Stop Writing for Free: How to Get Paid for Your Writing
Writers Who Write for Next to Nothing, or for Food
Anyone who is engaged in writing as their main paid occupation is a professional writer. Everyone else who writes may be considered an amateur and, depending on the writer’s level of experience, may even be considered semi-professional.
The biggest pet peeve of most professional writers is hearing about writers that work for slave wages or less because it’s believed to diminish the entire profession. It’s very understandable to learn why some writers would work for next to nothing; some are looking for experience, some are trying to gain exposure, some even believe there is some sort of “Catch 22” in the professional writing industry, and all of those are reasonable to accept, except from professional writers.
You may laugh at the picture posted above with the phrase “will work for food,” but that is exactly what I offered one of my clients and don’t feel guilty about it at all even though I consider myself to be a professional writer. I wrote all the descriptive copy for the client’s new menu and instead of asking for my normal fee, I jokingly asked for a year’s worth of dinners. When the client suddenly became agreeable to that “proposal” and countered with ‘a meal for 2 once a week for a year,’ we shook hands on it before he really crunched the numbers.
I’m not trying to brag, I just want to show there may be rare occasions where you will have to weigh the benefits of your writing against a cash payout. On most occasions where you are trying to transition from amateur to semi-pro or professional writer, you are going need to demand cash payment.
It is widely believed that professional writers live a glamorous lifestyle which is completely bogus. The reality is that most writers struggle to earn a respectable income. In fact, according to the popular salary disclosure website Payscale.com, the median income of professional writers is $48,143 annually.
Don’t get me wrong, there are thousands of writers that are living a celebrity lifestyle with multi-book publishing deals, movie deals, newspaper and magazine column deals, and speech writing deals. Multiply that by the hundreds of typical writers that have to produce on a daily schedule in order to pay the mortgage on time, if they’re lucky enough to own a home, and you’ll get a better picture of the professional writing market.
The professional writing market is huge, it’s global, but it is very competitive and it takes time and perseverance for most writers to transition into. That may sound a bit scary to many people but keep in mind that even J.K. Rowling was rejected by all 12 of the publishing houses she submitted her Harry Potter manuscript.
British fantasy author J.K. Rowling, best known for the Harry Potter series, has sold between 350 and 450 million copies of her 11 books.
Let’s assume that many of the people reading this are amateur writers wanting to transition to a higher level and wanting to escape the content mills and slave wages. Let’s also assume that these same writers have some experience writing articles and blog posts.
In fact, many writers start their own blogs for the express purpose of building a freelance writing client base. If you haven’t already started your own blog, you should probably consider doing so as soon as you can and start it on a topic you can or want to be an expert on.
Read as many blogs in your chosen industry as you can to get an idea of what is being written and shared. Comment as often as you can and link back to your own blog and also network with the bloggers and those that leave comments as this is one of the key activities to grow a base and gain exposure.
As I mentioned earlier, gaining exposure as well as gaining experience are acceptable as excuses for amateur writers to write for free but the real goal should be to write to get paid. So now I’m going to share some tips on how to get paid for your writing.
Harlan Ellison's Thoughts on Paying Writers (NSFW)
Have you ever been paid to write?
Tips for Those Who Want to Get Paid to Write
These aren’t steps to gradually increasing your pay as a writer; they’re different levels for writers to get paid. If you’re comfortable going to the top level then go for it as long as you have a portfolio or clips to prove you are ready for the challenge.
1. Grow Your Social Networks
Build up your social networks so that you can show potential clients that you have the resources to help them share the content they are employing you to write.
It becomes a win-win for both of you. Twitter should be your number one choice of social networks because it is really easy to grow a following.
You can follow me, for example, by clicking @Rich-Bivins, then follow the people I follow, but limit your activity to only following 100 people per day. It will take up some time to grow your network but you know what they say about patience.
LinkdIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram are other social networks that you should consider becoming more active on, as well.
2. Write for Blogs
Identify as many blogs as you can that share topics you are interested in. Then engage in conversations with the blogger through their comments section and by following them on their social media pages such as Twitter and Facebook. Be polite so you don’t come off as a stalker.
Once you have built up at least two way communications with the blogger you can then craft a pitch that is relevant to the blog’s focus. If you haven’t tried to network with the blogger then it’s unlikely any pitch will be accepted.
If you take those first steps your pitch may be met with more receptive attention. In your pitch, be specific, be relevant, keep it short and to the point, and above all else be upfront on how much you want to be paid for your post. You should end your pitch with the phrase “Will this meet your needs?”
If the site has a formal ‘submission guidelines’ then follow them exactly as they are written. Many times these guidelines will discuss how much the blogger is willing to pay and if that rate is acceptable to you then say so in your pitch. If rates are not discussed then it is up to you to bring it up and up to you to decline if no pay is offered, keep in mind that it is quite common to expect between $50 and $100 for blog posts between 500 and 1000 words.
A blog that receives less than 5,000 monthly page views is not likely to pay you or provide you enough exposure to be worth your while.
3. Write Local and Regional
Once you have been paid for a couple blog posts you might want to consider pitching some article ideas to some local and regional news and magazines. This can be especially beneficial if you participate in local and regional activities such as restaurant and bar hopping, festivals, camping, and anything else that is popular with the general public.
Pitching blogs during this time is still important but breaking into the next level is equally important. You would need to be writing a dozen or more articles per month for regional rags in order to make a livable income if you consider that the average pay for this level is about $0.30 - $0.50 per word or between $100 and $250 per article. Try searching citymag.org for regional magazines to pitch.
4. Consider Trade Magazines and Custom Publishers
These magazines don’t get the respect they deserve. No, they’re not as glamorous as the national and international magazines but they pay very well if you consider $1 per word or more very well. Trade publications are normally focused on a single industry. Here is a good place to search for Trade Magazines.
Equally important at this level are Custom Publishers which are magazines that many companies produce ‘in-house’ by businesses such as hotel and retail chains and hospitals and most of the content they purchase will be printed on their websites.
These types of publishers are easier to approach with a letter of introduction but I would suggest treating them like regular magazines with a formal article pitch.
Before you make a pitch you should check out their websites to get an idea of the type of content they share.
Go Get Paid
If you have your own blog or write on sites like this one, then chances are you have what it takes to go right for the big money and beyond. And while writing for major publications might bring in some big money, there are many other types of freelance writing that pay even better and more consistently.