Written By Bob Sassone
So, here it is, another new year. And this year, you promise yourself that THIS YEAR it’s going to be DIFFERENT. You’re actually going to make some money from your writing!
Now, there are many among us that will be the next Stephen King or Dave Barry or John Grisham or Sue Grafton. But until that day arrives, wouldn’t it be good to get a little realistic about what you can make as a writer of only columns, reviews, and essays?
Generally speaking, the more “business” oriented the writing (corporate newsletters, brochures, proofreading, etc), the more money you can make.
Small companies, large companies, fan clubs, and community organizations often have internal or subscriber-based newsletters. Do you have the software or writing chops to actually put one together for them? Software programs and paper is cheap now, so you can produce a professional product right in your home. Or perhaps you could create and market a newsletter of your own, get some subscribers, and make some money that way. This is what I did in the early 90s. I created a music newsletter and a television newsletter in my home (with help from friends, of course), wrote up press releases, called record companies and production companies to get the word out, contacted the media, called a local printer, handled the mailing and distribution. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. Running your own publication is a lot of work, but it’s also very satisfying. Pick a topic you know well. And it’s not really a matter of creating a glossy, slick, perfect-bound publication. Mine were just stapled together pages. It’s the useful and informative content that counts (but that’s not to say you can’t make a first-class product – do what you think will sell).
Of course, many have gone from dead-tree newsletters to web sites. Web sites are easier to put together than you think. Web-site creating software is plentiful (some of the better ones are Adobe PageMill and Microsoft FrontPage). Knowing a little HTML helps too (tons of books available at Barnes and Noble or Borders – including the “Dummies” and “Idiots” series and a great book by Elizabeth Castro titled “HTML 4 For The World Wide Web”).
Brochures and Manuals
All companies, even small ones, have brochures, flyers, and other marketing materials that have to be created and edited. When I did sales for a major media company a few years ago, I also volunteered to put some marketing materials together because they didn’t have anyone in-house who did it. This is often the case. You might not be able to do it for Microsoft or Hewlett-Packard, but you can find local companies (ah, there’s that word again, “local” – don’t overlook all the opportunities in your area for extra income) who need help. I was once offered $1000 do rewrite the employee manual for a restaurant that once employed me. Who do you know that might need help? Maybe a friend knows a friend who owns a business?
Yes, SOMEBODY has to write those poems and funny remarks you see when you open up those cards. And the companies are more open to freelancers than you might think.
This can be a great way to make extra money on the side. With resume and desktop publishing software so plentiful, making great resumes and cover letters for others is actually pretty easy. If you’re not sure of how chronological and functional resumes are put together, there are literally hundreds of books on resumes and dozens of web sites that will show you the way. Job-seekers don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars (like my roommate just did) for some big-time company to do their resume. You can do it too.
Editing, Copyediting, and Proofreading
Not everyone can write and edit. Since writing is all around us, text, text everywhere, we take it for granted. We think everyone knows how to write, knows how to edit, is sure that the stuff they’ve written is grammatically correct and makes sense and the words are spelled correctly. That’s not always the case. Small businesses often need help with editing and proofreading (including ads, if you think you can think of some great ad ideas for them). Also don’t overlook magazines and newsletters. Many editors look for freelance or temporary help when it comes to editing or proofreading. Sites to check out: Mediabistro (http://www.mediabistro.com), Guru (http://www.guru.com) and Newsjobs.net (http://www.newsjobs.net/usa/). And let’s not forget The Writers Resource Center (http://www.poewar.com/jobs, and http://www.poewar.com/freelance)! These are all great sites, not just for editing and proofreading, but for staff and freelance positions as well. Also, it doesn’t hurt to pick up the phone and call a newspaper in your area to see if they need help.
How about a non-writing job in publishing? I know, I know. You dread working on the “business” end of publishing. But let’s face it, that’s really where the steady money is. If you want to work in publishing, perhaps you could do what I did to get my foot in the door: I did sales and promotion full time for a music magazine. Sure, it was a lot of phone work and office-type paperwork, but it was a pretty good salary (plus commissions). Besides, you’ll make contacts you wouldn’t have made if you were waiting tables or babysitting. The publishing world runs on more than just words. Get a job in sales, marketing, circulation, distribution. It’s your foot in the door. And when another position opens up…
Magazines, Newspapers and Web Sites
Newspapers are always looking for people to write op-ed (opinion-editorial) pieces on various topics. Start with your local paper. Back in the 80s, that’s how I got my first clips. Many don’t pay (though some do), but I’m a firm believer in writing for free, especially when you are first starting out, or even later when you want to get something published. It’s a great way to get clips, get your name out there, and put some impressive credits in your portfolio. Who cares if you didn’t get paid for that op-ed you did for The New York Times? I mean, it’s The New York Times! And that could lead to something else. Check the editorial pages or the masthead of the newspaper for a contact name. Many want to see the whole piece, though a few might want you to query first.
Become an online community leader
There are many online communities, sites where people who share the same interests get together to share information, chat, exchange information and links, learn new things about a particular topic (health, computers, music, movies, sex, politics, the latest episode of “Battlestar Galactica,” etc). Many online communities don’t pay, but three of the top sites pay regularly and are worth checking out: About (http://www.about.com), recently bought my media giant Primedia, is one of the most visited sites on the web. Community leaders share a percentage of the ad revenue generated by the site, which right now is between $100-500 a month, sometimes more. But hurry! Topics that need to be covered are going VERY quickly. Suite101 (http://www.suite101.com) is a similar site, jam-packed with great info, though it doesn’t pay as well ($25 if you update weekly, less if you do it every other week or monthly). But being a less-visited site, they have more topics available right now. Terrashare (http://www.terrashare.com) takes a slightly different track, telling their community leaders they will give them there own web site for free, and the more visitors you get to visit your section/site, the more money you make.
Schools and local colleges are often looking for writers to teach classes. Even if you don’t see an opening listed, write up a proposal, along with your resume and clips, and send it along to a school. Many times you don’t even have to have a teaching certificate (check your state laws). But even if you do, that doesn’t mean you can’t teach privately in your home. Charge by the hour. Get 4 or 5 students and the money will add up every week.
To make more money from your writing, start to think a little differently. Sure, getting a regular syndicated column in 100 newspapers or writing a best-selling novel are great goals. In the meantime, make sure you can pay the rent. You might have to take other work at the same time to make ends meet, but with a little flexibility, you can still call yourself a writer, learn the ropes, and be a few steps closer to the writing career you want to have.
Bob Sassone is a contributor to TVSquad.com and has written for Salon, McSweeney’s, Tripod, iUniverse, Compuserve, North Shore Magazine, and other publications. A book of columns and essays will be released later this year, as will his first novel. Web site: http://www.bobsassone.com.