Quit Your Day Job—Become a Freelance Writer

Today’s guest post is from author Eve Pearce, giving us some helpful ideas on how to earn income as writers while waiting for those novels to sell!

For many fiction writers, it takes a long time (sometimes never) before enough income rolls in to be able to write full-time. Many writers dream of being able to quit the day job and make a more-than-decent living as a novelist. But what to do in the meantime?

You have another option besides sitting and waiting for your ship to come in. You could put your talent and creativity to good use by jumping into freelance writing. Whatever your preferred writing style, chances are that writing copy to order isn’t exactly your dream job. Nevertheless, writing fiction or poetry alone rarely generates enough money to pay the bills—at least not immediately.

In the meantime, then, it’s worth considering alternative ways to use your skills to supplement your income. Breaking into the world of copywriting can seem a huge and daunting endeavor, but it’s not impossible and can be very rewarding.

Finding Work

The first thing you’ll probably be wondering as an emerging freelancer is where to find work, and you aren’t alone in this: according to a 2012 International Freelancers Day survey, finding clients is the most commonly cited challenge freelancers face. For writers, however, it doesn’t have to be tough, since there’s generally a good body of work available all year round from a wide variety of sources.

Perhaps the easiest and most secure way to start is by working for a copywriting organization that brings clients to you—for example, writing for wait.co.uk. The advantages to this kind of copywriting include guaranteed work when you want it, a variety of jobs to choose from, fixed rates of pay, and often feedback on your work, which is particularly useful when you’re just starting out.

This is far from the only way of finding work, however, and for the more seasoned copywriter, sourcing clients directly can be just as effective.

Prepare a Portfolio to Showcase

If you are planning on approaching companies independently, remember that it’s important to have professional work samples prepared, and think about your unique selling points. What can you offer a company that’s different from what they’d get from other, more trusted sources? Perhaps it’s a passion for their product or a good knowledge of their target market, or maybe it’s simply the way in which you approach them.

As an example of this, Copyblogger recommends writing thoughtful, carefully-worded sales letters as a more direct, distinctive way of reaching people as compared with unsolicited e-mails, which often simply drown in seas of spam. Networking and face-to-face pitching are invaluable skills to have, though of course not ones that always come naturally to writers. Nevertheless, if you’re serious about writing, it’s important to grab opportunities when you can, even if this means venturing outside your comfort zone. There are plenty of very good reasons why direct conversations can be more effective than written messages.

Don’t rule out simply searching for work through job listings either. Many companies will seek out writers, editors, and proofreaders in this way, whether for individual projects or to work over a longer period of time. However you choose to find work, though, the first thing to decide is what kind of writing you want to do.

Writing Successful Copy

How is it possible to convey a genuine passion for a subject if you’re writing to order? The most obvious answer is usually the right one: the best way to seem interested is by actually being so. Just because you’re writing for someone else, it doesn’t mean that you can’t write things you want to write. Making A Living Writing suggests starting out your freelance career by listing things you’re interested in and things you know something about. This list can and should be comprehensive; include as much as you can to avoid limiting your options.

As an example, you may be a language student with a passion for movies and a good knowledge of campus life—this means that travel writing, film coverage, and student advice pieces are all worth attempting. Alternatively, you might have just left a job in finance or have helped a relative through an illness. Any experiences can act as useful resources.

After establishing your options, there are some important things to remember while writing. First, your work needs to be up-to-date. Going over old ground is interesting and useful to no one. Know your field and keep an eye on news stories and trending topics.

An awareness of what the client wants is also vital. If something’s not working for them, it’s not going to work for you either.

Finally, pay attention to feedback, especially when starting out. Advice isn’t always good advice, but professionals are usually successful for a reason, and if several voices are telling you the same thing, it’s probably at least worth some consideration. If you’re working for a copy organization, feedback will likely come from experienced content editors. If you’re independent, it’s harder to come by, though general help and advice can be found on various sites.

The Benefits of Going Solo

Freelance writing is undeniably difficult, and typically begins with working hard for little or no pay to build up a portfolio. When starting out, it can seem impossible to make money from your work in an apparently oversaturated market. After all, in today’s Internet age, it’s arguable that everyone’s an online content creator.

Is it truly worthwhile, then? Well, according to the International Freelancer’s Day survey, an amazing 90 percent of freelancers reported being happier since leaving previous employment. Even “accidental” freelancers, who tend to earn less than their entrepreneurial counterparts, are generally better off: 85 percent of accidental freelancers are happier being self-employed.

Surprising as it may seem, freelancers can also earn good money, with 49 percent making hourly rates of $20-60, 33 percent earning over $70, and 15 percent earning in excess of $100. While these statistics cover different types of freelance work, when added together, those in writing- or editing-related roles (writers, editors, copywriters, proofreaders, authors, and bloggers) constitute more than 40 percent of those surveyed—meaning that these statistics should provide a fairly accurate indication of what to expect.

Of course, there’s only one sure-fire way to find out if freelance writing is for you, and that’s to try it for yourself.

Feature Photo Credit: Valentin.Ottone via Compfight cc

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  1. “Of course, there’s only one sure-fire way to find out if freelance writing is for you, and that’s to try it for yourself.”

    This is what I did… I took the plunge and simply got started. I only had around 3 months living expenses saved up at the time, so it was a little bit of a nervy start.

    Although the learning curve (technology wise) has been steep, I love spending my time being creative. I feel fortunate to be able to make a living doing something I would do everyday for free… !

  2. You know, this might have to be the way I go pretty soon. As much as I love fiction and writing stories, I know it will have to be funded by freelance activities as well (unless I want to keep working my normal, boring job).

    This is a good place to start. Perhaps this will get my brain flowing in the right direction. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  3. Be careful – you don’t want to quit a guaranteed and steady source of income for one that’s sporadic at best and often not there at all when you need it.

    I worked for about 4 months as a full-time freelancer while still working full-time (well, 30 hours a week). After I was making more from writing I got myself fired and then started making even more.

    This is typically the opposite of what will happen as most writers sit around and do nothing when they have more time to write.

    If you don’t have a portfolio, what good are you to me as an employer? Don’t send me files, send me links. If you have products or writing that is selling, all the better.

    The faster you work, the more money you’ll make. There are no days off. You’ll have more stress and your body will get out of whack from crouching, leaning over, and sitting poorly. Expect to lose a lot of weight, a good 10 pounds or so (finger food and typing don’t match).

  4. Thank you for writing this thoughtfully-worded piece. I’ve been a full-time freelancer for the last five years, and when I made the shift from the 9-5 life to being self-employed, I knew next to nothing about what it would take. Timing is certainly everything when it comes to making the strategic move from working for someone else to finding and executing work of your own.

    An additional piece of advice I’d add to the list is to look into content mills. It takes sifting through many pieces of hay to find a few needles that will actually pay well(ish) for legitimate work, but it can keep the lights on while you’re trying to cobble together a list of private clients and new leads. Not to mention, it’s only ever-so-slightly soul crushing. 😉

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