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Boost your Bottom Line: Make More for Your Writing
by Kelly James-Enger

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a good living as a freelance writer. When I started freelancing fulltime in 1997, I made a little over $17,000—not enough to live on. After four years, though, I was making $70,000 a year; in 2002, I hit the six-figure mark.

Six figures? As a freelancer? It’s not impossible, but many writers set their sights too low to make this kind of money. They’re also unaware of the work habits and time-saving techniques successful writers employ.

Ready to boost your bottom line? Here are ten proven ways to make more money for your writing:

Set a Financial Goal

To make more money as a writer, you have to challenge yourself. There’s nothing wrong with writing for the love of it. But if that’s your only goal, you’re probably not going to produce a lot of income from your work. Set a financial goal at the beginning of the year, considering the types of writing you’re doing and the time you have to devote to it. Be realistic, but give yourself a financial number that you’ll have to work to achieve. Simply having that figure in mind will help you reach it.

Negotiate for Higher Rates

It’s common sense—command a higher rate for the work you’re already doing and you’ll wind up with more money. But too many writers are afraid to ask for more money when an editor or client offers them work. If this is the case with you, try saying something like, “I’m excited to be working with you, but this story will require a lot of time. Can you boost the fee?” If you’ve written for the editor before, remind him that he already knows you’ll do a good job, and ask if he can sweeten the deal a bit.

Pitch Multiple Ideas

Freelancer Polly Campbell of Beaverton, Oregon, has a long-standing relationship with The Oregonian, the statewide newspaper. Rather than pitch stories individually, she sends stories in batches of five or six, which saves both her and editor time—and often, he’ll assign all of them. Pitching more than one idea at a time shows editors that you’re resourceful, and ups the odds of getting an assignment.

Come up with Spin-offs

Too many writers use a one-idea/one-story approach. Instead, come up with as many spin-off stories as you can from your original idea, and you’ll save time and make more money from your initial research. I call these “reslants.” A reslant is a story on the same general subject that takes a different angle or approach than the original one; it may or may not use the same sources. When you have an idea, see how many different angles you can come up with, and look for potential markets. My record? Selling nine different articles on contraceptive choices in two years’ time—and netting more than $12,000 from one initial idea. While I did use new quotes and sometimes new sources for each story, the articles took little time because I already familiar with the subject.

Pitch Something New

When you turn in an article, have a new story idea for your editor. By doing so, you’ll help ensure a steady flow of work, says freelancer Sharon Miller Cindrich of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. “When you pitch a story after working with an editor, the pitch doesn't have to be as formal,” says Cindrich. “The query might happen over the phone, via e-mail and appear as a list of ideas you've been thinking about...a quick pitch following a story says ‘I'm available... I want to write for you again’”

Look Local

Big magazines pay high rates, but it can take months to get an assignment and finally collect your check. In the meantime, don’t overlook business writing projects, which pay decent rates and usually have a much quicker turnaround than magazine work. When I started freelancing, I joined my local chamber of commerce. I quickly picked up three area companies as clients, including a small hospital that needed a writer for press releases and other materials. Over the next year and a half, I billed the hospital between $300 and $1000 a month for writing services—not bad for a steady gig.

Scout for Reprint Markets

The easiest way to make money? Resell stories you’ve already published. The most time-consuming part is finding potential reprint markets, but regional, trade and smaller magazines are all possibilities. Websites may also be interested in purchasing electronic rights to material that’s already been published. Keep a lookout for possibilities, and once you find an interested market, update it two or three times a year with newly available stories.

Develop a Specialty

Creating a writing niche takes the idea of spinning off story ideas a step further. If you focus your writing in several areas instead of being a generalist, you’ll find that stories take less time to research and write. It’s easier to stay on top of what’s happening in your field of expertise, and come up with timely story ideas for editors. And as you develop a reputation as a health/business writer/fill-in-the-blank writer, editors will come to you with assignments. The hottest specialties today are health and business, both of which offer thousands of high-paying markets and an inexhaustible list of story possibilities and angles.

Focus on the Clock

Writers often focus on the per-word rate they make for stories. Instead, check your per-hour rate. For example, consider that you’re offered $0.75/word for a 1,000-word article which takes you 10 hours to write. That’s an hourly rate of $75/hour. A 1,000-word article at $1/word sounds like a better deal, but if it turns out that you spend 20 hours on it, you’re making only $50/hour. Don’t be distracted by the per-word rate—figure out how much time it’s likely to take before you accept an assignment. You may find that lower-paying markets produce a better hourly rate because they take less time to produce.

Keep Detailed Records

Finally, approach your writing as a business, not a hobby, and you can take reasonable business deductions. In the U.S., demonstrating a “profit motive” with your writing is the first step. Keep records of your queries and submissions, and track your income and expenses. The more legitimate expenses you can deduct from your gross income, the less you’ll net—and that means less taxes and more in your pocket at the end of the year.

© Copyright 2007, Kelly James-Enger

Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.

Other articles by Kelly James-Enger :

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