8 steps toward a six-figure freelance writing income

Here's what $100,000-per-year freelance writers don’t want you to know: none of them – save perhaps one! – is probably that much of a better writer than you.
By Ryan G. Van Cleave | Published: December 1, 2016


writing income

 

I know a couple of $100,000-per-year freelance writers, and here’s what they don’t want you to know: none of them – save perhaps one! – is probably that much of a better writer than you. So why do they all make big bucks while others end up with peanuts? One way or another, these guys have figured out success-making strategies like the following – and they stick to them.

The new year is just around the corner, so give these steps a go and see if you don’t bring in a higher income next year.

 

1. Dump the starving writer mentality.

Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you should starve. If a high-voltage cable inspector averages $65,000/year, why shouldn’t a hard-working, serious freelance writer make at least that much? Why not more? Here’s more inspiration: A construction manager makes $100,000/year. A government astronomer? $140,000/year. Go out there and be confident that writers deserve their share of the financial pie.

Take a cue from Las Vegas freelance writer Jarret Keene, who offers: “I find that heeding Roman poet Ovid’s advice of waking up every morning and saying ‘I believe’ three times does a lot for one’s poise.”

 

2. Set a weekly goal.

Thinking about trying to make $100,000 as a freelancer is like thinking about writing a George R. R. Martin-sized novel. It’s too much. It’s hard to get your head around. So break it into smaller steps. For the novelist, that means focusing on chapters or a daily page count. For a freelancer, that means doing a little math: $2000/week x 50 weeks = $100,000. $400/day x 5 = $2000/week. Doesn’t seem so intimidating now, does it? Average $80/hour x 5 hours/day, and you’re there. Set your rates accordingly.

To (badly) paraphrase Lao-Tzu: “The journey of a hundred-thousand-dollar salary begins with a single buck.”

 

3. Create passive income.

Passive income is money you generate while sleeping, going on vacation, or doing other money-generating work. It’s awesome…though it’s hard to come by. Consider a 50-page CreateSpace book that earns you $100/month. Now add in another $100/month from click-throughs on writing-related AdSense ads that you feature on your website or blog. Cha-ching.

What other digital products can you offer on your website that people will pay for? How many other e-books can you easily write in your areas of expertise? What freelance jobs can you take on that earn money upfront but also offer the possibility of back-end royalties?

 

4. Ask for more money.

I stumbled onto this doozy when I was in college and had pitched an article to – of all places – a quilting magazine. The editor called to offer me $200. Feeling youthfully brash, I simply said, “In my mind, I was thinking $400.” Then I suffered through the most agonizing six seconds of my life until she said, “Okay. I can go as high as $325.” I made 62 percent more money…just by asking for more money.

And for those of you who worry this tactic might result in a non-sale, don’t. If they come back with “Oh, you think you’re too good to write for $200? Then get lost!” then you want to get lost. Fast. Reasonable, professional editors will negotiate – or at least explain why they can’t go any higher.

 

5. Interview smarter.

Never do face-to-face interviews if you can help it. Seriously. Ninety percent of my interviews these days are done via phone or email. Why? I save one to two hours of travel per interview. Save the face-to-face stuff for when you’re interviewing Stephen King, an NBA player, or someone you truly want to meet. Those are worth doing face to face, though you’d be surprised at how often they’re too busy to meet with you. I’ve interviewed Carlton Fisk by phone while he was at a hotel pool watching his family swim. I’ve even interviewed TV star and designer David Bromstad by phone while he was stuck in traffic on California’s I-5.

 

6. Outsource the monkey work.

The “monkey work,” in my mind, is all the administrative stuff that gets in the way of my writing. In all honesty, I shouldn’t be doing that. So I barter to have someone else do it. I hire a work study student from my college. I hire a virtual assistant to do online research, organize data, and perform tons of other administrative support tasks.  I bribe my wife with her favorite meal or flowers, or both!  Keep your efforts on the things only you can do. Delegate the rest so you can stay productive and take on more high-paying work.

 

7. Learn the power of NO.

You’re a nice person – I get it. But people will think that because you’re a writer, you love writing, and thus you should love doing any writing they ask you to do, paid or not. Wrong. Shout “no!” to low-paying jobs, to editing your neighbor’s post-apocalyptic nuclear doom novel for free, and to writing copy for your friend’s sister’s dog-washing business website. Try this – the next time you’re at the dentist, tell him that because he loves dentistry so much, you’ll allow him to do your next crown for free. See how that plays out.

 

8. Always write like a pro.

None of the above tips help much if you don’t have the goods. Re-read William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Take some online writing classes via free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Count to 10 and then re-edit emails one bonus time before hitting SEND. Make sure that everything you put out into the world writing-wise advertises your first-rate ability as a wordsmith, even if it’s just an email to a pal, a comment on a colleague’s blog, or a thank-you note to your most recent source for a magazine article.

 

Keene adds one final note. “Strive to be more professional than the professionals who employ you. Once they realize you write well and with authority on a wide range of subjects,” he says from his experience as both a freelancer and a magazine editor, “they’ll start pitching you ideas versus you pitching them.” That’s a huge shift in your favor.

In short, look and act like you’re a six-figure freelancer, and people will start treating you like one. The dollars won’t be very far behind.

 

Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of 20 books, and he runs the Ringling College of Art + Design creative writing program.

 

 

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  • Amanda Caswell

    Great article. But where are these clients willing to pay $80/hour?

    • D. A. Smith

      Hi Amanda, those clients exist, it’s just finding them, and making sure they’re legit. If you have something someone wants bad enough, they’ll give you their money. The more value you put into your work. The more someone’s willing to pay.

  • D. A. Smith

    Love, love, love this article. A hundred G’s is a lot. But, break it down to four hundred bucks a day and it doesn’t feel that difficult. Thank you Mr. Van Cleave

  • bobbly

    A+ — I agree with all you say. And I have been earning mid six figures annually as a freelance writer for decades.