11 Great Ways Writers Earn Money
How much money do writers make?
What do newspaper or magazine columnists make?
I've supported myself (and my children, when they were younger) as a writer for more years than I care to document here. While many years were spent in traditional print settings, many were not. Here are some ways you can make money from your writing. These ideas have made money for me throughout my career, as well as many of my colleagues in the industry :
1. Newspaper columns: Newspapers are still alive, and while they're transforming themselves to the Internet era, they are filled with, guess what, writing. Many have had cutbacks, though, and have reduced their budgets for freelancers (as well as staff positions). Some columns are written for free, which won't pay your bills, but will get you a byline and exposure. Payment for columns varies with the paper and the market its in. A column in a large city will pay far more than a small, weekly paper in a rural area. But, clips from those columns can move your career forward. Regular staff positions are more rare (and highly competed for, ever since newspaper reporting came to the forefront during the Watergate scandal).
You do not need a journalism degree to write a newspaper column (columnists are usually called stringers), but you'll probably need one to get a staff position. However, once you've shown you can turn in good-quality work and meet deadlines, you'll get even more assignments. If you write five to ten paid pieces in one week, you can earn a reasonable income from your work. But that is a huge volume of writing, so you'll need to practice how to write efficiently (quickly) without compromising quality. To start, you'll need to pitch your stories to the editor, but eventually, you can become a regular columnist or can get freelance assignments.
2. Magazines: Interestingly, magazines are gaining momentum in many areas. The Austin American-Statesman recently reported the magazine industry is on the upswing, with new publications coming out in various cities. Breaking in is the trick, though. It can take months to get the editor's attention, but you can do it!
Even more so than newspaper editors, magazine editors want you to pitch an idea to them. I've heard some people worry that their idea will be stolen - well, this might happen now and then, but it's rare with a credible publication. You can protect your idea from those concerns, though, if you pitch an interesting story that hinges on a certain source (a profile or feature about someone in your city who used to be a sword swallower at the circus, for example). The story sounds interesting, and they may want it, but you're the one with the contact to get the interview.
Pay attention to what the magazines publishes each month and gear your pitch to their content. Ask for their "editorial budget" for coming months - this will be the list of themes for upcoming issues. Magazines plan things out up to a year in advance. You can spot themes that give you ideas and plan ahead, then pitch stories to them that fit their plans for each issue. Unlike newspapers, magazines take forever (so it seems) to print your stories and issue payment; deadlines are many weeks before publication, and payment is usually after publication. Magazines can pay anything from a few dollars for a short piece (for small publications) to several hundred or more for a major feature.
Literally thousands of local and regional organizations or publications need writers
Where can writers make money?
3. Trade publications: These are the little magazines that focus on specific industries - the Dairy Farmer's Monthly, or Plumbing Today. Don't laugh - these publications often pay quite well, in some cases they pay even better than general interest publications. As with magazines and newspapers, research what they print and send them a pitch.
4. Regional publications: My neighborhood gets one or two 'regional' papers a month. They're funded entirely through ads, and they come in the mail. The trend lately seems to be the tabloid format (almost a magazine in size, but on newsprint or heavier stock). Because they're printed weekly or monthly, stories have to have a lifespan longer than a newspaper item would have. But unlike magazines, these publications often focus on news. They do hire stringers and columnists, and pay will vary according to the size of the publication, how successful it is, the size of the audience and other factors. Again, it's a byline, and can be a regular paycheck.
5. Government-funded publications: Sound boring? Not so. Think Texas Highways Magazine or Arizona Highways. Travel magazines and parks & wildlife publications are among the more common vehicles produced by state or local governments, and in many cases they pay for good writing as well as good photography. Some government publications have had budget cuts, but there are still opportunities in this area, because budget cuts mean there are fewer staff positions. And, once you're in their writers' pool, you'll get even more work as time goes by.
6. Chamber of Commerce magazines: Every city has one or more chambers of commerce. Why more than one? Often, there will be a Mexican American Chamber of Commerce or another group in your city in addition to the main chamber. They will likely have a monthly or quarterly magazine, they pay for content, and they're a good source for networking.
Freelance PR and Social Media consulting
7. Organization newsletters: Small organizations usually don't have the budget for a full-blown magazine, so they produce a monthly or quarterly newsletter that has features and news about the organization and its members. Since smaller organizations have smaller staffs (no surprise), they often don't have the money for a full-time writer, so they hire freelancers to produce content and sometimes layout as well.
A bonus in writing for these publications is that they frequently provide you with story ideas - they know interesting things their members are doing, or issues related to membership, so they'll often assign topics to you. Pay can be very good for individual newsletter stories and even better if you contract for the entire content plus layout and design.
8. PR consulting & Social Media management: As with small organizations (above), many public officials, small businesses or non-profits can't afford a full-time PR staffer. You can make a good income managing their social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) accounts, writing their news releases and coordinating their publicity. It's good to develop the know-how to time and place the stories, though. Social media requires a different writing style than a news release, and the timing has more immediacy (you post something as it happens.
News releases are generally sent out ahead of time and you'll need a distribution system and contact information for the appropriate media in order to do the job thoroughly, although some organizations will have their own distribution sources. Pay for news releases can be quite high - several hundred dollars or more for one piece. News releases need to be written in a certain style, and good PR writers are paid well.
High-paying jobs for writers
While you can indeed earn a good living with the above ideas, you can earn a major income in the fields below. I was able to transform my successful career as a columnist and freelancer for newspapers and magazines into a series of full-time staff positions with increasing responsibilities and increasing paychecks each time I advanced.
9. Public Information: This is not (repeat, not) public relations! Every major government agency needs public information staffers to fend off the media and to present the best side of the story to reporters. This is a very specific skill, and the best training for it is through getting a background in news reporting. If your writing is all-about-you, this isn't the place for you. Writers here need to be understand the reporters they deal with, have good relationships with reporters, and have nerves of steel. I have often mitigated a bad story because the reporter trusted me and knew I wasn't spinning it.
It is very stressful work, but the pay can be competitive and in some cases tremendously high. You will answer media calls, write news releases, do occasional news conferences, be interviewed by reporters (including on TV and radio) and often deal with national and even international news outlets.
Public Information differs from public relations and marketing in several ways. In PR, you can hype your story, develop gimmicks - you know, the giveaway coozies and ink pens, the T-shirts, or the cute publicity piece where confetti falls out the minute someone opens the envelope. These things are often illegal in government settings. Government settings rarely have much of a budget for public information, so you learn quickly how to get your story placed for free.
Starting pay for entry-level or non-management positions can be in the $40,000 - $50,000 range (sometimes lower, rarely higher). But once you're established, you can earn six figures or more for senior or management positions. These positions (as with staff positions in print publications) offer full benefits. But unlike most news outlets, many government settings still offer pensions as well as 401k plans.
My years doing this were fun, financially and intellectually rewarding, and as stressful and grueling as being strapped to the front of a jet airplane during take-off and landing. In a hurricane. And I wouldn't trade those years for anything.
10. Corporate Writing: This also includes government writing other than the public information jobs mentioned above. All major organizations (government or private sector, doesn't matter) need good writers. Countless times, I've been pulled into interesting projects simply because I was a writer and could produce good material. You can earn a great income by writing annual reports, business plans (if you learn how to take the organization through the planning process, you'll earn even more), strategic plans and other documents that few others in the organization can produce.
Government settings also need those documents, as well as special reports required by the Legislature, Congress or other bodies. As a manager and writer in various state agencies, I've written Legislative Appropriations Requests, Sunset Review Reports, and other major documents. While it's drier writing than doing a blog, it's interesting and builds your credibility and knowledge base. And the pay is very good.
Grant writers are in high demand in tough times
Bonus Tip! Grant Writing Pays Well
11. Grant Writing: As with corporate writing, this can be very lucrative. I fell into it (or was pushed) because my agency wanted to apply for a grant and they considered me a strong writer. I'd never written a grant before, but flexible writers can adapt to any assignment. And what the heck, they paid my salary. My first grant was for $1 million (and we got it), and since then I've written several others in other settings, some of which were also in the millions. Some organizations need full-time grant writers (the pay is generally good to excellent). But since grants are cyclical (you get the money and it can be a few years before you need to reapply), freelance grant writers are increasingly needed to help non-profits stay afloat. You're paid either a cut of the money (if it's awarded) or for a flat fee upon completing the grant, whether it's successful or not.
Unless you have a great track-record with the exact type of grant application needed, I'd go for the flat fee. You don't want to put spend hours researching the grant's requirements and developing the language and then get nothing for your time. Pay for grant writing is based on the size of the grant and the effort required. Grants can range from a few pages of simple justification to thick documents with attachments and detailed support materials. If you're interested in grant writing, get copies of sample grants from various sources, such as government agencies (which are required to release certain documents). Get a feel for the style of writing, the details that need to be covered and the persuasiveness needed to win the money.
Learn how grants are formatted (many have very detailed requirements for margins and the number of pages), and be absolutely deadline oriented. Grant deadlines are cut in stone; you'll need to get your product written and submitted on time, or nobody gets any money at all.
If you market yourself as a grant writer, ask organizations you contract with whether staff will be providing program information and budget details. You just want to write the grant; you don't want to develop the program they want funded or work out budget details only their finance officer will know.
These are just a few of the places writing has taken me in my career. If I can do it, so can you. If you're writing here on HubPages, you're already developing a track record and bylines. Now, decide where you want to go with your skills!
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