Fiction Workbench

Blog of the Fiction Fix-It Shop

Freelance Writing–How To?

Posted by Meredith in Writing Advice (September 4, 2010 at 9:49 am)

How does freelance writing work? How do I get started? I’m answering this question on behalf of Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing Blog, for a reader named J.C. who says:

I am trying to find information on freelance writing but I’m not really sure where to look. How does one become a freelance writer (and be successful)? Are there different types or is it all non-fiction writing?

This is a question whose answer can be as easy or complicated as we want to make it. At its base, “freelance writing” is anything that is not written for an employer. As a published novelist, I’m a freelance writer because my publisher has bought my book from me, not hired me as an employee. If I write a magazine article and sell it to the magazine, I’m still a freelance writer as long as the magazine has not hired me as an employee to write for them.

There are lots of different types of freelance writing:

  • Ghost writing: where you agree to write a piece for someone else, usually with their name on it instead of yours
  • Article writing: for online article banks, magazines, e-zines, newsletters, or even your own website or newsletter
  • Website Content writing: this requires an understanding of how to optimize web content for search engines
  • Novels: whether you pursue traditional royalty publishing, or plan to self publish
  • Non-fiction books: same as above
  • Memoirs
  • Fan fiction
  • Serialized novels
  • Blogs

That’s just a sampling. As you can see, much of it is non-fiction writing, but there are plenty of fiction writing opportunities as well. Many freelance writing opportunities are ones you create for yourself.

Freelance writing can be sold or managed by yourself or it can be commissioned or purchased by someone else. Sometimes you retain certain rights to your work, other times you are selling all rights forever. It’s important to know what rights you are selling and to have that in writing. Signed agreements are important–even if you feel you can trust the person buying the piece or rights from you.

How to be a successful freelance writer? I don’t think anyone has an exact formula for that, but here are some good tips:

  1. Become an excellent writer. I know that seems obvious, but it’s something we all need to constantly remind ourselves–we have to strive to improve our skills no matter how successful we are or how much experience we have. We can always find ways to improve.
  2. Create a Good Plan. This includes finding a writing niche that works for you and that you’re good at. It also means deciding whether to pursue jobs that other people are offering or whether to find ways to sell your work directly to readers or publishers. How much money is your target rate? What steps will you take to get there? What business knowledge will you need to gain? What technology or tools will you need? The answers to those questions will depend on what area of freelance writing you want to make your own.
  3. Stick to a Schedule. Even if you don’t have an income from your freelance writing yet, get used to keeping regular writing hours. Use that time to hunt for jobs, or to set up your website, or to send out query letters to publishers–whatever needs to be done. You have to commit time to building up your freelance writing business if you want success.
  4. Educate yourself. Hang out with other freelance writers who are working in the same areas as you. Go to conferences. Read how-to books on your area of freelance writing. Search the Internet for information about being a freelance writer. It takes time to learn how any business industry works, and freelance writing is no different. You also should educate yourself about areas relating to the business aspects of being a freelance writer: marketing, promotion, running your own business, bookkeeping, taxes, virtual assistants, intellectual property rights, etc. As a freelance writer, you are an entrepreneur and small business owner, not an employee. So you have to think and act like a business owner.

All of those items could be an entire book themselves, so we can’t go into more detail here. But if you do a search for “freelance writing” on the Internet, you’ll find a huge array of sites, job boards, articles, and other resources that will help you. I hope that gives you a few ideas, J.C.–best wishes to you!

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