Writing for Money: Being Reliable

Neil Gaiman once said:

You get work however you get work, but people keep working in a freelance world… because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine.

If you’re getting into ghost writing or working on spec, I’d argue that you need all three out of three, especially to begin with. The world is full of freelancers, and from my own personal experience, I’m more expensive than many of the freelancers out there and thus I need to justify my expense. So today I’m expanding on these three points, and how they lead to reliable work as a freelancer – both in that you will be considered reliable, and that you will make reliable money.

Impressing the Boss

I write for a couple of freelance portals. Sometimes there are 50-70 other bids for a job I want. This means that if I want to grab that amazing job, I need to prove that I can give my client the kind of writing he wants.

Once you get to a certain point, it’s going to come down to the matter of individual taste. Make sure you keep that in the back of your mind, otherwise you spend too much time dwelling on how awful you are when you lose a contract. Pick yourself up, tell yourself that you’re awesome, and get ready for the next job. And of course, keep practicing. Good writing will get you a long way, especially if you’re a fairly untested freelancer.

Keeping it Friendly

I have been on the other side of the table every so often, working as a client rather than contractor. Mostly this is in regards to the magazine for which I am a second reader. So I’ll say flat out: I don’t like working with unpleasant people. I don’t like reading the work of unpleasant people. There are a lot of great writers out there, and there are a lot of publishable stories that we don’t take at my magazine because it comes down to one or the other, and we like the other just a little bit better. So if you give me a good reason to say no to you, I’ll take it. And the same is true on the freelancer side of things.

Freelance portals have review options, which means that your client can complain publicly about how rude you are. People might take a chance on someone with less experience but more politeness as well. Not to mention that working with someone repugnant drains your emotional energy and nobody needs that right now. The easier you are to work with, the more likely clients will come back. And that means that you’ll start to have constant income streams.

Delivering by Deadline

Authors are famous for not doing this. George R.R. Martin is a classic example at the moment. What is he, two years behind on Winds of Winter? Other Fantasy authors in particular have caught flak for falling behind on deadlines, and you might think that it’s just the way things go.

If you are a new freelancer, it had better not be the way things go for you.

Here’s the thing: a lot of deadlines are kind of tight. Especially if you’re doing work on spec through a portal. If you say you can complete a piece by a deadline, people expect you to deliver. And life happens, we all understand that. But you need to do what you can to make sure life doesn’t happen to you before you’ve built up a reputation. This isn’t a bad idea for publishing under your own name, either. People will give you a break if they can see your missed deadline is out of the ordinary.

So, how do you make sure you don’t miss your deadline? First of all, consider your expectations of the piece. How long will it take you to create a piece you’re happy sending out as a representation of your abilities? You won’t just be drafting, you’ll be revising, so keep that in mind. Build in some extra time in case an emergency disrupts your schedule. That way, you can keep on track without pulling an all-nighter or turning in work you’re not happy with. Also, if you don’t have an emergency, you can get the work done early and get a reputation for writing ahead of the deadline!

Being a freelancer is hard work, but super rewarding. Hopefully you can use these tips to build your reputation and get repeat customers.

Writing for Money – Landing Gigs

Writing for money is hard for two reasons. First, paying gigs are scarce. And second, you get paid for what you write after you write it. Sometimes years after you write it. So how can you make money reliably? This part of my blog series is about getting work. If you are interested in writing for money or editing for money, I think it can help you out.

You can find my other Writing for Money posts here.

Okay. Let’s make buckets of money. How do we do it?

First step: dust off and update your CV. If you want to catch some clients, you need a CV with relevant work – hopefully relevant work done recently. Make sure you’re not violating any agreements with what you put on your CV, such as a non-disclosure agreement, and make your CV detailed and varied. I have an entire CV devoted to my writing so that I can note every single thing I’ve done in the past few years.

Bah! CV’s are boring. What’s next?

Next, you need to be able to provide samples of your work. If you edit, you need to provide samples of your editing. If you write, you need to provide samples of whatever you’re trying to write for someone. Maybe your travel articles will land you a novel-writing gig, or vice-versa, I dunno. But the closer you can hit to a potential client’s mark, the more they can see you writing for them. If I’m applying to ghost write someone’s novel, I usually try to find an excerpt that matches their genre (as close as I can get to it), and a short story to show that I can write completed stories with a plot and character arc.

If you edit, or if you write stories for other people – get permission before distribution. Editors, don’t put someone else’s work out there without their knowledge or permission. That’s scummy. If you can’t provide samples, you can offer to do the first five pages on a trial basis, or you can get testimonials from previous clients. Or you can do free edits for your friends, in exchange for using samples in your applications. Writers, likewise – get permission before sharing samples of work that is not entirely your own. This is especially relevant because, if you’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement, you could get into legal trouble.

That’s all good, you super special unicorn you, but I haven’t written/edited anything recently/ever.

Okay, then we need to take a step back. People will hire you if they think you can get the job done – but how will they know you can get the job done if they can’t see anything you’ve worked on? If you’re rusty, out of practice, or inexperienced, then forget the business of writing for money. Write for the sake of writing first. Write to finish something. Write to explore your world. Write to learn how to write. And write to see if you enjoy it. Writing for money is a challenge, and like so many other jobs, you won’t be very successful if you don’t actually like doing the work.

Once you can write a story, a poem, an article, whatever it is you want to write for other people – then come back here, and get going with that CV and those samples!

Okay, okay. I’m ready. Show me the people with the money.

So, here’s where things start to work a little differently depending on what you want to do with yourself. If you’re looking to write articles, there are plenty of sites who will take your submissions – just beware of getting offered exposure instead of money (I mean, people literally die of exposure. A different kind, but still).

I’m not much of an expert on selling short stories or poems on short order, and while selling them to a magazine is extremely gratifying, it is NOT going to pay your household bills any time soon. If you want to translate, edit, write copy or articles, then you can check out freelance portal sites such as Upwork and Odesk. These sites link clients and freelancers, and provide you with some measure of safety net for your work – in exchange for a cut of your earnings, of course. Just be aware of the fee you’ll pay when you bid on projects.

Novelists have more options than ever. Plenty of people on freelance sites want you to write their bestseller for them, and recently I’ve noticed the rise of the literary book packager – companies that work with a writer to develop a concept and make it a novel. Some places, like Glasstown Entertainment, vary on whether they want a writer to use a special pen name, and writers get paid upon a publishing deal. Others, like Relay Publishing, pay by the word. (Quick note – I was unable to verify the legitimacy of Relay publishing, as their site is down, but a previous check revealed no shenanigans)

Ohmygod. About 3000 people want to work for the client I want. How do I make them pick me?

First, make sure they have your CV and samples of your work, and know where to find more – on your web site, or on your profile if you use a freelance portal. Second, write a killer cover letter:

Paragraph 1: I usually thank the client for posting the job, say I’m excited to apply and broadly state who I am and why I think I’m a good fit.

Paragraph 2: I get into the meat of my previous experience and interests. What I’ve published previously, how my writing experience interacts with the project in question, and so on. I often discuss how I think I can bring something particular to a project. Like writing a query, it’s great to be specific, but bad to be long-winded!

Paragraph 3: I discuss the samples of my work attached for perusal. ‘Discuss’ in this case, means, what I’m trying to showcase for the client, whether the pieces have been published, and where to find further samples of my work.

I’ve had above average success for the jobs I’ve applied for, using these tips. And the secret, of course, is to apply to a lot of jobs. When starting out it might be difficult to net the highest paying jobs, and you may need to do some work for less than you’re worth (or *gasp* for exposure). NEVER agree to work for a price you’ll later resent, but remember that no one’s going to treat you like Stephen King until you prove that you can write like him.

If you have any questions you can always use the contact form – or just comment on the blog! What are your dreams about writing for money?

Writing for Money: Getting Started

Every author and their dog has writing advice, whether we’re published, soon to be published, or just messing around. I’m not a big fan of giving theoretical advice or espousing the show-don’t-tell mantra (what does that even mean?). But there’s one thing I can talk about – getting writing gigs.

The landscape around freelance writing has changed a lot since I started 7 years ago, which has significantly affected writers’ opportunities to make money. And that’s not entirely a bad thing!

So, let’s say you want to start getting paid for your writing. How do you do that? I have a few general tips.

Let’s tackle the big issue: writing your own stuff. By this I mean short stories and novels that you submit to magazines, agents and publishers. It’s so rewarding to see your name (or pen name) in print, to see yourself credited for a piece of work that not only you love, but that someone else loved and felt was valuable. There are many people who make a living just by writing their own stuff. If you’re starting out, though, that’s not going to be you. Not yet. If your goal is to make a living off of writing, make sure that you have the time you need to focus on your work, but ensure other income streams as well.

Writing for other people can pay, and it can pay well. Start with analyzing what you want to write. There are opportunities in fiction, nonfiction, articles and stories aimed at kids and at adults, web or magazine copy, and more. There are also editing opportunities. Examine what interests you and keep those interests as broad as possible – the more you can do, the more you’ll be hired to do.

Personal contacts are great to have, and if you can get a gig through a writing program, site or friend that’s great. If you don’t have the contacts you need, head to a freelance portal. Odesk, Upwork and other sites will connect you with clients and make it easy for you to get paid for your work. The downsides of these sites are that they take a cut of your earnings, and they’re often flooded by clients who want high quality work for low-quality pay. You may have to take a couple of low-paying gigs to start in order to establish yourself, but always make sure that you’re okay with the work and the price. There’s no shame in saying no, and resentment at the work versus the pay can make a difficult job even worse.

It’s best to have work you can showcase in a portfolio for prospective clients. Make sure that whoever has commissioned this work from you is okay with having it posted.

My best paying gigs have usually been ghostwriting. Ghostwriting has changed a lot since I first heard about it in high school – back then it was writing autobiographies for B-list celebrities and downwards. With the advent of self-publishing and the rise of small publishers, the Book Packager has begun popping up. Book packagers put together a concept and hire a writer to turn it into a novel. Some allow you to write under your own name, some require you to ghost write. Some work together with traditional publishers, granting the writer an advance and royalties, and some pay the writer up front. I ghost write fantasy and science fiction, and it has been one of my greatest writing experiences.

Writing is a build-up career, and it takes a lot of work up front for little or no pay. You probably won’t be able to jump headfirst into a freelance writing career. But with focus and persistence you can build a client list and reputation, see what jobs work for you, and get started on that elusive goal – getting paid just to write.

Good luck!