Writing is, for many, a beautiful occupation, but as some writers well know, making a living from writing can be tricky. Make sure you’re a freelancer who manages to write not only what you want but also the occasional invoice, at least. Here is some practical advice to show you how.
Read the news like you’ve never read it before
Following the daily news on several big news outlets simultaneously turns out to be rather boring. It quickly becomes obvious that they all (more or less) cover the same story the same way, as it was handed to them by a wire agency, including a (more or less) hidden spin created by a PR creative.
But what if I told you that, for every story that you watch on CNN or on the BBC, there is another story? As a freelance journo, you should always be looking for THAT story.
For example, if a new power plant goes into operation somewhere, there is more to it than the economic benefits and the ecological impact as will be portrayed by most media output. Among these storylines, there will be people living nearby who are likely to have very strong opinions about the new plant. There will be people who helped plan and construct the plant. There will be investors who don’t know much about the basic principles of power generation but are expecting a certain return on their investment. And there will be people who can tell you what the site looked like before the plant was constructed and what they got up to there when they were kids.
Meet them, talk to them, find an angle for the story that hasn’t been covered by anyone else. Everyone affected by an event will have a different story to tell. Which one is yours?
Find a niche that suits you
It’s really simple: the more you research and write about a certain topic, the more you will know about that topic. With your expertise growing, you will be able to write and sell more and write more features on that topic. What’s more, for every topic there is a community following it within which you will see your reputation grow.
It doesn’t really matter if it’s pre-paternal education or 1970s trash cinema. Once you’ve found your niche, you will be able to cater for a particular audience on a regular basis. Why not start your own blog? You don’t need millions of readers to make a living. Niche blogging even works on a local basis. If you are the number one blogger in a one-horse town then you are one of the top influencers there, and this pays off.
As blogging expert Jeff Jarvis put it: “The most startling and hopeful number I have found is this: some hyper-local bloggers, serving markets of about 50,000, are bringing in up to $200,000 a year in advertising.”
Remember: Life is a pitch
The fact it is essential that you know how to pitch will never be clearer than in your early days as a freelance writer. Whether you want to sell a story or advertising copy – sending an email to the potential buyer, pointing out the attached document and asking them if they are interested will (at least in 99.9% of all cases) not be enough.
You will have to convince them that this is exactly the piece they want to publish. Show them why this is precisely the right topic for their target audience, and why their readers will be much more interested in your feature than in anything else they will find in their inbox that day.
Familiarize yourself with the publication first and make sure to contact the correct editor. Use a catchy subject line that they cannot ignore. Last but not least, be sure your pitch makes it clear that you are the best choice for writing this story. And remember – don’t give away too much upfront! After all, you don’t want one of their staffers picking it up and running with it.
Learn your way around a camera
As most freelance journalists will find out sooner or later, publishers usually pay for the space filled in their publication. Hence, pictures frequently pay better than text because they fill more room on the page. It can pay off to learn how to take your own pictures, and not only if you are into event coverage.
You don’t need to be an established photographer to take usable photos. You don’t need expensive equipment – a simple DSLR with a couple of lenses will do. It’s really easy to learn your way around a camera. There are three basic parameters: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. You can learn about them here and test your knowledge here – it will not take you more than 30 minutes to figure out how a camera works.
When it comes to selling your photos, make sure you stress the uniqueness of your pictures to the potential buyer. When they buy a picture from an official source (e.g. the event operators), they run the risk of publishing the same pic as everyone else. On the other hand, you can offer them exclusive rights to your photos.
Become a ghostwriter
If you are a talented writer, you may consider ghostwriting as a source of income. Obviously, ghostwriting will not leave you with many references that help you move up the career ladder, but it can pay the bills and is definitely an occupation that you will not consider mind-numbingly boring.
There are always people looking for a good ghostwriter. Be it for their autobiography, a self-help book, or an article they have to write for their company newspaper. There are plenty of freelance agencies that can help you establish contact with potential clients. If you are a college graduate, you might consider applying to an academic writing service as well. Academic ghostwriting gigs usually come with very high fees, and they can keep you going while you focus on other long-term projects.
All in all, it has never been easier to make a living writing. It is not necessarily easy living or living large, but it will definitely put food on your table. With a bit of will and effort, who knows, maybe it actually turns out to be living large after all.