One of the most common questions I get is some variation of this: How can I become a writer?
And it’s a question that I always answer with a question of my own:
What kind of writer do you want to be?
Because there are dozens of types of writers and each industry has its own requirements, skills, and nuances.
So before you start pursuing a writing career, it makes a lot of sense to figure out what type of writer you want to be.
Which is why today I thought I’d give you a little overview of some of the types of writing I know a thing or two about. Keep in mind that this list is by no means extensive. There are also scriptwriters, speech writers, greeting card writers, poets, and all manner of other people who get paid to string words together. So do a little research and you’ll come up with lots of other options.
That said, here are a few writing careers I know a thing or two about, what contractors generally get paid, and my advice on getting started in each.
Copywriters, Web Writers, & The Like
What they do: They write websites, advertisements, brochures, billboards, and other marketing copy (thus copy-writers). They often work with ad agencies and corporations and are considered part of the marketing or web departments when in-house.
What freelancers make: $50 – $150 per hour (there are people who charge less, but I strongly believe that charging less than $50 per hour devalues the work and the industry. So charge more, darlin!)
Where they find clients: When I was doing this work full-time, my best sources of clients were long-term agency relationships (they sell your services and bring you in to contract when they need you), networking at industry events, word-of-mouth, people who found me through the articles I publish online, and (less common, but still important) those who found me directly through my website.
First steps: Advertising writing should be short and snappy. Focus on learning to edit yourself and say things in the simplest, most compelling way possible. Learn some relevant fringe skills. And find an experienced copywriter to contract (and learn from) on big projects.
What they do: They produce technical manuals, help websites, and other content around technical topics. They often work with large technical companies and/or product companies.
What they make: $50 – $200 per hour
Where they find clients: word-of-mouth, networking at technical conferences, through their websites and online portfolios, through existing contacts, via recruiters. (Keep in mind that a lot of technical writing is big, multi-month, full-time contracts.)
First steps: Develop a deep understanding in one or several technical fields. Learn to read medical reports, master engineering jargon, dig into the world of programming. Technical writing is about being able to translate difficult topics into layman’s terms. So hone your simplicity and your smarts.
Travel & Magazine Writers
What they do: Write articles and/or columns for print and online publications.
What they make: $50 – $4,000 per article, depending on length, publication, experience, etc. (Again, you can find publications, particularly online, that pay less, but I think less than $50 per article is pushing it in terms of a reasonable hourly rate, so think hard before you take a lower-paying gig.)
Where they find clients: Magazines and online publications usually want you to either send an already written article (particularly if you are new to writing) or pitch them with a short, catchy letter explaining your idea and giving some writing samples.
First steps: Find a publication that publishes stuff you’re interested in (love talking about practicalities of travel and living abroad? Pitch International Living. Interested in writing a personal essay about life and relationships? Try xojane. Etc.). Once you’ve found your pub, pitch them. Then go out and do it again with another (and another and another). And don’t worry about rejection. It happens to us all.
What they do: Write, edit, pitch, and market books.
What they make: This varies so massively that it’s hard to say. Many self-published books only sell a handful of copies, which could mean as little as $50. And then there are the massive, multi-million-dollar book deals that happen once in a blue moon.
Where they find clients: If you want to self-publish, finding buyers will be all about your PR and marketing strategies. If you want to publish with a publisher, your first step will be to get an agent interested in representing you (and then it’ll be all about PR and marketing strategies).
First steps: If you’re writing a non-fiction book, put together a book proposal to wow prospective agents. If you’re writing fiction, you’ll want to tackle the book itself before you start querying agents.
What they do: Write blog posts for themselves and/or others.
What they make: Writing a blog for a corporation? You can expect to make about the same hourly rate as a copywriter. Building your own blog from scratch? That income varies pretty greatly and it usually takes at least a year to get rolling.
Where they find clients: Corporate bloggers/bloggers for hire look for long-term relationships with brands or agencies. Networking, referrals, word-of-mouth, getting your writing out there on popular sites—all these things can be super useful.
Personal bloggers looking for advertisers use a few different tactics: putting together an advertising page/PDF on their site (Hecktic Travels has a great one), reaching out directly to their favorite brands, and/or in some cases advertisers come directly to them to ask about opportunities.
First steps: Corporate bloggers: Put together an awesome portfolio. Brush up on your basic technical skills (chances are they’ll want you to handle photos, links, etc. as well as the writing). Start networking.
Personal bloggers: Start writing. Learn to manage your blog. Pay someone to make it pretty and functional. And hunker down…if you want to make any money, you’re in this for the long haul.
Have more questions? Toss them in the comments and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.
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