Visit any of the writing communities and one of the more common questions you’ll find (maybe you’ve even asked it yourself) is “Can I make a living as a freelance writer?”
I’ve posted about this before, but I want to address another facet. Each of the roadblocks listed below can keep you from earning what you deserve. Know the roadblocks and don’t sell yourself short.
Roadblock 1: writing for free
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, places that skip paying writers tend to be poor showcases for your work. Second, if you give something away once, the recipient will continue to expect freebies from you. Neither will forward your career.
Keeping that in mind, sometimes writing for free has benefits. If you gain something valuable, then you aren’t really writing for “free.” For example, if you volunteer to write a piece gratis for a nationally recognized charity in exchange for a byline, you gain a high-profile clip that can be a feather in your cap. Just avoid making the freebies a habit.
Roadblock 2: paying someone to publish your work
You want to get paid for writing, not shell out money for the “privilege.” Yet vanity presses and “agents” that charge authors to represent them flourish. Why? Because people are willing to pay for a dream. For more extensive research on the topic, consult Writer Beware. The site contains a wealth of information about schemes and scams writers should avoid.
Another thing to note: work you self-publish rarely impresses editors and agents. RARELY. As in, sell 50,000 copies of it on your own, then talk to them, rarely.
Roadblock 3: writing below market rate
This past week I saw a job on a market list that wanted someone to write 300+ words for $2 per post with NO byline. No money and no credit? Can you say “No, thanks”? You should.
Do you know what your skills are worth? According to Salary.com the median salary for a web writer (one who researches and writes online content for a company website) is $47,833. If you take full-time employment as a salaried writer/author with a company, payscale.com calculates your annual earnings should fall between 30.5K and 66k per year. Can you make that on $2 articles? I can’t.
Many content farms and blogging sites ask writers to put together full articles, find photos, plus seek out reference links then pay diddly squat. Wake up, writers. If it takes you three hours to do all the research and writing for a $15 post, you are making $5 an hour. I’d have to work a lot of hours at that rate to pay my mortgage and utilities. To eat, I’d have to give up sleep. I like sleep.
Besides the low wage, there’s another problem here. Places that pay sub-standard rates typically get what they pay for. When you link to one of your clips and the editor views it, do you really want it to show up next to articles that look and sound like they were written by illiterate eighth graders?
My rule of thumb for deciding to take one of these jobs follows the same lines as writing for free. I ask myself, as should you, “What’s in it for me?” Will I get a killer clip and byline I can show an editor? Will it look good in my portfolio and on my resume? In other words, is it worth my time?
Roadblock 4: staying in a low-paying rut
All writers fall prey to this occasionally. We take gigs for a lower pay rate to get new clips or break into a new market. Then we get comfortable or lazy and don’t move forward. Remember, your work has value based on your experience. The more experience you have, the more money you should earn. I’m not saying you should abandon regular clients in favor of greener pastures, but once you get a few clips under your belt, you should use them to add higher-paying gigs to your resume.
Can you think of any roadblocks I missed? Tell me about them in the comments.