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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
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
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
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’”
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
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.
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