How to Make a Living as a Writer When Creative Writing Isn’t Paying the Bills

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur.

Growing up, I filled journals with poetry, drawings, and stories. I studied playwriting and performance in graduate school. The thought of running a business or putting a price tag on my creativity was icky.

Then real life happened. Newsflash: landlords don’t accept poetry for rent.

For a while, I thought paying the rent meant giving up on my creative aspirations and selling myself out for corporate drudgery. Turns out, I was doing writing wrong.

And if you’re a feast-or-famine freelance writer who spends more time submitting pitches to publishers than writing, you could be doing writing wrong, too.

You shouldn’t have to suffer or scrape by to do what you love. And you don’t have to sacrifice what you love to make the money you need.

Because there’s a whole economy out there that needs creative professionals to spread ideas and inspire each other to action — whether you’re selling a product or fighting for a social cause.

And you know what people need to inspire others?

Storytellers. Like you.

I’m going to share a few ways I’ve turned my love of storytelling into a thriving career.

I’ll also show you how your writing services can be a marketable business that provides a consistent income. So you can finally call yourself a “real” writer.

1. Set up shop as a content marketing pro

One of the most natural fits for creative writers and journalists is content writing, where you’re hired to write things like blog posts, ghostwritten articles, newsletters, and ebooks.

Content writing requires the research skills of a nonfiction writer as well as the ability to communicate complex concepts in a simple, engaging, and persuasive manner.

Do not start out as a content writer the way I did.

I joined a content writing job board where writers took assignments from anonymous clients for two cents per word with 24-hour turnarounds. Yowch. Don’t do it. Your talents and time are worth much more.

I quickly learned three keys to making decent money as a content writer:

  1. Have your own website. When you’re competing for work on a job board or freelancer site, it’s a race to the bottom in terms of rates. Having your own website as a digital “storefront” will attract better-quality leads and help you sell your strengths.
  2. Charge per post, not per word. When people buy paintings, do they pay by the paint stroke? No. The value of content is in the quality of the work, not the quantity of words.
  3. Develop your content marketing knowledge base (and write about it). Most content writing clients know they need good content for their blogs to attract web traffic and earn sales leads, but they have no clue what to do with that content once it’s published on their blogs. Once I learned more about content marketing and started writing guest posts for blogs like Copyblogger, my ideal clients started coming to me, asking if I was interested in working with them.

To give you an idea of how much you can make, I started out earning two cents per word and now I’m charging clients between $200–$500 per blog post.

And I only started freelancing three years ago.

Some of the more veteran content writers who specialize in certain topic areas can earn upwards of $1,000 per blog post.

If you’re a professional writer who wants to learn about the business of content marketing and copywriting, check out Copyblogger’s Certified Content Marketer training program. (Details on how you can join soon at the end of this post.)

2. Learn the art and science of sales copywriting

If you’re the kind of writer who loves getting into the heads of your characters, you may be a copywriter in the making.

Great sales copy starts with understanding what motivates people to take action. To understand that, you have to understand the story your client’s target customers want to tell about themselves and how the product or service you’re selling fits into that story.

Sales copy doesn’t have to be salesy.

Or sleazy. Part of the reason I went into copywriting was because I saw that a ton of sales copy out there is, well, predatory and manipulative. It preys on a prospect’s fear, anger, or paranoia.

I wanted to change that and bring some nice, honest story-power to the world of copywriting. And man, has it paid off.

When I first started in copywriting, I charged hundreds of dollars for projects. Now I charge tens of thousands.

Here are just a few of the project types copywriters take on:

Landing pages, typical rates: $500–$1,500

You know those web pages that offer you free stuff in exchange for your email address? Yeah, I know. They can be a pain.

But the best landing pages are written with such careful planning and artistry that giving your email address feels exciting rather than irritating.

A copywriter made you feel that way. A well-paid copywriter.

Website copy & user experience (UX) copy, typical rates: $500–$1,500 for home pages, $250–$750 for additional pages

Without copy, website visitors would have no idea how to find the information they need.

A great website not only guides and informs, it also gets visitors excited about doing business with the company.

The demand for UX copy is growing as more businesses use chatbots on their websites and social media channels. As demand for great UX copy increases, so will your rates.

Email autoresponder sequences, typical rates: $200–$500 per email

My email inbox is chock-full of so much marketing crap it would make its own landfill if I printed it.

So it takes some truly inspired writing to get me to not hit delete. And truly inspired writing takes the audacity that only a creative writer can bring to the keyboard.

Once you learn how to write a great email sequence, you can easily charge $200 per email — and most sales sequences are at least five emails long.

Sales letters, typical rates: $500–$10,000

That’s right. An expert copywriter can charge ten grand for a single sales letter.

It might seem exorbitant, but if you can empathize with your readers’ needs and clearly tell the story of why the product you’re selling can help them, you can earn your client a thousand times what you made.

Sold on sales copy? Learn the basics with Copywriting 101.

3. Adopt an expert attitude for expert rates

I belong to a bunch of Facebook groups for content marketers and copywriters.

Here’s what most of the posts are about: “How much should I charge for my work?”

Why is this something writers struggle with? Do accountants stay up at night worried that they’re charging too much for their tax filing services?

Maybe it comes from the notion that because almost everyone can write words, anyone can be a writer.

Maybe it comes from the twisted viewpoint that if you’re doing something creative or something you love, you’re not really working.

Ready for some truth-bombs?

Writing is not a luxury

Clear communication is essential to avoid conflict and to help people get what they need.

Clear communication is the difference between a startup that never gets off the ground and an uber-successful business venture.

It’s okay to love your work and get paid for it

Would you hire someone who hated their job?

No? Then why wouldn’t you want to pay someone who loves their job and brings passion, creativity, and expertise to their work?

And why wouldn’t you pay them handsomely if they were damn good at it?

Your value increases with your expertise and the results you can deliver — not with your time

Which has more value to your client … a two-sentence Facebook ad that took you 10 minutes to create — but could generate a 200 percent increase in sales — or a 1,500-word blog post that took you four hours to write but generates only a couple of leads?

Don’t charge by the hour. Charge by the project, and assign a rate to the project based on the value to the client.

You are an expert

If you’re a creative writer, you understand what makes a good story and what questions to ask.

I guarantee that your client does not.

If you set clear expectations on your approach, your process, and your timeline for the delivery of the work, then dammit, get paid what your work is worth — without apologies.

Get that client to show you the money with these negotiating tactics for freelance writers.

The beauty of all this?

You can get paid as a writer while pursuing your dreams as an author or journalist.

In fact, becoming a content pro or copywriter will help you hone your craft and write more persuasive pitches for publishers.

So stop asking people permission to call yourself a “real writer” and just … be a real writer.

A real, working writer. It will be the best career move you’ve ever made.

Learn how to position your writing business for greater success …

Alaura is one of Copyblogger’s Certified Content Marketers. The Certified Content Marketer training program is a powerful tool that helps you attract better clients — and more of them.

Want to enroll? Add your email address to the waitlist below to be the first to hear when we reopen the doors to new students for a limited time soon.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

79 − 69 =