15 Tips for Freelance Writing Success

I am a freelance writer, I make a fairly good living working about 10-15 hours a week, and I currently have more available assignments than I can take.

Working from home, I make about $40-50/hr for writing texts and curricula and $75-130 per magazine article.

If you are interested in becoming a professional writer, check out my list.

I am not trying to sell you anything. Of course, if you find these tips helpful and want to give me an ego boost, you can head over to Mamanista!, subscribe to our newsletter, and visit our affiliates and sponsors if you see anything you like.

So, why I am sharing this information with you? Because I am tired of seeing desperate housewives scammed. People are constantly asking me, Should I subscribe to this service? Is this a good offer? How do I get paid to write? Because I don’t think this is a zero sum game, I’m happy to share some of what I have learned. Maybe you’ll share some tips with me, too, about this subject, or something else down the line.

If you have a tip to share, need clarification, or like my list and want to see more, leave me a comment!

1. Don’t write for companies for free:
Value your own writing and others will do the same. If someone is making money off your writing, you should get something in return as well.

2. Two exceptions: Non-profits and Blogging. If you can provide a service to a non-profit, that is worthwhile for both the joy of contributing to a worthy cause and for networking benefits. Blogging is unique because it relies so much on community-building and because the immediacy of the Internet allows you to see the benefits of “guest blogging.” Check out ProBlogger if you are mainly interested in Blogging.

3. You’re an expert: Honestly evaluate your interests, skills, and experience. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has something to share. Sit down and write down everything you enjoy, everything you can do, and all of the valuable experience you have acquired.

4. Identify niches and markets: Use the list you brainstormed and locate magazines and companies in your market. Do your research and learn about the sections in each magazine, the style, and any upcoming themes and topics.

5. Submit queries to these magazines: Queries are usually a brief summary of the article you propose to write, your sources for the article, and your qualifications for this article. Some magazines may request longer outlines, others may even require complete manuscripts. If you really believe in an article, it may be worth writing the entire piece because you can always re-work it later for another publication. Regardless, remember that you are trying to catch your reader’s attention and show off your talents and style as a writer.

6. Think outside the box: A lot of people want to publish their short story in the New Yorker, review Indie bands for the Village Voice, or have their children’s story published as a board book. Definitely keep working towards those dreams, but also consider alternative venues. Find smaller publications, industry magazines , and other places where you can showcase your writing AND get paid. Magazines for children are interested in original fiction, an airplane in-flight magazine may want your tips on area wines, and your community newspaper may have an opportunity for you to review local theater productions.

7. Consider corporate opportunities: Corporations produce website articles, training seminars, internal newsletters, mailings to their customers, and billions upon billions of words. Some of this work is done in house but a lot is hired out to freelance contractors. This may or may not be your dream job, but no matter what your area of expertise, chances are there is a paid opportunity to write about it.

8. Work those connections:
If you have special access to an interesting interview subject, that may get your foot in the door. Do not be afraid to use those connections! At first I did not include my university in my queries. Then, I mentioned a class with a specific professor at that university and BAM!–instant acceptance. There are ways to ask people for assistance (a genuine compliment won’t hurt!) without bugging them. Just do your homework first so you have something to show and you do not waste your chance to get good advice and introductions. If you have a genuine connection to a person or an institution, do not be afraid to use it.

9. Promote yourself: Stop blushing. You are trying to succeed and fulfill your dreams, not win a humility contest. If you don’t broadcast your strengths and talents, no one else will. If you have sold a story, you are a writer, not “kind of a writer” or “dabbling in writing.” Get yourself some business cards, especially if you are interested in technical writing or copy writing. Ask that agent or publisher for her contact information. You never know who you might run into.

10. Stretch yourself: If a topic interests you, don’t turn down a story just because you are not already a full fledged expert. If you can think of a plan for how to become an expert in the topic, then go for it. Don’t ever “fake it” (besides being just plain wrong, it is easier than ever for people to catch you, call you out, and destroy your reputation), but don’t sell yourself short, either.

11. Focus: Seek out industry-specific directories and search engines. I found wading through the jobs at Monster.com to be somewhat counter-productive, but I have found several lucrative contracts at Agent K-12, which is specifically aimed at educators.

12. Consider re-print rights: When deciding whether or not accept a project, factor in whether or not you retain the rights to your material. As you progress as a writer, you may find preserving the rights to your material a valuable benefit.

13. Think ahead: This is what I am working on right now. I make good money and am able to stay at home with my baby and for that I am grateful. However, I do not want to lose sight of my larger goals. Sometimes it is worthwhile to turn down profitable projects to allow you time and energy to focus on where you want to be. To take this a step further, sometimes less lucrative projects are worthwhile if they move you towards your goals. Should I spend my precious work hours on a project that ads nothing to my skill set or portfolio but will allow me a few more luxuries, or one that pays less but will give me more credibility. Determine your writing goals (making money? becoming an expert? publishing a dream project?), develop a strategy, and consider your tactics.

14. Keep writing: No matter what, keep writing. Share your writing. Seek out critiques, but stay true to your voice. Writing is a skill that improves with exercise, so keep it up.

15. Don’t be a sucker: If someone asks you to pay a fee upfront (legitimate agents will take a percentage), or promises you that you will get rich quick–run! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

BONUS: 8 Valuable Freelance Writer Resources:


1. Writing For Dollars: This newsletter has genuine tips and three paying markets in every issue.

2. Writers Write: Tons of resources, including guidelines for thousands of paying markets.

3. Lifetips: Establish yourself as a guru and earn money–you can also collect your tips into an e-Book. One of my friends in marketing hires people from this site. They screen to ensure their writers know what they are talking about. If you have determined your area of expertise, honed your skills, and accumulated experience, Lifetips will help you find paid opportunities.

Resources for Writing a Book

4. 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might: My friend who works for a major publishing house said this is the book to read if you are trying to get published.

5. Literary Market Place: Locate publishers and others in the industry.

6. Everyone Who’s Anyone: Advice, tips, lists, directories…lots of stuff.

Professional Blogging

7. Problogger: If you are interested in making money as a blogger, Problogger is a daily must read.

8. Blog Mastermind: Even Problogger and eMom recommend Yaro Stark’s guide to blogging for profit.

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  1. Alex says:

    I like the ideas. I run a photo blog so most of your tips are still valid for me but I think most people should find this useful. I wish I could make a living working 15 hours a week from home. Envy!

  2. LuAnn says:

    Great ideas, Mama Saga. Thanks for sharing!

  3. pickel says:

    Great tips! Your most important piece of information is the niche. I have my masters in education but my niche is adoption and special needs kiddos because that is who my kids are. My blog is just that, as is my freelancing.

    And you also need to look at what is lacking in the market. Problogger is a great place to find open blogging jobs and there are several up and coming blogging companies like 451 press.

    Once I get everything up and running 20-25 hours a week is probably reasonable for me but I maintain 1 freelance and 1 blog (with 4 pages). I just applied for another freelance too! I am seriously looking to stay at home!

  4. WAHM says:

    I love the tips. I am trying out freelance writing for the first time and really needed this.

    Thank you.

  5. JamieLee says:

    You have a great handle on what it takes to succeed as a freelance writer. Your tips here and all your helpful comments on Maya’s Mom are so right on the money. I feel like I learn something every time I read you. Thanks so much!
    And the links you recommended have already been bookmarked for near-future perusal.
    (AND…I did sign up for Mamanista. Love it.)

  6. Sophie says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I dream and plot to one day work as a freelancer from home. Not only is your post informative, it is insprirational as well!

  7. Coma Girl says:

    Great advice. I am going to bookmark this post. Thanks!

  8. http://freelanceswitch.com/

    This place has been really really useful for me.
    Great list :)

  9. Victoria says:

    THANK YOU!!! It really helps!

  10. Anonymous says:

    This was very helpful–thanks Candace! Da Godfather and I want to see you and our lovely lady and Marc-y Marc very soon. Let us know if you have some time soon :)

  11. RockStories says:

    You make some excellent points, especially about the need to market yourself. It surprises me, though, that you’ve included “think outside the box” when your first two tips are centered around what is undoubtedly the most knee-jerk reaction in the writing world. Do you really think that it’s better to receive a $50 check for an article than to get a text link on a relevant, high-traffic site that would charge you $300/month for that same link?

    I suggest that the issues of payment and valuable compensation aren’t necessarily one and the same here: http://rockstories.blogspot.com/2007/06/what-does-free-really-mean-anyway.html#comments

  12. Mama Luxe says:

    As I mentioned here and on your post, there are two major exceptions to the rule…the Internet and charity work.

    With the Internet, as you pointed out, you are getting something of value (and quantifiable value at that)–the link.

    And I think the issue with your example on your own post is that most well-respected print publications do pay, very well in fact. So, although theoretically the answer to your question there (Rolling Stone for nothing, versus a nowhere publication for a small fee) is yes…it just is not realistic.

    My point is aimed at beginning writers who are taken advantage of by unscrupulous publishers who assure them that although they are paying the writer pennies or nothing and often don’t even give them a byline…that it is worth their time and effort because they can put it on their c.v.

  13. Saturn says:

    I wish if i can share my research on Freelance Portals here.

  14. Anne-Marie says:

    Non profits are a great way to get excellent testimonials too. Also, joining a professional writing organization or writer’s group is a great way to get excellent advice and support. Plus they often offer speakers, workshops and conferences.