For New Writers: Things I Wish I Knew

I’ve been a freelance writer – meaning it has been my only source of income – for about 8 months now, and as terrifying and frustrating as it can be, it has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my life. Not having to deal with the corporate environment more than pays for the sometimes difficult time you can have when delving into a world that hasn’t been previously explored – at least by you. 

I’m assuming that some people who read this might be writers and might be new. If I’m wrong, oh well, maybe someone will find this of use some day. However, there are some things I wish I knew when I started out. I may just be the silly person that was out of the loop and perhaps everyone who dives into writing full time knows these things, but I didn’t, and so I thought a few tips would be worth sharing. 

Here are the top 11 things I wish someone had told me when I started writing, in no particular order: 

#1 Elance is Great, But Not the Only Avenue for Writing 

I really did think that Elance and other race-to-the-bottom bidding sites (as a fact, not an insult) was the only option for me when I set out. In fact, for the first few months, my entire income – and there wasn’t a ton of it – came from Elance alone. I still have my account on Elance, I still write there, and I probably always will – at least until I’m a famous author, right? But there are a few things you need to know about Elance: 

  • Don’t try to underbid people by looking at the averages, because you can’t be sure how they bid and for what length of time, etc. 
  • Decide what your rate will be and stick to it. Having a low rate for them is fine, as long as you…
  • Write about things you know on Elance. The reason? Little research is needed and you can write articles quickly so your profit, at least when time is considered, is higher, and the lower rate doesn’t really become too much of a problem. 
  • Always make sure a milestone is set up and funded before you start a project and that all the terms are agreed upon, in the workroom, in writing by both parties before you begin. Ask me how I know. 
  • Be communicative but don’t let yourself get bullied. If that client in Othersideoftheworld doesn’t realize you’re in the USA and decides to email you six times at 2 o’clock in the morning – it’s okay that you didn’t respond immediately. You are allowed to sleep. 

The main point you need to know about Elance – and this is true for any avenue of work – is not to let it be your main source of income. Even within Elance, make sure to get several clients, because you don’t ever want to rely on one source of income for your livelihood. Again…ask me how I know. 

#2 The Content Mill Dilemma 

You’ll hear a lot about content mills if you read blogs giving advice to writers. Some are staunchly against content mills (think Demand Studios, Textbroker, etc.) because they pay so little. Some are all for starting out there. Very few have a middle-of-the-road opinion. I do. Do I think content mills kind of take advantage of writers? Yeah, a little. But do I think that when you’re starting out they can be absolute lifesavers when you need money? Yeah, I do. Would I ever put my experience working for Textbroker or another content mill on a Letter of Inquiry (proposal of sorts) to a magazine? Not a chance. I see it as a way to make money when I need to, but by no means would I rely on it solely, and as things improve I hope to not use it anymore. However, money is money and if you write about topics you know a lot about, it’s often worth it for the income. 

#3 Revenue Share – Good or Nightmare? 

Again, I’m middle of the road. First of all, I didn’t even know this existed when I started out, so if you haven’t heard of it either, go to here to sign up/learn about it. Yahoo! Voices is a network where you can write, be published – technically – online and every thousand views you get, they pay you $1.50. I’d never rely on it as a stream of income. In fact, I don’t write on Yahoo! Voices to make money, I do it for clips. Yes, big clients like magazines know that it’s not the same as being in a newspaper, but clips are clips. (Clips, by the way, are published pieces of yours that you refer to/include in proposals or LOIs to magazine editors). Also, it helps you to present yourself as an expert in your field, and adds to your portfolio. Don’t rely on it, but it’s worth doing for reasons other than money. 

#4 Constant Content – Sign Up

I didn’t find out about constant content until June of this year, and I wish I had long before. It’s great. You can write about whatever you want, it gets edited, and then it gets put online in a catalog of articles that clients can buy. You also get to set your own prices, and the prices that people pay on there are much higher than any of the previously mentioned revenue streams. Go here to apply/sign up. You receive 65% of your sale, so price accordingly, and they pay once a month. However, I can’t tell you how nice it is at the end of the month to know that I have at least something coming in from them. Personally, I usually set my rate at around $0.10 per word, sometimes more or less depending on length, amount of research, etc., and it’s a nice stream of income. Go check them out.  

#5 You Can Pitch to Magazines 

If this shocks you, then I was probably just way out of the loop, but I had no idea you could query magazine publishers to hire you/buy work from you. Once I started looking at the rates these magazines pay, I almost fell off my chair. At the low end – at least the lowest I’ve seen in my fields/topic areas – it’s around $0.30 per word, but most top paying magazines pay between $1.00 and $2.00 a word. Yeah. That’s what I said, too. Which leads me to my next point…

#6 Learn How to Write an LOI

A Letter of Introduction is basically a query letter/proposal letter to a magazine saying hey this is an idea or two I have for an article. It’s an art, really, and I’m still learning, but there are many blogs and some ebooks that will help you. For instance, the Renegade Writer publishes 2 e-books about writing for a living, including one entirely devoted to LOIs and Query Letters. Read them. I’m just starting the Query Letter book, which is called “The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters that Rock: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Selling More Work Faster”. The Renegade Writer, by the way, is the amazing Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell also contributed to this work. Search “Renegade Writer” on Amazon, B&N, or wherever you buy books/e-books and you’ll find both of her books. Just….read them. I wish I had from day one. 

#7 So Where to Find These Magazines…

Oh I’m so glad you asked. The other thing I wish I had done from day one was know that The Writer’s Market Online existed and signed up. Seriously, click here right now and click sign up. It’s the best $5.99 I spend every single month. You can search for publications and you’ll find out the editor, what they want, what they need, what they don’t want, who to contact, how to submit, etc., etc….oh yeah and what they typically pay. (If you have questions about navigating let me know, it took me awhile to figure out the search.) It’s so simple now, though, and I use it on a daily basis. Book publishers are on there, too, as well as conferences, literary agents, online publications…just…go do it. It’s amazing. 

#8 You Can Write an E-Book

Yeah! No really, you can, and you should. In fact, you can publish to the Kindle by yourself for free. I know, it seems crazy, right? But you can. Just go here and you can read about it and sign up. There’s more information on it than I’m going to put right here, but essentially, if you look up some information on formatting for Kindle, which is way easier than I ever expected, you can upload a book a day if you wanted. Chances are you write about something – even if it’s fiction – and you have some kind of specialty, or something you know a lot about. Write about it. Particularly if it’s a “how to” or something helpful. Also, for reasons I’ll explain at a later date (or in my e-book..mua ha ha), you should price your e-book no less than $2.99. Just trust me. 

#8 You Can Publish Articles on Kindle

Kindle has this great thing called Kindle Articles. You should indicate in the title that it’s an article, though, and price it lower, like $0.99 to $1.99 or so, but it’s a great way to establish credibility in your area and – you guessed it – it’s somewhere you’re published, so you can use it later on when you go to pitch bigger projects. 

#9 Take a Day Off

I literally – literally – did not take a day off for the first, oh, 90 days I was a freelance writer. I worked every day, most of the time 12 hours or more, and I was going crazy. It was great at first, but I felt like I had to be constantly available for clients, constantly working on something. Don’t do it. Trust me. Even today, I only take one day off a week, but I do absolutely nothing on that day that has to do with work. Now–one caveat to that, since I’m a travel writer, is that if I see a really awesome event in my area, I’m going to take mental notes and maybe some pictures so I can write about it later, but that’s just common sense, the event won’t be there Monday. But still, I don’t actually write or plan for it until my  next scheduled day. Point is – take a day for yourself. If you don’t think you need it now, maybe you don’t, but you should take it when you want to not when you have to. 

#10 Almost All Writing You See is Done By Writers, Not The Obvious People

I guess I was naive when I thought that company websites, travel brochures, and the like were all written by the company or owner or whoever. Turns out most of that stuff is written by you and me – the freelance writers. Call them. Don’t even think of it as a cold call, just think of it as an inquiry. Call and ask if they have a current or ongoing need for a writer. You’d be surprised how many people will say yes. And – know what to say when they do say yes. “Really?!” isn’t it. But calling people whose businesses or brochures are in your area or field of interest as a writer can be amazing (and decently paying) clients. 

#11 Get a Writer’s Website

I have one word – Wix. Even the paid site is just $15 something a month for the recommended package and it looks great. [Shameless self promotion coming up] – you can check out the one I made here. It isn’t that wonderful yet, but I’m working on it, and at least one exists. You really, really need a website. It is, essentially, your portfolio and resume. 

Hopefully this has been helpful for some of the newer writers. This isn’t an end-all be-all set of advice. What works for me may not work for you. I’ve read information that I thought was totally ridiculous, but someone else will comment and say it was the best thing they ever did. That’s just the way it is. Writers are still people – all of us are different, function differently, want different things from our business, and need different things. But hopefully some of the above tips that I personally learned from my own experience will help someone else, too. 

I’m interested, though – tell me what some of the funny stories/horror stories from your beginning days as a freelance writer! 



3 Comments Add yours

  1. courtneyherz says:

    Okay so it was 12 – I just realized I put #8 twice. #13 is always revise your work haha! 😉

  2. Bessie says:

    Very helpful thanks! I’m just starting out freelancing and hadn’t thought of half the suggestions on your list.

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