Freelance writing today has both more opportunities and more confusion than at any other time in history. The big change of course, is the internet, or more specifically the World Wide Web.
Before the internet there were only print publications like magazines and newspapers (and books, but we’re not talking about books in this class). With print, there are actual physical limits on how many copies it’s practical or cost-effective to make and distribute. Some magazines and newspapers had millions of readers, while others had a much smaller audience. The number of copies depended on the profit each publication was making.
Today, many of those physical publications are still around, although newspapers in particular are finding it difficult to generate any sort of profit. More and more magazines are offering a web-based version, and some are beginning to drop print altogether.
Since publications, no matter what kind, need income to pay writers, we’re probably seeing fewer and fewer opportunities in print for freelancers. We say ‘probably’ because the whole publication industry is in transition, making it almost impossible from one month to the next to be exactly sure about what’s happening.
Fortunately, the web has added many opportunities for writers, and will probably add more. The opportunities are amazing and include:
Starting your own blog – which can generate an income.
Writing blog posts and other web related content for others – both paid and unpaid.
The ability to find more magazines and newspapers that need writers than you ever thought because they also have a web presence.
Websites and blogs that in some ways mimic magazines that need writers and are willing to pay them at least something.
Creating and selling private label articles.
All sorts of corporate writing, also known as marcom or marketing communications.
Because the web is still relatively new, (the exact date of the launch of the web is up for debate, but think 1991-1992) there are all sorts of misunderstandings about the opportunities.
If you follow some forums and groups you’d think that there’s nothing but scams and extremely low-paying gigs out there. If you look, you’ll find plenty of folks who whine that the internet has ruined everything for writers.
Yes, there are scams out there, yes there are tons of people and organizations determined to pay low rates to writers – all that is absolutely true, but the number of legitimate opportunities have expanded hugely and the ability to find and connect with well paying publishers and clients around the world has gone through the roof.
What we’re really seeing is a massive change in the writing industry. It’s an industry in transition – a transition which started before the advent of the web as publishing companies were merged with everything from oil to entertainment companies. The internet has both accelerated and changed this evolution.
It’s an exciting time writers and a great time to be entering the field.
Although there are many ways to slice the freelance writing pie, we’ve chosen to divide it in three:
Writing for Clients
Writing for clients is wide and varied. Here we’re calling ‘clients’ almost anyone or any organization that might pay you to write other than magazines and some newsletters.
Included in this definition, but certainly not limited to it, are the words on web pages and blogs – often called content, brochures, sales letters and landing pages (both part of copywriting), speeches, ebooks, press releases, media kits, back of jacket copy, advertising copy (also copywriting), technical writing of all sorts from toasters to software to medical devices – the list goes on and on.
And if you’re also interested in editing, proofreading and or translating you can find work in each of these areas and more.
Writing for yourself
By this we mean writing projects you develop on your own that you intend to make money with. Those might be a blog on some topic or other, an ebook, a book, a series of lessons (with or without video) or webinars. You might want to start some sort of trade publication.
This area of writing is limited only by your imagination. Let it soar!
Writing for magazines and other publications that will pay you
Magazines are the most obvious. You can divide magazines into consumer and trade publications. If you’re qualified you could also include academic journals.
Newspapers still accept some freelance work and pay for it, although as papers continue to cut pages because of ad revenue loss, they also hire fewer freelancers and tend to pay them less. This is most obvious with the large dailies. What isn’t yet clear is what will happen to the so-called alternative papers and to community weeklies.
There are printed newsletters that will pay contributors, although not as many as there used to be – but many of them have moved online and still need writers.
This is a fairly arbitrary list and there’s a great deal of mixing and matching going on. In other words, you may find yourself specializing exclusively in one area or actually working in all three. Or you may find you switch niches as your writing career develops.
We’ll be exploring each of these slices in more detail interspersed with lessons that show you everything you need to know to get started running your own freelance writing business successfully.
Assignment 1 – Pick a focus area
Decide which writing are you’d like to focus on in the beginning. If you can’t decide between them or you know you really want to do at all, at least decide which is your favorite and start with that one for now.
Here’s why: Freelance writing is a business and while it’s possible, even desirable to work multiple projects, it’s almost impossible to have a business that focuses on multiple categories, at least until you get one working well.
If you pick just one area of focus and put your creative energy into both the marketing of your work in that category and the writing in that category, you’re much more likely to be successful. You can add additional types of writing later, building on your success.
Another way to say this is if you’re focusing on say article writing and do that every day, or five days a week for at least an hour, you’ll find you’re able to sustain that effort and your progress, although it won’t be in a straight line, will trend upward to success. This is true of any focus.
Forum link to: Pick a focus area