Why It’s Never Been Easier to be a Freelance Writer

Carol Tice

Freelance writer doing research on mobile phoneDo you feel like today’s freelance writing marketplace is just too difficult to break into? Too competitive for you to move up and earn well?

Well, I disagree. In fact, I believe there’s never been a better time to be a freelance writer.

You might be thinking: How can I say such a thing, in this era of the terrible economy (actually in steady recovery since late 2009)? When the Internet has put writers in competition with everyone who’s ever slung a sentence together anywhere on the globe? And when there are so many shocking low-priced gigs on offer?

For a perspective-setter, let’s contrast the freelance writing scene of today with that of the pre-Internet era.That’s the time period when I first broke into freelance writing, so I’ve got painful firsthand experience with how it used to be.

No, I’m not going to regale you with tales of how I walked three miles through the snow to turn in my articles to my editor. Mostly because I lived in California when I broke in.

But being a freelance writer was definitely a far more difficult process than it is today. Here are some of the ways life has gotten better for freelance writers:

Shoe leather vs Internet research

Then: When I wanted to find new magazines to write for, I got in my car and drove to the library. There, I headed for the reference section, where I could hunt for interesting publications in the Gale Guide. Long hours of leafing through Gale’s tissue-thin pages and hand-jotting contact information ensued.

Researching businesses was usually limited to companies you knew in your town, or read about in your local business journal. Or you could head back to the library and go through their publication archives. I have literally combed through the library’s stacks of phone books from other major cities to find phone numbers or addresses for businesses in other towns. Talk about a time-killer.

Now: Fire up your computer and tap the online edition of The Writer’s Market for instant updates on newly updated listings. Quickly sort by topic or which publications pay the best, and you’re in business.

Want to write for businesses? Your market research is sitting on your desktop — hit the Internet, compare local business’s websites, find the worst ones, and pitch. Or quickly look up major companies anywhere in the world and find contact information in a minute flat. Boom, you’re done.

In-person events vs social media

Then: Want to meet other writers or potential clients? Head on down to your local Chamber of Commerce and spend all night pressing the flesh — and more time the next day following up. More in-person meetings with prospects followed.

Now: Don’t have time to get out? No problem. Your writer website and LinkedIn profile can call out your areas of specialization and help the Internet send you prospective clients, 24/7. Join a few LinkedIn groups, or a writer community to make more connections. Tweet an editor an idea. Take a Skype call with a prospect and quickly nail down an agreement.

Editor gatekeeping vs online publishing

Then: Nothing got published without an editor’s blessing, and the number of publications was fairly finite. You submitted to editors and prayed. They were a hurdle you had to vault in order to become published.

Now: If you strike out with print publications, you can turn to the growing number of paying online markets. Not having any luck getting your ideas out there? Start up a blog and use it as a writing sample, or tap a content mill or bidding site such as Elance to find clients if you’re short on marketing time. Sure, rates might not be the greatest, but you can at least get clips fairly easily.

Outside control vs self-publishing

Then: As a writer, you either got a staff job or hustled freelance gigs. Getting a print book contract was another huge gatekeeping exercise with a few print publishers pulling all the strings.

You had one boss or many. But either way, your ability to earn was in someone else’s hands.

Now: Want to diversify your income and achieve independence? Build a website, draw an audience, and self-publish your own e-books on Amazon with the touch of a button.

SASE and xeroxes vs instant response

Then: Want to send a query letter to a magazine? This laborious process involved heading to Kinko’s to get copies of my print articles, purchasing big envelopes and small ones for that return rejection letter than often came, and then composing my query. Then the best part: Waiting three months or so to find out if the editor was interested in your work.

Now: For the vast majority of publications, you can email off your query with links to your online clips. Often, get a response within an hour, or a week. Cost: Free.

In-person meetings vs online meetings

Then: Businesses and magazines mostly worked with local writers because of how difficult and expensive it was to meet in person otherwise. If you had out-of-town corporate clients or magazines, you got on a plane or drove to meetings, killing days worth of productive writing time.

Now: Go after clients anywhere in the world, because you can meet virtually. Hop on Skype to chat, or use Basecamp or Google Drive to collaborate instantly on evolving drafts.

Stuck at home vs write from anywhere

Then: In the pre-mobile era, being out of town was a nail-biter. Who was emailing me? Who had called? Would my editor hear my voicemail and get my hotel fax number to send me the revisions she had?

Now: Mobile phones go with us everywhere and bring the Internet along. Use online tools such as GoToMyPC to tap into that desktop at home from your hotel’s business center, or bring your laptop and file a story before you even get home. On a recent trip, I helped an editor meet a print magazine deadline with edits I did while at the airport and in a cab.

Credentials required vs wide-open market

Then: In all my 12 years as a staff writer, I was always the one freak who was a college dropout. Everyone else seemed to have gone to Columbia or Medill. Or at least had an English degree.

Now: Then came blogging, and the ability for writers to prove their mettle without sitting through stultifying courses on the history of journalism. These days, I find, nobody cares if you learned your craft at Columbia or under a freeway overpass or from writing 1,000 blog posts on your personal blog. It’s a snap to show what you’ve got, and write your way to the sort of markets you want.

Writing conferences vs online training

Then: Want to learn about emerging issues in the world of freelance writing or take a class to improve your article-writing craft? You could buy a print book at a bookstore and try to suss things out on your own. Or maybe take a college extension class that would take months of in-person class time. Or you could invest hundreds to fly to a writer conference. Spend several days marooned away from your computer.

Now: Free online trainings abound! (Like the first session of Article Writing Masterclass that I made free to all comers in April 2014.)

For more, take a paid, in-depth course you can view online as your schedule permits — and review whenever you like for a refresher. Get instructor feedback without having to go anywhere via live Q&A calls and support forums.

 

Personally, I’d give anything to have become a freelance writer now compared with what a slog it was back then.

One thing hasn’t changed, though — you need the confidence to put yourself out there in a competitive marketplace. But there are so many more types of writing and ways to earn today. For anyone who’s got the moxie, it’s the Golden Age for freelance writers.

Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a freelance writer now? Leave a comment and let us know.

Freelance writing success

46 Comments

  1. Clara Mathews

    I started my first blog in 2008 as a hobby, just so I would have a place to write. I had no idea at that time that I would one day make a living as a freelance writer. I do not have a degree and had no experience as a professional writer.

    With the internet and the need for good writers, this is indeed the best time to be a freelance writer!

  2. Worli

    Hello Carol!

    I think becoming a freelance writer is not difficult. People don’t have to be professionals in order to become one. All it requires is a good command of spelling, as well as grammar. If you can write articles that are free of these errors, then there will be no problem joining companies where freelance writers are wanted.

    But at the same time getting your first writing assignment can be quite tedious and most difficult thing.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, becoming a freelance writer isn’t difficult…but I’d say getting paid well as one takes a lot more than being able to construct an error-free English sentence.

  3. Jesse

    Hey Carol, first – thanks for always sharing my posts on Twitter, I really appreciate it!

    Second – this is a very enlightening and empowering topic. I think it’s important to mention that there are two types of freelance writers:

    1) Confident writers who establish themselves and know their own worth.
    2) Confident writers who under-value their worth and get bullied by editors.

    My friend is in the second situation. She writes a lot of guest posts to try and establish herself but never gets compensated. I told her it’s not worth it and suggested sites that do pay for articles. She’s slowly grasping this and developing a thick skin but there’s one story that really sickens me: she thought if she wrote a mind-blowing article for the editor of a popular site in our social media marketing niche, they would feel amazed enough to compensate her. She ended up writing an epic 5,000 word guide – the editor’s response? “Thanks, looks good.” And that was it. I think it really shook her up that some sites hold themselves so high and mighty they can shrug off hours and hours of free labor. It’s a huge problem that still exists and traps my writers. Fortunately she hasn’t experienced that again but wow, it really surprises you how backwards some editors can be.

    • Carol Tice

      People who knock themselves out writing for markets that don’t pay in hopes that the publisher will have some sort of revelation and suddenly begin handing out money are delusional.

      It isn’t that they shrugged it off — their policy is they don’t pay. You aren’t going to change their minds!

      You don’t know their business model or their cash flow or budget. Some folks run their blogs based on free guest posts that serve as valuable marketing for their guests, and others pay. If you want pay, write for the paying markets!

      It’s magical thinking, imagining your awesome post is going to change the business model of the blog you wrote it for.

      And time spent venting about “Gee, why don’t editors get it?” Also a complete waste of your precious time. Also, often editors are hired hands and not the people making pay decisions.

      Hope your friend wises up and saves her 5,000-word opuses for paying markets!

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