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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eight Ways to Make More Money as a Freelancer

If you're familiar with my work, you already know that I believe writers fall into two camps: those who write because they simply love to write, and those who want to make money for their work, or who write for money.

There’s nothing wrong with launching a freelance career because you love to write. But that's enough to sustain a successful full-time freelance career. And if you want to succeed as a freelancer, you must think about-and talk about--money.

Yet I find that many writers are afraid to talk money, or (mistakenly) think that you can’t make a good living as a freelancer. That’s simply not true. But if you're a new freelancer and you want to make real money as a writer, you have to start thinking about money—and possibly changing your mindset as well.

Use these eight strategies to start thinking (and acting) like a writer who deserves to and plans on getting paid. To make money as a writer, you should:

• Submit your work to markets that pay. This sounds obvious, but if you want to get paid for your work, you must find someone to buy it. If you only submit to nonpaying markets, you won’t make any cash.

• Actually submit your work! I’m amazed at the number of writers who are diligently committed to their craft, yet are afraid to send in work. Will you be rejected? Yes! Every writer, no matter how talented, has his or her work turned down. But you must overcome that fear to start making money as a freelancer.

• Ask about pay. Most markets, whether print or online, now keep writers’ guidelines online. If you don’t see any, don’t be afraid to send a quick email to the editor or webmaster asking about rates. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

• Present yourself as a writer who gets paid. When I submit work to potential reprint markets, I say something like, “Please let me know if you’re interested in purchasing reprint rights to this story.” Note my language—I don’t ask if the editor is interested in reprinting the story (she might think I just want the exposure), but if she’s interested in paying for that right.

• Track your income. If you want to make money, you should be keeping track of how much you’re making, and from what markets. It also means following up on outstanding invoices, if necessary. Don’t forget to keep track of your business expenses as well, so you can deduct them from your gross income at the end of the year.

• Write what sells. This is possibly the most important tip of all. I’m a twice-published novelist and still entertain visions of being able to write fiction fulltime. But I can’t--unless I can figure out how to live on, say $7,500 a year, my advance for each. So instead I write nonfiction articles and books about health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness because there are plenty of markets looking for that kind of work, and those markets pay well. I also ghostwrite and coauthor books for clients in those fields because there's a demand for this kind of work.

• Gather information. To market your work, you must know what markets are buying, and what they're paying. Keep up on markets through sources like Writer's Digest, Writing for Dollars, and PublishersMarketplace, and submit your work to them.

• “Just say no”—to writing for free. It’s one thing if you have a blog to showcase your writing and hopefully attract future clients. But when you write for markets that don’t pay (or pay in “exposure”), you’re devaluing your own work as well as that of other writers. I suggest you say no thanks to writing for free in favor of paying markets. You—and your bank account—will benefit.


  1. Done! Thank you, Brandon! You're a talented photog, too. :)

  2. Thanks for these tips. I'm new to full-time freelancing and I'm learning as I go.

    How much do you consider reputation to have influence on how much you can charge? Can a beginning writer expect to raise their fees fairly quickly?

  3. Thanks for this post. I'm often tempted to write for free, and have done so in the past. It's a matter of exposure and "getting my name out there". But going forward I'll make sure I'm getting paid for my work.

  4. Thanks for your comments, meanderingword and kim. Meanderingword, it depends on the type of clients you're working for. Many markets are going to pay a new writer a set amount, while with others you may be able to negotiate higher rates based on other facts (e.g., level of experience with the subject, etc).

  5. I am one of those writers who gives away articles and is too chicken to submit. I guess now is a good time to get started. Thanks.

  6. Kristi, thanks for your comment, and remember that you *will* get rejected. That's part of freelancing. What's important is what you do next. Check out my post on the 24-hour rule for a simple process for what to do when you get rejected--it takes some of the sting out of it.

  7. Thanks for a great post with so many important points.
    It's not easy getting paid even by markets that technically pay. I'm in the midst of chasing up two magazines for non payment and although I was very nervous at first as I didn't want to be branded as a 'pain' to work with, I realised that by being too submissive and not reminding them about non-payment I was as good as 'working for free'

  8. Thanks for your comment, Ann, and I agree with your point re: working for free if you don't chase down payment. I do have a post from January that provides a "pay-or-die" template if you need it. :)