When starting out in writing, everyone wants to know: “How do I get paid for this?”
You definitely can. But, at least when it comes to writing features for magazines and newspapers, or travel writing, I believe it’s a ten-hour answer. That’s why I teach this course and this course at the Australian Writers’ Centre. I know, who can wait that long? And I promised you an answer – so, in the meantime, here are five things to remember when you’re aiming to make writing pay.
1. A day job is your friend (at least for now).
Most new freelance feature writers don’t realise that even once a story is commissioned (well done you!) there’s a long gap before money hits your bank account. Lead times take a bit of wrapping your head around (we talk about them here) but if you think of it like “Pitch story in summer, money in bank autumn or winter” you’d not be far wrong.
2. Consider other types of writing outside your genre.
Ok, you want to write about health, or travel or food. But in the meantime, just write, anything. Corporates are always looking for writers and while writing brochures, annual reports or updating intranet sites isn’t sexy (well, I guess that depends on the business), it pays well and there’s plenty of work out there.
Start by hitting up your friends working in corporate jobs. Ask for an introduction to the someone in the communications team – they are usually the folks who hire contractors to do this type of work.
3. Be choosy about when you write for free.
Yes. Write for passion projects.
Yes. Write on your blog.
But if you want to write for free for major publications (most of whom I believe SHOULD be paying their writers), make sure there’s a broader strategy behind it. Are you building an audience for something else? Solving a problem somehow? If you’re simply portfolio building (which I understand is important) and choosing to write for free, here’s what I’d do. Set a limit. Three is a nice number. After you’ve written for a publication for free three times, set your sights higher and write for someone who pays. Even if they pay only a little. Then, after you write three times for them for only a little, move on to focus your energy to someone who pays more. Don’t just write for free willy nilly, and don’t expect a publication which once had you write for them for free suddenly start paying you, “Because you are so good.” You are. But they won’t. Well, when they do, it’s the exception, versus the rule.
4. Consider swapping skills.
Everyone needs a writer, but not everyone wants to pay for one (Why not, people?). If they have something you need, maybe a swap is in order.
- Does your accountant’s website need an overhaul?
- Hairdresser need a new brochure?
- I did some writing for a Pilates studio once, when I didn’t have extra cash for classes.
Of course, if the swap goes wrong you’ll need a new accountant, hairdresser and fitness instructor, but surely, what could go wrong? Actually, plenty could go wrong, so start off by defining the parameters of the swap in advance. “You do my tax return and I will edit these two sections of your website.” “You give me a cut and colour in exchange for a rewrite of your brochure.” Be specific. And start small, in case it all goes belly up. Put the agreement in an email – the best way to avoid problems down the track is to have something in writing.
5. Pick one of the above and just start.
Talking won’t get you there. Doing it will. Pick a path and take one action to move towards making writing pay. Yes, today!
Want to talk further about this? Share your one action in the comments below.