"Master Dayton" might be humorous, (I mean if Ph.Ds are called "Doctors," shouldn't MFAs be called "Masters?") but in all seriousness I have made a living freelance writing and after several years I have tons of information I want to share to help out my fellow writers, regardless of age, experience, goals, situation, or background. This blog isn't pretty-but it will help if real freelance writing information is what you want.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Entry Level Writers: Don't Get Discouraged

Entry Level Writers: Think of Writer Reporters

One of the hardest things for beginning freelance writers to learn is stubbornness. Fortunately for me this has never been an issue with my family, which admittedly has led to many problems in my life but has made me perfectly thick skinned for quick success in a freelance writing career. But not everyone else is like me in that respect, and I think there are tons of talented entry level writers who could be so much more, but get beat down early and never make it back up the mountain to the success that they should be having. While being a full time freelance writer definitely has it's benefits, the freelance writing market is not as easy a place to scrape a living from as many people would have you believe. Still, there are more ways to break into the market than ever before, and if you are completely focused in on your goals of becoming a freelance writer, then you shouldn't let early troubles get you off course. The following is a list of the most common things that deter beginning freelance writers from their goals and some advice or suggestions for preventing the same from happening to you.

#1: Stopping Before Getting Started
This is actually one of the most common problems that shoot down the budding career of an entry level writer. There are many ways this can happen.
  • Writing only a few articles, promoting them, and not seeing enough income back.
  • Information overload that causes writers to lose heart.
  • Not seeing the results on popular writing websites other writers brag about having.
  • Getting so bogged down in 20 different writing styles that the entry level writer never gains traction
There are several ways to combat this common stumbling block. The first and most important part is something I've preached on from the 4 Year College Writing Plan to my post on 50 Things Every Freelance Writer Should Know: which is to get started writing NOW and to write something each and every day. "Research" DOES NOT COUNT. This isn't accusatory - this is something that I still struggle with even after several successful years in the business. Make sure each and every day you do some actual writing that you get paid for. This is especially important for beginning online writers who are aiming for passive income. Think about writer reporters, and how they have to keep hunting down leads for a story. There's no quit there, and there can't be any quit for any entry level freelance writer who wants to make it in the online writing world.

Even if it's only a few bucks a day, that will motivate you more than nothing. Every article you actually write gets you a little closer to your writing goals, while all the research you do doesn't get you any closer than the so called "writer" who sits around thinking all day about how nice it would be to make a living writing and does nothing to get there.

#2: Getting Overwhelmed
There are many different ways this can happen, and part of the freelance writing life is that once in a while things do seem to just avalanche all at once. Especially if you're not used to setting your own hours, or haven't found your main source of income, this can be a very common problem that happens relatively often early on.

One of the best things you can do is to concentrate on one or two main sources of income while doing your research to learn more. You're going to learn more as an entry level writer becoming efficient at one or two sources than trying to dip your toe into 10 different websites.

Early on I was rather lucky. I found Constant-Content, and I stumbled onto Guru.com, and I had no money, no job options, and two busted legs from a car accident so with enough room on a credit card for a year long subscription to Guru, I only had these 2 sites to work with and HAD TO make them work.

Demand Studios, Constant-Content, Elance, and Guru.com are examples of some freelance writing sites where entry level freelance writers can learn the ropes of writing career and can actually work their way up to a full time income. Associated Content would be an example of a site that's easy for entry level writers to break into, but one that you would want to move on from eventually. But early on it's a decent confidence builder, and the potential for passive income makes it a decent place to have some articles once you learn how to efficiently search keywords.

Other sites like eHow, Xomba, InfoBarrel, and HubPages are great places to use writing skills to get into the passive income writing market and to figure out what the difference between the two are. Because while great writing skills can help you earn passive income online, they're not enough.

Choose 2 or 3 at the most to get started with, and get to work. Getting some income in from your efforts while being able to learn online writing skills through experience and trial and error will be the best way to speed up the learning process and keep you moving in the right direction while also keeping you from getting overwhelmed as a beginning freelance writer.

#3: Not Willing to Take Risks
Now as any freelance writer reporter can tell you, there are good risks to take and bad risks to take. You don't want to take shady sounding jobs from Craigslist that sound like a rip off waiting to happen. But I know many people who want to write online who decide they're going to write for one website and only one website or write one type of writing and only one type of writing, and that's it. There are even other writing blogs that recommend this path and all I can say is that in my opinion, this is some of the worst possible advice out there.

A content writer can write content, and that's it. Whatever the price content is going for is the best you can possibly hope for. But press release writers can make very good money for what is usually an easily written and templated one page PR. Ghost writers have more options, as do technical writers, editors, copy editors, copy writers, specialty content providers, writer reporters, and other types of freelance writers.

One of the reasons I survived the early lean months and eventually excelled was because I was willing to learn new types of writing. I had never wrote a press release the first time a client asked me if I could, but I knew that for $50 I was willing to learn. Press release writing turned out to be a fairly lucrative bit of writing for me, as I often could knock one out in an hour with no problem at all and charge $50+ for it. Ghost writing landed me some major projects, as did e-book writing. As my sales letter writing continues to improve, that could knock the income door off its hinges and to an entirely different level.

But none of that would have been possible if I was only willing to write what I was comfortable with. As an entry level freelance writer you will have your strengths and weaknesses, and the same is true once you are an experienced and full time online writer. But that being said, you shouldn't limit yourself to only one type of writing. Unless you're one of the top 10% sales letter writers in the world, that's a good recipe for going broke.

Take some risks beyond your comfort zone and expand yourself as a writer.

#4: Giving Up Too Soon
This is very common. Become a successful writer doesn't happen overnight. Not even close. You need to commit time and hard work to building a full time writing career. If you can put yourself in a situation where you have a full time job and just do writing on the side, I strongly recommend that as the way to go. Can you work even when you don't feel like it? Are you learning how to pitch yourself better with each and every query letter? Is your income slowly (or quickly) climbing with every month?

Many people have the energy for 6 week, 2 months, or maybe even half a year, but the hard core writers are separated from the pretenders at that point as many people don't have the drive to go on, or feel like they're being suffocated or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work they didn't even imagine was there for writers to do.

Many decent writers give up literally a month or two short of beginning to hit the full time income level, when every experience based lesson is learned and the "A-HA" moments all directly lead to higher pay. If you really want to make a living writing, keep at it and don't quit. Enough work will get you to where you want to be.

That's it for now. This is a little shorter than the usual monster sized freelance writing blog posts, but it'll have to do. Hope ya'll are doing well, and as always feel free to leave a comment and I'll try my best to respond in short time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Freelance Writing College: The 4 Year Writing Plan

Write Online in College

For some reason, a good chunk of the people who find this freelance writing blog are college students interested in freelance writing. Actually, this is great. I started shortly out of college, and in fact put myself through graduate school and lifted myself out of homelessness through freelance writing. While I was planning on this post being a relatively short update, especially since it's 1:39 a.m. (I know, I know, that should be early for a writer - but I'm a creative writer, too, so 29 years old has seen a lot of mileage on the wheels, LOL), but this is one freelance writer who believes in caffeine, loves to help other people, and is tired of working on everything that actually makes me money from my writing, so the size of this blog post will be a race between how tired I am versus how long I can ramble. For anyone who has followed this freelance writing blog closely, you know how long a post that could mean :)

But I digress. If you're a beginning freelance writer, or thinking about becoming a freelance writer, or are starting college and this is the first time the idea has even hit you, great. This post is going to lay out a general 4 year plan for becoming a full time online freelance writer, while building up a solid passive or residual writing income that can help set you up and take care of you for life. One reason I'm passionate about helping college students become writers is that many of these online opportunities didn't exist when I went to college. Heck, when I started college Yahoo! and Netscape were your two main choices for search engines, and AOL was relevant - that tells you how much things have changed online in general, much less in the Internet freelance writing world. But if I was starting out now, there is no reason I couldn't use the free Internet access and the technology available, and most importantly: 4 years of relative security and plenty of "free time" to set up a freelance writing career and enough passive income to make the rest of my life much easier . . . if not get to a point where I could outright semi-retire.

So instead of making 20 more posts that touch on bits and pieces of why I think any University student looking to freelance write part time for money would be an idiot not to use the time and resources to their advantages, I'm going to make a monster post outlining the very basics of a four year plan (and even if you're a sophomore, junior, or senior this plan can at least work as a blue print to get you started on your writing career) to help young adults earn the security that an established passive income and online writing career can offer them. Hopefully this post will also be a call to action to anyone reading it for why they should get started freelance writing right now!

And before I get started, one last warning to people on a schedule right now: I can tell already in just warming up that this freelance writing blog post is going to be LONG...in fact I'm feeling that this one is probably going to blow away my reader favorite and classic rant on why I'm not ashamed to be a freelance writer, at least in terms of words, and that blog post was over 2,450 words long not including comments. Although, in risking being a disappointment, this blog post probably won't come up with nearly as good a subtitle as that lengthy entertaining blog rant did. "With all due respect, my critics can bite me." Wrote it, forgot about it, and now it's cracking me up, so don't say that writers don't have a sense of humor. Back to the point of long freelance writing blog posts: if you need to bookmark this or e-mail yourself a copy of the URL, do it and get back when you have plenty of time to mull it all over.

Otherwise, this 4 year college student freelance writing plan is going to start with a few assumptions that are based on a lot of my fears, trip ups, and hesitations when I first got started:

1) I'm assuming you're a true beginner who has no clue at all about how to break into freelance writing.

2) I'm assuming as a college student that you can find a couple hours a day minimum on average (and let's be real - I got through college on about 4 hours of sleep a night for 3.5 years while working full time, so there are always options to find more time) to do some work, but understand that some weeks will be better than others.

3) I'm assuming that your need for money now isn't so great as to demand a full time job. If that is the case, then this will be a much harder time line to implement, but it's still worth fighting for.

4) I'm assuming you're willing to work. If dreaming about earning money or spending 4 years in information overload learning to make money writing is your idea of working, then this plan won't work. In the end, you have to put in the elbow grease.

5) I'm assuming your interest is in writing and you don't really understand the difference between freelance writing, AdSense writing, and Internet marketing.

6) I'm assuming that skill levels vary, and you may or may not be good enough to be an upper tier freelance writer and thus grow past all of this very quickly, or that you may or may not be good enough marketer of your skills to get paid what you're worth. Or you may not even know if you're good enough. That's fine, that's why I'm going with the assumption that most of the people reading this can be okay to average writer, without marketing skills. Because I can relate heavily to that.

Start Writing in Year 1

The first year of my freelance writing plan (and this is the same way I would tell my freshman self to get started is somehow I was young again) is one that can overwhelm many people because of information overload. There is a lot of freelance writing and make money online information out there. A lot of it is good. Even more of it is donkey manure. Even if you stick to the good freelance writing online information, the problem is that you could easily find so many bogs to read that you never get any work done. This was the biggest mistake I made in starting a writing career. Don't wait!

Yes, there is plenty to learn about writing for a living and making money online, especially if you're aiming for writing online for residual income. But no worries, because I've read the good stuff and the crap, and I'll tell you who to follow in a moment. There is a ton to learn about writing online, but you can't win a game you're not even in. If you don't have any writing online, you can't make any money. That's all there is to it.

So for year one, you're going to sign up for Constant-Content, eHow, Associated Content, Squidoo, HubPages, Xomba, and InfoBarrel. I know, you're already intimidated, but there's no reason to be. Some of these you only use sometimes, or only for a specific purpose. A couple of these sites you'll use to learn how to write online, and then all but leave them later for the sites that will really pay you in the long run. Don't worry about it. I'll explain how to use each. Along the way you will also eventually want to start setting up some free blogger blogs. Nobody should be intimidated by that step,

HubPages is especially a big one, because that is the easiest way I've found to quickly get approved for the Google AdSense program, as well as for becoming an affiliate for Amazon.com. Both of these are crucial to any future passive income plans you have online. Once you're approved for these programs, you can use AdSense based income sites like Xomba and InfoBarrel.

Early on, getting work out there is more important than doing things perfectly, so write. Make writing and working a habit that you refuse to break. HubPages and Squidoo lenses can always be edited later. Blogs can always be altered. New articles can be written that easily outrank or replace the old. But you can't make a single penny or learn a single thing from experience if you don't start freelance writing right off the bat. A professor once told me "Writers write. If you don't write, you're not a writer." The same idea applies to anyone who wants to be a freelance online writer. You have to write online. It sounds simple, but many would be freelancers get stuck here before they ever even get started.

Try to make a goal of writing 20 decent quality HubPages of 500+ words as quickly as possible. There's no reason this can't easily be done within a month even assuming you're only working an hour a day, or even less. If your hub is 1,000+ words, then all the better. But first and foremost, get some stuff out there.

In addition to these hubs, write one how to article a day and publish at eHow. Coming up with one article a day shouldn't be hard at all, and if you have an eHow article that relates to a hub, or vice-versa, link them together.

In that first month I would also say write one InfoBarrel article for every hub, and have those articles link to your HubPages hub. This "linking" might be basic, but you will have to learn about the basics of SEO and when all is said and done, if you want people to find your stuff online you have to rank at the top of Google. To rank at the top of Google, you need good backlinks. Do this over time, and you'll speed up the process of earning a full time passive writing income online.

When you have an idea for an article you would like to write, and not a one page web page, then take a look at submitting your original freelance written article to Constant-Content. Only send your best articles to this website as the editors are very strict. If you can consistently write articles that pass editorial judgment here, then you don't need to have any doubts about your ability to make money freelance writing online. This site will also force you to learn how to value your work and set prices that make it worth your time to write the articles.

Associated Content is a site I like for absolute novice online writers for three main reasons:
  1. It's fairly easy to get up front payment for original articles, and while the pay is very low, breaking the psychological barrier of your first online sale can be huge.
  2. You get paid per view. Once again, while the pay is low, this at least begins to set you up to see some basic passive income each and every month.
  3. Once you learn about Internet Marketing, SEO, and article marketing, AC works well to post "display only" articles that you're using elsewhere. These might only get minor traffic, but you're still getting paid for the views, and I have been surprised in the past about how much direct traffic I get for my AC articles.
As a side note, if you are interested in making money sports writing online, it's hard to do without a sponsor, but AC is a good place to post non evergreen sports articles. This is a decent way to get some up front payments and some residuals, especially for online sports writers who just do it as a hobby and see the writing as just a side thing.

Once you get even remotely decent as an online content writer, you'll outgrow most of AC other than maybe #3 or the very occasional sports related article (articles during the bowl season of college football can be very profitable if you do them right), but it's not a bad place to break the early psychological barriers to "becoming an online college writer."

Xomba is a site that allows social bookmarking of any article or site, and it also allows you to write original articles. All AdSense on these pages are split 50/50, and I recommend using Xomba to bookmark all of your hubs, blogs, eHow articles, AC articles, and InfoBarrel articles. Try to include a summary of 100 words, using your keywords to make sure the Google ads match. You can earn AdSense from these bookmarks, while also increasing your online presence with backlinks.

Squidoo gives you more options in creating a web page, getting traffic, and getting links to your other pages or articles. This is a tool that is better for Internet Marketing than pure online freelance writing, but the tiered system does offer another source of revenue, and Squidoo allows you to make pages more bent towards products and affiliate programs, which is something that comes in very useful over the 4 year plan.

For the first semester of getting your online writing career started, and for some maybe even the entire first year, those are all the sites that you will need to begin to get going. This doesn't mean that there aren't more options, more sites, other steps, etc, but as far as getting started in the beginning, and especially with laying a foundation for passive income, this combination of sites is more than enough, because in the first year you will also need to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), using AdSense to build passive income, and the many many skills that it takes to make it as a writer. This education is going to take time early on, and so different people might want to take this plan at different speeds.

If you are really interested in the freelance writing to the point where you want to make a part time income right now during the college years, then during the second semester I'll add two things:
  1. Sign up for Guru.com and shell out the money for a year long subscription. Elance is a similar site, but I've found it easier to get started on Guru. Expect the first three months to be very slow until you get a reputation built up and sales from previous jobs on the site. But once you get going, the income and jobs you get can snowball. Guru will force you to learn how to send a good query letter and how to pitch yourself. You can't make it as a true freelance writer without these critical marketing skills.
  2. Apply for Demand Studios. If you have a large collection of eHow articles, this becomes very easy since DS is eHow's parent company. You don't get passive income or royalties from DS articles, but there are tons of articles for $7.50, $15, or even $20 an article, which means you can write online for a decent amount of weekly income as long as you put the hours in.
If the residual writing income has you intrigued and earning actual part time income right away from writing isn't a necessity, then you can skip these steps and aim yourself more at Internet Marketing as you continue to hone your online writing skill set.

So in summary: 1 eHow article a day, 20+ hubs a month, 20+ InfoBarrel articles a month, a few CC articles in your spare time, and a lot of Xomba bookmarks. Some occasional AC articles and Squidoo lenses are good, but not as important since the long term returns are more likely going to be lower. This sounds like a lot of work, but really two hours a day would be more than enough to take care of all of this, especially once you get comfortable. Yes, you will want to learn about backlinks and you will definitely help yourself out by spending more time working to get your articles and hubs (and blogs, if you were really ambitious) ranked higher in Google, but the point I want to make is that getting a sheer solid bulk of work out is not hard at all.

If you followed these averages, in one year you would have 365 eHow articles, 240 hubs, 240+ InfoBarrel articles, not to mention over 800 pages on Xomba w/ your AdSense on them. Even if you were absolutely terrible at keyword research (or did none at all), had tons of misses, and didn't hit a single "home run," even if you did nothing extra to help yourself out, in the ridiculously worst case scenario ((in other words I'm skewing the results to be the ultimate pessimist)) you would still be looking at over $400 a month in passive income, in my opinion. Now maybe you would have less, I think the majority of you would make more. If you were serious about this as a career, perhaps a lot more. But that would be $400 a month, every month, that you know you're going to make even if you don't work. See where the time is on your side argument comes in?

And that's not including actual money for content work you might be doing for Demand Studios, Elance, Constant-Content, Associated Content, or Guru.com. It's also assuming you haven't set up a single AdSense blog for yourself.

But I can't stress enough to learn true SEO and Internet Marketing because this is the key to making permanent residual income online.

So what else should you do year one? Well you're in college, so study. Here are various resources I am more than happy to recommend, as I know these are all completely legit. That said, don't spend so much time with this information that you don't get your writing done. If you find yourself procrastinating, help yourself out this way: make the blog reading your homework assignment, but one you're not allowed to do until your articles are done for the day.

Approved Online Freelance Writing & Marketing Resources:

Free Passive Income & Internet Marketing:
Lissie's Passive Income Online
Allyn Hane's Everything You Need to Know About Backlinks
Ben K Make Money with SEO (read what this guy does for work and you will have NO excuses for not getting started)
Make Money on HubPages best and most detailed hub I've seen on this subject.

Freelance Writing Blogs Worth Following:
Poe War Writing Guide is a fantastic novice online writer's resource
Bianca Raven's Writing Blog
Monika Mundell-Freelance Writer
Master Dayton Freelance Writer (you didn't think I'd leave myself of the list, did you?)

Other Resources
The Keyword Academy - this is not for true beginners, because it is a paid membership. $1 for a trial month, then $33 a month after that. Is it worth it? Absolutely - but only if you have the basics down and know that you are in the Internet Marketing and passive income business for the long haul. Until you know this for sure, you're better off staying with free resources for as far as those will take you.

Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer - by far and away the best book I've ever read on how to break into the magazine writing market.

So after the first year, now what?
Now this is the part where some of you beginning freelance writers might get mad at me. What's the plan for years 2, 3, and 4? A lot of the same for year one, with adjustments made BY YOU, based on what your freelance writing or Internet writing goals are. One part of writing over a year is that it will become very clear:
  1. What type of writing you enjoy most
  2. Which sites are producing the most results
  3. What your strengths are
  4. What your weaknesses are
  5. What your smartest plan of attack will be
Different writers are going to have different strengths and weaknesses. If you only wrote 50 eHow articles, but they make you $200 a month, that's obviously better than 200 hubs that make $30 a month. Part of being a successful online freelance writer is growing in confidence, skills, and ability. And this starts with simply getting started.

If you need more income now, like a job, then Demand Studios will become a bigger part of your arsenal, or maybe Guru.com and Elance. Once you learn to write queries, go ahead and pitch to magazines, trade journals, or other print publications. Your skill level, work ethic, and ability to learn will determine which direction you need to go.

But always remember time is on your side, and if you don't know what to do, repeat the first year, focusing on InfoBarrel, eHow, and HubPages. If you graduate with 1,200 eHow articles, 1,000 InfoBarrel articles, and 1,000 HubPages, there is no way you won't be making an extremely solid (if not full time) passive income. You would have to refuse to learn anything and go out of your way to suck to pull that off.

There are many ways to get there as a full time freelance writer, and I strongly advise all beginning online writers to learn SEO, learn about backlinks, and to use that information to boost all your online pages and articles. That said, in the end writers write.

That's really all there is. If you're just starting out as a college student and you want to make money writing online, follow this guide, learn your craft, and keep working. If you steadily grind away at it, you'll find yourself out of college with one hell of a safety net, and with the ability to say you are a full time freelance writer.

That's it for perhaps the longest freelance writing blog post in history.