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Scratching a Living Freelance Writing

Updated on June 13, 2011
Waiting for inspiration (Kew Gardens London)
Waiting for inspiration (Kew Gardens London)

Well, that title is something of an exaggeration; if my living depended on my income from freelance writing, then I would be in a sorry state indeed. However I do make a useful secondary income from it and, just occasionally, I land quite a lucrative gig which can pay several thousand dollars.

My philosophy is if possible to never say no, even to jobs that pay very little, and to always try to do as good a job as is reasonably possible. Quite often clients who initially just want words that don’t cost very much money will return in the future with requests for quality articles for which they are willing to pay a good price.

The worst thing of all is when clients don’t pay for any other reason than they always intended to steal your precious time, though fortunately I have only had one of those. You know who you are so why not do the decent thing…?

My clients fall into four main categories. They are:

  • Large Companies and academic institutions which need high quality technical writing
  • Small companies and individuals who require copy for their websites plus quality off-site copy
  • SEO organisations which require quality advertorial articles and press releases
  • SEO organisations which require short articles for article marketing purposes

The further down the list the less they pay, the higher up the list the rarer they get; but honestly I love it all...

Technical Writing for Large Organisations

Most, though not all, of my technical writing is associated with developing research proposals and reports targeted at generating grant funding for my clients, who are often consortia of several independent organisations. These proposals can run to 50 pages or so of detailed information and novel ideas and can take several months to prepare often requiring several meetings with clients during the course of the preparation.

Potentially they can be very valuable for both the client and myself; for instance proposals targeted at European Funded research have generated many € millions of research funding. Even more modest proposals, for instance those targeted at EPSRC (the UK University research funding organisation) and the MOD (UK Ministry of Defence) can generate substantial funds.

Sometimes proposal preparation is funded directly by the client; sometimes by a government grant, and sometimes I undertake it on a kind of no-win no-fee basis. In the last case the pay-off comes by being included in the final project should the proposal be successful. This is of course high risk, but potentially high value.

Ferrari - I wish...  (Goodwood Festival of Speed)
Ferrari - I wish... (Goodwood Festival of Speed)

Technical Writing for Websites

Clients who require technical writing for their websites are generally too busy and too involved in their business to produce clear, easily understood, technical copy that describes their products and services. As you might expect the subject matter can be quite diverse and examples of recent jobs are health, sport, legal, financial, motor cars, electronics and so forth.

I have occasionally worked with a very talented graphics designer. She creates the brand whilst I add the words.

Article Marketing

We are all aware of the article marketing model, it has been around since the first newspapers rolled off he press. It is essentially a deal between the publisher and the contributor in which the former gives publicity to the latter in exchange for engaging content.

Unfortunately the web has resulted in the model being considerably abused. To a large extent this has been exacerbated by Google - they may not have meant to do harm (as is their motto) but unfortunately they did. The fact is they created a system of ranking web pages that was just too easily abused, with the result that a substantial volume of the web has become a junk yard of regurgitated rubbish. Certainly they are now addressing that with a modification to their algorithm, but unfortunately they are using such a blunt weapon that even top quality websites such as HubPages are being punished.

It is interesting that in the immediate aftermath of the new Google Farmer (or Panda) algorithm my order book for article marketing articles died totally. Even more interesting is that now it has bounced back to the same level as before. It seems that my SEO clients initially took fright but in reality nothing has changed.

Third World Word Slaves

We are all writers here. How would you feel about writing 30 off 350-word articles for $30? That is a single dollar for 350 words. Yes, that is the rate that some SEO companies are paying writers, many of whom are based in third world countries and have little grasp of the English language, to produce article marketing content. Often the content is not even written in the sense of writing; it is at best spun using automatic thesauri and at worst generated automatically by content scraping software. As long as the resultant article passes the plagiarism test it is acceptable. We hope that Google can now eliminate this practice, but we doubt that they will.

White Hat Article Marketing

Fortunately many SEO organisations are highly reputable and do not go in for the kind of article stuffing described in the previous paragraph.

As mentioned I have two types of article marketing clients; those who want substantial quantities of short, OK content articles and others who want high quality advertorial articles and press releases. In many cases the advertorial and press releases need to be signed off by the clients of the SEO organisations before they are published, which means that quality needs to be top notch, however they can pay very well.

The only way to make any money out of the short OK content articles is to write very fast and to think very quickly, hopefully using your existing knowledge rather than having to do too much research. This gets easier as you build up a portfolio of subjects, but continually coming up with something new when you have already produced many articles on the same topic can be a challenge. In terms of volume you are looking at writing several thousand words a day which can get very tiring and make your fingers as well as your brain ache, especially when, like me, you don't have a particularly delicate touch on the keyboard.

This is a complete aside, but I had a typist friend who could type so fast and for so long that she wore out all the lettering on her keyboard. She used to spend the night typing out the voice recordings made in courts of law during that day so that transcripts of them were available for the court the following morning. The fact that her keyboard had no markings did not concern her at all as she never looked at it anyway. She also had long and beautifully manicured finger nails.

Inspiration and the lack of it

I will have to come back and finish this paragraph some other time. Lets face it, sometimes whatever you do the tide of inspiration is simply out.

Today the tide of inspiration is out (St Ives)
Today the tide of inspiration is out (St Ives)

Coming soon...

In future hubs on this topic I will develop some of the themes that have been mentioned above, particularly in terms of approach and technique. It would be very interesting to hear any comments you might have on freelance writing and maybe compare notes. Thanks for reading.


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    • Gary Shorthouse profile image

      Gary Shorthouse 6 years ago from Reading, UK

      Thank you for commenting James - it is much appreciated.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this needful article. You made several salient points. Very good!

    • Gary Shorthouse profile image

      Gary Shorthouse 6 years ago from Reading, UK

      Yes Ethel, I can see that yours does have that domino effect certainly. You have such a wide vision which must be very useful. You seem to have the secret of how to keep going and beating (or avoiding) that lack of inspiration logjam.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      freelance writijng does have that domino effect, sometimes lol

    • Gary Shorthouse profile image

      Gary Shorthouse 6 years ago from Reading, UK

      Soup lines in Florida? Wow. I have been there only once and loved the place. Stepping off the plane was like stepping into a blast furnace it was so hot.

      Money what's that? We just do it 'cos we love it don't we?

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 6 years ago from Florida

      Hey I love free lance writing. It would be great t make money but it isn't my sole inspiration. In the days of soup lines I am glad for any income at all.

    • Gary Shorthouse profile image

      Gary Shorthouse 6 years ago from Reading, UK

      Hello Bill - I guess it is a little like a (very slow) chain reaction. If you do a good job for someone they are likely to come back for another, then they might move on to another organisation and they will recommend you to someone else. I have always found that it is better to do more than you are paid to do, but I guess you know that already.

      And you can always go fishing on freelancer sites though they are very competitive in terms of price. You have to take a loss at first.

      I suppose that most of us are happy to make whatever we can from our art but some just get very lucky. Take JK Rowling - to my mind not very good at all - but now an iconic multi-millionaire - which goes to show how little I know about the game.

      $20 dollar a year- wow - we are visiting NY next year so you can take us out for dinner on your earnings - though perhaps you could just cook us up one of your delicious sounding recipes instead.

    • Bill Yovino profile image

      Bill Yovino 6 years ago

      Writing has appealed to me for as long as I can remember. As a software developer, I've written a fair amount of technical documents, but find that area of writing to be tedious at best. I started writing Hubs about a year ago and I'm on a pace to earn about $20 per year - not exactly enough to quit my day job. I'm curious as to how you find clients for writing assignments.