Help for Freelance Writers

The Golden Age of the freelance writer

There has never been a better time to be a freelance writer. This is the age of knowledge and communication, an era when service providers are in demand, and that describes perfectly what writers do. We inform, educate or entertain. We provide a service.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to earn a living in the profession. The opportunities are out there, but how do you find them? The stories are out there, but where do you start looking? The money is out there, but how do you persuade people to waft it in your direction?

The answer is marketing

You must think like a marketing guru from the start. Ask yourself the following questions:
What do people want to read about?
How can I acquire or make-up the necessary material as cost effectively as possible? How can I package it in order to appeal to potential backers and distributors, (i.e. book publishers, magazine and newspaper editors, film and television producers and other business people who commission written material)?

Once you’ve worked out who your market is, what they want to buy and how to sell it to them, you then have to find ways of making it pay well enough to support you full-time. That means, just like the marketing people in any big company, you need to be looking for ways in which to repackage and resell the same material to a multitude of different people.

You also need to know what you want to do with your life

Do you want to travel the world and have great adventures? Or would you prefer to spend most days tucked up safely in your own home with your family, your dog and your computer? Do you want to mingle with the rich and famous or expose scandalous tales of how the poor and weak are exploited? Once you know the sort of life you want to lead you’ll be able to look for ways to fit the work you plan to do to your lifestyle. There are ways to become a travel writer and spend months at a time on tropical islands, just as there are ways of getting to meet the sort of people who interest you and ways of turning your favourite hobby into an income.

You can become an expert in anything you like and then write about it

Flick through any magazine or newspaper or turn the television on and surf a few channels and you will see any number of gardeners, chefs, financial advisers, interior decorators, hairdressers, golfers, criminals, spies and odd-job men, all writing or talking about their subjects. That could be you. Just pick your subject and start marketing yourself.

The freelance writing world is a great glorious casino

You may get lucky and end up on a yacht next to J.K. Rowling, or you might just make a good living for a few years. Either way you only stand a chance of succeeding if you get out there and give it a go. Think of your writings as the chips you take into the casino with you. You keep putting them down on the table in the hope that you get a big win, and most of the time you just break even or a bit better. But these chips don’t cost you any money, just a lot of hard work, time and imagination, and every day there’s the chance you’ll hit the jackpot. I believe the game is well worth playing.

Find out more

At the beginning of the nineties I decided to share my knowledge with other writers so I wrote a book called “How to Make Money from Freelance Writing”. It has been so popular that it has stayed in print for ten years. Although it was updated after five years to take into account the growing use of wordprocessors and other modern developments, the last ten years have seen changes so dramatic in the world of freelance writing that only a science fiction author could have predicted them.

Not only have we seen the arrival of stars like John Grisham and J.K. Rowling and the creation of household names like Harry Potter and Bridget Jones, there has been the spread of the Internet, the growing use of e-mail and mobile phones, the introduction of print-on-demand, on-line publishing, e-zines, lap tops and countless other technological developments. I have also been in the business for ten years longer and have learnt a great deal more, experience that I’m happy to impart to those dipping their feet into the market for the first time.

In the “The Freelance Writer’s Handbook” I go into much more detail about exactly how to make it as a writer than space allows me to do here. But if I was asked to give one golden rule for anyone coming into the business to follow, it would be