Starting a Magazine Writing Career – How to Make Money as a Freelancer

A reader asked several important questions about starting a freelance magazine writing career on my Ask a Question About Writing page. Since money and successful writing are two of my favorite topics, I turned my answer in to a post about making money as a freelance writer…

Here’s what she said:

“I recently left Corporate America to return to school full-time to get my Masters degree and follow my dreams of becoming a full-time freelance writer,” says Morgan. “Things are moving along slowly. I do not have a clue what I am doing. I am a little nervous about not having a degree, posting my CV on my website, etc. Oh – I haven’t finished my degree and it’s driving me insane to the point I don’t want to write….sigh.”

Feeling paralyzed because of insecurity, fear, self-doubt, and anxiety is normal for even the most successful writers! But letting those insecurities and anxieties stop you from forging ahead will keep you where you are: wondering what it’s like to start a magazine writing career instead of actually finding out for yourself. If you wrestle with fear and self-doubt, read one of my favorite books on succeeding: Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear.

And, here are four important questions and answers about earning a living as a writer….

Starting a Magazine Writing Career – How to Make Money as a Freelancer 

Is a degree necessary for a freelance writer?

Absolutely not. You don’t need a degree in Journalism or English to be a successful freelance writer – though formal education helps if you’re looking for an editorial job with a magazine publication or book publisher. To earn a living as a freelance writer, you need fresh, creative ideas for articles. You also need the ability to hear “no thank you this article doesn’t work for our magazine” nine times for every “yes we want to assign this article!” Beginning freelancers need to take rejection in stride, and realize that this is a long-term career that takes time to build.And you need lots of enthusiasm and energy – which journalism school doesn’t necessarily teach.

If you’re starting your magazine writing career, you might find How to Tell if Freelance Writing is Right for You helpful.

I would like to pitch an article idea to a magazine. Their submission guidelines do not mention payment – what is the proper or standard way to go about finding this out?

Each situation is different, but my rule of thumb is not to mention payment until the editor assigns the article. When that happens – and there’s still no mention of per word or per hour rate – then I ask what the payment is. You could email an editor and ask about their rates of pay before you send a query letter…but my preference is to get ’em hooked, then talk turkey.

If the magazine doesn’t pay enough money (or doesn’t pay at all — ugh), then pitch your idea elsewhere.

Is it typical for a freelance writer to negotiate their rates with magazines etc.?

Yes, freelancers can definitely negotiate rates! The more experienced the writer, the more luck (and confidence) they’ll have getting better rates.  I’ve turned down assignments that only pay 20 cents a word, and have negotiated 35 cents up to 50 cents a word. Negotiation is a professional, healthy way to make sure writers are getting paid what they’re worth.

How do writers determine what they should charge for their work?  

Figuring out what you should charge for your work depends on many factors: your experience, the amount of research involved in the article, travel or other expenses associated with writing the article, the standard payment rates and budget of the magazine, your relationship with the editor, your past experience with that publication, etc. I often figure out what to charge on a case-by-case basis (though more and more, I’m simply charging $50 an hour or at least $1 per word and letting assignments go if clients can’t pay that much).

Writer's Market 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published
Writer's Market 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published - Yes, you CAN get published! It's not impossible - but only if you're willing to do the work. Writer's Market 2020 offers thousands of opportunities for writers, including listings for book publishers, consumer and trade magazines, contests and awards and literary agents — and even new playwriting and screenwriting sections.

Making money as a freelance writer is a concern when you’re starting your career – but I think that focusing on money may backfire. Instead, I encourage writers to learn how to write a strong query letter and build their career strategically. All those books about freelance writing – The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success is particularly good – have valuable information that will help you earn a living as a writer. You just need to absorb what other writers have learned…then follow your gut as you research the magazine writing market, create fresh exciting feature article ideas, pitch query letters, and negotiate payment rates.

Experienced freelancers, do you have any tips for writers who are starting their magazine careers? Please share below – your wisdom is invaluable and appreciated!

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