Welcome to Part Two of my Pitch to the Top™ story, where I will give you some advice on how to get paid to write.
Part Two is admittedly a little less survival-oriented than Part One, in which I told you about my unpaid writing internship at a local permaculture school. There was no food foraging or free labor required for Part Two — however, it’s not exactly great.
Soon I will tell you how I went from teaching kindergarten to writing for CNBC in under two years (coming later in this series). But first, let’s talk about how to get paid to write.
I got my first paid writing gig in 2014, not long after I’d written my first published blog posts at my unpaid internship and could finally prove my skill.
My first paid writing gig
At the time, I was living on the occupied ancestral land of the Cherokee (or Aniyvwiya, or Keetoowah, or Tsalagi, or Catawba) — what’s now Asheville, NC. Many people associate Asheville with yoga, hippies, hot springs, beer, and all-around “good vibes.” So, naturally, I wound up writing for a yoga website.
The Craigslist post advertised $30 per 600-word article. It probably said something like “steady work and rate increases for the right person” — the ultimate red flag! — and my optimistic, something-to-prove inner self shouted “pick me!”
That’s the thing about the low-paying gigs. They seem like an easier way to get your foot in the door. But if you’re not careful, they can turn into a trap. I wrote for this website for over a year before I realized I couldn’t live that life, and that if I really wanted to be a writer as a living, I’d have to get business-savvy.
What’s a good starting rate for new writers?
There’s no easy answer. To be a well-paid writer, you need talent and professionalism. And neither talent nor professionalism cares how much experience you have or what your degrees are. If you can write, you can get paid to write.
That said, experience sharpens talent. And commanding higher rates is easier when there’s proof of your skills out there on the internet already. Unless you have ample bylines (published pieces under your name), employers and clients may ask you to write an unpaid test sample before paying you.
I’ve done free test articles before. But I don’t any more. Over the years, I’ve ticked my rate up from $30 per article to over $500 in some cases. I can be more selective about the kinds of articles I want to write and don’t.
A beginning writer has to gauge what is a fair rate for themselves. Your rate is a combination of a) industry norms, b) how well you can articulate your unique value, and c) the expected return on investment (ROI) that your client believes they will get from your work. Every client is wondering how well their investment in your writing aligns with their business goals. (I know, because I’ve hired freelance writers to work for me, too!)
What are the best niches to get paid to write in?
Ask yourself: Do you want to work in a profitable niche like finance, SaaS, education, business, and technology, or are you motivated by sharing ideas in a locally-circulated zine or on your blog? And how fast can you sustainably write articles – are you someone who likes to churn out easy-to-read FAQ articles at $200 a pop, or do you like to do deep research involving multiple sources and charge something more like $800 for a 1,000-word story?
Knowing your strengths will help you confidently sell yourself to a new client, and it will also help you decide how much to charge. The complex, $800 story might take one whole week to finish, whereas some writers can write 10 or more easy articles and make $2,000+ a week writing two stories every day. I once knew a woman who wrote 3-5 articles per day and sometimes made over $10,000 per week!
Every writer must decide whether they are the McDonalds of writers ($1 hamburgers, $150 quick-and-easy pieces) or the slow-cooked, slow-marinated filet mignon. Then, build a website and a portfolio to prove it.
Of course, I wish all writers would charge $800+ per story. That way we all could collectively command higher rates because we wouldn’t be undercutting one another.
But truthfully, there’s no wrong or right way to charge — it’s just a matter of finding clients who see your value and are willing to pay you however fits into your workflow.
Do you have to go to college for writing to get paid to write?
Emboldened by my new $30-per-hour writing gig back in 2014, I decided to pay for a master’s degree in creative writing at a small, liberal arts school during my years in Asheville.
Somehow the new gig would cover the tuition payments, I told myself (they didn’t). However, I don’t regret going to college for writing. My master’s degree connected me with much-needed mentors who created the incubator in which I discovered my talent. But I know plenty of freelance writers who didn’t study writing in college and/or grad school. Again — if the proof is in the pudding, you just need really great pudding.
Getting paid to write is more common than you think, and even beginners have the power to negotiate. Once, a writing coach told me to automatically ask “can you double that rate?” whenever someone shares with you their budget. I prefer to go in with my own personal rates and lead the conversation instead of getting sucked into a negotiation with a low-baller — but we all have our own negotiation styles.
If you’re curious what you can charge (and suspect you’re under-charging), try doubling your quoted prices for one week just to see the reaction. Don’t abruptly shock your current clients or make a move that will lose you business, but maybe try out of curiosity and see if it changes the way you perceive your value.