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How to Make a Living as a Freelance Writer
2009, Q1 (April 07, 2009)

How to Make a Living as a Freelance Writer

Meeting Recap

Alice Osborn
Alice Osborn
by Christina Eftekhar

Many writers in the Triangle area dream of being their own boss, typing on a laptop by a pool on a warm day or working cozily on a couch in front of the fire when the weather is frightful. Alice Osborn, an accomplished freelance writer, wanted to dispel the myths of this perceived easy lifestyle.

Alice spoke to over 50 people at February’s chapter meeting. She provided many good tips on how to get and keep jobs as a freelancer in this competitive market. For those who did not attend, her presentation is summarized below.

Getting Started

Freelance writers work for themselves but write for magazines, ezines, newspapers, trade journals, blogs, and even authors who need ghostwriters. There are many opportunities in the area for aspiring freelancers to get started (see Resources below).

  1. Find your market. What’s your expertise? Where do you browse first in Barnes & Noble (or Amazon.com)? Keep your market between 3 and 6 subjects; any more will get cumbersome. Become an expert in your areas and eventually YOU will become the go-to person and sources will hunt YOU down.
  2. Write your own biography. Your biography should be no longer than 200 words. It should describe your education, experience, workshops or speaking engagements, publications, organizational affiliations, and a link to your website or blog.
  3. Get a professional headshot taken. A professionally taken headshot is a great investment because you will it on your website, blog, profile pages, and future brochures and business cards.
  4. Join writing and non-writing clubs. Local writers frequently meet to discuss ideas, collaborate, and provide encouragement and support. Check Craigslist.org and Meetup.com for groups near you.

Getting Published

Getting your first gig is always the hardest step. Here are several ways to get your name in print and online, but remember, if it doesn’t help your business or portfolio, don’t do it!

  1. Do pro bono work. Doing pro bono work (working for free) is an effective way to get your name in print and online in order to start your portfolio. Many organizations are looking for contributors to newsletters, websites, blogs, and other communication outlets. Check with:
    • trade magazines for the subject matter YOU are interested in
    • local newspapers
    • alumni associations
    • professional organizations (like STC) – newsletters, magazines, journals, websites and blogs
    • PTA or administrative office at the schools your children attend
    • clubs or sports leagues
    • place of worship
    • travel, history, and specialty markets
    • animal rescues
    • museums and other public activities
  2. Start a blog. Using free blog hosting sites like Blogger and Wordpress, starting a blog is simpler and easier than ever before. Use your blog as a gateway to your personal website (if you don’t already have one – get one!), portfolio, and resume. Keeping your blog up-to-date will give you more credibility as a writer.
  3. Embrace social media. There are many social media outlets to get your name and experience out there. Create a professional profile and bio and use it consistently across each site (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Insite919, or any other social media). Use these sites to house links to your website and portfolio. It is essential for people to get in touch with you from many avenues.
  4. Self-publish. Publish something, anything, even if it’s not perfect. It helps you gain credibility and have something to talk about during interviews with potential clients.

Getting Paid

Typically, freelance writers do pro bono work for about a year. After a year, you can start charging 25 to 50 cents per word or a flat rate, depending on your market. After a while you can begin to charge 50 to 75 cents per word. It is best to determine your actual costs and expenses per week and translate that into a rate per word, piece, or hour.
If writing a piece won't help your business or portfolio, don't write it!

Staying Organized and Competitive

  1. Market yourself as a writer. Keeping ‘writer’ as your first and foremost identity will help you focus on your success as a writer.
  2. Read, read, read. Read everything – newspapers, journals, blogs, magazines. Find out how you can contribute. Read publications in your market to understand your audience and how to write for them.
  3. Keep a writing and submission log. Keep track of everything you’ve written, whether compensated or not. Keep track of whom you sent query letters to, submission and publication dates, rejections, calls, meetings, and other communications, etc. Staying organized is key to your success.
  4. Attend conferences, workshops, and presentations. Meeting other writers keeps your network growing and your mind sharp. You will always learn something new.
  5. Always carry business cards. You never know when an opportunity will present itself.
  6. Always carry a notebook and pen. Jot ideas down as they come to you. Take note of people’s everyday problems and how you can solve them through writing.
  7. Practice interviewing skills. Practice listening more than talking. Practice taking notes.
  8. Do informational interviews. Interview experts in your target market. Ask them how they got started, what it would take to get published in that field, etc.

Alice also talked about writing query letters and pitching ideas to publishers and editors. To get the slides presented at this meeting and or get a free consultation, visit her website at www.aliceosborn.com.


  • NC Writers’ Network (www.ncwriters.org)
  • The Writer Magazine (www.writermag.com)
  • News and Observer (www.newsobserver.com)
  • Triangle Area Freelancers (www.triangleareafreelancers.org)
  • Write 2 Publish meetup group (www.meetup.com)

  • How to Become a Famous Writer before You’re Dead, by Ariel Gore
  • The Renegade Writer's Query Letters that Rock, by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
  • Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert W. Bly
  • Six-Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger
  • Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg

Continuing Education
  • Duke University Continuing Education (evening and night courses)
  • Wake Tech/Durham Tech for affordable writing classes

Christina can be reached at c dot s dot eftekhar at gmail dot com. End of article.

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