Here’s the third article our new Grow A Writing Career series, in which we cover freelance writing from go to whoa. If you’re new to freelancing, you’re wondering what you’ll write. And if you’re established, you’re wondering whether you’re writing the right thing. 🙂
So let’s take a top-level view. In any freelance writing career, you’re either writing for others, and losing all rights in your writing once you’re paid in full, or you’re writing projects which you’ll sell either directly, or under license.
New freelancers begin their career writing for others. After a year or three, they realize that there are only so many hours in the day. That’s when they think about developing projects which they can create once, and sell for years.
Write for yourself, or others? It’s a dichotomy.
Freelance writing: sell something once, or sell something forever?
Will you write something once, get paid, and be done with it? Or will you write something with a view to selling it over and over again?
Established freelancers do both so that they maximize their income.
1. Work made for hire: you write, they pay, they get all rights
When writers talk about freelancing, they usually mean hunting up writing gigs — getting paid to write by someone else. This is work for hire:
It is an exception to the general rule that the person who actually creates a work is the legally recognized author of that work. According to copyright law in the United States and certain other copyright jurisdictions, if a work is “made for hire”, the employer—not the employee—is considered the legal author. In some countries, this is known as corporate authorship. The entity serving as an employer may be a corporation or other legal entity, an organization, or an individual.
So, when someone hires you, under a longterm contract, or a project-only contract, once you’re paid, they own all the rights in the work you produced. You can’t sell the work again, nor can you create derivative works from it.
Alternatively, you can write, and retain all the rights.
2. Develop your own writing projects: you create products and sell licenses to them
The “write it, sell it” area is huge for freelancers of all stripes, not merely writers. It’s attractive, because you can work on projects which will earn for you for years. However, it’s also a risky area, because you may create something which just doesn’t sell.
Self-publishing is a popular option. You’re writing books, and selling them, but you retain all the rights.
Traditional, mainstream publishing is also an option. In this option, you “sell” your book to a publisher, but you retain all the rights. You sell licenses in the work, but these licenses are strictly limited, not only in specific rights, but also in licensing time. You avoid licensing all rights. “All rights” contracts are ALWAYS a bad idea. When you license rights in your book to a publisher for a set period, you retain whichever rights you’re clever enough to hang onto. 😉
How do you decide what to write?
Writers get into freelancing in many different ways.
It’s a personal decision. Perhaps you’re working, and want to develop a side-hustle as a freelance writer. Or perhaps you’ve developed some expertise, and have seen that people pay well for it.
Alternatively, you want to create a product — write a book, or create a membership site for your yoga students, or sell videos to your coaching clients.
Some writers want to freelance, but aren’t sure how to get started. They’re uncertain about what they could write.
If you just know that you “want to write”, you can see what’s in demand on the outsourcing website Upwork. Browse writing jobs there, it will give you some idea of the types of projects buyers post and pay writers to handle. Generally speaking, you won’t find high-paying freelancing gigs on any of the outsourcing websites. High-paying jobs aren’t advertised. (More on getting unadvertised gigs later.)
Make a list of what you enjoy writing
Here’s the thing about freelance writing. It’s what you make it. You can approach it from any angle, and once you have some experience you can parlay that experience into new areas, with higher-paying gigs. New freelancer? Make a list of what you’ve written in your job, or things you would like to write.
“What pays the best?”
New writers often ask about which freelance writing area pays the best. (The old joke is: “ransom notes.” :-))
Top paying areas include:
- Copywriting — copywriters may charge five figures for a sentence (tagline), and high five figures for company reports;
- Blogging for businesses;
Keep this in mind however. It’s not how much something pays that’s important, it’s how much you make per hour. Your time is all you have, and it really is money. A ghostwriting gig may pay $40,000, but if it takes you ten months of 60 hour weeks, you’d be better off writing website content, because you’d earn more per hour.
Freelance writing you can write: be prepared to ask
Again, we’ll have more to say about asking for gigs in upcoming articles. In the meantime, if you see something and think: I could write that. Perhaps you can. Ask… 🙂
Resources to build your writing career
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