5 Ways to Get Paid for Your Words

You can make a good living as a freelance writer when you build a variety of income streams

Kathy Widenhouse
Nov 24, 2020 · 6 min read
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Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

ver the years, I’ve heard writers say, “Yes, you CAN make a good living from writing.” Before I began my writing journey, I never thought that was possible. I knew that a select few writers made a living as best-selling novelists and another tier was employed as journalists.

But I hadn’t stopped to think that all of the words I read every day from the blurbs in a catalog to a caption on an image had to be written by somebody. And those somebodies get paid — often as freelancers, who work for a variety of different clients, rather than staff writers. These days, freelance content writers are taking a front seat in a lucrative profession.

A freelancer earns money by packaging words. Those packages simply take different forms, otherwise known as different income streams. Opportunities for freelancers are everywhere because quality content is more in demand than ever before, thanks in great part to the internet. If you want to make money from your words, you can — as long as you’re willing to work hard and think creatively to build a variety of income streams. It may take some time. But put those different income sources together and you’ll make a good living. Here are five income streams for freelance writers to get you started.

1. Write articles

Online publications, consumer magazines, trade publications, local periodicals, websites, newspapers, blogs, and journals need to fill their pages on regular publication schedules. Someone needs to write all those articles for them. Why not you?

I got my start in freelance writing by pitching article ideas to print publications. I sent query letters, sold first rights, and then resold reprint rights. Those first successes gave me a stable of clips and put money in my pocket. Plus, bylines led to other work. One editor saw an article I’d written for a children’s publication and asked me to submit a book proposal centered on the article idea. I continue to write for print and online publications today. It’s fun!

  • Writing Tip: Keep good records of your queries to publications, articles submitted, and rights sold.

2. Write content for organizations and businesses

Every business, organization, and ministry needs good content and copywriting. Those projects include landing pages, web pages, success stories, brochures, presentations, blog posts, direct mail, appeal letters, and promotional ads. By hiring freelancers, businesses can pay per project and can avoid adding an additional staff member to the payroll.

As with print and online publications, you need to approach these businesses and offer your services. I do so by sending a prospecting letter to those in my niche and offer them free information — not my services. (Here’s how to write a prospecting letter.) This way, you establish yourself as a resource for these prospects.

Be sure to follow up with any responses you get by sending a fulfillment package. Stay in touch with informational newsletters sent that give these readers helpful and valuable information. Have a website and at least one social media site, which you update frequently to show you are active. As these prospects see that you understand their niche and that you are a good resource, they trust you. When they need a writer, they call you.

  • Writing Tip: When it comes to getting freelance clients like these, it’s a numbers game. Plan to get a 2–4% response from your inquiries. But don’t let that seemingly low number deter you … let’s say you send out 200 letters and hear back from 4–8 clients. Four of those hire you. They refer others to you. You’re on a roll!

3. Write a niche blog and earn affiliate income

A niche blog is a blog or website that focuses on a very narrow topic. These sites use content to market to a small segment of readers that are interested in the topic. Let’s say you enjoy building airplane models. Your model airplane hobby website can be filled with tips, product reviews, and helpful pointers about building model airplanes. This information is extremely valuable to other hobbyists and those in the model plane industry. Your site attracts readers from all over the globe and can generate passive income from affiliate links and advertisements.

The key to a niche blog’s success is choosing a topic that you enjoy (you’ll be writing a lot of pages about it) and is in demand (so that you can build organic traffic through keyword searches). When you offer high-quality content that is well-optimized with keywords, you’ll build traffic. I recommend Solo Build It as a platform for niche websites. I operate two niche websites (Tomato Dirt and The Cookie Elf) with Solo Build It and have had good success. Writer Nick Usborne has created a course called How to Write Money-Making Websites that explains step-by-step how to start, build, and maintain a niche site that generates passive income.

  • Writing Tip: A niche blog takes time to build traffic. Choose a topic that interests you so you stick with it for the long haul.

4. Write books

Used to be that to write a book, you had to convince a publishing house to give you a book contract. Not anymore. Thanks to technology, anyone can become a published author. (Here’s how to get started writing a book.) When you write a book and publish it yourself, you bypass many of the roadblocks to publication and maintain control of your content. Write a book and you can gain some traction with a specific niche audience. You may not get rich, but you can build a nice, steady income stream from your book or books. Your book can be a springboard to a series of books or an online course, too.

  • Writing Tip: Identify what makes your book idea unique. If someone has already written a book similar to your idea, then find a special slant, niche, or approach so yours stands out and solves the problem in a different way or meets an unmet need in the marketplace. Here are more tips on writing a book.

5. Write digital information products

A digital product is sold and downloaded from the internet. While you can purchase all kinds of digital products (such as photography, software, and music), a digital information product uses writing to convey useful knowledge or information. Among the most common digital information products you can write and sell are eBooks and courses. You can write an eBook and produce it in a PDF, ePUB, or .mobi format — or all three — suitable to read on all kinds of devices (computer, tablet, eReader, or cell phone). Or you can write a guide, tutorial, or online course centering on a special skill you’ve acquired.

  • Writing Tip: Publish your print book in a digital format and sell it as an additional income stream. Then use the content to create an online course, too.

Extra tips to make money writing

I don’t bid to be hired to write on sites like Fivrr, Upwork, or eLance. I’d rather spend my time pitching to my niche than competing with a zillion other writers and only get paid $5 for an article. But I have heard from plenty of writers who have had success on job sites. They bid, get some clips that they use in their growing portfolio, and move on.

Take time to think about which income streams to pursue first. Work at them steadily, one at a time. Then add another. Stick with it and you’ll build income streams that add up to a good income. And you’ll be doing it with your words.

Kathy Widenhouse offers tips and tutorials for writers at www.nonprofitcopywriter.com.

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Kathy Widenhouse

Written by

Kathy Widenhouse is a freelance content writer and online publisher who specializes in writing for nonprofits and ministries. www.nonprofitcopywriter.com

The Book Mechanic

Down-and-dirty growth strategies for commercial writers and creators, with a blue collar work ethic, and a no-nonsense voice.

Kathy Widenhouse

Written by

Kathy Widenhouse is a freelance content writer and online publisher who specializes in writing for nonprofits and ministries. www.nonprofitcopywriter.com

The Book Mechanic

Down-and-dirty growth strategies for commercial writers and creators, with a blue collar work ethic, and a no-nonsense voice.

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