8 Things You Need to Know About Succeeding as a Freelance Writer

Yes, you can earn more than $5 per article as a writer for print magazines and online websites (those last two words are redundant, I know). Here’s how to succeed in the field of freelance writing, to help you nudge your dreams closer to reality. My inspiration for this article came from a reader who asked a question about article writing for beginner freelancers….

how to succeed freelance writing

8 Things You Need to Know About Succeeding as a Freelance Writer

“I am a new freelance writer, and have been primarily looking for work on Upwork, and have found that many clients that charge extremely low rates for freelance writers,” says Amanda on 10 Careers for Writers Who Want to Make Money. “Even $3 or $5 for an article. I have even accepted $10 jobs for 1,000 words. What exactly should I charge for online articles as a beginner freelance writer? I am an educated young lady, and a native English speaker from the USA, with a bachelors degree. I have been working several years, but would like to write from home. Do you have any suggestions on where to look for work, and how much I should charge for my writing? Thank you.”

Talk about Shark Tank for writers, those online writing job markets like Upwork and Craig’s List! Even Problogger’s blogging and writing jobs board is crowded and competitive – and thus not the best way to turn your dream of being a freelance writer into an actual writing business. If you follow the crowd, you won’t be a successful freelance writer. But if you break free from the crowded marketplace of writers who will work for $5 or $7 per article – and if you learn how to succeed at the business of freelance writing – you will thrive.





When I first started writing for print magazines, I thought I “got lucky.” I started earning money within a month of pitching editors; I was able to quit my part-time office job and start freelancing full-time within six months of starting my writing business.

Within a year, editors of print magazines and online health websites were sending me assignments worth up to $1,500 per article. Reader’s Digest even accepted a column idea I pitched (and then I changed my mind because they only wanted to pay me $350 per 500 word article, and they wouldn’t guarantee a monthly space in their print magazine. Oh, those were the days, my friend!).

I can’t tell you exactly how much you should charge for an online article because it depends on:

  • The magazine, website, or publication you’re writing for
  • The word count
  • The editor’s need for research, interviews, field work, etc
  • Your relationship with the editor
  • Your experience level with that type of publication and/or writing
  • Your confidence level

There is no set rate that you should be charging for articles as a beginning freelance writer. However, there are many factors that can help you decide what you should be paid. And, there are many more ways to increase your freelance writing pay rates!

Here’s how I did it…

8 Questions to Help You Succeed in Freelance Writing

I don’t have a journalism or English degree, but I do have two undergraduate degrees and an MSW (Master of Social Work). You don’t need a formal education to be a successful freelance writer, but you do need to know a few things about writing, business, and the business of freelance writing.

Instead of the usual “8 Tips on How to Become a Successful Freelance Writer”, I want to ask you several questions about how you’re beginning your career. Feel free to answer me in the comments section below – I’d love to hear from you! Or, take out the notebook you use to capture your ideas for articles and new insights about writing (or open Evernote), and answer my questions there.

1. What is your niche as a writer?

Yes, you need a specialty. Generalist writers don’t succeed in this crowded freelance writing, blogging, content creating, SEO writing marketplace! You need to find your niche, your specialty, your area of expertise, your thang that sets you apart from all the other thousands of freelance writers who will work for $5 per article.

Your specialty could be a specific area of interest, such as children’s health issues (or narrow it even further to autism or childhood obesity). Or you could be a tech geek and write about Mac versus PC (this field is always full of fresh fodder because of all the new updates and versions that come out every minute). Or you could write about the environment, fashion, or politics – or combine all three and be a envirofashpol writer who contributes to environmental, fashion, and political blogs and print magazines.

And, you can niche your specialty even further by adding “SEO experience” to your portfolio. Do not call yourself an “SEO expert” because everyone calls themselves that. Do not call yourself a “content creator” because it’s trendy and overused, and you are a real writer.

After you find your niche, read How to Get Your Magazine Article Published in a Niche Market.

2. Where are you looking for freelance writing work?

If job markets such as Upwork and paid blogging mastermind groups and “tribes” don’t help you find solid writing jobs that pay more than $5 per article, then walk away. Drop them. Yes, even if you paid a monthly subscription rate. Yes, even if you spent a week filling out your profile and tweaking every word of your introduction. And yes, even if it makes you feel like a real writer to belong to those exclusive writing job boards!

Stop following the crowd of writers who will write thousands of words for a penny each. That is not how to succeed in freelance writing. Instead, find print magazines and online websites that you want to write for, and pitch those editors an excellent story idea.  That is how to become a writer. In fact, it is not any way to become a successful freelance writer. I know because I never once applied for a single writing job on any online job market. Instead, I did it the hard way (which I will describe soon).

If you don’t know how to pitch, read books such as succeeding as a freelance writerHow To Make A Living With Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More. Joanna Penn describes how to make money online by writing articles for different types of markets. She discusses how to start a home-based business powered by content marketing, product sales and affiliate income. She also offers freelance writing advice and tips for content marketing

Instead of searching for writing jobs in places that pay almost nothing per word, learn how to be a freelance writer and pitch editors your ideas. Not only is this is how to succeed in the field of freelancing, it is also how to find and develop your passion. You can write about topics and people that you’re curious about, instead of the widgets companies want you to write about!

3. What qualifies you to earn more than $5 per article or blog post?

Tell me why you should be making money as a freelance writer. You don’t need a journalism, English, or writing degree – don’t worry about a formal education. What other skills, education, training, or experience do you have that qualifies you to earn good money as a writer?

Writing is a profession for some, a job for others. Writing can be a career or simply a way to earn a living. There are significant differences between professions, jobs, careers, and ways to make money. If you’re curious about the distinction, let me know in the comments section below and I’ll write an article about it. The most important point for now is that writing is like every other profession, job, career, or way to make money: the person doing it has to be qualified in some way. Would you hire a plumber who had no training or experience? What about a surgeon, or a car salesperson? How about the sushi chef who made your delicious California roll last night – aren’t you glad she knows how to prepare and serve raw fish that won’t kill you?

The good news is you may be more qualified than you think. If you’ve been hired to write articles in the past, then you have experience. If you’re educated in your niche or specialty, then you have training. If you have a writing certificate or journalism degree, then you have an education. If you are a natural writer, then you have skills.






And there’s even more good news – even if you have no skills, education, training, or experience as a writer! You can get it. You can learn how to be a successful freelance writer. That’s how I did it, and you’ll soon learn my other biggest “secret” tip (the first was to pitch editors excellent story ideas instead of searching for writing jobs on sites like Upwork).

4. What are your 3 biggest writing weaknesses?

I’ll go first: I overuse exclamation points! I too often start my sentences with a fragment, then write the most important part of a sentence later. And I edit as I write, which the writing experts say is unproductive and dumb. Oh yeah, and I’m finally learning how to outline articles and blog posts before I write them (but then I never follow my outline, so I don’t know what the point is really).

Ok, your turn! What are your top three weaknesses as a writer? And don’t say “I procrastinate” or “I can’t write.” I want to know about your grammar, sentence structure, and technical writing skills. Why? Because this shows how self-aware you are as a writer. If you don’t know what your writing weaknesses are, then you can’t improve. And if you can’t improve, then you aren’t learning the craft of writing. And if you aren’t learning, then you aren’t increasing your skillset and abilities as a writer. And if you aren’t increasing your skills and abilities, then you need to be content with earning $5 or maybe even as much as $20 per article.

5. What are your 3 shiniest writing strengths?

Hmmm….my turn turn again, dammit. I guess I’d say my writing is reader-friendly, conversational, and easy to read. (Did you notice the redundancy in that sentence?).

Your turn! What makes you a good writer? If you don’t know this, then you cannot expect to earn more than $5 per article. You have to sell yourself. You are building a successful writing career, and you are your Number One Feature and Best Benefit. If you don’t know what makes your writing stand out, then give it to an experience reader and ask, “What are my writing strengths?” Get more than one objective perspective.

6. When was the last time you read a book about the business of freelance writing?

This is my favorite tip on how to succeed in freelancing – and one of my biggest and best “secrets.” Reading studying books on how to be a freelance magazine writer is how I succeeded. Freelance writing is a business you can learn if you take the time. If you learn how to be a professional writer, you will stand out from all the other writers. The tips, strategies, and information you get from books on freelance writing apply to ALL niches and markets. You will learn how to pitch article ideas – and how to get published and paid good money for your writing.

Learning how to be a professional freelance writer is the best way to succeed. It is the only way to increase your income from $5 per article to $1,000 (and yes, it is still possible to earn $1,000 for one magazine article – in print or even online).

So tell me…what was the last book you read about being a successful freelance writer? Or perhaps I should phrase it this way: what is the first book you will read on how to succeed in freelancing? I listed several below.

7. How was your last article pitch received by magazine editors?

What was your slant, what type of article were you pitching, and to which editors did you send it? What was their response? Did you record their response on your “articles and pitches” tracking sheet? Do you have another magazine to sent it to? Do you know how you’ll tweak your idea so you can pitch it to a related magazine but still write two separate articles?

Yes, this process DOES apply to online writing for ezines and company websites. Businesses need writers more than ever, because businesses sell their products and services online, and they are learning how important blogs and social media are to their customers. Businesses and organizations need help! They need you! But they need you to be a professional writer who knows what she is doing.

8. Do you know how to write headlines that hook readers?

This is my final tip on how to be a successful freelance writer, mostly because it’s the one that took me longest to learn. I’m actually just now learning how to write headlines (aka blog post titles and article headings). Writing headlines that snatch and grab readers is one of the most important things you need to learn if you want to succeed in freelance writing.

For example, I recently updated “Types of Magazine Articles” to 11 Types of Magazine Articles That Editors Love to Publish.

Here are the different blog post titles I caught and released for this article:

  • How to Stop Dreaming of Being a Freelance Writer and Start Selling Your Writing
  • What You Need to Know About Being a Successful Freelance Writer
  • 8 Things You Need to Know About Selling Your Freelance Articles
  • 8 Things You Need to Know About Freelance Writing
  • 8 Steps to Selling Your Writing So You Can Stop Dreaming of Being a Freelance Writer
  • and more but I forgot them now because I stupidly didn’t write them down on paper

Then I finally decided on “8 Things You Need to Know About Succeeding as a Freelance Writer.”

You need to punch up your prose if you want to catch an editor’s eye. Your writing has to be fresh and lively. Your voice should come through, and your personality should shine through your articles and blog posts.

Learning how to write headlines – learning how to write well, period – takes time, study, and practice. You can’t just read good writing or classic literature to be a good writer…you need to actually learn how to write by reading books. And you need to learn the business of freelance writing by studying how others did it.

Stand on the shoulders of giants, as they as they say. A good writer would tell you to attribute that quote to Isaac Asimov said it first; a lazy writer would just say it. That’s the difference between succeeding in freelance writing and making $5 per article.

Those little things count for a lot.

How to Succeed as a Freelance Writer

freelance writing successWriter’s Market Deluxe Edition gives you instant access to more than 7,500 listings for book publishers, magazines, contests, literary agents, and more – complete with daily updates. You’ll also find material devoted to the business and promotion of freelance writing, including tips from six-figure freelancers, ideas on how to create a productive home office, apps that make freelance writing easier, and other tips for writing success.

Beginner  writers will learn how to build relationships in the publishing business, use video to promote their work, and remove inevitable obstacles from their path to freelance writing success. The new edition includes a freelance pay rate chart, a book publisher subject index, lists of professional writing organizations, sample query letters, and access to freelance writing webinars.

how to succeed freelance writingThe Essential Guide to Freelance Writing: How to Write, Work, and Thrive on Your Own Terms by Zachary Petit will help you decide how much to charge for an article online or in print. He’ll also help you answer these questions: Should I freelance full time or part time? Should I write for magazines, newspapers, or online markets? How do I dream up the perfect article idea, and how do I pitch it successfully? How do I negotiate contracts, foster relationships with editors, and start getting steady work while avoiding financial panic attacks and unpleasant ulcers?

You’ll also learn how to:

  • Dig into various freelance writing markets, including consumer magazines, trade journals, newspapers, and online venues.
  • Make your digital mark and build your writing platform.
  • Pitch articles like a pro and craft solid query letters that get responses.
  • Conduct professional interviews in person, by phone, or by e-mail.
  • Write and structure various types of articles, from front-of-the-book pieces to profiles and features.

The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing won’t just show you how to succeed in freelancing writing career – it will teach you how to truly thrive.

Over time, through trial and error, through the mounting disappointment of rejection slips, your persistence WILL pay off.

Fellow scribes, what do you think of my tips on how to succeed in freelance writing? More importantly – what are you answers to the questions I asked above? I’d love to hear how your writing career is going. Or, just go and get those books on how to be a successful freelance writer. That would make me happy, too. 🙂

xo



6 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    Congratulations on setting up your new blog, Dan! I’m amazed at all the stuff Elon Musk is up to, and your blog makes it fascinating and easier to understand what he’s doing. Well done.

    You’re a funny writer! I love this from your first post:

    “Well, I never actually thought I’d have my own blog – I didn’t even know what the hell a blog was a few years ago. I don’t even know where the word comes from. I actually felt the need to waste 10 minutes of my life and actually research where it came from.

    And now I will waste 2 minutes of your time to tell you what I found.”

    But I think research is never a waste of time 🙂

    About your question on which niche markets pay better than others… Yes, definitely some markets are more lucrative. However, I don’t think you (or anyone) should chase the money. I think you (and everyone) should chase your passion and write about things that you love to write about. I do not think this guarantees that the money will follow, but it guarantees that you will enjoy pursuing your dreams of writing and blogging! And that is worth all the money in the world. I’d much rather write about things I’m passionate about and interested in, and not make much money… Versus writing about percentage rates and bond markets and mortgage renewals and make $1000 per blog post. Blech.

    That’s just me, though. You need to do some space exploration and find out what your niches are and how well they pay. And then come back here and report to me 🙂

    How do you sign off in Martian?

    • Dan says:

      Your right. Writing about percentage rates and bond markets does sound terrible. I’m going back to school for a second bachelors in engineering and I’m HOPING I can supplement the cost with some of my writing. I would much prefer to write about topics I enjoy. I also find if I write about what I’m learning and try to explain it to a larger audience, I gain a better understanding of the material myself.

      I recently found this great site called The Freelancer by Contently, and they have a database of publications with a list of what those publications will pay their writers. I actually just received my very first rejection letter from a publication I found on that site! I tried to pitch a story about a Pagan church in this really tiny mountain town that I used to live in. I thought it fit perfectly for Atlas Obscura (the publication I pitched it to), but the editor-in-chief said it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. I figure it’s one of many so I’ll just keep plugging away! She actually got back to me in 2 hours though so that’s a plus right?

      The link to that website is http://contently.net/rates-database/ if you haven’t heard of it.

      I’m not really sure how to sign off in Martian… If there is life that exists there, it’s on the microscopic level so you’d have to have some pretty stout optics to see it anyway. And it probably wouldn’t have any appendages that… I’m such a nerd.

  2. Laurie says:

    Hello Dan,

    Great to meet you – it sounds like you’re on the cusp of an exciting new stage of your writing life! That’s awesome, especially if you can find ways to get paid for freelancing. It’s definitely possible, if you find the right niche and market.

    One thing that occurred to me while reading your comment: one of the biggest obstacles to making really good money as a freelance writer (over $100,000 per year) is time. For instance, you spend a lot of time researching a topic and writing the article, you might invest 15 or more hours on one article. If you’re getting paid $500 for the article, then you’re making a great hourly rate for a new freelance writer. But if you’re getting paid $100 or $50, then you may not be able to support yourself. So you have to know when to stop researching and when to start writing.

    As for a writing mentor…if I were you, I’d look into group mentoring through established and experienced freelance writers. Daphne Gray-Grant, for example is the “Publication Coach.” She mentors groups of writers on a monthly basis, I believe. I get her weekly newsletter email, which I quite enjoy. I’ve never hired her, though. Just Google Daphne Gray-Grant Publication Coach, and you should be able to find her.

    Good luck – and stay in touch! Do you have a blog? if not, that’s an important thing to do first. You need to get used to writing for the public to see, and you need to develop an online presence so editors and publishers can see your work!

    Go well,
    Laurie

    • Dan says:

      Laurie,

      I do not have a blog yet but I will hopefully have one up and running soon. I was actually a commercial carpenter until about 6 months ago when I got hurt in a downhill mountain biking accident. I am as new as it gets to this sort of thing!

      When you say “find the right niche and market,” are there some areas that generally pay better than others? Like I said in my first post, I am fascinated with technology and space exploration so I was thinking of looking for opportunities there. Also, I have a friend that runs a pretty successful SEO business so there might be something there as well.

      Thanks again for all the help and I will drop you a line when I have something up and running!

    • Dan says:

      My site is up! http://www.musksmartians.com. I really can’t believe I have my own website! Definitely not something I would have imagined for myself. Thanks for your help!

  3. Dan says:

    Laurie,

    I can’t thank you enough for providing such helpful insight. I came across your page today as I was researching how to generate freelance opportunities. A recent life event forced me to rethink my direction and what is truly important to me and I found that a freelance career is exactly what I am looking for. I would say that I have decent writing ability but I never thought I could turn it in to a career. I have held professional positions in a variety of fields and was thinking I could leverage that experience in my writing career. I have read in numerous posts, and you say it as well, that it is beneficial to become specialized. However, I am anything but that with regards to my previous careers. Do you think this is something that could set me apart from the competition though?

    I can go on for days about my weaknesses as a writer but I can think of only a couple with regards to my strengths (I am actually self editing this comment right now… I feel your pain.) I feel like I have the ability to place the reader in my shoes when recalling specific experiences. I have been told it’s very engaging and they are able to visualize and in some cases FEEL what I was feeling. I also believe that I can identify my target audience well and tailor the style of the article or post to them. I have looked into copywriting because I feel like these traits are well suited for that style of writing. I also absolutely LOVE to research and read about new products and technology. I’m sort of a learning junky! If I could spend all day researching and writing articles about specialized components of Tesla’s Model S, or the SpaceX Falcon 9, I really don’t think life gets much better than that! I’m a bit of an Elon Musk fan if you can’t tell 🙂

    I am also searching for someone to mentor me but I just seem to come across people selling that service at an outrageous price. Could you suggest a way to find like-minded writers merely searching for peer reviews and feedback? I’m pretty much flying blind, and solo, at this point and really appreciate in depth articles such as yours that address concerns that I believe all beginner writers have.

    Again, thank you so much. I’m really hoping I can prove that I have what it takes to succeed in the freelance market as it is a dream career for me. Thank you and happy holidays from your closest U.S. neighbor! (I live near Seattle, Washington)

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