Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How I Write and Earn a Living: A Poor Man's Version

It was March 16, 2010, when I started my freelance writing career full time. Scary not knowing whether you'll have enough income to sustain yourself, and that fear never really goes away, but it is easier to manage the more you reach your goals and reproduce results. The one thing I have missed since leaving the private sector is the ability to put work out of my head and veg out at the end of a long day.

Being your own boss, finding your own jobs, handling your own customer service issues, and ensuring your own cash flow, keeps you from ever having a moment's peace, but at the same time, it's worth every minute. It just doesn't feel like work when you're the only d-bag that you have to answer to.

I've had friends tell me since that fateful day that I needed to write an ebook on how I do it with assurances they would make a purchase if I ever followed through. Maybe one day I'll get around to it, but today, I've only got time for a little overview.

How do I write in a manner that guarantees I'll be able to pay the bills each month, save for retirement, and take care of my future family (once the wedding bells ding on July 30)?

Go Where the Money Is

I'd love to spend all my time pounding out short stories, novellas, screenplays, and novels, but the reality is that stuff takes a huge time commitment to do right and you'll probably never get back what you put in to it. I have written a novel, which I self-published (before the ereading devices took off). I've also written a novella that was published in the pulp magazine "Masked Gun Mystery" (print and electronic).

My short story "The Monster of Looking Glass County" closed out Scott Nicholson's under-appreciated anthology of graphic novel horror "Grave Conditions." And I've had an essay published in "The Confident Writer" (Houghton Mifflin, Inc.). Unfortunately, I make more in 10 days of going where the money is than I did for any of those endeavors. Still, there are no regrets. I do it because I love it, and in the upcoming year, you'll see quite a bit more fiction come through the iBooks, Kindle, and Nook stores from me. Hopefully, it will find more value thanks to the ever changing face of the epublishing industry. Either way, I won't stop doing it. But in the meantime, I'll have to put food on the table. Luckily, I know where to look. My three biggest sources of income?

Local Journalism

The problem with writing is that everyone thinks they can do it. However, writing well is more than just stringing sentences together. Local journalism involves the ability to watch what is going on in the community and know what types of things will be interesting enough to read. Then, you have to have the ability to approach the publisher with that idea in a manner that sells. It's just like pitching a script to a big movie executive, but at the same time, there is a much higher acceptance rate if you know what you're doing.

I found my local niche in publications, such as "Celebrate Arkansas," one of our few statewide print magazines, and "TheCityWire.com," Fort Smith, Ark.'s, smaller-but-more-profitable-than-the-print online newspaper. At the local level, people are willing to pay more than they will online for generic content. Of course, there is a greater expenditure of time, but at the least I make about $20 per hour, while at the most I've made $100 per hour. It just depends on the job and the level of time that goes in to it. Plus, if you really do a good job, you'll almost certainly get more assignments. Why? Because, again, not everyone can write well; they just think they can.

Generic Content Online

You want to know where to start with getting paid writing jobs? Start with Craigslist.com. More specifically, if you have a Craigslist application on your iPhone or mobile device, save a search for each of the major U.S. cities with "writing jobs" as your category. You'll get more than a thousand new jobs per day. The majority of these postings will either be ripoffs, or they simply won't want you. But the law of averages is on your side. You have to put yourself out there and send out the very best query letters that you can (via email, of course) to these potential employers.

If you don't have a body of work, then sign up with a stepping stone service like Helium.com or Suite101.com, and get a few quality samples under your belt. They will try to pay you through "exposure" and a "piece of the revenue." This means you will make jack squat. However, you will have a recognized forum for your writing. You will have pieces that are web friendly. You will have work that meets certain editorial requirements. Once you have three to five strong samples, you are marketable.

Keep pounding the digital pavement and contacting job posters day in and day out. What you will find is that a pattern develops with your acceptance rate. For instance, you send out twelve queries and get eleven "no's." Sounds horrible, but when you're doing that every week, it doesn't take as long as you would think to have a clientele of six, seven, or eight paying clients. People who will actually show you the money upfront. When you're starting out, take advantage of these payouts. It may seem like crappy money to write for 1 cent per word, but it leads to higher paying jobs. And since so many of these 1-cent-per-word content pieces are easy to write, you can sort of turn your brain off and let the words flow through you.

But you have to love the process, and you have to be familiar and comfortable with online structure. Short sentences. Simple words. Only 300 to 600 words of content per piece. Working like that, I can generally pull in $18-$20 per hour just from this drudgery work. It's not the Great American Novel. In many cases it is written exactly to client specifications, so it may not even be that good. But if you can work fast, you can make money. I wouldn't take a 9-to-5 job for $15 per hour anymore, though I used to think that was good money, because I can actually make that on an off-day.


Quality will find ways of rewarding you. I have one client, who gives me some really inspiring subject matter and pays me at a rate of about $32 per hour. After working with him and giving him the best ideas and writing that I had in me, he turned me on to a colleague, who was also in need of the same kind of work. The colleague's jobs were a tad more time consuming, but they still netted me around $25 per hour. Of all the different ways to get a job, the referral is the most gratifying because it actually validates the quality of your work and doesn't make you feel like you're just a drone, who spits out words according to blueprint. Hang in there long enough and really commit your creative juices to the right people, and you will get a referral. I'm convinced of it.

Wow, that post ended up much longer than I anticipated. Maybe that ebook idea isn't too far off from becoming a reality. Until then, if you have any ideas for how you've landed work, either in print or on the web, feel free to share.

No comments:

Post a Comment