Editors Blog

Is a Freelancing Career in Writing Feasible?

freelance-writing-coverQ: I want to quit my day job and freelance full time, but I’m nervous that I won’t be able to make enough money to pay my bills. Can I really make a living as a freelance writer? —Carson B.

There are many writers around the world not only making a living by freelancing, but making a good living. Some have even written books about it (see Writer for Hire by Kelly James Enger). Not all writers achieve enough success to get by, though, so it’s important to learn what you need to do in order to give yourself the best chance to succeed.

The key to finding freelance success is developing relationships with editors at the publications you’d most like to write for on a regular basis. These relationships are invaluable and pivotal, as you’re unlikely to make a living by relying solely on a constant stream of cold queries. You want editors to contact you with assignments, and the best way to do that is to always deliver exactly what the editor wants by the assigned deadline. In fact, the more quickly you can turn around quality articles, the more you’ll endear yourself to the overworked people doling out the assignments.

In my own editorial role, I very often turn to folks I’ve already worked with—those who have a proven track record of giving me what I want, when I want it. With today’s editorial staffs growing thinner than saltine crackers, finding a core group of dependable writers is key to the success of countless publications today. If you want to freelance full time, you must work hard to be in that group.

It’s also helpful to make contacts with multiple editors at each market you write for. Editors often move around to different editing gigs and, trust me, they bring their stable of freelancers with them. When I started at WD and first needed to assign a piece, the first person I called was a freelancer I’d used at my former employer, Supply House Times magazine (if you love information about plumbing warehouses, you’ll love SHT—also, the initials will make the child in you giggle). The topics of my magazines couldn’t have been more different, but that didn’t matter. A great freelancer can do the research needed to cover any topic.

Finally, remember that being a full-time freelance writer is just what it sounds like: a full-time job. Yes, you can choose the hours you work, but you’ll still have to put in as many hours (if not more) as you would at a typical 9-to-5 job in order to make it. You don’t get paid vacation time (unless you land a travel article assignment that can double as one, that is …) and you don’t get benefits like health insurance, a 401k and playing on the company softball team. But you do have the opportunity to out-earn what you would working for a publisher (by significant margins) and set a flexible schedule so you can take the kids to school or run errands when the stores aren’t crowded. Plus, you can write at home in your underwear.

Just don’t tell the editors that last part when you’re on a conference call.

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

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Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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7 thoughts on “Is a Freelancing Career in Writing Feasible?

  1. TommyJ220

    Brian, It’s nice to see that Writer’s Digest continues its own proud tradition of censoring anything that challenges or contradicts what it puts out. Why not label this section “praise and agreement only.” The fact of the matter is that the view of freelancing presented here is narrow and seems geared to stay at home moms or dads who are not professional writers. Freelancing can be and is often a viable, lucrative profession, and articles for magazines is only a very small part of it. And this short article doesn’t really even cover that except in a cursory way.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      Hey TommyJ,

      I appreciate your comment, but I think you’ve made a bit of a leap here. When you’re new to posting the site, your posts go into a folder that await approval–and I have to approve them to confirm the posts aren’t spam (we get TONS of spam). Once I approve the first couple, you won’t have problems anymore and the posts will show up automatically and immediately. I don’t get into the spam folder every day, so sometimes it can take a few days.

      I (we) have no issues with people posting comments that show different points of view on topics we cover–in fact, we typically appreciate the discussion that our writers have about the topics, as the writing industry is in a constant state of change.

      Anyway, you are now approved and can post away! Welcome to the Writer’s Digest community.
      Brian
      Online Editor

  2. Tom Bentley

    Brian, good stuff. I’ve had some great relationships with editors; I’ve written for one magazine, Airstream Life, for 10 years and know the editor as a friend. And I’ve been a regular contributor to The American Scholar for a couple of years now, and have a nice relationship with an editor there. I haven’t managed to make a living magazine writing, but when I combine it with copywriting and editing, it works. And is all directed toward playing with words, which is the best play there is.

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