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How to Make Money Freelance Writing

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It used to be that the opportunities for freelance writing were relatively rare. There were only so many magazines that would pay for freelance work. Then the internet came along, and there was suddenly an insatiable need for content to fill all of those websites and blogs.

But then there were suddenly millions of new writers, including myself. The result has been that the rate writers get online is generally much lower than in print magazines. But the good news is that there are more ways to make money from writing than ever before, and you don’t have to be a professional writer to get started. Let's look at a few of the opportunities and what you can make with them...

Fast and Not so Easy

What I call "top of your head articles" are pieces that have six to ten paragraphs or about 500 to 70 words, and don't require research. For example, if you had to write on ways to save money, you could think of a few without the necessity of researching the topic. You could also probably throw together a few travel tips, write an article on how to make a house safer for kids, and generally figure out something to say about a hundred other topics.

These are the types of articles that are bought for medium and low-quality websites and blogs, and you'll typically get no more than $10 for them. In fact, there are many people writing these for as little as one dollar each. Clearly you have to write very quickly to make anywhere near minimum wage with rates like that. These articles are bought with "full rights," meaning they belong to the buyer and can be changed, retitled, have another author's name put on them, and so on.

There are freelance platforms online where you can find buyers. You bid on the projects they post, and they choose among the bids according to price, experience and the details of anything else you offer as a freelancer. If you win the bid and complete the project the website handles collecting the payment for you. Here are two examples of places where you can sign up for free for this (although you pay a percentage of money received):

http://www.freelancer.com

http://www.elance.com

Ideally, once you have some practice and feel comfortable writing on many different topics, you can contract to write a dozen articles or more at a time. That way you can be efficient enough to make a decent paycheck for a day’s work -- and yes, with practice, you can write a dozen articles of this type in a day.

Freelancing for Better Pay

I recently sold an article to Listverse.com for $100. The articles they buy are completely different from the "top of your head" type. I had to research the topic for hours and include in the article almost 30 links to sources. The editor sent it back to me for more work after I submitted it the first time. To be honest, it was a bit too much work for the money, although I am happy to have the article there for my online portfolio.

Somewhere in-between the buyers of fast and (somewhat) easy articles and the heavy requirements of sites like Forbes.com there are a number of websites and blogs that buy decent articles with a few source-links in them. These researched articles of about 800 to 1,200 words are becoming the norm on high-quality websites. I've been paid between $75 and $300 for this type of article, and have developed good relationships with some clients, so the work is regular.

You can check the links at the bottom of your favorite websites to see if they buy from freelancers, or send them an email to ask. You can also find lists of places that buy content online. Google "list of article buyers" or something similar. Here are two resources I've used, but keep in mind that lists like the ones you'll find on these sites tend to become out-of-date quickly:

http://www.placesforwriters.com

http://www.makealivingwriting.com/150-websites-blogs-pay-writers

Making a Living as Freelance Writer

If you want to really make a living with freelance writing, you can start with the types suggested so far. But you should also look for clients who will come back again and again. The only reason I make decent money for my time is that I've worked for repeat customers so I haven't had to spend too much time chasing after business.

You should set up a website to promote yourself and your services. Design it so that when a potential client arrives on the home page it is perfectly clear what you do and why you are the one to do it. Make it easy to contact you as well. I hope I meet those criteria with my own "business card" site:

http://www.webhikerservices.com

Your website URL should be on your business cards of course. I tend to stay home and therefore don't mingle with prospective clients much, so I don't have business cards at the moment, but they are probably a good idea. I did recently get several small projects from a local businessman who is launching a travel-themed website, and maybe it would be helpful to have a card to give someone in a case like that (but I managed without).

Freelancing writing for print magazines is a tougher market to get into. Some still pay as much as $1.00 per word. When, instead of $50 or $100, you can make $1,200 for medium-length article, the competition is fierce. It is easier than ever to try though, because almost all of the print magazines that accept freelance work take submissions or queries by email now, and many of them post their guidelines on their websites. Soon I will attempt to sell to the places that pay $0.50 per word or better, but so far my best sales to a printed newsletter paid just $0.10 per word.

Other Considerations

Much of your freelance work is sold with all rights, and if you don't ask you should just assume this is the case. That means you are paid once and you can never again use that article, even on your own website or blog. I can live with that as long as I make a decent rate. And in any case, if I write an article about backpacking I can always write another one in new words and from another perspective.

Sometimes a buyer pays for "First North American Serial Rights" (FNASR), which means they are buying just the right to be first to publish your article. They may or may not specify how long after publication you are free to sell the article elsewhere, but you definitely have to wait until it is published (not just paid for). I recently sold a couple articles to an online writing magazine that buys "first electronic rights," meaning I could sell the same article to a print magazine and, as soon as the buyer published it online, I could sell it again online.

Being able to sell your article again means getting paid more than once. Some authors sell their articles many times. Just make it clear to subsequent buyers that they are only getting "reprint rights" when they buy it.

It can be tough to make money as a freelance writer! I've had a good start, but then I had some advantages. I had a book published by a major publisher and I've been writing for my own websites for almost ten years now. Setting up a website to promote my services took me only a couple day's work and $12 per year to operate it.

I also have other sources of income (I have become a strong believer in diversifying income sources). If you really have no experience, keep your day job and expect to work at your freelance writing for a long time before you make a living from it.



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