Freelancing on the Web
Friday, January 23, 2009

Four people have asked me for tips on writing freelance web articles from home in the last two weeks. Many people are looking for ways to bring in some extra money without having to leave their houses.

This is what works for me. I've written various articles for the web since 2006, in addition to writing my blog. I currently only write for one client, but have had several different ones in the past.

This article is how to get started - not whether you should, not whether you have the talent, and not for someone who wants to make a full time income.

This advice is NOT for people looking to write a book, but for people wanting to pull in a little money on the side writing articles for the web or small publications.

How to Find Work
Writer's message boards are good places to start. There are several, but remember YOU should never pay to get work. One "free" sample of your writing is fine, but be careful of places that want you to write for a month, then they'll let you know if they want you.

One site I've used is - they have a free forum, and includes paid work listings, nonpaid work listings, and there is an entire freelance board as well.

Network locally; many large cities have writing groups. If you can get involved, even virtually, then members might pass leads your way once they get comfortable with you and your writing style.

If there is a magazine type website that you enjoy, search their site to see if they accept submissions.

Craigslist also often posts writing jobs. It's posted in two different places, under "writing/editing" on the jobs list, and under "writing" on the gigs list. Please use discernment and be safe when replying to Craigslist posts! Check out the person who is offering the job, visit their website, Google their phone number, etc.

Many places offer very, very low rates. You are a contractor, and can decide whether or not to take a lowball job.

How to Get Work
Do you blog? I've turned blog posts in to Associated Content and gotten paid. Only a couple ( I really should do more!) Associated Content is a little different, in that you submit your article and the editors then make you an offer ($5-$10, generally.)

Example: My blog post on couponing
My Associated Content article on couponing

I like Associated Content because they pay promptly, you can submit work that has already been published, and you still retain all rights to your work.

Often, you will be required to write a test article and then the company will decide whether or not to contract with you. Usually you will get a writer's agreement, and often you'll have to fill out a W-9.

When writing for hire, be aware that often the copyright of your work belongs to the person writing the check - not you. You cannot reprint them (but can use them as writing samples). Details about retaining rights will be contained in the writer's agreement.

To apply for other freelance jobs, the first thing you need to have is a portfolio. Pull together some writing samples - or write some, that show off your talent. Paste it all into a Word or PDF document. Every job I've ever applied for asked for writing samples, often simply copied and pasted into an email.

If you have ever had published work - even if you were not paid for it - mention that. This could be anything from a contribution to a group blog, to an article published in your church bulletin, to writing the employee handbook at your workplace.

Think long and hard before passing out your blog URL, though. Remember, you are applying for a job! You can mention that you have a blog with X number of visits per week.

I've included my blog URL for some jobs and not for others. I blog about religion, politics, alternative therapies... it's not appropriate for all applications. If you post faithfully five times a week, it can show you are responsible and can meet deadlines. If you post how much you hate peanut butter, and your editor happens to be the Jif heiress, it could cost you a job.

If you are familiar with a particular platform, let them know when you apply. Wordpress seems to be popular among webzines, because it is easy to collaborate and allow team members to post independently.

Pay close attention to style guidelines. You'll have to do things their way, even if you think it's asinine (and you probably will, at some point).

Writing for Print
There are many places to look; many "freebie" and local magazine type publications post writer's guidelines. Look in publications that you want to write for!

Chicken Soup for the Soul almost always is accepting submissions of uplifting stories on various themes. Asimov's Science Fiction magazine accepts unsolicited short stories up to 10,000 words for sci-fi, payment is 5-6 cents per word. You are looking for people that accept unsolicited manuscripts. There is a niche for everyone.

There is significant lag time between submitting an article for print, finding out if it's been accepted, and getting paid.

Your Content
Steady work will not always be original articles or short stories. Often, there are assignments and guidelines. You might be assigned to write a 500 word article on blood pressure cuffs, post blurbs on breaking news, or more.

My steadiest client asks me to write recaps of reality television shows, and I'm assigned certain shows to watch. My current list include Supernanny, Wife Swap, and Kitchen Nightmares.

I started writing scripts for a role-playing video game, until it became clear that was not where my writing talent was strongest.

Many sites also will pay a dollar or so extra if you provide images. If you have a digital camera, this might be a good way to go! Here's an article I did on Mommy's Helpers. I was paid for two pictures in addition to the article. Those are my children, but I was careful not to show their faces. Use common sense. Photo copyrights belong to the person who took the picture, so don't steal images off the web.

How to Get Paid
Many webzines and sites use Paypal, so you may need to open a free account there.

Some places pay by the word (for example, require a 300-500 word article at 3 cents a word) or by the piece (1000 word article for $10). Some pay for a group of articles; $100 a week, and you'll post 6 news items of 400 words.

Many sites also will pay a dollar or so extra if you provide images. If you have a digital camera, this might be a good way to go! Here's an article I did on Mommy's Helpers. I was paid for two pictures in addition to the article.

Sometimes you have to invoice the company (a simple table in Word can do that for you) and sometimes they will keep track. You should always keep copies of your work and keep records, so if you wrote 310 words, you get paid for 310 words.

Remember that you are a contract worker in most cases, and you will have to pay your own taxes. Most places that pay cut checks once a month. For example, one website I write for pays Net 30. This means I invoiced them for work done in November by the end of November, 2008. My check was mailed 30 days later, at the end of December.

How to Keep a Client
  • Produce good content, and double and triple check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
  • NEVER, EVER plagiarize or copy someone else's work. EVER!
  • Always be on time, if not a little early. NEVER, NEVER miss a deadline.
  • Don't take editing personally, and promptly correct anything the editor requests. I prefer to communicate almost exclusively through e-mail, because it is difficult to have a professional phone conversation around here! Also, when I email I always have a written record of the conversation I can refer back to later.
  • Be prepared to be a team player, even if you are working alone from home. There are other writers also writing content for the same site or publication, and sometimes you have to cooperate or be gracious.
  • Be professional. You are being paid to write. Treat it like a job.

Art: At The Writing Table by Charles Soulacroix.

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