Anne Wayman, of AboutFreelanceWriting.com, explains the basics of getting started as a freelance writer.
First, let’s talk about you. What’s your background and your experience with freelance writing?
I started writing sales letters and classified ads for my father’s real estate business for free. It was great training because we tracked the ads so I quickly found out what worked and what didn’t. I also ghosted a column for my dad that showed up in the L.A. Times for a long time. Again, the feedback gave me real insight about what works and what doesn’t on the page. Once I figured out that not everyone can write well, I was sort of on my way.
And now you’re also a writing coach?
Yes, I write and I coach writers – mentor them. I work to tailor the coaching program to exactly what the client needs.
So, let’s say I’m unemployed or underemployed and hoping to find some freelance writing gigs to supplement my income. Where should I begin?
Probably by buying Writer’s Market with the online option and The Well-Fed Writer. Writer’s Market is an annual that not only lists a ton of markets but also has articles about queries, prices to charge, etc. Well worth the money. In The Well-Fed Writer, Peter Bowerman teaches you how to start doing what he calls corporate writing – also known as copy writing, marcom, etc. Even if you don’t think that’s the kind of writing you want to do, the book will tell you a great deal about how to market yourself as a writer. I refer to it even today.
And once that part is squared away, then what?
Based on what you learn you’ll need to begin building a portfolio of writing credits – which might be something you wrote back in college even. Since you’ll also want a website to market yourself, even if you don’t have credits you can write two or three or four sample articles for potential clients to view.
Should I be looking into writing for print or online publications? It seems like for some of the online jobs, you’re paid per click. How does that work?
Wrong question. It’s not either/or. Start with what you know or what you want to learn – your article idea. Think about the reader, then decide where it belongs. Pay per click is a hard way to go for articles online because you’ll be paid a fraction of a cent usually every time someone reads it. It only works well, in my opinion, if you get pay per click or revenue share on top of a guarantee. Yes, it’s possible to find those gigs.
What kind of pay can a newbie expect?
There’s no way to say exactly. So much depends on how you approach the market. If you only look, for example, on your local Craigslist you’ll most likely be looking at poorly paid jobs. Including Craigslist as part of your search strategy can work – but it’s only part and you’ll have to decide what your own minimum is. In addition to searching online, start marketing yourself. Send queries to the markets you find in Writer’s Market or by Googling for a specific topic and magazines or trade magazines. Adapt Bowerman’s techniques to the way you want to work. With this approach you can begin to make decent money pretty quickly. But the key is marketing yourself.
It doesn’t sound like this is something that will pay off right away. What would you recommend to help keep a person motivated to keep at it?
First, it can pay off sooner than you expect if you market yourself properly, so maybe the best advice I can give you is to work on the marketing end.
Any further advice for those starting out and hoping to write for money?
Realize you’re starting a business and you’re working for yourself – you’re an entrepreneur, unless, of course you want to work inside a magazine or a newspaper, etc. Those jobs are out there – and the searching/applying is like for any other job. But if it’s freelancing, take a businesslike approach. Take it seriously. Write and market at least five days a week. The way I sum it up in my free booklet (you can get it by subscribing to my newsletter) is: Write; Rewrite; Market. Those are the only real secrets to success as a freelance writer.