Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How to Turn Your Writing Dreams into Spending Money, Part II by Jim Bessey

In my first installment here, we talked about having a dream. It was a nice little dream, of you sitting on your couch in your jammies, tapping away on the keyboard and getting paid to do it.

I promised there was a way for you to achieve that dream, but I warned you that there was some work involved. You can find well-paid writing jobs on the Internet in three distinct areas:

     Serious, large-audience bloggers
     National-level industry websites
     Niche-topic magazines

Each of these venues need fresh, high-quality content to continue to attract readers. They are all looking for well-written posts or articles from people who have "expert" knowledge in a narrow topic area. With a bit of work, you can land these better-paying gigs. First, you'll want to decide upon your own best specialty.

Why specialize?

Each of us knows something inside and out. Maybe you are the best gardener in your entire neighborhood. Perhaps you love woodworking--or know all about investing, car repairs, raising dogs, collecting stamps, taking cruises, or a thousand other "niche" topics. That's the key.

We've all heard the time-worn advice, "Write what you know." Let's amend that to, "Write what you love." Of course you can research to augment your own experience, but when you are passionate about a topic it shines like sunrise over Maui. Write about something that makes you glow inside, something you can speak knowledgeably about for hours, and that glow will infuse your efforts. That's the first step.

Next, you have to find a market.

I've written at great length about camping because I love it. The lure of the open road and finding new places. The scent of pine in the air. The crackle of an evening campfire. The time spent bonding with my kids, with the TV and laptop left behind. If I wanted to get paid to write about camping, I'd seek out national websites like Woodall's (a campground directory).

I could also run a group of keyword searches to find big bloggers, other industry websites, and outdoor-themed magazines. Many of these sites will be actively seeking great content. Some will pay a little, while other's might offer $1000 or more for an approved article. You have to hunt for the right opportunity. Then you have to Pitch.

Don't be afraid to Pitch.

It's not as scary as it sounds. Just as you would research agents to find the ones who might be interested in your next Historical Romance, you want to get to know your target market by doing some basic research. In the same way you would research a prospective employer before you applied for a job, you should approach a potential publisher with a clear understanding of their style and scope. Do your homework, and you're halfway to Published.

But before you put yourself out there, you should set yourself up for success. Every professional writing resource I've consulted offers the same basic advice. Let's call it the writers' version of Dress for Success:

     Have at least a one-page basic writer's website for yourself, with an author photo and biographical information--especially showing any credentials or specialized knowledge. Publishers want to know who you are.
     Develop a portfolio of on-topic writing samples. These could include blog posts on your own site, guest posts (free) on related websites, and image "clips" of any articles you've had printed in local publications (also often done for no pay). Feature only your very best work. Quality trumps quantity.
     Brush up on your grammar skills. Sites like Copyblogger offer wonderful articles with headlines like, "11 Compound Word Errors that Might Make You Look like a Numbskull". Read them, learn them, love them--they're addictive. And avoiding common grammar errors will make you look like a seasoned veteran.

How much can you earn if you try?

A lot more than "pennies"! I'm no expert, because I already have a full-time job, and I write for the love of it. But I have industry friends who are experts, and they do very well indeed. Would you like to make an extra $1000 a month? You can absolutely do that.

But you can make more than that. $3000 a month is a reasonable target, if you're willing to do this full time. Even $5000 a month is by no means out of reach. That's quit-your-day-job money, don't you think?

Since I'm not the expert, I'm going to point you toward two experienced writers who are.

     If you love the idea of blogging for pay, please consult the delightful Sophie Lizard, of Be a Freelance Blogger. She has a bit of a potty mouth, but she's a real pro and knows how to help you make money blogging.
     If you'd rather dive into writing freelance articles for industry sites and magazines, get to know Carol Tice, of Make a Living Writing. She's been there, done that, and has amazing resources to jump-start your writing journey.

By the way, those aren't Affiliate Links; I won't earn a penny if you click them. So why send you to either expert's site? Because I know them, and trust them both. You can learn from either writer for free, or pay them to give you in-depth help.

Which brings me to final point. It's an important one, too. NETWORK. Get to know other writers and site owners in your chosen field. Make friends without regard to reward. Join a writers' group or online forum. Comment on blog posts in your niche. Be courteous, interested, and helpful.

You can never have too many friends. And we all know about those "doors" that open, sometimes mysteriously so. Well, you'll have to knock on some doors. Meet some new people. Bring a cherry pie and a smile, and you'll be amazed at how welcoming strangers can be.

Who knows? Maybe a year from now, with some hard work and dedication, YOU can be the one opening your door to welcome a friend who's just beginning her writing journey. You'll smile warmly and say, "Let me help you learn how to make money from your writing. If I can do it, so can you."

Have you ever earned some cash for your writing? What did you learn about the business in the process? Who has taken time to help you along the way?

Jim still earns about $2 a month from his 80+ revenue-share articles posted on Helium.com. Much more valuable, however, are the friendships he made there.
Today, Jim and his writing friends engage in friendly cash-prize writing competitions on his website SoWrite.Us.com. He'd love to meet you there, and introduce you to the rest of 


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

This post is so encouraging and motivating. I have never tried to write for money, but this sure makes me want to try! Thanks for all the great information.

Julia M. Reffner said...


You can do it! This is one of my goals for next year for my writing to become self-supporting.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Wow, this is great. I am going to have to go back and check out the first post. I love Jim's ideas for places to look for paid writing opportunities. How interesting is it that, even when we're trying to make money for these kinds of writing jobs, we should write about what we're passionate about. Thanks for sharing this, Julia and Jim!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Awesome stuff here, Jim! "Write what you love." Such good advice for the journey! Thanks for being on the Alley!!

Anonymous said...

Inspiring! I appreciated this post very much!

Glorygarden@msn.com said...

Great advice, Jim, as always!

Conny said...

Earning $3,000 to $5,000 a month with writing Jim? I wish. I make some money with writing, but nowhere near that figure.
All in all good advice though. I'll look into the tips you gave.

Jim Bessey said...

@Sherrinda, thanks. I was hoping for a few "I can do that!"s. Best of luck to you with wherever your writing takes you.

@Julia: I have faith in you. You have a natural talent that should serve you well on the way to your goals.

@Jeanne: I'm so pleased you like this advice! Too often we convince ourselves that "writing for money" has to be dreary and tedious. Thanks for reading!

@Amy Leigh: You're entirely welcome. You're right that it's a journey, not a sprint.

@paradise: Glad you found this inspiring. We all need a little inspiration to keep working toward our dreams.

@Glory: Thanks for your boundless enthusiasm. You always make me smile.

Jim Bessey said...

Those numbers are hard to hit selling books, Connie--unless you have quite a few of them and a loyal audience. (Connie writes beautiful books!)

It's discouraging that we writers view pay at that level as "impossible" or otherwise out-of-reach. Plenty of folks who claim to hate their jobs make salaries equal to or higher than those figures.

That's why I've pointed to a couple of writing experts. They know the "secrets"--which aren't actually secret, of course--that can help determined writers learn how to make their keyboards pay the bills.

Hope you achieve your dreams, one way or another, Connie!

Conny said...

I didn't mean hitting that figure by selling books Jim, I meant earning that much with writing articles and blogging.
BTW this site is beautiful. I went looking for Blogpost, but I ended up with Blogger.
Is this perhaps your private domain?

Julia M. Reffner said...

Conny, Look forward to hearing more about your books. Good luck with your ventures into freelancing!

And thanks for the compliment on our site. We plan to have some surprises for our readers in the not too distant future.

Glory & Paradise: So glad you were able to find inspiration in Jim's post.

Carol Tice said...

Hi Jim -- thanks for including me in this post!

There are many more than three niches in online writing. I've written $2,000 online articles for Fortune 500 companies' websites, to name just one you didn't touch on.

I thought it was funny that you said Sophie was the blogging expert and my expertise was something else...I'm best known for a post I did a while back about how I used to make $5,000 a month from blogging:

I have broad-ranging experience writing for businesses, magazines, and online.

I see above the usual disbelief that anyone makes a real living as a writer. I'll just say I've been doing it since 2005 and made more each year. I made $100K as a freelancer in 2011 -- here's my breakdown on that:

When you hang around content mills or Elance it may be impossible to imagine earning professional rates, but there's a whole world of real clients once you leave those behind and start prospecting to find your own clients, and learn how to qualify prospects.

Again, thanks for raising the issue of how to earn well as a freelancer!


Julia M. Reffner said...


Thanks so much for the links! I'm excited to check it out! I know they'll be of help to our readers.

Carol Gyzander said...

Hi Jim,

I always love your writing! My favorite point here is the advice to specialize in something you love. Passion for the subject can take you over some rough spots!

(another) Carol

Conny said...

Julia Reffner, if you'd like to find out more about my books, I have a website you can visit (www.wix.com/connymanero/home)

Carol Tice, I would love to know more about your freelancing business. If you can make that kind of money with writing, I'm all ears.
Is there a way that we can talk? My email address is conny.manero@gmail.com

Cristina Sierra said...

Great post - I've pitched a few times but never thought about creating a bio that outlines what I've done and what I focus on. I will do that right away!

Mike Martel said...

Great post Jim. Specialization on a particular niche is so important these days. Readers have a very short attention span. They need to see within a second or so that you are writing to their needs and interests. By narrowing down your topic you will catch their attention and they will stick around to read your great writing.

Thanks for the reminder.

Veronica Shine said...

Great article Jim. Very informative.

Unknown said...

Hey Jim, thanks for including me! For anyone considering freelance blogging, I invite you to download a free copy of my Ultimate List of Better-Paid Bloggig Gigs with 45 blogs that pay $50 or more per post: http://beafreelanceblogger.com/betterpaidbloglist

Carol offers a ton of info on blogging, too. (I think her highest-ever rate per blog post actually tops mine by about $50.) She's been a great mentor to me via her Freelance Writers Den. :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Cristina, Glad it was helpful.

Mike, great tip about narrowing topic choices.

Veronica, Good luck and hope the information helps!

Sophie, Thanks for your free offer for our readers. I look forward to checking it out.

Jim Bessey said...

Thanks so much, Carol and Sophie, for taking the time to stop by and improve on my advice. Really appreciate your time. And, Carol, consider me enlightened! -smile-

@Connie: You can do it! I knew what you meant, but didn't respond to your comment clearly. My apologies.

@Carol G: Thank you very much!

@Christina: Yup, a great portfolio can do wonders for your confidence, focus, and "pitch accepted" letters. Best of luck to you!

@Mike: You are so right! Passion for a topic can ring clearly right from the headline and intro. Great point, thanks!

@Veronica: Thanks so much for reading. Hope you are having all the success you can handle!

Unknown said...

Jim, this is a great follow-up to Part I. You've provided some great, encouraging advice.

I am taking Carol Tice's Audit Blast-off Class now and just joined her Writer's Den today. I have already taken steps towards writing for mags. I think your advice about groups is so important - this is something that would be very hard to figure out on your own.

Thanks for the help

Jim Bessey said...

That's fantastic, Rhonda!

I've heard wonderful things about The Writer's Den. Funny, too--my first writing website was called Writers' Den Magazine (long gone).

Glad you found the info helpful. Here's to your continued success!