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Getting Started as a Freelance Writer
If you've set your sights on becoming a freelance writer, you're probably wondering what your options are as far as earning a decent living goes. This very website is a great place to cut your teeth and learn the ins and outs of how to write well for the Internet but because your efforts are connected to Adsense earnings and there's no set or guaranteed fee for creating your content, it's best not to put all your eggs in the one basket. I've been a freelance writer now for around five years but it wasn't always easy to get my foot in the door. Here are some of the ways that I got my start as a freelance writer.
Working For Free to Gain Freelance Writing Clips
When I first started freelancing, I had no clips beyond a few cuttings from my school newsletter. Knowing that wouldn't do much to impress editors, I looked around for publications that would let me get more impressive clips to put in my online portfolio and unfortunately, these all happened to be of the unpaid variety. My first unpaid writing gig was for a profile piece for a teen-orientated website. I did the one piece and went on my way. I then came across a start-up magazine that was looking for new writers and applied to become one of their regular contributors. I did around five unpaid pieces for them, which is far than I'd usually recommend new writers to do but it gave me a great opportunity to write some in-depth features that I still use in the writing portfolio on my website to showcase my writing skills when I'm approaching editors.
Ordinarily though, I wouldn't suggest doing all that many pieces for free. Once you've got enough good clips to demonstrate your writing ability, it's time to walk away and start looking for the kind of freelance writing work that really will pay the bills.
Using Websites to Launch Your Freelance Writing Career
This is where I first started getting work as a freelance writer and today, the bulk of my freelance writing work is still for websites. I approached a lifestyle website with a health-related article that I wanted to write. Even back then, I was aware that it wasn't the done thing to send an article that had already been written so I did a bit of prior research to find the relevant section editor and sent a brief pitch describing the basic idea behind the article and selling why their readers would be interested in the article. It can be difficult to do this at first, especially when you're not used to selling yourself and your ideas but trust me, it gets easier with practice and you're going to have to get used to if you're going to freelance for websites, magazines and newspapers as pitching is the usual way of getting commissions/assignments. I'm going to writing a hub on how to create freelance writing pitches so look out for that if you want more information on how to go about it.
Once I'd get the "in" and the all-important clip, I found it much easier to get more work from the same website. I was largely pitching the same section of the website so I was working with the same editor but I did the odd piece for other sections of the website. At the same time, I started to pitch a different lifestyle website and got some work there.
The vast majority of these commissions were based on my pitches and I can remember two or three instances in which I was approached by the editor with specific article ideas that they had come up with. Sadly, both of these websites experienced budget cuts when the recession started to take hold and were unable to pay contributors so I had to turn my attentions elsewhere. I was able to use my clips from these websites to apply for a regular freelance gig for a women's lifestyle website based in another country and that has become a gig that makes up a good chunk of my income in the average month. Unlike the previous two websites though, a lot of my articles aren't based on pitches and the ideas come from the editor so it does seem that you can start to move away from all-out pitching once you can demonstrate a sizeable number of clips and get established with an editor.
Breaking Into Magazines as a Freelance Writer
To date, I've only managed to land a handful of commissions from magazines. The bulk of these were for a sports magazine in which I did interviews with up-and-coming (or just not-yet-big-names) in the tennis world. Other than that, I "cracked" a glossy magazine by offering them a case study for a real-life story. They ended up editing down the real-life story and including it as part of a wider feature but I can't say that it's helped me much when it comes to pitching magazines. Since that triumph, I've had some near-misses but my experiences have been that you need an absolute killer of an idea to get your foot in the door. That's not to say that you'll never freelance for magazines but I've had much better luck with websites and blogs. They may well pay less than magazines but they seem much easier to break into. If you can break through, I know a good few writers who have been able to get regular work from magazines so don't give up hope altogether. Just be aware that it'll likely take more than a few rejections before you hit the jackpot.
Blogging as a Freelance Writing Career
Blogs are a good source of freelance writing income for me. To date, I've had three blogging gigs (including one current blogging gig) and all have been regular. In my experience, it's quite rare to be asked to do just the one blog post unless it's a trial to see whether your writing style fits the blog. I've landed all of my blogging gigs after applying for jobs that I came across on freelance writing job boards. Generally speaking, blogging isn't as lucrative as the work I do for websites (and certainly not as well paid as magazine work) but once I've got a regular gig, it's consistent work, which is always good when they are bills to be paid. Freelancing is notorious for being feast or famine (you're inundated with work or stressing about how to put food on the table that month) and any guaranteed work is a big bonus in my book.
If I'm really struggling for work, I'll often turn towards content websites. Being a UK-based freelance writer, I'm a bit limited with who I can write for (Associated Content has always been a no-go for me and Demand Studios has never yielded much fruit for me) but I usually opt for Constant Content. I don't really like using this option unless my freelance writing work has completely dried up, because of the way this content website works. The idea is that you submit articles in the hope that they sell to someone who's interested in what you're writing about. You can increase the chances of getting a sale by writing for "public requests", in which prospective buyers put forward a request for content that they're looking to buy and you can submit relevant articles to them (either new work or existing work that you've already submitted to Constant Content) but there's no guarantee that the requester will buy. My experiences have been very hit-and-miss and some months have seen me make something like $500 just from this content website but on the flip side, I can easily go months without seeing any of my content sell, especially if I'm not submitting new content for a while. There are a few prolific writers on the site who have managed to create good working relationships with buyers and regularly receive "private requests" that are only sent to them (whereas "public requests" are open to all authors) but they seem to be in a minority and I'm inclined to believe that you wouldn't make a living solely from these kind of sites.
How Much Can You Earn From Freelance Writing?
I'll cut to the chase here: I used to earn a lot more before the recession took hold and since then, I've seen my freelance writing income at least halved as budget cuts kick in. If you can get yourself some magazine writing gigs, you're not going to feel the pinch so far but if like me, the bulk of your freelance writing work relies heavily on websites and blogs, don't be too surprised if you're not exactly earning a small fortune. That said, don't feel that you have to accept freelance writing gigs that pay peanuts. As a general rule of thumb, I won't accept less than $15-20 for a blog post (and this rate goes up if it's going to involve a lot of research and isn't something that I can write off the top of my head) and $50 for an average website article. These rates may be a little less attainable if you're not got much experience to speak of but once you have, there's definitely no need to be scratching around for $5 articles.
You'll notice that I deliberately haven't discussed freelance bidding sites in this hub and that's because I tend to avoid them at all costs. Whenever I've had a look at what's available, I've almost always been underwhelmed by what buyers are willing to pay for writing projects and I've never managed to get any of the more reasonable ones, largely because I'm not willing to bid stupidly low amounts to undercut other bidders. You can land decent gigs on these kind of sites but I certainly wouldn't expect to make a good living from them.