The 3 Secrets To A Profitable Freelance Writing Career

by Anne Wayman

Money for freelance writingPeople come to this website, I assume, because they either want to learn how to make money as a freelance writer or, having had a bit of writing success, they want to learn how to be more successful and maybe even make a living freelancing.

Sure, you may have the desire to write a great (name your country) novel, or do a masterful non-fiction book that helps people change their behavior for the better. You may see writing as your art or you might want out of the cubical and figure writing is a good way to do it.


Whatever your reason there really are only three secrets or steps to creating a profitable freelance writing career. Those keys are:

  1. Write
  2. Rewrite
  3. Market

Does that seem like an oversimplification? Here’s what I mean:

Write

It’s like the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall – practice, practice, practice but for the freelance writer it’s write, write, write. Nothing will happen if you don’t somehow consistently get words on a page or screen. If you can’t find a way to write regularly you’re unlikely to find writing success.


How much writing, of course varies. A page a day is a good sized book; 100 words just under what’s considered acceptable for most book length manuscripts. Two-hundred and fifty words or so five days a week is 65,000 words – plenty for a book, enough for a decent blog and at least a short magazine article a week. Web articles typically run 500-800 words, although they can be shorter or longer. Figure out what you can produce and stick with it for six months or so.

You may find setting up a reward system for yourself helps.

Rewrite

Once you’ve written a draft,  you need to rewrite and edit your work. The first step is often just to reread what you’ve written on screen. You’ll pick up errors, things you’ve left out and better ways to phase certain ideas. If you’ve got time, leave it for at least overnight.

Come back, read on screen again, then print out the corrected copy. Go away from your computer and read the printout slowly and thoughtfully. Again, you’ll want to change, add and delete. Put it away again for at least overnight if you can.

Read the piece out loud – yes, right out loud. Sure, it’s embarrassing at first, but you’ll be amazed at what your ear hears that your eye can’t see.


After a solid rewrite  and edit or two, declare it done. Again, exactly when you do this is up to you; the point is to avoid getting lost in a search for perfection. Neither you nor I would recognize that perfection even if it were possible to reach.

Market

I know, marketing is far from your favorite thing, but how to you expect to have an audience, let alone a paycheck if you don’t work to get your writing sold.

I like what Peter Bowerman says in The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds ...  “The bad news: marketing yourself is a continuous process.” He then goes on to point out that if  you do market yourself consistently you’ll be something like 95% ahead of the competition.

Again, exactly how you market depends on you and the kind of writing you want to sell. If it’s magazine articles you need to submit queries regularly. If it’s a non-fiction book you may want to develop a book proposal even before you finish the book and use it to find either an agent or a publisher. It’s probably easiest to sell corporate writing by making phone calls to local businesses. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sign up for any marketing classes in an online school. And so it goes, marketing, marketing, marketing.

My experience and the experience of other writers suggests roughly a third of your time should be devoted to marketing.

Do you see how this works? In fact you could do worse than divide your writing life roughly into thirds – the first third for writing, the second for rewriting and editing and the final third for marketing. All three are necessary if you want a successful writing career.

What are your secrets for a writing career?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Heide Braley March 10, 2012 at 7:59 am

Wow. I loved this article. You wrote clearly and in an easy to understand, digest and use sort of way. I am just starting out in the short stories of fiction genre and am quite enjoying the process. I like how you suggest to read your work out loud as that’s the only way I pick up a lot of my mistakes. I didn’t realize how much time was involved in marketing, but thanks to the online community it is probably not nearly as difficult as it used to be. Right now I list my stories on Amazon and offer a few on weekends as free downloads to help advertise my work.
Still have a lot to learn, but am enjoying learning from other writers such as yourself.

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annew March 12, 2012 at 8:33 am

Glad you found it helpful, Heide.

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Kathryn Pless August 25, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Well put as usual, Anne. Write, write and then when you think you’re done write some more. I’ve had to set myself up on a reward system. Facebook is a bit time stealer for me so I’ll set a goal of how many words or articles and then give myself a small window to check my wall, harvest crops and catch up with my friends. Once the time is up, I close the window and force myself to go back to work.

As for content mills, I still think they get a bad rap. I wrote for Demand Studios when I first started out and made pretty decent money. It taught me discipline and how to work with an editor. I knew how much I would make each week and the pay was consistent as long as I wrote. I still jump on there once in a while and write an article or two just for the heck of it. And my links and articles gave me a portfolio that I could use to show potential employers my writing style and that I could indeed piece two sentences together in the correct order.

I think you hit if on the head with your simple three step plan. Too often we think there is some magical system or way to be successful when in truth it takes good old fashion hard work.
Kathryn Pless recently posted..New Book by Maggie Shayne- Kill Me AgainMy Profile

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Lori August 24, 2010 at 7:44 am

Learn. I find this career has a steady learning curve. I push beyond the comfort zone a lot, and the things I learn about the profession and myself are amazing. I learn from my blog readers. I learn from other blogs (like this one!). I learn from clients, and I learn from everyone else who has some opinion on writing.

You know me with the marketing – it’s like breathing. It has to be a constant part of the process or the business dies out from lack of air. One query a day, five queries a week, and soon you’ll be both better at querying and better at getting new clients.
Lori recently posted..Time AwayMy Profile

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annew August 24, 2010 at 9:47 am

Yes, learning could actually be the 4th key or secret couldn’t it.

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Carol Tice August 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I think you nailed it there, Anne! It sounds simple when it’s put into three words, but of course we all know it’s a lot of work summed up there.

I think of the rewriting phase as competing with myself. I am my toughest competitor! I want every piece I write to be better than what’s come before. I find concentrating on that — instead of worrying about ‘competition’ from other writers — has helped keep me earning well.

And of course, the continuous marketing… :-)
Carol Tice recently posted..Staff Writing Job vs Freelance Writing — Which is BestMy Profile

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annew August 24, 2010 at 9:54 am

Yes, there’s much more two it than just the words, write, rewrite & market. But it does boil down to that. I like taking some of the mystery out of the whole “how do I become a writer” thing.

Never thought about rewriting as competing with me… interesting and useful slant.

A

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Devon Ellington August 23, 2010 at 4:02 pm

What I’ve found works is that every piece should challenge you, stretch you, and you should always apply what you learn moving forward. In other words, every piece you write should make you a better writer.

And — if you actually plan to make this a career — don’t sell yourself short and work for a content mill. Hone your craft and sell it to someone who pays a living wage. The well-paid work is out there — go get it.
Devon Ellington recently posted..August 23- 2010My Profile

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annew August 24, 2010 at 10:04 am

Amen Devon… which I’d only say to the brand new want to be writer… two or three articles at one of the better content mills can get you a credit or two that helps on your list of credits – but no more than that in my opinion.

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