So, you want to be a professional writer? No problem.
Seriously: no problem. I’m not going to say that becoming a professional, paid writer is easy – at some point, you’re going to need to sit down and type out a few thousand original words – but it is achievable.
There are plenty of ways to get paid for your writing. Maybe you’ll earn enough to make writing a lucrative side hustle, and maybe you’ll follow my example and make writing your full-time job (I write about 3,000 words a day, Monday through Friday. It isn’t easy, but it is a lot of fun).
How can you get started as a beginning writer? Here are some tips, and I’ve done a lot of these money-making ideas myself, so I know they work!
1. Start a Blog
Every writer needs a blog. It’s one of the best places for you to develop both your style and your audience.
When I started my blog, for example, I created a weekly roundup called This Week in Freelancing, where I explained how much money I’d earned that week. This series of posts eventually led to the How a Freelance Writer Makes a Living column at The Billfold, and then to the Tracking Freelance Earnings column at The Write Life.
Now, I did promise each of these tips would include a way for you to get paid for your writing. How can you make money from your own personal blog?
Well, you could spin a popular weekly income roundup into two columns for two separate publications. Or you could put up a sidebar ad, or a donate button. You can also include a “hire me!” link on your blog, so people who read your writing know that you’re a writer for hire.
2. Pitch a Guest Post
You’ve got a few favorite blogs on your daily must-read list, right? (Please say one of them is Leaving Work Behind.) Why not pitch the guys a guest post?
A lot of blogs accept guest posts, and a lot of them pay for those guest posts. Check out Sophie Lizard’s The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs, Bamidele Onibalusi’s 110 Websites that Pay You to Contribute an Article, Instantly, or Tom’s Paid to Blog Jobs for ideas.
Familiarize yourself with the blog and its posting guidelines, and make your guest post pitch. If all goes well, you’ll have a byline on a website, a clip for your portfolio, and money in your pocket.
3. Pitch Your Alma Mater
Your alumni magazine needs writers, and they really like to hire former students. Read your magazine’s pitch guidelines, familiarize yourself with a few back issues, and send them a really compelling idea.
Here’s a tip: if you can interview another alumnus who is doing something amazing, you’ve got yourself a story. Or you can always write about how your college education prepared you for a lucrative freelance writing career!
4. Write a Listicle
Who are the top 10 Batman villains? You’re already coming up with the answer in your head – Jack Nicholson’s Joker vs. Heath Ledger’s – so why not get paid to write it down?
Sites like Listverse and TopTenz pay for clever top 10 lists, and plenty of other pop-culture sites thrive on listicles and other short, GIF-filled pieces. Figure out who’s hiring, and start pitching.
5. Self Publish Your Book
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is ready to help you make money off your novel (or travelogue, or collection of humorous essays). Upload your book, get it Kindle-ready and then start telling everyone you know that you have a book available on Amazon. Don’t forget to write about it on your personal blog, and include an ad in the sidebar!
Don’t have a finished novel yet? Why not serialize it? Put your work up a chapter at a time, the way Andy Weir serialized The Martian on his blog. He ended up with a movie deal, by the way. Those things do happen.
6. Sign Up with a Content Site
Content writers create everything from how-to articles to Invisible Boyfriend text messages (yes, you can get paid to be somebody’s Invisible Boyfriend!). Sign up with a content site to earn money by writing these short, simple pieces.
I used to write for content sites, and here’s my advice: Get really familiar with AP Style, because content clients are going to want error-free writing. Learn as much about the site and its style as you can before taking the entry test, because if you don’t pass, you’ll probably have to wait a few months before getting another chance. Don’t try to put personality into your writing; these clients want clean, simple copy, not quirkiness and puns.
Some content sites are better than others, in terms of pay rate and quality of assignments. I really enjoyed working for Crowdsource, so take that recommendation as a jumping-off point. Content sites can offer good freelance writing jobs for beginners, but you’ll likely want to move on to better-paying opportunities once you’ve strengthened your skills.
7. Become a Copywriter
Once you learn how to write clean copy for content sites, becoming a copywriter is a logical next step – and, in fact, it was one of the next steps I took after writing for content sites for about a year.
You don’t need to wait a year to get started as a copywriter, though; you can look for copy sites like Get a Copywriter and start applying for jobs. Then have fun writing everything from product copy to press releases!
8. Enter a Writing Contest
Writing contests don’t distinguish between beginning writers and established professionals. Start with The Write Life’s list of 27 Free Writing Contests and see if you can win any cash prizes.
There are some really unique writing contests out there, by the way. You could win 85 goats or a horse farm! Do some research on current writing contests and see if there are any prizes you think you can win.
9. Write Fan Fiction
You’re going to love this. Amazon Kindle Worlds is ready to pay you for canon, licensed fan fiction about television shows such as Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, and Veronica Mars.
Seriously. You get to write 10,000+ words about your favorite characters, and then Amazon will pay you 35 percent on your sales. And yes, beginning writers are welcome!
10. Pitch for Jobs
This might seem like an obvious one, but landing your first job as a freelance blogger can be as simple as submitting a few applications and crossing your fingers. It really is possible to succeed in this business with nothing more than a base level of writing ability and a willingness to work hard!
You can start by checking out the big freelance blogging jobs boards, such as ProBlogger. That said, our recommendation (naturally!) would be to check out Paid to Blog Jobs – a resource that gathers up all viable freelance blogging opportunities from across the web and ties them together in a neat package for you.
Use these ten ideas as inspiration to get you started on your first beginning writing project. Remember, we all started as beginners – but the more you write, the faster you’ll level up and become a professional writer.
How did you first make money as a freelance writer? Let us know in the comments below!
Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist.