Make Money Writing: Get Paid to Write Readers' Letters
Readers' Letters: a Profitable Niche Market for the Freelance Writer
As a new freelance writer, there's nothing more encouraging then seeing your name in print and getting your first paycheck. One of the quickest and easiest ways of getting paid and published is to research, write, and send "Readers' Letters" to magazines that pay for them.
Readers' letters average between 150 and 200 words a pop. The typical payment on offer from magazines is between $25 and $100. So, that's about 12 to 65 CPW (cents-per-word). That's a professional rate and would be hard to beat in all but the most specialized technical writing markets.
Any writer with enough wit to put an interesting anecdote into words or share a useful tip or insightful comment stands a good chance of selling a steady flow of these pieces and earning good money for her efforts.
Why Do Editors Pay for Readers' Letters?
Editors love to get feedback on their editorial policies and published output. Readers' letters help them gauge how successful they are in reaching their target audience. Many letters published are by non-professional readers of the magazine or newspaper. But editors love to receive well-written letters from freelancers, too. They offer good copy and help to set a standard for the quality of feedback from the general readership.
Letters offer an easy and profitable way into print and you need no more than your personal experience and a good command of written English to contribute and get paid.
5 Bestselling Letter Types
If you want to try your hand at selling reader's letters, the five categories easiest to write and sell are:
An anecdote is a personal account of something which happened to the writer. An anecdote may be intimate, serious, or funny.
Humor is often a subcategory of the anecdote, but may also be an observation or reflection on the part of the writer.
A comment is a direct expression of opinion on the part of the author which may add useful information, explain why the writer agrees with the article, or offer an alternative viewpoint.
Controversy is a subcategory of the comment letter. Done well, a letter which courts controversy is likely to sell, as it adds further engagement and value to the original piece. But it's important to make sure your arguments are well-reasoned, justifiable, and expressed politely, with respect for other people's opinions.
Editors often buy letters which offer practical advice to help readers solve a problem. Tips from personal or professional experience are more likely to sell.
Readers' Letters Must be Relevant, Personal, and Timely
In each case, a letter is a response to something published in the magazine in question, so it should always be on the same theme and add value to the published article.
It's unusual for published letters to be anonymous or pseudonymous. So, if you spark a controversial exchange, you must be ready to engage in the conversation and defend your views.
Regardless of the letter you write and sell, it must still be topical by the time it's published. Many magazines and newspapers accept emailed letters and you should send yours no later than the day after the article it refers to appeared in print.
How to Write and Sell Readers' Letters: 5 Steps to Success
To maximize your chances of selling a letter to a magazine, be as thorough and professional in your approach to researching and writing it as you would an article or feature in the same publication. Follow these five steps to make sure you stand the best chance of selling your work:
Step One: List Potential Markets
Almost every print magazine has a letters page. Most offer rewards to readers whose letters appear in print. All publish the name and contact details of the editor to whom you should address letters. Visit your local newsstand/newsagent and list all the magazines which pay for readers' letters.
Step Two: Select and Research Several Markets
Divide your list into two, by how much the magazine pays and how interested you are in it. It will be easier to write a convincing letter for a magazine that interests you. With luck, you'll find several magazines which pay well and spark your interest. Target these magazines first.
Now, read the magazines you've selected. If you can't afford to buy them, many public libraries carry magazines and journals, so it's worth asking the librarian. Several magazines also have free online versions.
As you read, analyze. Ask yourself what the age, gender, economic status, and interests of the target audience might be. Advertisements are good indicators of the target readership of a magazine. If the advertisements are for luxury goods and services, then it's a fair bet that the readers are affluent. If diapers, strollers, and toys feature, then young mothers may be the target group.
Once you've got a good idea of who buys and reads the magazine, study the readers’ letters already published. Analyze them as you would any other potential market. Try to answer the following questions:
- How many words are there in an average letter?
- What writing style do they use?
- What vocabulary and sentence length?
- Are they humorous, emotional, academic, reflective, or anecdotal?
- How closely related to a specific article are they?
- How many letters get published in each edition?
Once you've completed your market analysis, you should have a good understanding of your target audience and the type of letters for which the editor is likely to pay.
Step Three: Draft Ideas
Bearing the results of your research in mind, select the magazine which most appeals to you and brainstorm as many ideas for letters as you can. Write them all down. Then check a few recent back issues of the magazine to make sure they haven’t already published similar letters. From your list, select one idea to work up as a draft letter.
Step Four: Write a Letter
It's time to write the first draft of your letter. As with any professional writing project, complete a rough draft first to get the key ideas in place. Then re-read your work with a critical eye, re-writing, cutting out unnecessary words, clarifying and "tightening up" your sentences, and making sure the piece is as good as it can be. When you're satisfied that you have written a star-quality letter with a strong appeal to both the readership and the editor of your chosen magazine, proofread it to eliminate any spelling, grammatical, or syntactical errors just as you would an article, feature, or short story.
Step Five: Submit Your Letter for Publication
Most magazines accept letters by email these days. When you send a letter, remove any indications of your professional status, such as an e-signature, website or logo. If sending your letter by mail, make sure you print it but avoid headed paper. Editors know they receive several professionally written letters and value them, but they don't want the fact made explicit.
You won't get an acknowledgement for a letter. You'll only know if you've been successful once you receive payment. Payment may come in the form of a check, bank deposit, or via an online payment system such as PayPal, Stripe, or Worldpay. If you've heard nothing after three or four months, assume you haven't been successful this time and send the letter off to another relevant market. In the meantime, repeat the process above with the next market on your list.
Final Tips to Help You to Write and Sell Readers' Letters
While current and topical readers' letters are more likely to sell, don't ignore seasonal pieces. You must write letters with a seasonal theme well in advance. An Easter-themed letter sent in April is unlikely to make it into print. Aim to send seasonal letters at least two or three months ahead.
While you can send the same letter to several publications consecutively if the last magazine you sent it to doesn’t accept it, never send simultaneous submissions. Editors don't want to see the same letter published in a rival publication and should that happen, it'll tarnish your professional reputation, too.
Several publications also welcome letters accompanied by photographs. In such cases, they may pay extra for the images. Images should be clear, relevant, and properly formatted according to the publication’s guidelines. If you’re in any doubt, call the editorial office and ask.
As with any freelance writing, success selling readers' letters will only come with preparation, practice, and persistence. While you are unlikely to get rich publishing readers' letters, they pay well and can give you a welcome addition to your income for comparatively little effort.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Austin Hackney