How To Be A Freelance Writer And Stay Sane
A Reality Check
I read a book a couple years back titled “Freelance Writing Freedom in Ninety Days.”
I’m still laughing today.
Shortly after reading that book I read another book titled “Six-Figure Income From Freelance Writing.”
I’m still laughing today.
I’ve been doing this freelance writing gig for two years and eight months and I gotta tell ya, I’m not making six figures yet and I’m certainly not free.
Is it possible? Were those books just blatant lies to entice the unsuspecting and hopeful to buy their books? I think calling someone a liar is a bit harsh. Let me just say that there is a huge gap between possible and reality. Yes, if the stars perfectly aligned, it is possible to make a six-figure income as a freelance writer. Yes, it is possible to find financial freedom in ninety days as a freelancer….but….don’t bet your kid’s college education money on it.
The reality of freelance writing is that it is hard work, and it requires determination and a dogged stubbornness and talent and some good old-fashioned luck. Ninety days to freedom? I found my first customer in ninety days, and it paid $30. Within six months I was making $600 per month and within a year I was making $1000 per month, and that was steady income that could be counted on.
Everything I make over and above that thousand per month depends on my knowledge of this business and my hustle skills.
Now, if you aren’t too discouraged, let’s chat some more about things you need to be aware of if you are seriously considering this freelance writer life.
Let’s Get the Bad News out of the Way First
Being a freelance writer is never-ending and there are few safety nets. You have all heard the saying “don’t quit your day job” and it certainly applies to freelance writing. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I did exactly that. I quit a good-paying teaching position to write full-time, and it was definitely a struggle at first. However, having no safety net definitely makes one determined and motivated. J
I know other writers who followed my path, and they struggled, and the bills piled up, and the medical benefits were nowhere to be found, and there are nights when a freelance writer will lay awake at night and question their own sanity….and rightfully so.
Still, you can make it. Thousands are making it right now, and the opportunities are growing because of the online world, and there is money to be made.
Let me toss out some suggestions that I consider valid based on my experience. They may not work for you but they are worth considering.
One method to find freelance jobs
Success in freelance writing is based on your writing talent, your networking skills and your ability to run a marathon when every fiber of your being is hoping for a sprint.
Relationships are gold in this business. Make contacts in the writing world and then cultivate those contacts. When you find an editor or publisher willing to look at your work, or if you are fortunate enough to have an article accepted, make sure you return to that editor or publisher with more article ideas.
The same can be said for fellow bloggers. Develop friendships with them and become part of a writing community. Good fortune can and will strike, but you have to position yourself so that you are on the receiving end.
EMBRACE THE INTERNET
Most writers starting out have visions of writing for The New Yorker or Better Homes and Gardens, but the reality is that you have a much better chance of being published in an online publication. Surf the web for publications that interest you, and look for opportunities. Most publications have a certain amount of work that is given to their paid staff, but almost all of them also farm out work to freelance writers.
My first online gig was with a magazine called Our Iowa. I had an article about my memories of visiting Iowa as a ten year old, and I pitched it and it was accepted. You better believe I have now established a relationship with the editor of that publication. Do I live in Iowa? No! Can I write about things Iowans find interesting? You bet I can!
STEP OUT OF THE BOX
I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humor, so I use that humor when contacting editors and publishers. Remember that these people, who are the final word on whether you will get published, receive thousands of query letters each month, and I’m willing to bet that most query letters are business-like in their approach.
I choose to be fun and funny when I contact an editor. I want them to remember me, so I write to them like we are old friends chatting over a couple of beers.
I also point out to each of them what they will get if they publish my work. I want them to understand that there are advantages to publishing my work, and I want them to understand how they will benefit by doing so. I do not grovel at their feet and beg them to publish my work; instead, I appeal to their needs and explain how I meet those needs.
WHILE ON THE SUBJECT OF QUERY LETTERS
I have said this before and I’ll say it again: if you do not make your query letter incredible then it makes no difference how good of a writer you are. Find a good angle, offer unique ideas, or don’t even bother submitting work.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Hemingway, with all of his brilliance, were to send off a query letter today that was boring and bland, he would be rejected. Such is the nature of the writing world today, so make those query letters memorable, socko and whamo!
One quick side note about query letters for articles: most magazines are looking for articles in the 700-1000 word range. If you write for a site like HubPages they recommend 1250 words or more….I guess it comes down to what is important to you with regards to the length of an article.
DO INTERESTING THINGS AND THEN WRITE ABOUT THEM
Imagination is a wonderful thing but you can’t write with authority using your imagination. The more experiences you have the more you have to write about. Duh!
Get out of your writing studio and experience life. Try new activities and then give them your own unique perspective in an article.
Take up ballroom dancing. Go hiking. Go fishing or parasailing or learn to dig clams. Do writers always write about something they are knowledgeable about? No, but it certainly helps in the long run, and if you are developing a niche, and you should be, then having background knowledge is vital for your credibility.
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Do Not Give Up
This is a numbers game. Get comfortable with the fact that you will be rejected many more times than you will be accepted. Don’t give up!
If you are not sending query letters out daily then you are not playing the numbers game. I have a backlog of 550 articles that I am constantly pitching. How else am I going to become available for success if I’m not willing to make myself available? Again, duh!
Let me present you with a common scenario. A writer pitches an article to an online magazine and it is accepted and published. They make $100 for the article. A month later that article is read by the editor of a larger print magazine, and the writer is contacted and offered two articles paying $5000. Those two articles in turn lead to a syndicated column for a major newspaper, and now that one article to a small, online magazine has led to a steady income.
Far-fetched? Not by a long shot. It happens every single day in the world of freelance writing and it might as well happen to you.
Or another scenario….a writer does a guest blog for an online publication. Six months later he is offered a paying article for that same publication, and two months after that he is asked to become a regular staff writer for them.
That is how the freelance game is played. There are few overnight successes so settle in, get comfortable, put on your work boots, and start trudging down the path to success.
And don’t quit your day job!
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”