February 25, 2010

The Writer’s Guide to Money and Passion

writers-guide

I wrote a feature article for Writer’s Digest this month, and it looks like it just hit the newsstands. I also received permission to include the full PDF here if you’re interested:

Changing the Rules for Unconventional Success

You can also read a brief online supplement on their site here.

***

I’ve thought about producing a guide about freelance writing, but the reality is that it’s really tough to make it as a freelancer these days. Until I find a way to stretch it out (no one wants to buy a one-page information product), here is the Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing:

1. Don’t do it the old way. You’ll starve!
2. Find a way to take control of the process. You’ll win!

But if you want more than that, here’s 2,000 words on making a living as a writer, free of charge.

It talks about why I write a newspaper column that no one reads, why I’ll syndicate to almost any outlet, and why I don’t care that CNN doesn’t pay me for the articles they post with my byline. More importantly, it offers guidance for new writers, or those who have been unsuccessful using conventional tactics.

I want to be clear that this piece is for writers who are interested in making some kind of income from their work. There’s nothing wrong with writing for any other reason–I write in a private journal every day, and some of my travel writing is entirely non-commercial.

But I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to want to earn a living as a writer, so that is the group I’m trying to help. For those people, the reality is that it is extremely difficult to support yourself as a successful freelancer by doing things the way they have always been done. That’s why you need to change things up and embrace a new model.

From what I can tell, it seems that some people are arguing about whether the new model is “better” or “worse” than the old one. Alas, this discussion is entirely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if something new is better or worse than something old; what matters is what you need to do to adapt to it.

I believe the phrase that best applies is “It is what it is.”

Therefore, if you want to work as a writer and don’t want to starve, you have to learn a few new tricks. The good news is that if you learn the new tricks, you can actually do quite well. More here.

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Image: SBGuy

Comment on this article

38 Responses to “The Writer’s Guide to Money and Passion”

  1. I write for the sheer pleasure of it but this is great. Very useful Chris. And congratulations on your article in this noteworthy publication.

  2. Your gesture is very much appreciated. Every form of freelancing within the creative realm can be a challenging journey. But if your inner fire burns strongly enough, you’ll find a way to make it a reality.

    Thanks a lot for all the gifts you give to your readers.

    And even though freelance-writing is not going to play a part of my website project, I’m still going to read your report.

  3. February 25, 2010

    hildergarn

    Hi Chris. I want to kudos you for everything you did to make your around-the-world trip happens. I’m expecting to do the same starting april.

    Cheers and good luck.

  4. My sympathies to all freelance writers. I know. I have been one. I also know a few successful ones but it is hard work and and usually years of excellent writing and connections with editors.

    Of course, the reason I have done it, is because being a writer for me is not a choice. It is a passion, drive, love, enthusiasm, but never a choice. When checks come in the mail, I am almost surprised. I forget that it is part of the process.

    Now I have an article to write.

  5. The point in the article about finding the overlap of what you want to do with what people are willing to pay for is a really good one.

    I think a lot of people are wishing they could make a living doing something they love but immediately dismiss it because the one vision they have doesn’t lend itself to a marketable business.

    The truth is that anyone can make a living doing something they love by finding the bits and pieces – the characteristics – of their muse and applying it in a manner that people will pay for. Undoubtedly, it takes most people at least a few tries, but the opportunity is there for anyone.

  6. Fantastic article Chris and I agree wholeheartedly with your take – writers must start to think like publishers, owners of their own content, rather than hired guns.

    The one idea I might add into the mix, is that the growing trend for companies and organisations to create their own content (blogs, whitepapers, ebooks) means opportunities for commercial writing projects in all sorts of niches.

    My particular passion is entrepreneurship and new business ideas, so instead of targeting traditional media outlets I’ve been able to get a few bills paid writing entrepreneur profiles, case studies and ‘how to’ pieces for enterprise agencies, chambers of commerce etc…

    Once again, thanks for the great article.

  7. Chris, thanks for writing this. I tried to make money by writing a couple years ago, and didn’t. Your perspective is always valuable and I’m looking forward to reading your advice.

  8. I, too, write for pleasure. it’s a complete bonus to me that we’re making plenty of money with our site.

    what excellent resources you have, as always. thank you! and congrats on your features – great news!!

  9. Wow, what a great resource. While it may seem you don’t have a lot to say, what you share is always amazing advice. I am reading it now, but had to stop by to say thank you!

  10. Chris – great article over at WD. Although I’m not an aspiring writer (yet), the article appealed to bloggers who are just trying to gain an audience for their writing. Thanks for sharing with us!

  11. Thank you so much, Chris. As a fellow writer, I appreciate how much time, energy and enthusiasm you put into your work. It shows.

    I’m still early in my ventures and I’m dabbling, but I’m absolutely willing to change and adapt whenever possible. That’s what makes the work so exciting and invigorating.

    I liked that you explained the different models to making money through writing in your guide. Well done.

  12. Thanks for sharing Chris. That was a thoughtfully written and beautifully typeset piece. “Find the convergence between your passion and what people want.” – exactly!

  13. February 25, 2010

    Paul Sabaj

    Great article in the writers digest. I love all the points you make and hope to write for a living as well. I will be going and taking the classes to help me with the fact that I suck right now at writing. Thank God for the person who invented spell check. Chris how goes the latest book and when will it be out. Safe travels to you Sir. Cheers

  14. Eh…

    It was a well-written piece. I’ll give you that.

    What I doubt is the benefit of spending your time writing for free when you can’t be sure of the metrics.

    Here’s what I mean. I know that when I write a guest post for a popular blog, I will get hundreds of new subscribers to my blog. I can also track click-throughs and subscribes to prove it.

    Writing for a newspaper or magazine, on the other hand, doesn’t show any useful metrics. Having been written about in magazines and newspapers, the type-in traffic, at least for me, is minimal.

    The airline magazine is probably the best (worst?) example. Type-in traffic will be virtually 0 because there is no Internet access on most planes. And the magazine is showing its cheapness by asking people to write for free.

    I wouldn’t do it unless I could quantify results. Otherwise, I’d rather spend my time on things I can quantify (and that will arguably benefit more people.)

    -Erica

  15. I don’t think anyone would dispute that the airline magazine is cheap. The question is, how should writers respond to that fact? You could say no to them, but then someone else will say yes. In my case I’ve found that the more I say yes to things, the more other things tend to come along. If I evaluated everything strictly in terms of metrics, I never would have started this site to begin with.

    As to whether it’s worth it, though, for me it has very much been worth it. I meet people all over the world who have read about me in one publication or another. But it’s also true that I am much more interested in influence and spreading ideas than in strictly making money. If you just want to make money, writing for publication — or starting a blog — probably isn’t the best strategy.

  16. Excellent article and information you have provided here. I make a comfortable living as a freelance writer, but I know it is hard for others. Too many people are caught up in writing about their “passion” that they forget to make money writing to pay the bills. :)

  17. Hey Chris,

    I would completely agree with you in your last comment. I have done well by thinking long term. I have worked with an Editor in the past on the cheap, so to speak, only to have my name passed along my name to someone who became a regular source of good income.

    Although, I just can’t help writing about my passion, at times, to my own detriment. Perhapss that’s another topic.

  18. This couldn’t be any more timely for me. :) I’m very soon coming up to the point where I’m going to put a lot of effort into trying to work as a freelancer. In the mean time, I’m reading just about anything I can find to learn about how people make a go at it.

    Lucky for me, I won’t have any bills I need to pay, so if I don’t make a whole lot that’s fine. I would like to make *something*, though! Just feels like the right time for me to have a go at making freelancing work for me.

  19. Hi Chris,

    I quite enjoyed reading the article on Writer’s Digest. Congrats that they called you and that you had the fortitude to say Yes, even when the money was non-existent. I couldn’t help thinking of the saying “Writers write” when I was reading it and some of the responses you are getting to writing for free. What else are you going to do? Hoard your writing skills and only write for the biggest pile of money? Write for yourself where no one will read you? There’s so much more involved, as you state, than the money you get back. I don’t agree that if you can’t measure it, then it’s not worth writing, as another poster wrote.

    I didn’t know that you also wrote a monthly column and appeared on CNN’s blog – very cool! You can’t buy that kind of exposure and it’s people like you, who have the long-term in mind, rather than going for the short-term money, that will reap the biggest payoff in the end. Kudos to you!

    Karen

  20. Good tips. Really I think the core message is that you can’t just be a writer; you have to be a business person. So you have to market, publish, sell, provide customer service, work with advertisers if you go that route, etc. Marketing is especially something most writers suck at and frankly it annoys me. When I talk with big publishers or agents, they often don’t believe I’ll market because every writer tells them they will without realizing what that entails. Following your route, Chris, also shows traditional publishers you will work hard in all facets of being a writer, not just writing.

    Providing art for free is a long standing debate. As a former comedian, I did free shows from time to time even when I was making good dough headlining; it got me in with certain venues. When I first started writing screenplays I paid to enter contests that had little prizes but gave feedback because I needed the feedback. (I’ve since written three scripts-for-hire.) Free doesn’t mean no value.

  21. Chris–I read 95% of what you write, so don’t take this the wrong way–but I’m always impressed by how often you write about the process of being a writer. I got in for the travel writing (what I try to do), yet find the “process talk” really valuable.

    The good news: today, there are minimal barriers to entry to sharing your writing with the world
    The bad news: it requires more creativity on the part of the writer to find their niche, monetize, and reach an audience (without the traditional publishing apparatus)

    I love how you’re all about giving stuff away. It feels ethically right, but more so, it reinforces the quality of your “hub.”

  22. February 25, 2010

    Antwan McLean

    Great article! This is good information for a person like myself who wants to write full-time.

  23. I like your ability to grasp the unknown and keep steppin up.

  24. Another thought-provoking article. Controversial too.

    On one hand some may say you’re doing writers a disservice by providing your writing free of charge. If all writers do that writers will be paid less and less and eventually nothing. In time there will be less writers around because most writers need money to pay the rent and buy food so cannot provide work free of charge.

    The other thing that worries me is that the most successful writers will be those who are best at self-promotion and marketing both on and off line. I wish writers could just write and leave the sales and marketing to the pros. But that’s not the case today.

    Apart from this I think being versatile, opportunistic and actively seeking promotional opportunities as you are is an excellent way to build a business. As you say, we have to move with the times.

    So a resounding Aussie “Good on yer!” I hope I can find the time and energy to follow in your illustrious footsteps before I run out of cash:)

    Gracia amigo!

  25. I love the fact that every pdf you release is so well laid out. It makes reading it a pleasure.

    I hope as see the ebook revolution unfold, more people recognise the importance of great design.

    Thnx for the resource.

  26. Chris – this is right at the top of my mind at the moment. I met a friend of a friend who self-published his book yesterday and learned a lot. Now I have all your resources too. You’re an inspiration. Thank you.

  27. The ebook looks awesome! I’m so grateful that technology has opened up so many doors to success. Sure, we can’t do things they used to be done but the new ways are cooler anyways!

  28. When I tell others how I earn a living through freelancing I’m generally greeted with disbelief. “What? You write for free?”

    Yep. And it all started with launching a blog and writing free content that cultivated a readership. It’s not easy, but it works. Landing a book deal was icing on the cake.

    Thank you for sharing the secrets to your success, Chris. Now, how the heck do you syndicate to CNN? ;)

  29. Such a great article. I’ve been a writer for years and have been making good money freelancing, but you’re right — everything is changing. Please more posts on this topic Chris.

  30. Really inspiring piece. I am a photographer, but much of the wisdom you present is quite applicable to my field. Thanks.

    gary s. chapman

  31. Oh wow thanks Chris. This was really timely for me, as I’ve spent a good part of this morning staring out the window planning two or three new websites and thinking about how I could make money writing on them. Keep it coming!

  32. As a humble blogger, I really like your idea of attracting the right readers around your passions.
    I used to write for the “great number” which is less enjoyable than finding the “convergence” between what I love and what interests other people.
    Thanks for you writing ;)

  33. Many thanks for making this article available for free. As someone just beginning their freelance writing career, reading this open my mind to a lot of new possibilities.

  34. Straw poll: how many people on this thread are paid for their writing in some capacity?

    I’ve been paid before, but am not paid currently, probably as much by choice (i.e. what I’d have to write to be paid) as anything else.

    Skill is a factor, the economy is a factor, but so is determination. Working hard on that last one lately…

  35. As a writer, I am really torn on the ‘write for free’ issue. On one hand I hate reinforcing the idea that writers can be bought for nothing. On the other hand, it’s true, if you don’t do it someone else will.

    I think this is a debate that won’t be settled for a long time, and something every writer has to make a conscious decision about. For me, I will happily write guest posts for free for a blog I admire, yet I said no to my local paper when they asked me to write a column for $25 per column (as I felt they didn’t offer me enough).

    I guess for me it all boils down to what source is using my writing. I don’t think of the extra “benefits” it will bring me, just how much I respect the person (or company) who wants to use my writing.

  36. great tips – and thanks for the lead to Robin Sloan’s amazing work – perhaps the internet will rescue short stories from traditional publishers’ short-sightedness.

  37. Hey man. I know this is my first comment on the site, but I’ve been avid reader of your blog for a while, and I have MAD RESPECT for the way you carry yourself and live on your own terms.

    Just wanted to say thanks for all the inspiration and wonderful articles.

  38. On the big debate, free or paid:

    I’m not an aspiring writer, but I do enjoy writing articles and posts. I am writing a book about success habits of millionaires. It will be free in exchange for people joining my list. All the articles submitted to directories are free too. The money will come with future books, CD’s, courses, etc.

    Chris is doing a similar thing with his blog. That is the way money is made on the Internet. Great writers are paid once they make a name for themselves. Speakers speak free until they can ask for large fees or sell products.

    Entertainers donate time for charities too. That’s the way money getting works.

    Most artists never see the big money in their life times. It comes later to family or trusts.

    If you enjoy writing, write. If you want money then promote yourself until you can demand big bucks.

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