Have Pen—Will Travel: My Guide to Freelance Writing
Have Gun—Will Travel
Recently I was drawn to an article written by a fellow HubPages author and wonderful writer Chris Mills (cam8510). The article had the great title, Writer Without a Clause, which was obviously a play on the movie Rebel Without a Cause starring none other than James Dean.
That article was all the inspiration I needed to sit down and pen this. Like Chris's title, mine is also a play on words. Growing up as a child in the 60s, like many other kids, I was a fan of westerns, or cowboys and Indians as we called them long before political correctness had ever been heard of.
One of my favourite TV westerns at that time was called Have Gun—Will Travel starring Richard Boone.
This series follows the adventures of a man calling himself "Paladin" (played by Richard Boone) taking his name from that of the knight warriors in Charlemagne's court. He is a gentleman gunfighter who travels around the West working as a mercenary gunfighter for people who hire him to solve their problems.
Although Paladin charges steep fees to clients who can afford to hire him, typically $1000 per job, he provides his services for free to poor people who need his help. Like many Westerns, the television show was set just after the Civil War.
The series was very popular and its original release covered 225 episodes and ran from September 14, 1957-April 20, 1963. (Source: Wikipedia)
Have Pen: Will Travel
Well, freelance writing is very much like the gunfighter Paladin mentioned above. We may not physically travel around (though there could be a few that still do) however, we do surf the Internet searching for clients or have them seek out our services. Some may even cold-call or email businesses that they think appropriate to what they offer. Then we hire out our pen, words, and time for an agreed or set fee.
Another way I particularly can relate to Paladin is that although I have a set fee per a given number of words I write, I have on occasion reduced this or provided extra for clients in exceptional circumstances. ("He provides his services for free to poor people who need his help.")
On the website "Fiverr" that I mainly use to offer my freelance writing services, each seller is provided with what is called a "World Domination" map that shows you every country that you have sold gigs to, and the number. Going through mine I find I have already written items for clients in 20 different countries.
So, where once freelance writers would have mainly been restricted to selling their services to local businesses, newspapers, and magazines, with the Internet it is easy to write for clients anywhere across the globe.
My World Domination
Be patient and persevere: No one gets rich overnight.
Before You Start Freelancing: 10-Point Checklist
- Don't give up your day job: at least until you are established and making enough to live on and cover all your expenses (this could take years or never happen).
- Make sure you have a good grasp of grammar and spelling: You don't have to be perfect but there is a lot of competition out there so you need to be good enough to compete. At the very least use a spell and grammar check app such as Grammarly.
- Find a niche or niches: Decide what subjects you have expertise in, or interests you enough to research and pursue.
- Start a website, blog, or authors page on Facebook etc. promoting yourself and your work. This can also act as an online portfolio. I have all of those but most frequently use my work on HubPages as examples of my writing.
- Try to develop a writing routine: A set time and place that you devote to your paid writing gigs. If you want to make money from it you need to treat it as a business.
- Choose your plan of attack: Choose an online writing portal that will advertise your services or allow you to seek out clients who are looking for freelance writers. Sites like BloggingPro, Freelance Writing, ProBlogger, Media Bistro, Craigslist etc have Jobs Boards where people buy and sell services. (My personal favourite apart from Fiverr is Freedom With Writing. They inform you of writing competitions, free and paid, as well as publications, editors, websites looking for content writers etc.)
- Promote yourself on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, even Pinterest.
- Keep financial records: This may not matter until you begin to make a substantial amount or a regular income, but it is a good idea to do it anyway right from the start.
- Take all the advice you read with a grain of salt: What works for one writer may not work for another. You have to determine what approach works for you.
- Lastly, be patient and persevere: No one gets rich overnight. Well, apart from a lucky few, of which I am not one.
My Brief Background
I have always loved to read, and books in general. This also spurred a desire to write and, now I think about it. I may have always had a subconscious desire to be a freelance writer. Unfortunately, I needed to take making a living seriously so I got myself a "real" job.
For the first 17 years after leaving school I worked as a clerical officer in the Railway Department, then after taking voluntary early retirement, I landed a job working in a University Library. This was a perfect job for a book lover.
After 10 great years at that job, I had no choice but to leave, and relocate, due to the declining health of my parents. I was able to do part-time work as well as help care for them while my wife worked.
Jump forward a couple of years. My father had since passed away, and I was left as a full-time carer for my mother. Then my wife suffered a back injury at work leaving her mobility disabled and unable to work. A few months later my mother also died and I was now still caring for my wife.
I needed to find some way to supplement my small carer's allowance, so I began to re-imagine my earlier desire to attempt to make money as a writer. Soon after that, I was surfing the Internet and stumbled across a site called HubPages. Somewhere I could practice my writing and perhaps move many unread poems and short stories I had written over the years but very few had read.
How I Started Freelancing
I have recounted my early years at HubPages in a number of other articles so won't repeat that here, however, after being here for a number of years and probably having published around 150 poems, articles, and short stories, I struck up a friendship with a fellow writer, author, and hubber Bill Russo.
As I mainly write poetry and short stories I had entered a number of writing competitions that paid cash prizes, and submitted items to various publications, but with little success.
Bill and I started following each other and read and commented on one another's hubs. Bill said he had been doing a little freelance writing on a site called Fiverr and felt my style of writing would do well there. I said I would check it out, and although business was slow for the first year, it slowly but surely began to increase.
It takes time to establish yourself as a writer. Building your reputation doesn't happen in the first few weeks or months, and like most jobs, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. At Fiverr you start at Level 3 and then depending on prompt replying to inquiries, delivering gigs on time, and positive feedback from buyers, you can gradually move up to Level 2, and ultimately Level1 (that is still my goal).
I am currently Level 2 and have a five-star rating on all categories so I have no fear of dropping back, however, to attain Level 1 and be called a top-level seller you need to have earned over $20,000 all-time since you joined Fiverr. I have only been there 3 1/2 years so I have a long way to go.
I don't have a regular customer (though I do get repeat ones) so there are good months where it is difficult to keep up with the number of orders, and others where you have none. I find the two months prior to Christmas and afterwards to be the busiest so far. So far the most I have made from Fiverr is $450 in one month.
What Works For Me
Most of my gigs are centered around writing poetry for any occasion, poetry or prose for a children's picture book, a rhyming advertising blurb, educational material. Almost all of this involves ghostwriting so you never get credited as the author, but that is the choice many freelancers have to make.
I have had orders as diverse as writing eulogies and verse for urns containing the ashes of loved ones; advertising a travel destination; love poems for a boyfriend or girlfriend; write a poetic version of a popular Bible story; the text for a children's book based on illustrations provided; a series of poems about all different types of trucks; a series of poems about the adventures of a couple's pet dog.
An upcoming project is to be 150 wartime letters exchanged between two lovers. There will be a book written around and linking the letters.
I said earlier that a lot of my work comes in the weeks leading up until Christmas, and this has been the case again this year. Christmas poems and stories are popular, as are the desires for companies to promote their services for the early New Year following the holidays.
The latest gig I have added my offered services is: I will write a poem. article, or piece of short fiction as content for a blog or website. I had an order within an hour of putting that up.
When I first started at Fiverr I was only charging $5.00 US per 200 words, due to what I wrote being mostly poetry. I think that was undervaluing my work but I was trying to build a clientele. I have since increased that to $5.00 US for 100 words, and find myself, still, receiving tips that are more than the cost of the gig itself.
* Since reading the comments here I have actually increased my pricing to $5.00 US per 50 words (10c per word) which is still low but in fairness to my existing clients I can up it gradually and see if the work still comes my way.
I have reluctantly refused a number of lucrative gigs that I felt I just didn't have the expertise to do satisfactorily or just didn't have the time required. I also have a couple of clients who first ordered from me on Fiverr but who now contact me directly if they need work done.
Something to Aim For
A lot of prospective freelancers don't consider Fiverr as an alternative because they have wrongly heard that you have to provide a service or article for only $5.00. In fact, $5.00 is just the base unit, and one gig can be over $1000 depending on what it involves.
The hardest part for me is pricing my work. You don't want to undervalue your time, effort and quality, but you also need to make sales. So, this is something you need to monitor and adjust over time.
In fact, while I was researching for this article I checked out a few profiles and gigs of Level 1 sellers on Fiverr. That blew me away I must say. One top freelance writer offers the following:
- 1. Basic: $727.00 for 1000 word article for a blog or website.
- 2. Premium: $1091.00 for 1200-1500 words including research.
Maybe that pricing isn't so far-fetched because in a recent HubPages forum I saw someone advertise for a writer of technical articles to write for him. A HubPages regular replied quoting him $500 for 300 words. My jaw dropped, thinking that was crazy.
I think I need to drastically increase my prices, or change my niche.
A Final Word
One thing I failed to mention up until now but I probably should have included in the checklist is:
Keep your integrity: Don't accept any writing work that goes against your principles or even, just doesn't feel right. I have had numerous requests to analyse poetry, write a poem for/ or complete a college exam question about poetry. I feel if a student wants to study literature, creative writing etc, and eventually become a writer than they should be willing to do the hard yards themselves and not look for shortcuts. For that reason, I always politely refuse these gigs.
Oh, there is one great resource that has been recommended by two outstanding writers in Shauna Bowling and Bill Holland: is an invaluable source of information, how to market, promote, and price your work etc. I made sure to obtain a copy and suggest you check it out. The Writer's Market
Lastly, if you are already a freelance writer, or considering becoming one, I wish you all the best. It is an interesting and fun occupation for anyone who loves writing.
© 2018 John Hansen