I’ve been freelance writing for almost a year now. Not full time, but that’s certainly the end goal. I know I’m not the only one with that goal.
There’s a lot to the freelance writing trade besides the writing part, and you need to be savvy about those other parts in order to get your work read and paid for. I’ve had some nominal success and gotten paid for my writing, but it’s taken a lot of research and effort. Also, the kindness of strangers. And the internet.
Mostly the internet.
With that in mind, I figured I’d put together a few of the online resources that have really been guiding lights in my first year of freelancing. Whether you’ve been blogging for years and are trying to figure out how to monetize all your hard work or are looking to get bylines in glossy magazines, all these sources will have something valuable to offer.
The International Freelancer is the blog of Mridu Khullar Relph, a wildly successful freelance writer who’s had bylines in The New York Times, CNN, Ms., and about a million other print and online publications. The site is packed with helpful articles and eBooks about making freelance work: finding the clients, doing the work, and making the money. Mridu is refreshingly honest and open about the challenges she’s faced (and continues to face), and tries to offer as much wisdom as she can to her fellow freelancers. I enjoy not only her words of wisdom, but also following her career and her life. Go to her site if you need inspiration or practical advice. And don’t be afraid to drop her a line — she’s very communicative with her readers.
This is just about the most complete and useful resource there is on freelance writing. There’s the constantly updated writing jobs board (which you can get emailed to you daily with fresh jobs, so you don’t have to scroll through every day), the free eBooks, the list of writing contests and hundreds of how-to articles on writing and the various aspects of the freelance life. Here, you can learn how to write a good query letter, get started ghostwriting, and keep track of your finances. Whenever you have a question about the freelance writing life, turn here first.
I’ve only been using Airtable for a few days, but it’s already made my life a thousand times easier. Airtable is a super-charged spreadsheet system where you can keep track of story ideas, publications to pitch to, editors’ names, what have you. With smart cell functions you can link spreadsheets to other spreadsheets. For instance: the ‘Publications’ column on my ‘Story Ideas’ spreadsheet is linked to my ‘Publications’ spreadsheet — so a new column pops into that ‘Publications’ sheet that lets me know what stories I’ve pitched to or published with each publication in the sheet. Keeping those ideas, editors and per-word rates organized means that you won’t have to go searching when you wonder where the best place is to pitch a certain story.
Don’t write for ‘exposure.’ Unless you literally have zero bylines to your name, you should insist on getting paid for your writing, and, ideally, paid well. You’re trying to make a living from this, right? Who Pays Writers is a database of rates various publications pay that are submitted by freelance writers. It’s certainly not complete and it’s got flaws — I really wish the database was searchable by genre/type, for instance — but it’s a good place to peer through the curtain to see what others are getting paid. And I love the sense of camaraderie and support this site is based on: writers helping other writers get paid what they’re due.
Sometimes you get paid per word, sometimes you get paid a flat rate per article, and sometime you get paid per hour. In my experience, the latter is really the most honest way to charge; sometimes writing 500 words takes you 30 minutes, and sometimes it takes you 4 hours. It all depends on the context. With Toggle, you can track how much time you spend on each task of a certain project, and how much time you spend on each project for a certain client. When it comes time to invoice, simply click the ‘Reports’ tab and narrow your search to find how many billable hours you worked for each client and on each project this week, month, year. You can also download Toggl’s desktop app, which can track your time offline and then sync with the website once you’re back in wi-fi territory.
Whatever type of writing you’re doing, you’ll need to send a few invoices. There are all sorts of more complex accounting apps that can keep track of your income and automatically send invoices for you, but if you’ve only got a handful of clients, the free invoice generator from Invoiced Lite is really all you’ll need. It’s painfully simple — go to the site and you’ll be presented with a blank invoice template (see below) and you just plug in your info and your hours worked, then send the invoice off right from the same page. Easy peasy. Actually getting that invoice paid is frequently much, much harder. Good luck with that.
With these free tools in your pocket, go forth and write some killer stuff. Just remember to get paid.