AWP Presentation: Making a Living as a Writer, Part 4

In this bonus, fourth part of my presentation, I’ll talk briefly about ways to maximize your earnings as a freelancer. To read more about the earlier presentations, click here (where I discuss good venues for beginning freelancers) or here (where I do a quick primer of corporate communications) or here (where I talk about the crucial importance of making writing your business).

So, by now, you’ve read a lot and worked really hard to develop yourself as a writer who takes the business of writing seriously. You ask and receive a good per-word or hourly rate in exchange for your work. Wouldn’t it be great if there were ways to get even MORE money for the same (or similar) amount of work?

My greatest piece of advice as a freelance writer, which I would love to pass on, is to reshape and then resell your story ideas. Let me elaborate. When you write about a topic for one magazine, you should try to think of another one that would run a similar story about this topic, but from a different angle.

Here is an example. I got an assignment from one outlet to write a story about a really cool, eco-friendly pizza joint. I researched the story, wrote the draft, and sent it in. And then it ocurrred to me that a local tech mag might be interested in some of this pizza joint’s technological innovations. I was right! In the end, I did the research once, wrote two drafts, and got two paychecks with little more than a follow-up phone call.

Ever since, I’ve made it my point to reconsider each and every assignment, no matter how wee. Even when I write for corporate clients, I try to find a venue for a creative piece about each topic. Maybe there is an alumni magazine from a key player or a hometown monthly glossy interested in a profile!

The point here is that no idea should be finished just because you’ve submitted your draft. This is not cheating or (likely) breach of contract. You are not submitting the same material to the new venue. Rather, you are writing a whole new story with a different spin or focus. You’re just not repeating the research part of the work.

Which leads me to my second piece of advice. Find a niche. Find a few areas you love to research and write about those repeatedly. I resisted this at first. I thought, heck! I’m a generalist. I can write about anything and fake writing about the stuff I know nothing about. And this was ok for awhile.

But then I started taking more and more assignments related to environmental sustainability and parenting. Each time, I had to do less work before the interviews because I already knew what questions to ask and had something smart to say on the topic. I also enjoy writing about these topics because they mattered to me personally, and I like getting to say I’m an expert in these areas.

My initial fear in choosing a niche was that it would limit my opportunities. I had this fear that all sorts of opportunities were going to come my way and I’d have to turn them away or something. In reality, I get more work in these areas because I am beginning to establish myself as a motherhood/mother nature writer. Niches open doors rather than close them!

Those years spent as a generalist were not for naught, either. The editors I already know come to me with the same sorts of assignments we discussed before. Plus, I write about all sorts of stuff in corporate communications gigs (bounty hunters, even!).

As a parting word of wisdom, this job is all about hustle. Daily, daily hustle even in times of feast, because you need to make sure you have work in times of famine. And there will be famine! There will just be less of it if you are maximizing your profits.

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2 Responses to “AWP Presentation: Making a Living as a Writer, Part 4”

  1. April Davila Says:

    Hi Katy,
    I was at your AWP panel, but I’m so excited to see that you did this recap. I have bookmarked it and will no doubt read it again, and again. Thank you so much for all the candid advice.
    Cheers,
    April

  2. katy Says:

    April, thanks so much for the comment. I’m sorry I’m only seeing it now (2 years later, oh dear!). Hope things have been going well for you in freelance work!

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