Freelance Writer Job Guide
We have put our Freelance writers job guide into our "Fun Jobs" section as its a job I enjoy doing and here are my top tips.
1. Freelance writers make money from writing, either full-time or on a part-time basis, though what they write about can vary significantly.
2. As a freelancer, you may make your money writing words for the websites or major multinational businesses, you may be asked to take on a corporate blog or write a charity’s fundraising letters or you could concentrate on journalism and features writing.
3. Attractions of working as a freelance writer include being paid to enjoy your passion (writing), the chance to be your own boss and set your own schedule and the chance to take on new and varied projects each week.
4. However, you are unlikely to ever have a guaranteed, fixed income, something many people may find both highly stressful and, in the case of mortgage applications, highly inconvenient.
5. To go freelance, it’s not enough just to be able to write well; you’ll also need a business head and a tough skin to deal with knockbacks and criticism.
6. You will also need to take responsibility for your own tax affairs.
7. Writing your own blog is a great way of getting started and getting your work out there for prospective clients to see.
8. Use online agencies to register for work during slack periods good examples of these are Odesk and Textbroker, where you set your own hourly rate and people look to hire you on that basis, you are only hired if you want to work.
What Do Freelance Writers Do?
Freelance writers make money from writing, either full-time or on a part-time basis. What they write about varies significantly, however. Indeed, while the job title may conjure up images of typing away for a glamorous newspaper travel or lifestyle feature, the reality is often very different.
In fact, as a freelancer, you may make your money writing words for the websites or major multinational businesses, you may be asked to take on a corporate blog or write a charity’s fundraising letters. Quite simply, if it involves words, there may be a chance to make some money out of it.
Benefits of Working as a Freelance Writer
While it may not all be glamour, freelance writing does have its attractions, among them:
- The ability to get paid to write: it sounds simple, but this is the main draw for many people. Indeed, many freelancers have always held a love of words, so being paid for their writing can be a dream job.
- The chance to learn something new; by its nature, freelancing requires taking on new projects. This can often mean that few days are ever the same and through your work you may get the chance to meet fascinating people, see different parts of the world and try many new things, none of which might be possible with a normal day job.
- The chance to be your own boss and set your own working schedule. Yes, some clients and editors may have strict deadlines, but that doesn’t mean you have to work 9-5. So long as you hit the deadline, you can work early in the morning or right into the night, making freelancing an ideal option for many needing a little extra flexibility.
- The chance to work where ever you are; if you have work to do, a lot of clients won’t insist upon you being in the office, this provides you with flexibility to work from any location, even sat on a beach as long as you have an internet connection.
Aside from the fact that the typical freelance writer is just as likely to be commissioned to write copy for a bathrooms brochure as they are to pen a piece on a new hotel in the Bahamas, there are other prospective downsides to this line of work.
Above all, unless you have a client paying you a retainer for your services, you are unlikely to ever have a guaranteed, fixed income, something many people may find both highly stressful and, in the case of mortgage applications, highly inconvenient.
Moreover, as media organisations slash their budgets, opportunities for professional writers may start to get fewer and fewer over the coming years, making what is already a fiercely competitive industry even more so.
Becoming a Freelance Writer
There are no fixed qualifications for becoming a freelance writer. In theory, anyone can give it a go, and anyone can call give themselves such a title, though whether or not they will make any money is a different matter.
Generally speaking, editors often don’t look for proof of journalism or creative writing qualifications, instead looking for a degree of natural talent, a creative mind and a nose for what would make a good, timely piece.
So, though you don’t need any formal qualifications are training, you may need any or all of the following to make it as a freelance writer:
- The ability to write well
This may sound too obvious to mention, but it’s important to recognise from the start whether or not you are a good writer. So, get someone else to give you an honest, objective opinion of your work and take their views on board.
While you may be able to brush up on your spelling and vocabulary, if you find writing well difficult to begin with, then freelance writing may not be the job for you.
- An organised, reliable nature
It’s something of a cliché in the worlds of both fiction and non-fiction that an editor would prefer to receive an averagely-written piece on time and within the word limit than a piece of absolute genius after a deadline has passed.
Indeed, reliability is an essential quality to have if you want to make a living from writing. So, if you struggle to stay on top of a varied workload, if you struggle to motivate yourself to get work done when there’s no boss breathing down your neck or if you are occasionally forgetful, you may struggle to get ahead in this field.
- A tough skin
Freelance writing is a tough business to be in and, according to some media experts, it’s only going to get tougher.
This means that, no matter how talented you are, you are bound to suffer rejections from editors or prospective clients, making it imperative that you have a thick skin and the ability to take knocks on the chin and persevere rather than getting downhearted.
Firstly, it’s a good idea to think about not just what you’d like to focus on, but a subject – or subjects – you’ve got the most chance of earning a living from writing about. For instance, while you may have a passion for rare porcelain and would love to make money out of your passion, writing about personal finance or parenting will always be a safer bet.
That said, it is possible to write about varied topics for numerous different clients, though you may always struggle to get commissioned to write about niche or specialist topics if you’re not in some way an authority on them (for example, science writing is notoriously difficult for writers without a scientific background to break into.
A good website to check out is Journalism.co.uk it can offer good tips to help you target the area's you want to write in ie. music journalism.
Once you’ve chosen on an area or areas, it’s time to get writing. A good way of getting your work ‘out there’ is to start writing your own blog, updating it regularly and sharing your posts via social media such as Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, look out for websites, as well as small, local publications, that need content; while you are highly unlikely to get paid when you’re starting out this way, it’s a great way to start getting noticed and build up a small portfolio of work you can then use to try and land paid writing gigs.
Once you’ve started putting pen to paper (or at least started typing up finished pieces), it’s time to start promoting yourself. After all, as a freelancer in competition with countless others, nobody else is going to promote your work and the services you offer for you. Again, social media can be highly useful here, giving you a platform to share your work with large numbers of people for free.
Similarly, setting up your own website, where you can showcase your best work and share your contact details may also be a good idea. However, nothing beats getting in touch with editors and potential clients directly rather than simply waiting for them to stumble across your blog or Twitter feed.
Pitching for Work
Unless you’ve gone into freelancing on the back of a long and distinguished career as an agency writer, the chances are it will be down to you to find new work rather than letting the work find you.
Within the profession, submitting ideas to an editor – whether it’s the editor of a newspaper, magazine or even a blog – in the hope of being commissioned to write something for pay is known as ‘pitching’. And, as any freelance writer will tell you, pitching is an art.
While there are no fixed rules, it’s generally regarded as good practice to:
- Contact an editor when they’re likely to be least busy. So, find out the publication day of the newspaper or magazine and email – or if you’re feeling particularly bold, phone – then. Be prepared to give them a couple of weeks to reply and don’t be afraid to send a polite follow-up note.
- Keep pitches short and to the point. An editor may receive hundreds of emails a day, so make sure your message stands out. Make the opening sentence and the email subject line snappy and intriguing and then keep the pitch itself to a maximum of three paragraphs.
- Target the right publications with the right ideas. Don’t for example, send an idea for a piece on knitting to a car magazine. Or don’t even send an idea for a piece on a new car to that same magazine if it’s already been done. Do your homework, get familiar with a host of online and offline publications and target them effectively.
- Try and emphasise why your piece needs to be published, and why you’re the right person to do it. So, emphasise your expertise, as well as your writing skills and your reliability and, if possible, provide example of past work to help make your case.
- With online sites like Odesk and Textbroker you will need to log on and state you are interested in doing the work that is on offer, you could spend a great deal of time pitching for jobs and not get any or you could find that someone really likes your work and wants you to write regularly for them.
As a freelance writer, you will have no guaranteed income; you could earn hundreds of pounds a day as a corporate copywriter or you could write pieces for an upcoming fashion magazine for free.
Either way, you still need to keep on top of your finances. In fact, a good head for business and good maths skills are, at times, just as important as a good way with words, when it comes to making a living from writing. In particular, you’ll need to get up to speed with your invoicing and tax affairs from the very beginning:
As soon as you accept a commission, agree a fee so as to guard against any confusion or problems later on. Also, check whether the fee is payable upon submission or upon publication – if it’s the latter, be wary as you may spend days working hard only to have your work rejected and you left out of pocket.
Once you’ve submitted the piece and had it accepted, submit an invoice for their agreed amount. It’s good practice to set aside a day or two of each month for paperwork and accountancy matters, and always stay on top of what invoices have been paid and what you are owed.
If you’re going freelance, you will need to register as Self Employed with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) right away; failing to notify the tax authorities of your change of status could lead to you being fined.
You will then be required to fill in a Self Assessment form, either online or on paper, each financial year, outlining your earnings, so it’s a good idea to keep on top of your invoicing as you go.
Again, a failure to complete your Self Assessment on time or to declare all your income from freelance writing or other taxable sources could lead to a fine or even prosecution.
What else could I do, being a Freelance Writer isn’t for me?
If you don’t fancy this job then check out our Career Guides section with loads of other job descriptions and ideas for you to look through and consider, from Tourist Guide Jobs to a working as a Veterinary Nurse.
Alternatively you could perform a site search as we have tens of thousands of vacancies or if you need help from the government then visit our job centre online section to locate your nearest jobseekers centre.
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