I would like to write for money

I hope this is the correct forum for this sort of post.

I’m never going to write the great American novel. Miss Roberts and Mister Pitt will never call to tell me that they just love my screenplay and are just dying to go over the details with me. I don’t have a degree in communications or even in liberal arts. My day job involves USB cables, flowcharts, and unix manuals. But I really like to write.

I’m not too picky, either. I could write a TV commercial. A speech. An instruction manual for an automatic coffee pot. Writing is everywhere. I assume that there are people out there who are writing the advertisements, the speeches, the instruction manuals, and every other bit of the written word that seems to be everywhere in our culture.

Who are these people who do all of this writing, and how do I get to be one of them?

You write.

Once you’ve developed your skills, look for technical writing jobs in your area. Some places that use writers include ad agencies, and any company that has a product and needs a user’s manual.

I’d suggest you also volunteer for any writing needed at your current job. If you can write a simplified version of one of the manuals that stresses how your company uses things, it’d be good for your job, and you can use it to build a portfolio.

Otherwise, just keep at it.

Ah! A portfolio! Excellent idea. I hadn’t thought of that.

I’m really just trying to find out who hires freelance writers (I doubt that I’ll be quitting my regular job anytime soon.) Ad agencies. I’d considered that, but then just assumed that they have people on staff for that sort of thing. I will certainly get in touch with them, though. I guess newspapers would also be a good place. Thanks :slight_smile:

Large newspapers will not use freelancers except for experts on very specific topics. You might check for local weekly newspapers, newsletters, culture/event papers and the other small sheets that are often found being given away on streetcorners. They won’t pay much, if anything, but since you’re only looking to build up your portfolio they’re a good place to volunteer.

Be advised that commercials and speeches seem easy but are actually highly specialized fields requiring years of experience and expertise. Start with something more general and build upward.

“Dear Mom…”

There is a book called “Writer’s Market,” available at your local bookstore or library, that contains information on 1700 magazines and 1100 book publishers, including how to contact them, what they buy, and what they pay. To sum up how to get started in freelance magazine writing: 1. have an idea 2.shop it around to relevant publications 3. get published and paid! (It’s simple, but its not easy). Writing for free or a nominal fee for local newspapers or events periodicals is a good way to get started – most publications that pay good money will want to see “clips” (previously published work).

“Writing instruction manuals for coffeepots” is called Technical Writing. I think if you search that, there have been some relatively recent threads on it.

There’s an excellent book by Jenna Glatzer called Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments that is very easy to read and understand. I haven’t finished the book, but I think it concentrates mostly on magazines and trade journals. It might still have useful information for you.

Talking to other freelancers in the field you’re in -can- be helpful. Sometimes. I got my first writing job by just sort-of ‘hanging out’ with others in my field. It’s a hit-or-miss tactic: Some writers are paranoid about losing their own jobs to newcommers, and will -not- be helpful. I find this happens more often with screenwriters. Still, just talking to folks in the field and getting advice and opinions can often be worth it, even if it doesn’t get you ‘the job’.

One more note about newspapers: Some large papers (including my present employer) have begun running neighborhood sections composed entirely of reader-submitted material. While I abhor this practice from a journalistic standpoint (“Hey readers, come write our paper for us for free!”), it’s a good and easy (and only slightly shady) way to build up a clip file. You won’t get paid, but you could get published.

Another market for building up a portfolio of published works is WriteForCa$h.com. not very remunerative, but they do pay, and have easy article requirements.

And write. Every day.

Hey, thanks for all the good suggestions. Especially yours, Biffy :slight_smile:

Sadly, from http://www.writeforcash.com:

Two of my semi-local papers do have Community sections for freelance, unpaid articles, and I will be looking for both Miss Glatzer’s book and the Writers’ Market at the library tomorrow. My boss won’t let me write a manual, though, because, technically, the NDAs prohibit it.

Thanks for the help, everyone, but keep the ideas coming.

My wife and I publish a small, monthly magazine with a circulation of 5,000 in our town. We have a few monthly contributers and pay them $1 a column inch. It’s not a whole lot, but our local restaurant/food critic gets around $50 for his column, which is more than the larger regional daily would pay for a piece of similar length from a freelance correspondent.

Few people approach us about writing even though in every issue we mention that we accept stories. Perhaps the writers in our area have their sights set on larger publications.

Prior to our starting our own publication, my wife edited the local weekly newspaper. She paid writers for stories on everything from school committee meetings to softball games. When she left the newspaper, she did a little freelance writing for another local publication and was paid pretty well. Nearly all of the local publications around here pay their writers, even if the publications are distributed for free.

I suggest you look at all of the local publications you can find. Read what they’re publishing. See if there’s anything you might be able to contribute. Give 'em a call and find out if they’ll look at your work.

Most publishers are on the lookout for good dependable writers.

Best of luck.

[QUOTE=Coffee Manic]
Ah! A portfolio! Excellent idea. I hadn’t thought of that.

I’m really just trying to find out who hires freelance writers (QUOTE]

once you know what you LIKE to write about, look for those magazines that typically publish those types of works, then write about something appropriate for that magazine, submit it w/good cover letter, stating you’re a freelance writer and greatly appreciate if your enclosed article may be considered for their next publication… blah blah blah. First-person pieces are easier to sell, imho.

good luck!

For over ten years I earned a living just by writing stuff. Here’s my advice.

  1. Forget journalism and writing general-purpose articles. Freelancers hardly get a look in, because it’s mostly a friends network. Editors commission people they know (mainly old friends). Even if you do get work, it won’t be much and the pay sucks.

  2. Don’t waste too much time or money soliciting advice or reading books on this. If you have the basic aptitude, that’s all you need. The rest you learn by doing, and persistence.

  3. I’ll tell you right now the two easiest fields to get into, where you can get regular work and be relatively well-paid.

First, technical writing anywhere within the IT industry. There’s no coding or computer programming involved. You’ve got a room full of boffins writing the software. They need someone who can explain what it does and how to use it, in user manuals and help text. Aim for a full-time job first, learn the industry, then go freelance. How do you get that first break? There’s no magic answer. It’s knocking on doors, placing your name and resume with IT recruitment agencies, making calls, being determined and taking whatever comes along so you can build your experience, your portfolio and your contacts. Also, make sure you are easily contactable by anyone who might need work done at short notice. You’d be amazed how many people can’t be reached when someone is desperate to give them well-paid work. Eventually, when you go freelance, you can really hit the jackpot. If you have a name as a good, reliable freelance tech writer, you can earn VERY good money.

Second of all, the ‘below the line’ industrial audio-visual sector. Let me explain. ‘Above the line’ refers to the large-scale broadcast media: radio, TV and press. ‘Below the line’ refers to all the less expensive non-broadcast ways that companies use communications media. Examples: corporate newsletters sent to a small number of subscribers/customers, corporate presentations, live events, mailshots, speeches, PR events and so on. You can get work writing this sort of stuff. Full-time jobs are possible but scarce, freelance is the norm.

How to get started in this field? Print up your business card, your promo card and a nice introductory letter. Send this to every company and business in your region. Follow up every letter with a friendly phone call saying ‘If you need something writing, and you want it written well, I’m the person you want’. Keep going until you get work. Eventually, if you’re good, word-of-mouth will do the rest and you’ll never be short of work. The keys are: always be ultra-professional and reliable; never let anyone down; be easy to reach and communicate with; always turn in 100% excellent work; the client is always right (even the pig-headed ignorant ungrateful cheap ones); smile a lot and take the knocks with a grin.

  1. If all that sounds like hard work, and you really can write well, then set up a website and earn money be selling information products. You want t know more? Go search on ‘Corey Rudl’ and learn how it’s done. don’t buy everything Corey throws at you (you’ll spend way too much). Just invest enough in his internet marketing info to learn all the basics of how it’s done. I’ve done this too, and I run a website that brings in enough money to live on (I was able to literally walk out of my old job and never look back, so now I work for myself). But you need to be able to write something that people will want, people will read and people will find useful. If you aren’t good enough to do that, you’re sunk. If you are, the sky’s the limit.

Just one word of warning about ianzin’s otherwise very useful post.

I used to make a very nice living at technical writing (software manuals, specifications, help documentation, all that stuff). When the dot-com bust hit, however, I and every other freelancer in the area stopped working.

Not only that, but the tech schools were filled with people who were riding the trend and were graduating as technical writers. Some of them got hired to replace the freelancers (they cost a lot less) and the rest…

Today the very words “technical writer” can be a handicap. I’m told that “document manager” or somesuch euphemism is looked at more favorably.

Now, I’m sure that this varies by locality and by industry. The best advice I can give is to try to find some people who are currently doing this type of work and pick their brains about what’s happening today.

Hmm… I’m a writer who’s thinking of going into a certification program for tech writing. I’d be interested in hearing others’ experience with that.

Yes, I’d go along with Exapno’s post. I’ve been out of the IT scene for a while, so it can’t hurt to get in touch with people who may have more contemporary, up-to-date knowledge about the opportunities that are out there. I would say that the opportunities are still there. However, – as Exapno said – maybe the actual term ‘tech writer’ isn’t very used or very popular right now, and you have to use whatever term or jargon is in vogue.

Having spent over ten years earning a living just by writing, let me pass on a few observations that amplify what I said before. I found that pretty much every company in every industrial sector occasionally needs a good writer, so your potential market is huge.

Some companies know they need a writer… but they don’t know where to go. This is why you can never send your details out to too many people or companies, inviting them to stash your details somewhere until they need you.

Some companies don’t know they need a writer or what the benefit of hiring a pro writer would be. So they churn out badly-written rubbish that doesn’t serve their own interests very well (this was especially true when cheap DTP sfotware came along). On numerous occasions I have offered to show a company that I can take the crap they’re sending out now, and re-write and revise it so that they will think it’s better and so will their customers and potential customers. I used to do this for free, on a small item that wouldn’t take me more than 20-30 minutes to work on (e.g. a single flyer or email promotion). I would then leave my details with them, and I knew that in 90% of cases I would get at least one piece of paid work out of them in the course of the following 12 months.

So it’s like I said before – get your information out there, make calls, make sure people know who you are and what you do, and then wait for the work to come in.

How do you get your information out there?

  1. Set up a simple website that states what you offer and how to contact you. If you can’t write a simple website, you’re dead as an IT writer, so do what I did - buy a cheap five dollar book on basic HTML (which is all you need), study it for a weekend, then set up your website. Your approach is that you want people to note your details or bookmark your site now so they know how to find you when they need you later.

  2. Mailshot. Prepare your 1 page, singe-sided well-written flyer. Keep it simple - what you do, how to contact you, and the bit that says ‘please keep this on file for when you need me’. Buy a list of addresses from a mail order company. You have every option under the sun - you can specify any sort of list, any sort of industrial sector, by the 1000. They’ll even send the flyers out for you.

  3. Think local. You have to start somewhere. Start with your own community, your own locality. Make your name there, and word of mouth will do the rest and lead you to bigger fish. Put a little card in every retailer’s shop window. Visit local businesses, firms and companies. It only takes 5 minutes to stick your head round the door, make friends with the secretary, explain what you do and that you just want to leave your details for whenever they might need you, leave the flyer, and ask them to pass it on to the relevant decision-maker. Some will, some will bin it the moment you leave. It doesn’t matter. It’s still worth doing.

  4. Tackle the agencies that give business advice to businesses. Whatever kind of local authority / local government you have, there’s probably some department or other that is there to give advce and help to local businesses. There may be dozens, in fact. Make sure they have your details. They might mention you to local businesses.

  5. The whole point of this initial ‘push’ to get work is to build your experience, your portfolio and your contacts. After that, word of mouth recommendation will do the rest. Trust me! Word of mouth is the best advertising and the only sort that really works in the long run. So always do good work, be professional, pleasant and reliable, and be the sort of person that people will feel happy recommending to others.

  6. I want to mention one point that I’m sure many people will disagree with, but I’ll say it any way: you don’t need a specific qualifiation in ‘technical writing’ or anything similar, and even if you have one it may hinder as much as it helps. I never had any trade-specific qualifications. I was never asked if I had any, and no-one was ever interested. The only two things that mattered, ever, were whether people liked me, and whether they thought I turned out damned good work. End of story.

Now, I’m sure people will say that there are openings out there that are only open if you have a specific trade qualification. This is true. Here are a few points arising.

(a) If you have a choice between spending 1-3 years ‘studying’ to get a certificate that says you are a qualified tech writer, or spending that time actually doing the work, learning the business, getting paid and building up your awareness, portfolio, experience and contacts, then I’d say the latter is the better option in every way.

(b) When people are recruiting for a full-time job, they have to put something in the job ad that they think will help them find the right person, and citing a specific trade qualification seems like a good idea. But basically, they just want someone they like who can do the job. If you’re that person, they’ll hire you! If you’re not, it doesn’t matter how many paper qualifications you have, they won’t.

© There are many, many people you will meet in industry who are deeply skeptical about any sort of ‘paper’ qualifications, often because they themselves left school with hardly anything and yet have done very well for themselves. They are well aware that having a paper qualification and actually being able to do the job are two separate things. All they want to know is whether you can do the work, not what certificates you’ve got. I repeat: in ten years I was enver once asked what qualifications I’ve got. All they wanted to see was my past work and my experience - in other words, they wanted to know I could really do this sort of work. Reliably. On time.

Of course, this raises the old chicken-and-egg problem… how to get wrk if you don’t have experience? I’ve already told you. Knock on doors, make calls, write letters, do the website, do the mailshot, tell everyone locally. Eventually, someone somewhere will give you your first break. And that’s all you need.

Final point: never, ever feel you have to compromise or compete on price. Find out what the going rate is, and charge it. Never undercut, never sell yourself or your services cheap. It all goes back to the word of mouth thing: if you’re good, people will use you, so long as your fees are anywhere near reasonable. If you’re not, people won’t, even if you’re dirt cheap. What matters is not how low your fees are. What matters is: do people like you, and are you good at doing the work?

And that’s enough.