Most writer-oriented books and periodicals tell readers, "If you write for $1 per word or higher-paying national publications, you can earn six figures a year." But let's face it -- for a writer just starting out, high-paying assignments from Cosmopolitan and The New Yorker are hard to come by. Is writing for national consumer publications or landing a three-book deal with a major New York publisher the only way to generate a good income?
Not so, say experts. In fact, there are many ways a writer can boost the bottom line and bring in more money. Here are a few.
Ask for more. Almost every experienced freelancer I talk to negotiates as if his life depends on it; every newbie looks at me and says, "Really? You can do that?" The thing is, whether you're a newbie or a polished pro, most editors expect you to negotiate.
Freelancing is a business, and editors respect writers who treat it like one.
What's the worst that can happen when you ask for more money? You'll probably get a "Sorry, but we're on a tight budget" response, after which you're free to decide whether or not this assignment is worth doing for the offered compensation. But by asking, you make sure that there wasn't room for more. In fact, if the editor doesn't budge on the money front, she might agree to buy fewer rights, give you a long bio, or even print your picture alongside the piece.
Turn it around. An idea is almost always worth more than one article. That's because there are so many tangents just waiting to be discovered. I usually come up with ideas in multiples of three. My query on how busy women can keep fit won't just be sent to a women's magazine, but to a magazine for working women (The One Minute Fitness Program for Executives), a parenting magazine (Fitness Tips for the Time-Crunched Mommy) and maybe a general women's magazine (Fitness on a Stopwatch). That way, while the query letter remains essentially the same, I've reslanted it to meet the needs of several non-competing markets. Much better than simultaneously submitting!
Go international. Recycling, reslanting and reselling old articles is a great way of keeping the cash inflow steady. But to make even more money, go international. Most magazines want first rights in their own countries anyway, and by selling first rights in various regions across the globe, you not only get them all to pay you their top rates, but also achieve the status of international writer on your resume.
But don't think that just because you're writing for the international market, the road ahead will be easy. Far from it. You need to research the magazine, find the editor's name and spell it correctly, and pitch targeted stories just as you would to a magazine in your own country.
Then there are the subtle differences. "You must open your eyes to the cultural nuances of the country you're writing for," says Kamala Thiagarajan, a freelance writer based in India. Don't settle for interviewing experts your own country. Thiagarajan says it's essential that you locate experts in the country where the magazine is published.
Think sidebars. So you've landed a plum $2 per word assignment with a national consumer magazine. Congratulations, you! Want to know how to add a little extra to that paycheck? Think sidebars. In fact, it's best to propose a couple of sidebars in your query letter itself. By doing so, not only do you ensure that you'll earn more for the piece if it's accepted, you also increase your chances of actually landing the assignment. Editors love sidebars. Many women's magazines are actually known to hire freelancers to write sidebars for their features. Why not do the job yourself and pocket some extra cash?
Write for the trades. Writers talk about trade magazines a lot, but they don't submit to them enough. For a freelance writer who wants to make more money, trades are an underused source. Editors of the trades aren't flooded with queries and submissions like editors in consumer magazines and thus are hungry for talent. If you can do a good job with your query letter, you're halfway through the door. What's more, the trades tend to pay well, averaging $1 per word even for medium-circulation magazines.
While getting assignments from the trades isn't half as tough as getting assignments from national consumer magazines, they do make tougher, and sometimes boring, assignments that you must nevertheless approach with enthusiasm. Brush up on your research and interview skills, too-you'll be making good use of them.
Set income goals. Set monthly, weekly, even daily income goals. And I don't mean the all-encompassing "I'll make six figures a year" kind of goal. I mean sensible, practical, achievable goals.
Kelly James-Enger, author of Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer's Guide to Making More Money has a tip: Let's say you reach a figure of $30,000 as the amount of money you want to make this year from your writing. That's $2,500 per month. Taking two weeks off for vacations and emergencies and working a five-day week, you need to make $600 per week or $120 per day to reach your goal. Doesn't seem as tough now, does it?
Now you need to fix productivity goals to make sure you're earning that daily $120. As long as you're meeting your daily productivity limit, you'll achieve your yearly income, too.
Consider additional revenue streams. Many writers learn soon enough that they need to create additional revenue streams from their existing products or services. Have you written a book on organizing your workspace? Why not teach an e-course on it, too? Sold a romance novel to Harlequin? Get in touch with the Romance Writers of America and offer to speak at some of their events. Are you a food writer who has achieved considerable success in that area? Why not write an e-book or start and e-zine?
Collaborate. There are literally thousands of people who have expertise in fields such as self-defence, nutrition, organizing homes, time management, etc. Right now, the knowledge of these experts is in great demand, and the huge sales figures of self-help books prove that. But while there are many experts, not all of them are writers. So they hire ghostwriters or co-authors. The expert provides the research and material; the co-author writes the book. And once the book is finished, the expert has a built-in audience waiting, meaning that you can approach top-notch book publishers with your proposal.
Where do you find these experts? Apart from the dozens of writing market newsletters and job boards, also look closer to home-the famous horse trainer who lives next door, or the organization expert you've seen on TV who comes to the same hairdresser you do. These are perfect candidates for a writing partnership.
Think in hours, not words. If one magazine editor asks you to write a 1,000-word article at the rate of $1 per word, and another editor asks you write a feature for the same number of words for $200, the first one is the more lucrative assignment, right?
Not necessarily. For all you know, the editor paying $1 per word might require three rewrites, research from ten different sources and interviews with five experts, taking up days of your time. Yet you might be able to whip up an article for the $200 editor in two hours flat. Which is the lucrative assignment now?
The pay alone isn't enough to determine whether the assignment is worthwhile. Instead, you should think in hours. How much time will the assignment take, and how much frustration is it going to cause?
"I've written for markets that pay anywhere from 25¢ to $2 per word and more. Yet some high-paying assignments required so much extensive background research, reporting and revising that I actually made less per hour than I did on other 'low-paying' assignments," says James-Enger. "Of course writers should consider what the per word rate is, but they should also consider how much time the assignment will take and what it's worth to them."
Get proactive for your money. Writers often don't fight enough for their money because they don't want to risk ruining a relationship or offending an editor who could give more assignments. But just as your cell phone company won't sit around meekly when you don't pay your bill, you shouldn't either. Your cell phone company will charge obnoxious interest rates and high penalty fees; the least you can do is ask your editor for the money. The rule is simple: If you don't respect your time and value your work, no one else is likely to, either.
Using these tips, you can make consistent and good money from your freelance writing. Treat it like a business. The profits will soon follow.
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Copyright © 2007 Mridu Khullar
This article originally appeared in Byline.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.