You’re an aspiring writer. You have some writing skill and talent, and want to develop a writing career. Congratulations! I’ve been writing for money since the 1970s, and 2006 is a wonderful year to be a writer. You’ve truly got unlimited options and ways to make money writing.
In Part One of this article, I’ll cover the fundamentals of freelance writing. Few writers give these fundamentals much consideration, and that leads to unnecessary hiccups in their writing career. Other writers breeze along quite happily, then suddenly smash up against one of the fundamentals, and because they’re blissfully unaware, they proceed to destroy their career.
If you understand the fundamentals, these fundamentals form a basis for creativity, money, and confidence, because you will KNOW how freelance writing works, and you will understand how and why you get paid, and how to set your rates.
Next week, I’ll cover “modelling” which is an easy way write as a freelancer. When you learn how to model, you’ll be able to write anything, for anybody.
When You Write For Money, People Make Money From Your Words
Freelance writing is writing for money. And, when you write for money, your buyer makes money from your words. A book publisher publishes your book, and makes money from the book’s sales. A magazine editor buys an article, and makes money from the advertising in the magazine. A creative director at an advertising agency hires you to write the copy for a brochure, and gets paid by the client, who uses the brochure to make sales and build his business.
The More Money Other People Make, The More You Make
The second fundamental is “the more other people make from your words, the more you make”. (You’ll need to negotiate for the higher pay, however.)
As a freelancer, you will soon learn that some markets are not markets for you, because they can’t afford to pay you. You won’t get upset that some magazines don’t pay except in copies, and some business owners expect writers to write for $5 an article. You will understand that these people are not making a lot of money, so they can’t afford you. This is not a problem, because there’s no point in putting lipstick on a pig. You need to go where the money is, not where it isn’t.
Money-Potential Check – Do It First
Therefore, before you consider writing for a venue, check to see where THEIR funding is coming from, because if they’re not making money, neither will you. If you don’t know, ask on a writer’s forum. When you’re writing for a magazine, for example, check the circulation, and the advertisers in the magazine. If it’s a national magazine with a large circulation (over a million copies) and international companies advertise in the magazine, they should pay well.
If you’re writing for your local newspaper, check the circulation figures, and the number and size of advertisements. Find out how much the newspaper charges for a half-page display ad. If the newspaper is making money from advertising, they can afford to pay you.
As a quick rule of thumb: if there are advertisements, the publisher can afford to pay writers. This applies to print media, and online – any Web site with advertising can and should pay their writers.
Follow The Money – Consider The Money FIRST
If you remember that “writing for money equals other people making money from your words”, this will guide you in choosing markets to write for. For the first few years of my freelance career (admittedly this was the 1980s, long before the Web existed), I didn’t make this connection. This meant that I signed contracts that weren’t in my best interest.
If you remember this simple point, it puts you in a strong position. You can now assess markets so you know whether a publication is worth spending time on, and you can also negotiate from a strong position. For example, if a publication offers you a $50 all-rights deal, and you see advertisements from airlines and high-end clothing companies in the magazine, you can feel quite secure asking for $500 for First North American Serial Rights (FNSR) only. You may not get it, but you WILL get four and five times the original offer.
Negotiate: Get Assertive
Your ability to negotiate is a vital freelancing skill. If you’re shy about negotiating, don’t be. Editors expect you to haggle. The first offer you get is only a first offer. “Standard pay rate” is so much nonsense – I’ll repeat what I just said, you’re EXPECTED to haggle. Professional writers negotiate; new writers slave for low pay until they have a light-bulb moment, and then they negotiate.
So haggle. Always. Essentially haggling is just asking for more. When you start haggling with editors, you may feel like Oliver Twist, with a begging bowl and a “please, Sir”, attitude. However, the more you do it, the more fun it will be. After a few years, you’ll enjoy haggling.
So there you have it – the absolute fundamentals of freelance writing. You now know how to get started – how to find markets which will PAY you, and that you must NEGOTIATE a higher rate to get paid well. You can now write and sell with confidence.