How to Make Money Freelance Writing
By Steve Gillman
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 dont 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):
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 days
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:
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
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.
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.