post, i was looking the same but there was not any proper resource, thanx now i have the link which i was looking for my research.