So you want to be writer, huh? Seems like a job that can be easily accomplished by someone with a strong grasp of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure and a few noteworthy ideas to share, right? Not necessarily. The primary reason new writers enter the market is to make a living doing something they love. This reason, while logical, is juxtaposed. The primary reason for writing should be to do something you love and make a living out of it. The emphasis being; SOMETHING YOU LOVE. Because if you don’t love it, you won’t live it and if you don’t live it, you will probably not earn a living at it. Here are a few keys to living and working like a writer:
Read, read, and read…
You can’t be a successful writer if you don’t read and there are several things you should be reading. The most successful business people in any industry get there in part by keeping up to date on changes in the business, new policies, better ways to do things, new philosophies in the industry, etc… Writers must do the same. Read books and online content about writing, read style guides, keep reference materials and actually use them. Read about the things you write about. You need to see the good, the mediocre, and the down right ridiculous in your genre so that you can identify it and strive not to duplicate the mistakes of others. If you’re a blogger, read high traffic blogs and try to identify the roots of their popularity. If you’re a novelist, read books in your genre. It’s amazing how much better a writer one can become by seeing examples of what not to do! Read to be informed about the world. Your readers tastes change as the world around them changes and you need to know what topics are fresh and interest worthy. Finally, read so you can shift yourself in to the mindset of a reader. That way, when you re-read your own work, it will be easier to distance yourself and see the story from a readers point of view.
Have a desk – even though you may not use it very often
Every business person needs a home base. They need somewhere that feels like the “office”. From a psychological standpoint, it makes you feel credible. With today’s technology, writers are more likely to prop up a laptop in their laps while sitting in bed than to lock themselves in their home office but having the option of going to the “office” makes your writing profession feel real.
Introduce yourself as a writer
This is one that I still find myself struggling with even after publishing hundreds of articles and four books. When I left my traditional career, everyone I saw on the street asked, “What are you doing now?” and I struggled for an answer. Mostly because I was picking up odd work at home contract jobs and thought that somehow defining those was a better answer than saying I am a writer. I feared the stigma of “starving artist”. I was afraid they would walk away saying, “She doesn’t have a job. She’s sitting at home trying to be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.” Then one day I realized, “If I don’t think I’m a writer, how can I expect anyone else to?”
Write for the love of it
If a topic doesn’t interest you, you will likely write about it with little interest. Every piece of work you put out for the public should be written with a keen interest and compiled with passion. Your readers may not experience a passionate awakening when they read your article about kitchen cleaners, but they will hear the energy in your voice if you feel passionately about kitchen cleaners and your words, through your passion, will be more credible and interesting.
Actively engage with other writers and readers
You need a community of like minds to keep you fresh and on top of your game. Gone are the days of the loner writer locked up in a woodsy location. Today, you need a network to get ahead and to reach an audience. Take classes and seminars, go to local library functions, visit the local coffee houses and indie books stores, maybe take in a poetry reading or two. Use social networking to connect with other authors, readers, and resources like cover designers, editors, reviewers, and publishers. Connect for success, and remember, the greatest work will remain unknown if it isn’t marketed and connecting with people who have an interest in your content is the easiest way to market it.
Write with the understanding that you may never make a dime from it
If you can come to terms with the idea that you may never sell a single word and you still feel the overwhelming desire to write then it is highly likely that you will be a successful writer. Why? Because it is in your blood. Writing is a method of happiness for you and when you write to fulfill the human need for happiness, you write from your soul. Reader’s can identify “soul writers” and they stand out in a crowd of hacks who have lost their passion and now write for a paycheck. Readers will be drawn to you, and if you write well, you will see a return on your investment.
I have spent a great deal of my time posting informational articles on online content sites for some time now. As many of you know, I was recently laid off from a career that drove me and provided for my family for over eight years, so yes, one of my primary desires in writing for these sites was to earn an income. I love to write, but with no job, I couldn’t devote a lot of time to unprofitable devices. I also supply content to SEO sites that sell my articles anonymously, allowing the purchasers to take credit for my work and as any writer knows, there is a certain sting that comes from selling your work without a buy line. It’s a hard pill to swallow. So, let’s look at this online writing thing.
The ugly truth
No matter how good you are, or think you are, it is difficult to earn an income from writing for the web. Content source sites like Helium, Suite 101, Bright Hub, and Associated Content don’t pay well. When you do earn an upfront payment on an article, it is only a dollar or two and you have to spend more time marketing than writing in order to see a return from revenue share. It takes a great deal of research to figure out how to write strategically for profit and you need a keen understanding of how search engines work and what topics are popular and trending. Writing articles for SEO content sites that require you to give up all rights to your work may pay a bit better. Writer Access pays a decent rate for highly rated authors and even Textbroker will earn you more upfront as a 3 star writer than Associated Content pays out in upfront payments. Helium does seem to provide a better stream of residual income than the others mentioned here and, if you do the leg work by posting links to your articles in places like StumbleUpon, Digg, and Reddit, you can see your traffic and page views grow.
To make a living in the business, you can’t depend on these sites. You MUST market yourself and your business on Freelance Job Boards, bid on assignments, and develop your own professional client base. You can, however, supplement your income with these content source sites with earning potentials in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. The key lies in the quality of the content and the frequency of publishing. That said, it would be far too depressing to boil that down to an hourly rate! Sites like Constant-Content are good launching points for writers that are new to the game. Here you can post work for customers to browse and possibly purchase and you can accept assignments that have been posted by customers. This may not be the long term solution, but it is a good place to refine your skills and build your confidence.
Evil doers, many from foreign countries and lacking a conscience when it comes to stealing from the fat and spoiled Americans have seen the struggles associated with this business and have developed scams to steal your work, your identity and more so you must always be diligently on the lookout for fraud. One such criminal hires writers under the guise of an educational non-profit and tells writers that their parent company accidentally sent them a check for more than their monthly fee. They ask the writer to cash the check, keep their payment, and send back the remaining funds. Anyone who does this will end up getting arrested for check fraud because the checks are fake.
A lot of the online content sites like Triond, for example, have a very bad reputation because they allow anyone to publish there and lack editorial influence. Poor grammar, spelling, and SPAM abound on sites like this. This is not an American company and many of the writers here speak English as a second or third or fourth language. Because their quality of work is horrendous, good writers on the site suffer from poor rankings on search engines. Sites with better reputations work very hard to keep them and may have stringent editorial guidelines. For some new writers in the game, this may mean more rewrites and editing. In many cases, it just isn’t worth the money in the end.
Finally, the good
Writing for reputable online content sources provides you with an opportunity to become published and build a portfolio. You now have a growing stockpile of links that can be used to provide potential customers and employers with access to your work. The more you write, the better you become. These sites allow you to hone your skills and develop as a web writer, which is a bit different than writing for print. Many of these sites have online training courses that are accessible to their writers providing them with a free education on things like marketing, grammar, and AP style guidelines.
These sites are communities of writers and it is possible to make valuable connections here. Writers learn from each other, collaborate and critique each others work, and share information that can lead to higher paying jobs and valuable partnerships. If you are writing for one of these sites, or thinking about doing so, don’t despair. Look at the reality of the business and know that these endeavors will not make you rich but can reward you with a free education, experience, and an online presence if you can manage to invest some time in them.
Online petition writing on sites like Force Change can provide up to $7 per piece in earnings and give you the personal satisfaction of supporting causes that you are passionate about. I have written for them and they are helpful, courteous, and pay their writers on time via monthly PayPal deposits.