Business of Writing

» Freelancing

Benefits of FreelancingDownfalls of Freelancing | General Advice | Tips to Remember | Resources

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What is a Freelance Writer?
A freelance writer is someone who works for a company or individual on a contractual, or project basis. Typically a freelance writer will work on a project or piece of writing with a set time frame, working, generally, on projects such as articles or shorter works that are defined by a set of boundaries established by the contractor.

Freelance writers most often do not have a long term commitment to one employer; instead, they may be working for multiple publications at a time.

Freelancers may write a variety of assignments including:

  • Writing articles for magazines, newspapers and other periodicals
  • Writing for websites
  • Technical writing such as instruction manuals, policy and procedure manuals and quick reference guides
  • Copywriting, writing newsletters, business brochures, annual reports and sales letters
  • Writing greeting cards
  • Short stories
  • Ghostwriting*

*A ghostwriter is a person who writes under someone else’s name (with their consent). Typically ghostwriters write works from start to finish or they are hired to polish an existing work. Ghostwriters are used to write autobiographies, letters, and even e-books. They are most often well-established writers. They are professional consultants who are hired to work with a client, recording their memories, stories and ideas often through an extensive interview process or via voice recordings. Often times the client just does not have enough writing experience or talent and this where the ghostwriter comes in.


Benefits of Freelancing

  • A freelance writer has the opportunity to write on a variety of subjects and areas of interest.
  • There are no set work hours. Freelance writers are only bound by deadlines, which they agree upon with their contractor.
  • Freelancers are able to choose how much they will work/write. This may allow a writer to pursue other career opportunities both in and out of the literary industry.
  • Freelancers are able to work from home. And with the internet are now able to work from anywhere in the world.

Downfalls of Freelance Writing

  • Although freelance writers may be writing often and steadily, their income may be low. There are very few freelance writers who earn a large annual income. Unless the writer is well established within the industry they may be paid minimum amounts for their work, and jobs may be sporadic.
  • Many freelance writers must maintain other jobs. Although freelancing can provide some freedom for a professional writer, they may be forced to subsidize their income from another source taking time from their writing careers.

General Advice/Steps to Working as a Freelance Writer

  • Begin by doing some research on possible markets that you may want to write for. Search online databases which provide listings and want ads for freelance writers.
  • After you have found some possible clients/publications, send out a query letter. It is much harder to sell an article that you have already written, so wait for a response before beginning to write
  • Most publications/clients have specific requirements, styles and genre preferences and it will be difficult to find a market for an already written work. Sending out a query letter will signal possible clients of your interest and will allow you to write a work that suits both you and the client.
  • Freelance writing is a business. If you wish to earn a living as a freelance writer it is important to conduct your work in a professional manner. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Keeping a track of deadlines. Failing to hand in an article on time reflects poorly on you and may be a lost client. Have an organizational plan in place. Using spread sheets, daily planners and calendars can help a busy writer stay on schedule and helps to keep track of the status of each project they may be working on.
    • Establishing contracts with clients. Under the Saskatchewan Arts Professions Act a contract is required for all transactions between an artist and client/contractor. Contracts will outline deadlines, payment, rights held and sold, and a description of the project. Contracts protect both parties. Remember to keep a copy of old contracts they may be needed if there is ever any question of copyright infringement or questions concerning the project.
    • Taking time regularly to organize your files and keep track of your work progress. Keep a filing system with your checks, past writing projects, contracts and any other pertinent information sorted and at hand.
  • Once you have one or more projects it is time to write. Planning out when each project is due and how long it will take you to complete will be a great asset as the deadlines draw near.
  • Freelance writing can open many different avenues for writers. If you are struggling to find work writing in a specific field, switch gears and try something new, you never know where your talent may take you.

Tips to Remember When Applying for a Project

  1. Read the advertisement properly. Many writers fail to read through all the requirements outlined in an advertisement, thus applying for a project they are not qualified for or simply not submitting all the required documents and forms.
  2. Reread your query letter and submission package. Check for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Remember that when you apply for a project your mailed application is often the first impression you are making to the employer, and poor spelling and grammar do not speak well for you as a writer.
  3. Address the possible employer by name. A generic greeting is not personal and generally does not stand out. Addressing the person directly shows them respect and tells the employer that you have read their advertisement clearly and have done some research on who exactly to contact.
  4. Send a sample of your writing. Telling an employer how well you write, does not prove anything to them, instead by showing them clips or samples of your work they can judge for themselves your skill level and whether you are the right writer for the specific assignment.
  5. Follow a standard format for your query letter and submission. Editors and other employers are not impressed with fancy font and multi-colored text. Use a simple Times New Roman font in 12pt font in black ink.
  6. Have references to show to prospective clients/employers. The more you write the more contacts you will make. If you are doing good work for your employers ask them for references or testimonials. Client references will only back up your query letter/resume and attract further projects.

Resources for Freelance Writers

  • Worldwide Freelance: This website provides detailed information for writers looking for a career in freelance writing.
  • Freelance Writing: This website is a good resource for freelance writers at all stages of their career, providing a variety of articles and online video tutorials that can help guide writers to various writing processes.
  • Freelance Writing Jobs: This website provides Canadian freelance writers with a list of possible jobs in a variety of writing-related fields.
  • Professional Writers Association of Canada: Provides some general information concerning freelance writing as well as links to other websites that may be of some use to writers.
  • About Freelance Writing: Provides general advice for freelance writers.
  • Industry magazines and various books. There are many books available for freelance writers looking to expand their knowledge of the industry and to improve their writing skills and profitability.
    • The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less by Peter Bowerman
    • Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments by Jenna Glatzer
    • Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (Second Edition) by Moira Anderson Allen
    • Secrets of a Freelance Writer, Third Edition: How to Make 100,000 a Year or More by Robert W. Bly
  • Writer’s Journal: an online journal that provides articles directed at writers and the writing industry. 
  • W3newspapers: Provides an online list of newspapers both in Canada and on an international level. This site is a good resource for freelance writers who are looking to write articles for newspapers.
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