Is writing for national magazines or landing a three-book deal with a major New York publisher the only way to generate a good income? Nope. Here are some other ways.
Most writing books and magazines that teach writers to make more money tell readers, “If you write for $1 per word or higher-paying national publications, you can earn six figures a year.” But let’s face it, whether or not you’re experienced, for the average freelancer, regular assignments from national magazines such as Cosmopolitan and The New Yorker are hard to come by.
Is writing for national consumer magazines or landing a three-book deal with a major New York publisher the only way to generate a good income? Not so. In fact, there are many ways a writer can boost the bottom line and bring in more cash.
In this post, I’m going to discuss ten of them, but I’m simply scratching the surface here. In fact, I have so much to say about the topic, I wrote an entire book about it. The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making $1,000 More This Month is my very actionable, very thorough guide on how to make more money, not someday in the future, but this very month.
For now, however, here are ten quick ways to make more money with your freelance business.
1. Ask for more
Almost every experienced freelancer I talk to negotiates as if their business depends on it; every newbie looks at me and says, “Really? You can do that?”
Whether you’re a newbie or a polished pro, most editors expect you to negotiate. Freelancing is a business and editors respect writers who treat it like one.
What’s the worst that can happen when you ask for more money? You might get a “Sorry, but we’re on a tight budget” response, after which you’re free to decide whether this assignment is worth your time. By asking, however, you make sure there wasn’t room for more and you’re not leaving money on the table. In fact, if the editor doesn’t budge on the money front, they might buy fewer rights, give you a long bio, or even print your picture alongside the piece.
2. Turn it around
A story idea is almost always worth more than one article. That’s because there are so many tangents just waiting to be discovered. I usually come up with ideas in multiples of three. My pitch on how busy women can keep fit won’t just be sent to a women’s magazine, but to a magazine for working women (The Three-Minute Fitness Program for Executives), a parenting magazine (Quick Exercise Tips for the Time-Crunched Mommy) and perhaps a general women’s magazine (Fitness on a Stopwatch). That way, while the pitch itself remains essentially the same, I’ve reslanted it to meet the needs of several non-competing markets. Much better than simultaneously submitting!
3. Go international
Recycling, reslanting, and reselling old articles is an excellent way of keeping the cash flow steady. But to make even more money, go international.
Most publications want first rights in their own countries, and by selling first rights in various regions across the globe, you not only get them all to pay you their top rates, but you’re doing less work for it. Keep in mind, though, that just copy-pasting your material isn’t the way to go. You must know the cultural nuances of the country you’re writing for and must interview experts based on that country for your piece. (Also: be careful about online rights.)
4. Think add-ons
So you’ve landed a plum $2-a-word assignment with a national consumer magazine. Congratulations, you! Want to know how to add a little extra to that paycheck?
Think sidebars. Or a slideshow for the website. Or video. In fact, it’s best to think of your entire piece visually and offer the editor ideas for making it even better.
What will you get for all this extra effort other than the undying gratitude of the editor? Why, a bit of extra cash, of course.
5. Write for the trades
Writers talk about trade magazines a lot, but they don’t submit to them enough.
For a freelance writer who wants to make more money, trades are an underutilized source of income. Editors of trades aren’t flooded with pitches in the same way consumer publications are and are, therefore, often hungry for talent. If you can do an excellent job with your pitch, you’re halfway through the door. What’s more, the trades pay better, averaging $1 a word even for medium-circulation magazines.
While getting assignments from the trades isn’t half as difficult as getting assignments from national consumer publications, they make for tougher, and sometimes more boring, assignments that you must nevertheless approach with enthusiasm. Brush up your research and interview skills, too—you’ll be making good use of them.
6. Set income goals
Set monthly, weekly, even daily income goals. And I don’t mean the all-encompassing “I’ll make six figures a year” goals. I mean practical and achievable goals that work for you.
Figure out how much money you want to be making per month, then divide that into a weekly and a daily goal. Once you have a number that you need to hit per week, you can come up with pitching and marketing targets to make sure you’re averaging the numbers you need to hit your income goals. As long as you meet your weekly marketing goals, you’ll come somewhere close to your annual goal as well.
7. Consider additional revenue streams
Many writers learn soon enough that they need to create additional revenue streams from their existing products or services. Have you written a book on organizing your workspace? Why not teach an online course on it, too? Sold a romance novel to Harlequin? Get in touch with the Romance Writers of America and offer to speak at some of their events. Are you a food writer who has achieved considerable success in that area? Why not write a book or create a new product line?
There are literally tens of thousands of people who have expertise in fields such as self-defense, nutrition, organizing homes, time management, and more. The knowledge of these experts is in great demand and the huge sales numbers of self-help books prove that. But while there are many experts, not all of them are writers. Instead, they hire ghostwriters or co-authors to help write their books. The expert provides the research and the material; the co-author writes the book. To top it off, the expert likely already has a built-in audience, which means getting agents and publishers interested in the work should be relatively easy.
Where do you find these experts? Apart from the dozens of writing market newsletters and job boards, also look closer to home. The famous horse trainer who lives next door or the organization expert you’ve seen on TV who visits the same hairdresser as you. These are perfect candidates for a writing partnership.
9. Think in hours, not words
If a magazine editor asks you to write a 1,000-word piece at the rate of $1 a word and another assigns the same number of words for $200, the former is the more lucrative assignment, right?
For all you know, the editor paying $1 a word might require three rewrites, research from ten different sources and interviews with five experts, taking up days of your time. Yet, you might be able to whip up the $200 article in two hours flat.
Which is the more lucrative assignment now?
How much an assignment pays isn’t enough to determine whether the assignment is worthwhile. Instead, you need to think in hours. How much time will the assignment take and how much will you enjoy doing it?
10. Get proactive about money
Writers will often put off thinking about or asking for money because they don’t want to appear as though they’re only in it for the money. Why? What’s wrong with doing a job to get paid? It is fun and it should be fun, but a job being fun doesn’t take away the need for it to be paid, correct?
Just as your mobile phone company won’t sit around meekly when you don’t pay your bill, you shouldn’t either. Your phone company will charge obnoxious interest rates and high penalty fees. So should you.
Ultimately, the rule is simple: If YOU don’t respect your time and value your work, no one else is likely to, either.
And if you’d like my help, my book The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making More Money lays out many more ways in which you can raise your income and earn more consistently. Get it here.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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