freelance writing tips
It genuinely amazes me how many people email me asking for free writing, simply for exposure. Look people, if I wanted exposure, I’d travel down to New Orleans and show my tits to a stranger.
Weirdly, they aren’t quite so accepting of it when it’s not Mardi Gras. Instead of beads, you just get a summons for public nudity. Such bullshit.
I don’t write for free. When I’m working for a client, I charge industry average based on my experience. That starts at 10 cents per word and works its way up to 25 cents per word, depending on the complexity of the article. While those prices might seem high, I can personally guarantee that people will pay them if you’re good enough.
I’m not just good enough. I’m fucking great.
But I wasn’t always this good. Once upon a time, I worked for content mill fees. The first client I got to pay me 2 cents per word, I rejoiced like a fool. Two cents per word!!! I only had to write 50 articles a week to live! So I wrote until my fingers bled and I was thrilled at the fact that I could live on my writing. After all, I was getting exposure! I had clips!
Anyone who has ever tried to break into freelancing before, you probably know how precious clips are. To get clients, you need to show you have published articles on websites. That’s probably why so many people are willing to write for free to get those clips.
But you all need to stop. You ruin your credibility and cut yourself off at the knees when you work for sites that aren’t known to pay people for their work. “A Huffington Post author applied for this job?” The client will say. “That means they’re good, and they’re willing to work for peanuts!”
Is that the reputation you want?
The big companies that do this, Huffington Post included, piss me the hell off. These people are raking in billions of dollars in content views and affiliate sales every year, while the people the write that content get nothing.
Oh, not nothing. I forgot…they get exposure. But did you know you can get exposure without lining someone else’s pockets? Here are some tips on how to do it.
#1 – Start your own website and post your writing samples. You all might notice that I have a page on this site called “Essa’s Writing Samples”. There, I link to a bunch of internal pages I created, covering a large variety of topics. These articles came about when I got scammed on a job. To prevent the scammer from using my original work, I posted it all first. In short, I made lemons of lemonade.
Now, when I’m applying for a new job, regardless of subject, I always have a link to something relevant. I own all the rights, so I can resell the articles if I want. As I’ve always said, never give up your rights in exchange for nothing. That’s just stupid. If someone wants the rights to post your work, they should offer something more than exposure. You can get that yourself by creating your own writing sample page.
#2 – Don’t underestimate your blog, but don’t turn it into a marketing page either. I’ve never really seen Essa on Everything as a moneymaker. That’s why I don’t try very hard to stay professional and PC in my articles. On Essa on Everything, I write for the fun of it. I let myself go and the passion shows through in my writing. It isn’t exactly PG-13. I don’t try to make it that way.
But this blog had gotten me more clients than any completed application. From my “Passion of the Christ” article, I got a movie reviewing job that has lasted at least two years and has led to other work. From my article where I wrote an algorithm to keep myself from drunkenly purchasing things on Amazon, I got a job writing tech articles with a high-profile software company and I sold the algorithm. I never expected to make money on either of these articles. I just wrote what I was passionate about and people responded. I didn’t turn my page into an advertising page. If I had, I would have concentrated on staying PG and none of it would have worked out the way it did.
#3 – Write a book. KDP makes it so anyone can publish a book these days, but not a lot of people realize that. One of my biggest selling points in ghostwriting is how many books I’ve published, their status as bestsellers and how many good reviews they’ve gotten. While you might not hit bestseller status on Amazon with a book, it is a good way to show you understand ghostwriting.
People, you do not need to work for free. Breaking into freelancing is hard, but if you’re willing to work hard and pay your dues, you’ll find your niche. When I started, I expected to be writing dating tips and product reviews for a penny a word. Over the years, I’ve learned that my niche areas are sex and tech, for a much higher amount. They’re very different, but they both pay high and despite what people may think, clients are willing to pay a premium price for premium content.
Google has changed. Their algorithm now rewards page rank based on article quality, and not quantity. That means those keyword stuffers working for peanuts will soon be out of business. So stop working for free. If you think you’re good enough to write for a living, then expect people to pay for it. If you don’t want to get paid for you work, might I suggest working for a non-profit instead?
So, as you all know, I am a full time freelancer. As a full time freelancer, my jobs aren’t always guaranteed. Sometimes, things get rough. It’s a roller coaster ride of financial security and a step away from being a stretch-marked web cam model most of the time. But I won’t give up; I’ll never give up. I’m just that damn good.
But in case you’re new at the whole freelancing thing, and you need to know how to gauge when things are going really bad, here are some tips.
1. Your grocery list has become more of a ‘wish list’ – This is the part where you start crossing out necessities on your grocery list in order to survive another week. “Toilet paper? Who needs toilet paper? I still have coffee filters and old Dunkin Donuts napkins.” When your list consists of nothing more than ‘milk, eggs and Raman noodles,’ then you know things are bad.
2. You’re thrilled to find a dollar – This happens as you’re scrounging through your old clothes, looking for loose change in order to get gas money. As you’re tugging out those annoying dimes and nickels, you might stumble upon a real live dollar! Say what you want about being rich, but no millionaire will ever be able to understand the true joy you feel when you stumble on a crumpled up dollar in an old pair of jeans, when you are completely fucking broke.
3. You start wondering how good you could be at a life of crime. You might find yourself Googling tips on starting your own forgery business or jacking cars. Personally, I have always thought I would kick ass at insurance fraud.
4. You start praying for a relative to die. This is a desperate point. It might be a close relative or a distant one, but the only thing you can think of is how much easier life would be if you got some sweet insurance policy settlement money. Then, you’ll try and push the thought from your mind because you’re afraid of the bad karma, but deep down it will still be there and you know you can’t unthink it.
5. You reuse coffee grounds and roll tobacco out of old cigarette filters. No true writer can live without coffee and cigarettes. So when it gets really bad, we scrounge for what we can get. Trust me, the taste of desperation is the taste of old Pall Mall Menthol Light tobacco mixed with Marlboro lights in some Zippo orange pack rolling papers.
But here’s what separates the real writers from the hobbyist writers. Most full time freelance writers will wash out after a year, due to the five facts above. They will retreat to their cubicles, say they’ll keep writing, but then, after a full day in corporate hell, they’ll forget all about their dreams. They’ll go home, let their novel sit unfinished and watch the news as they drink themselves stupid.
The real writers will understand that this is just the low point on the roller coaster ride that is freelancing. They will ride the storm and they will hit the high point. A new ghostwriting gig is right around the corner or it’s only a matter of time until their novel takes off. A real writer will never forget the dream, even as they’re getting an eviction notice or smoking used cigarettes. They will keep on writing. Ironically, the suffering they accept from writing in that state of desperation will make them better writers. If you doubt me, look up pretty much any famous writer you can think of before they hit it big.
So yes, things might be bad, but they will get better. Knowing that isn’t about optimism. It isn’t about false hope. It’s about recognizing your own talents and standing behind them. When you’re good, people will notice.
Once year ago today, I had about 25 blog followers watching the things I write. Now, that number is closer to 3000. Things can only get better and only a fool would give up now.
You might be rubbing your eyes, trying to see if you read that title right. If you’re familiar with my page, then you’ll notice that I generally don’t give advice. I give long winded rants filled with profanity. However, I get a lot of questions posted and emails to me from hopeful freelance writers, who want advice on breaking into the field.
Now, as a disclaimer here, I’m comfortable, but I’m not millionaire. I live in an apartment and I drive an inexpensive car. I am the midlist of the middle class. I don’t have a lot of expenses, so the transition to full time writing was easy for me. Aside from my semi-regular illicit substance purchases, I’m a pretty low maintenance chick. The tips I’m going to give you might help you get to the middle of the pack, but they’re not going to make you a millionaire.
First off, you’re going to have to learn to deal with some incredibly boring work. My main goal isn’t to be a freelance writer forever. It’s to make money from my books and the stuff I like to write. However, that’s not something that can pay the bills instantly. If you’re planning on uploading your novel on Kindle and waiting for the profits to roll in, you’ve got a long wait. In the meantime, that means paying the bills by doing some incredibly boring work.
Who’s giving you that boring work? Business owners. The biggies are lawyers, doctors, financial execs, real estate offices and pretty much any type of sales work. There are also possibilities available in the alternative health, computer programming and technology industries, but those require a bit more expertise. Rule of thumb; if it has a website, it needs content.
How do you get to be the one that provides that content? First, notice the word I’m using. ‘Content’, not articles. If you’re going to make a living freelancing, it’s not about magazines and newspapers anymore. It’s about the internet. I don’t care what you’re writing about, that webpage’s goal is to have hits from SEO. If you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about when I say SEO, we’re already getting off to a really bad start. If you do, feel free to skip the next paragraph.
SEO is about how a web page is ranked in a website. The big one is Google, which takes about 80% of the market share on searches. Google has an algorithm that crawls webpages, finds keywords and indexes them. When a used types a search engine phrase like; ‘hot anal transgendered amputees’, those search results come back with pages where those words were found. Of course, those search results will include every page, regardless of whether the page is about ‘hot anal transgendered amputees’, or whether it is a page like mine that has nothing to do with the subject. To make sure the websites are given proper credence, each one gets a relevancy ranking based on how related to the phrase they are. When someone is asking you to produce ‘content’ they are asking you to get them to the top of that list. That’s what search engine optimization, or SEO is for. Learn it, absorb it, fantasize about it in the shower. It’s your life now and it changes every fifteen fucking minutes.
Before you even consider hunting clients down like the innocent prey they are, you need a resume and writing clips. Freelance writing is a tough business, because most of your work is going to be ghostwritten. Trust me, my opinion is all over the internet, but it’s not my name attached. When you ghostwrite, you don’t get credit, you lose the right to your work, and you usually can’t use it as a clip sample. However, you can note you ghostwrote for a company on your resume, and if with their permission, link to the blog you worked on.
However, the easiest way to get clips is to hook up with a site that allows newbies to post their articles. The site I started out with was the Yahoo Contributor Network. I barely do work on it anymore, but it can really help boost your credentials. It’s also network central. I got approached by 60 Minutes following something I wrote for Yahoo! News. They are a fantastic place to start getting the clips you need for your resume.
As far as getting your feet wet, and for some immediate writing gigs, you can try a few of these sites; Text Broker, or London Brokers . Sites like these are commonly referred to as content mills. They can be great starting out, or if you looking to make a little extra cash. However, if you focus only your writing career on these, you will learn to hate writing. They don’t pay very much, but they’re easy to get into and you don’t have to apply for jobs. You just pick an article and start writing.
What’s the downside, besides the low pay? Let me give you a verbatim example of what you will be writing about.
Please write an informative and creative article concerning “BEST NY TRANSMISSION SERVICE”. Article must be interesting and informative. Please write 500 words, use keyword 11 times. Adhere to the exact mode of the mentioned keywords.
Yup, boring as fuck. You’re writing filler, keyword focused articles and you’ll need to do about 10 an hour if you want to make any real money. On the upside, it will help with your creativity, because it takes a magic fucking computer to make transmission service centers interesting.
Again, content mills are great for getting your feet wet or if you’re just trying to make some extra cash. I would not recommend building a career on them. It can be done, I know several people who do it. But they don’t like writing anymore. That’s why you need to move on a bit, to getting clients who allow you a little more creativity.
Again, unless your one lucky fucker, you’re not going to start out writing something you’re passionate about. However, at least write about something you can tolerate. Alternate professional Essa writes legal articles, alternative medicine articles, jewelry articles and programming articles because I find them interesting. I don’t force myself to look into sports writing, because, aside from competitive drinking, I fucking hate sports. I write for clients whose work already interests me. Because of that, it requires less research and feels less like work.
How did I get my clients? Well, I started out on Elance. There are other sites like oDesk and Guru that you can also use, but I prefer Elance. These sites are bidding sites, so you need to be careful. DO NOT ALWAYS BID LOW! In the beginning, you might have to bid lower, but do not try to beat out the guy from India, offering to write articles for 1.25 each, who speaks English as a second language. I both hire and apply for jobs on Elance. When I apply, I bid a fair price that is not nearly the lowest. When I hire, I pick the best proposal, not the lowest price. Bidding what your worth isn’t just about you. When people come into the market charging rock bottom prices, everyone starts to drop their prices and we all make less.
So in conclusion, if you plan on starting your freelancing career this year, I hope my tips can help you out. At the very least, they’ll get you started. Of course, the best way to get started is to buy several thousand copies of my book, so I can retire and you can get me out of the market. I’m heavy competition. ;)