How to make a living as a freelance writer

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The idea of working as a freelance writer may conjure up pictures of an adventurous lifestyle with plenty of leisure time for travel. After all, people making millions of dollars from their books are essentially freelancers.

However, instead of dreaming how to become the next Stephen King, let’s talk about how you can realistically make money freelancing.

To pop your balloon completely, consider the real meaning of the word “freelance,” which isn’t glamorous at all. According to Merriam-Webster, the folks who compile the dictionary:

“When freelance first came into English in the early 1800s, it was used to refer to a medieval mercenary who would fight for whichever nation or person paid them the most.”

In other words, as a freelancer, you’re essentially a hired gun.

Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Writers

The classic country song by Ed and Patsy Bruce warns women not to let their children become cowboys, because the life is uncertain and tough. The same could be said of freelancing.

Captain Obvious says that to be a successful freelance writer, you first must be able to write. Although it is quite likely you will be writing from home and therefore can get away with wearing pajamas, you will still be expected to have the necessary skills of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, syntax, and all the other elements of writing at your fingertips. If you’re not sure of your abilities, a quick refresher course—even a YouTube video on writing (there are a lot of them)—is a good idea.

Also, writing is a solitary endeavor, and if you are an extrovert who thrives in social situations but deflates in isolation, freelancing may not be for you. After all, you are going to be the one landing the assignments, doing the research, writing the piece, editing, proofreading, and ultimately pitching the work. Alone.

If you’re not running away screaming yet, let’s talk about how you might find work. First is the traditional route, which can have a handsome payoff, but which demands discipline, organization, and effort.

Freelancing the traditional (hard) way

In this model, you will find a subject you enjoy, research publications and/or websites that publish articles on that subject, write a piece, and then pitch it to the editor. This is an intense process, since you need to research both your subject and the prospective publisher. If you are writing about gardening, pitching the article to a car repair site wastes everyone’s time. It is up to you to do the research about the newspaper, website, or magazine—ideally by reading as much of their work as you can. Once you understand their style, you will know whether they are a good “fit” for you.

After you’ve determined your target, you need to make sure you know precisely how to submit, what to submit, and to whom. The cardinal sin is to take a shotgun approach and scatter articles in all directions hoping to hit someone who will buy your work. Instead, you need to read the guidelines—they are always available—so you know who the current editor is, and whether they want a hard copy or an email, or both, or a query first. Do NOT misspell the editor’s name.

This may be the most difficult way to freelance, because you must keep writing and pitching articles so that you have a constant supply of work going to various publications. The good news is that if you begin selling, you may land clients who will keep buying your work. Another bit of good news is that savvy writers can submit the same article to different editors with judicious rewrites.

Working with online job sites is another way to go

Another option is to look at one of the many websites that offer writing jobs. A quick search of the internet using the terms “freelance writing jobs online” or something similar will bring up dozens if not hundreds of sites where you can find work. You apply and send a writing sample, take a test, and if you are accepted, you then have access to a dashboard where all the available writing jobs are posted. You can then bid on those that appeal to you.

The drawback here is obvious: you will be in competition with every other freelancer on the site, and everyone will bid on the better-paying projects. You may have to work with the site for some time to secure better work.

Still another option: blogging

Many people start blogs and give up, but a few take a subject from a personal interest to a monetized career. Blogging requires nothing more than a computer and an internet connection, but getting people to read your blog can be challenging. Like other freelance options, blogging requires that you research the subject you enjoy after first making sure there is a niche for it, as you don’t want to spend time writing about something no one enjoys.

Once you have identified your subject, you need to create a website to host your blog, and then drive traffic to it. Advertising via platforms like Twitter or Facebook will help, but probably the best way to gain readers is to post on another writer’s blog—with their permission, of course. If your article is well-received, the other blogger may return the courtesy and send people to you. But be patient; it takes time to build an audience.

The best option: Words of Worth!

Another option, and the one we prefer, is that you work with us! We are looking for people with good writing skills, who are self-starters and can handle a substantial amount of work on a monthly basis. We will ease you into our system by assigning a few pieces to start, and then increase the work as you learn our guidelines. You do not have to bid on jobs with us – we will assign you a brief each month.

In return, we offer a team of editors who will provide helpful feedback rather than just “This is wrong!” We also pay monthly without fail, even if we don’t get paid by our clients!

That’s a wrap

A final word – it is rare to be able to make a living as a freelancer, no matter which road you follow, but it can provide a supplemental income. If you’re a self-starter who enjoys a challenge, we want to hear from you!