Make That Money Smartly

Maybe it’s the Think and Grow Rich calendar I have on my desk. Maybe it’s the focus of my just-published book. But money seems to motivate me. Economic considerations aren’t the only reason I write — I like to think my work makes some contribution to my readers’ lives — but monetary compensation validates me, and I think I’m not alone.

What about you? Would you like to earn more money from your writing this year? (Or, perhaps, earn some money from your writing!) It doesn’t matter whether you’re a full-time, part-time, or whenever-you-can-grab-a-minute-time writer, you can apply these strategies to make more money from your writing–even double what you earned last year. Heck, would you like to start a business? This site has a regional breakdown of the best small business opportunities in the Bay area.

But first, you must have a goal.

Even one as simple as “I want to double my writing income. ” Or, “I want to earn enough to buy a computer.” Or a down payment for a new car. Now put a dollar figure to that goal, write it down, and post it over your workspace.

One caution about setting this goal: Be realistic. If you’ve never published a word, a six-figure goal may be overly optimistic. Work toward something that you believe is within reach, or you may be too intimidated to write at all.

Once you’ve posted your goal on the wall, you’re ready to take these 11 steps to meet it.

Get Published Quickly

The amount of payment doesn’t matter, at least initially. Aim for quantity of acceptances rather than quantity of cash. The idea is to get published for psychological reasons. Even a $15 check boosts your confidence and propels you forward. In time, these quick sales will help finance your work on long-range projects that might not pay off for years to come. (The sidebar beginning on page 26 explains three quick-sale opportunities.

You might say that the various quick-sale prospects aren’t in your areas of expertise. Don’t be afraid of a creative challenge; try new and different forms of writing. Worst case scenario: You decide you weren’t suited for some form of writing. Best case: You broaden your horizons and earn more money. Author Tom Peters says, “If you’re not taking risks, you probably lose automatically. If you try and fail, you always learn something from it.”

Work on Spec

Writing “on speculation” means an editor has expressed interest in your article idea but has not backed up that interest with an assignment (and its promise of an eventual purchase).

While writing on spec is usually frowned on by professional writers, it’s also accepted as the norm when breaking into freelance writing. It’s harder to get assignments based on queries if you have no samples of previously published articles, But you can’t get these clips if you never publish. So writing on speculation is often a first step and a last resort.

That’s okay. Just be sure to limit the number of articles you write this way. In the initial stages of my career, I wrote three articles on spec for a motor club magazine after the editor said she wanted to see them. She never used them, and never gave me a reason. She lost my trust, and I lost out on three sales. I would have done better to refuse the second and third “on spec” arrangements.

Ask for a Raise

Once you’ve worked for an editor or other writing client once or twice, ask for a higher fee the next time around. The first couple assignments you must prove your worth. After that, you are no longer an unknown quantity. The person making the assignment knows you, your work, and your professionalism–and should be willing to pay more for them. Experience does have its rewards.

Never Say No to Nonfiction

Several years ago, I set out to write a romance novel. To that point all my sales consisted of magazine, newspaper and public relations pieces (all nonfiction), yet I never considered proposing a nonfiction book. It wasn’t until an agent suggested that one of my magazine pieces might be the basis for a book idea that I gave the notion a thought. Once I did, I realized that nonfiction offered me more money than writing novels. If I wanted to have a stable income and write with ease, I needed to focus on these areas. That’s because the opportunities in nonfiction are endless.

Explore All the Angles

You might do one type of writing very well, but don’t forget to see where else that talent might take you.

For example, if you specialize in travel writing, continue to pitch your writing services to magazines and newspapers (your obvious markets). But also approach public relations and advertising firms regarding travel accounts, convention and visitor’s bureaus that need writing and consulting services, as well as libraries and community centers that sponsor travelogues. If you enjoy submitting the occasional recipe, suggest a column to your local newspaper, a cookbook collaboration to an area celebrity or nonprofit organization, or a recipe card to a greeting card company.

If you write a lot of historical articles or articles about a favorite subject, fascinate a new audience with your knowledge by contributing to children’s magazines and books.

Lyricists might try writing concert reviews, advertising jingles or even teaching a class to wanna-be songwriters. Desktop publishers can earn extra income producing newsletters, brochures, manuals, annual reports and direct mail pieces. Public relations practitioners can add executive speeches, grant proposals, manuals, technical writing and broadcast copy to their range of services.

Check Your Backyard

Looking for your first client? You might begin your search at “home” — your current or former employer. People who are familiar with your work are more likely to trust you with a new task. And at crunch time, they’ll appreciate being able to turn to someone they know.

This also applies to places where you’ve worked as a temporary employee. When I graduated from college and was looking for my first job, I coordinated department store merchandise for the Christmas catalog. Folks in the advertising department got to know me, my background and what I really wanted to do — which was write. Guess who got some freelance copywriting assignments in a matter of weeks?

Ask for More

It’s a business axiom that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients. Keep your current clients and editors happy by delivering what you promise, on time and in proper format. Then ask for more work. Suggest new projects and columns. Write queries even when your work and reputation are well established.

Multiply Your Markets

Too often, writers invest large amounts of time researching and writing one feature story. When they complete the project, they shelve the material and set their sights on something new. Big mistake! Multiply your profits. Brainstorm for different angles, using the time and materials you already have in hand.

When I interviewed TV’s Fred Rogers on the 25th anniversary of his neighborhood, I did so for an airline inflight magazine. But at the same time, I realized this topic had profit potential elsewhere. All told, I sold two question-and-answer pieces, a feature on Pittsburgh (Mr. Rogers real-life neighborhood), two reading articles, a travel filler on a Mr. Rogers theme park, and a child-care story for parenting newspapers. I also received a finder’s fee from a national newspaper for ideas its editors assigned in house.

Once you’ve sold first or one-time rights, sell reprint rights and consider self-syndicating your work, especially to newspapers in other geographic markets.

Be Visible

Offer to teach a class or speak before a civic, church or student group, even volunteering to speak gratis if there’s no budget for a speaker. Appear at craft demonstrations, storytellings, and informational lectures, some of which are sponsored by bookstores. All this exposure creates further name recognition and brings you additional word-of-mouth advertising, work and, ultimately, income. If your business is new, and no one is talking about you, then you do the talking until others praise your efforts.

Photography Pays

Not only does photography supplement your writing income (photos usually bring extra payment), but it’s also required by an increasing number of editors. Even when they aren’t required, crisp, clear 35mm slides or black-and-white prints often clinch the sale.

Photography adds immediacy to your article. It conveys an ambience that sometimes can’t be achieved through words alone. And photography provided by the writer saves the editor or art director a great deal of time searching for ways to illustrate your story.

Writing generally requires a certain amount of visual thinking to begin with. So if you can learn to translate this vision onto film, you can turn this talent into a profitable side business selling photography. And it doesn’t require hundreds of dollars to start out.

Most writers prefer a single-lens reflex camera (SLR) with interchangeable lenses, but I’ve known many writers who achieve equivalent sales using automatic 35mm models. These “idiot cameras” (as they’re called by the pros) choose your shutter speed and aperture opening and frame the shot for you.

As you shoot, remember a few basics. First, editors love color. Given the choice between a brown building and a bright red one, shoot the red, It adds to the appeal.

Second, take action shots. Just as your words must show instead of tell, so must your photography. Avoid images of people stiffly posed along the wall. Instead, photograph your subjects doing whatever your story is about. Also, watch your background and keep it free of clutter that distracts from your subject.

Don’t overlook variety. Take sufficient photographs from various angles and viewpoints. Shoot as much film as you want, as it’s better (and less expensive) than repeating your trip. And don’t neglect to take a number of vertical slides. This gives the art director more design options, and it’s crucial if you want to be considered for cover photography.

Provide captions and obtain releases to send with your photographs. Photographer’s Market tells whether model releases are required. As a rule of thumb, if a person is recognizable, or if the shot could be used in advertising, you should obtain a release.

Leave a Reply