Secrets of a Freelance Writer, Third Edition

How to Make $100,000 a Year or More

Robert W. Bly

Holt Paperbacks

Preface

This book was written to help you make a lot of money as a freelance writer.
 
To my mind, too many writers spend too many hours laboring over work for which they are paid only a pittance. We live in a society that often forces writers literally to give away their writings, either for free or for wages that, when figured on an hourly basis, are barely competitive with what an unskilled laborer can earn pushing hamburgers in a fast-food restaurant or moving crates in a warehouse.
 
This book is dedicated to the proposition that writers should be paid a fair dollar for a fair day’s work . . . and that writing is a professional service worth the fees that other professions command.
 
Think about the last few articles or stories you sold. Were you satisfied with the pay? If not—if you feel frustrated by editors and publishers who seem to begrudge you every penny when it comes time to negotiate your fee or advance—this book can change your life!
 
• If you’re tired of being underpaid as a writer, of spending long hours on projects that barely provide a decent living wage, I’m going to show you a different side of freelancing—one that can put you in an income bracket that even a corporate executive, attorney, or physician might envy.
 
• If you’re a new or established freelancer handling commercial projects for corporate clients, I’ll tell how you can double or triple your writing income, how to get new clients, and how to get more business from current clients—and I’ll give you new ways to market your services and expand your business as never before.
 
• If you’re a staff writer employed by a corporation, advertising agency, newspaper, or other organization and you want to quit your job and become a freelancer, I’ll show you how to do it. By following my techniques, you’ll be able to match—or even double—your present salary in your first year of freelancing.
 
• If you dream of writing the Great American Novel, or short stories, poetry, plays, essays, articles, or other literary forms—great! This book will show you how to get lucrative commercial assignments that pay the rent and free you to pursue more artistic interests.
 
• If you’re a moonlighter, a part-timer, or you want to expand your regular income, the type of writing described in this book is ideal for you, because you can work as much or as little as you choose. It’s all up to you.
 
• If you’ve never written for money in your life but you have a hankering to write, or you’re looking for a second career, or to make some money in your spare time working from home, you’ve come to the right place.
 
When I wrote the first edition of Secrets of a Freelance Writer for Dodd, Mead in 1987, I was thirty years old and had five years’ experience as a freelance commercial writer.
 
Now it’s nearly two decades later, I’m 48, and I’ve been a freelance corporate writer for twenty-three years. In the eighteen years between editions, I’ve written hundreds of freelance projects for dozens of clients—and I pass along the new tips, techniques, and methods I’ve learned in this new edition.
 
The question readers of the first and second editions most often ask me is “Can you still make $85,000 to $125,000 a year or more doing freelance writing for the business market?” The answer is yes, although market conditions have changed over the past two decades. Here are the key differences between then and now.
 
First, the bad news:
 
• The recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s—and the uncertain economy of the twenty-first century—put us into a “buyer’s market” from which we will never recover. There is more competition, and, at the same time, budgets are more limited and clients are more cost-conscious. You can still make $100,000 a year or more as a freelance corporate writer, but it’s more difficult than when I started in 1982—no doubt about it.
 
• We live in the Age of Now. Deadlines are shorter. Speed, convenience, efficiency, and client service are becoming ever more critical to many buyers of writing services. For some assignments, how fast you can get the copy to the client—and in what file format—seems at times to overshadow the quality of the writing itself.
 
• There have always been clients who do not care about writing and treat it as a commodity. Such clients have always been and are still a small minority, but their ranks have grown over recent years. You value your craft. Be aware that some buyers do not.
 
• Downsizing has motivated many downsized corporate workers to try freelancing, flooding the market with new writers. Some stay. Most seem to freelance only until they can find another corporate or ad agency job.
 
• Clients expect and demand freelance writers to have adequate office technology and be knowledgeable in a variety of programs and computer skills, including Internet access and e-mail. If you are low-tech or computer-phobic, you are far behind the times—and you need to enter the world of modern computing without further delay.
 
Now, the good news:
 
• Demand for freelance writing services among businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations has never been higher. Many freelancers are struggling to keep up with the workload and fill orders. There are more than enough assignments to go around. Unlike the book and magazine publishing fields, demand for corporate writing greatly outweighs supply.
 
• There is still a lot of money to be made. For the first and second editions of Secrets of a Freelance Writer, I picked the subtitle “How to Make $85,000 a Year,” because that seemed like a lot of money at the time. It’s still a nice income for a freelance writer, but many of my readers report earnings of $100,000 to $175,000 a year—and several make more. One called me the other day to tell me he just hit the $200,000 mark!
 
• Instead of seeing the Internet and CD-ROM as competition for the printed word, see them for what they are: lucrative markets for writers. Do you prefer print? Writing for the World Wide Web has more in common with writing a brochure than it does with writing a movie. It’s easy for print writers to adapt to and enjoy this medium.
 
• Downsizing has resulted in more outsourcing by corporations. They no longer have large staffs of writers and editors. Many documents once produced mainly in-house are now routinely outsourced to freelancers like us, often for big bucks.
 
• Technology lets you get more work done in less time and makes your life easier. With the PC, fax, and e-mail, I can get twice as much work done as I did in the days of the electric typewriter and no fax or e-mail. For the freelance writer, computers and related technology dramatically increase output, which translates directly into greater earnings.
 
For many writers, freelancing is where it’s at! Freelance writers enjoy significantly greater freedom, flexibility, and—for the most part — more income than writers employed at full-time jobs. When copywriter Nick Usborne asked subscribers of his online newsletter “Excess Voice” in late 2004 their work preference, more than six out of ten said they would prefer to be self-employed.
 
“Before we can accumulate riches in great abundance, we must become money-conscious until the desire for money drives us to create definite plans for acquiring it,” wrote Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich (Fawcett Crest). Secrets of a Freelance Writer gives you those “definite plans” for acquiring wealth through freelance commercial writing, saving you the headache of creating those plans for yourself—and the costly trial and error of testing them out.
 
This new edition of Secrets of a Freelance Writer has been revised and expanded to address today’s new marketplace. It has been reorganized to give you many more tips and strategies for running a successful freelance commercial writing business. It also provides more guidance on using technology, the Web, and e-mail, both as a source for writing assignments and for marketing and self-promotion.
 
Here’s what you’ll find in this third edition of Secrets of a Freelance Writer:
 
Chapter 1 defines “freelance commercial writing” and gives an overview of this lucrative but often overlooked writing opportunity.
 
Chapter 2 provides special guidance for novices. It was written in response to readers who have asked me, “Can you do this if you have no experience?” This chapter outlines strategies for those who want to be writers but have limited or no writing experience, as well as for writers who have done journalism, fiction, or poetry but have little or no experience doing corporate work.
 
Chapter 3 shows how to set up your freelance writing business, including computers, software, e-mail, Internet access, and other recommended equipment for your home office.
 
Chapter 4 answers the question “What will I be writing?” It discusses some of the commercial writing assignments you can handle for pay as a corporate freelance writer.
 
Chapter 5 shows you how to set your fees, present cost estimates, and get the client to agree to your price. You will see what other writers are charging and be given effective strategies for dealing with the objection “Your price is too high.” You’ll also reduce the number of times you hear this objection, by finding out what the client wants to spend before you give him or her your quotation.
 
Chapter 6 answers the question “Who will hire me?” You’ll learn what types of organizations hire freelance commercial writers, who within these organizations does the hiring, and where to find affordable directories and mailing lists containing the names, companies, addresses, and phone numbers of these potential clients.
 
Chapter 7 shows how to use direct mail, advertising, the telephone, and other direct-marketing techniques to generate interest in your services among this target audience, resulting in direct inquiries for more information about who you are, what you do, and what you would charge to handle specific projects.
 
Chapter 8 covers public relations and self-promotion for the freelancer. Here you learn how to generate additional sales leads and build your reputation through giving speeches, writing articles, and other promotional methods.
 
Chapter 9 shows you how to create an effective Web site for your freelance writing business.
 
Chapter 10 explains how to get leads and assignments on the Internet by writing, publishing, and distributing a free online newsletter or “e-zine.”
 
Chapter 11 explains how to follow up sales leads so that a significant percentage of those prospects hire you to do projects for them, thus becoming clients of your practice.
 
Chapter 12 provides helpful hints on running the day-to-day operations of your freelance writing business. It focuses on making the most efficient use of the primary asset you sell for money: your time.
 
Chapter 13 covers the basics of effective copywriting and business writing and focuses on how to complete assignments so your clients are satisfied.
 
Chapter 14 gives tips on client service. It’s not just the quality of your writing that determines client satisfaction, it’s also how you deal with and treat your clients. Here are easy ways to strengthen your relationships with clients.
 
Chapter 15 describes common problems in this business and provides effective strategies for coping with each one.
 
Chapter 16 shows you how to ride the ups and downs of your writing career and integrate freelance writing so it complements your total lifestyle.
 
Chapter 17 outlines a plan in which, by steadily increasing your income as a freelance writer, living conservatively, and saving, you can become a self-made millionaire well before retirement age (although I don’t necessarily advocate retiring).
 
The appendices provide a wealth of resources, including organizations, publications, and model documents.
 
Whether you write for a living or just for the sheer pleasure of it, or both, wouldn’t it be nice to be paid $130 an hour instead of $30 an hour? Or $4,500 for an assignment instead of $450?
 
After reading this book, you’ll be in a position to earn big money from your writing whenever you need it.
 
Your attitude about writers and money will change for the better. You will have more money, more earning power, and the freedom, security, happiness, peace of mind, pride, contentment, and self-esteem that go with it.
 
Countless writers have already achieved these goals using the techniques in this book. You can, too. Good luck!
 
Copyright © 1988, 1997, 2006 by Robert W. Bly