5 Reasons Why Most Freelance Writers Don’t Make Good Money

The talk of my LinkedIn Editors & Writers forum this past week has been a rant by a new writer posted on the blog OnText. You can read the whole screed here, “A Writer Bitches About the Publishing Industry,” but the gist of it is the writer is new to the industry, writing for free for Web sites for exposure, and having difficulty getting anyone to publish his articles on figures in the music industry.

Why, he asks, don’t editors respond to his queries? Why did the local paper offer him just $35 for an article?

In general, he wonders how the whole freelance-writing thing works, and where the money is.

So grab a latte and sit down, because I’m going to tell you how it works.

Why can’t this writer — and most wannabe freelance writers — get published? I’ll give you five reasons.

1. Anyone can write about music. And many, many people do. That tends to make articles about music pay less, and makes the competition very stiff. Think about a niche that’s harder to write about that interests you — actuarial consulting, say, which I personally have made a substantial sum writing about — and try your luck there.

2. Why do newspapers pay so little? Because they’re an industry in crisis. Their ad sales are way down. Many papers are going out of business. Even major papers have cut their rates. To get more pay, research better paying markets — The Writer’s Market is a good place to do that — and pitch them instead.

3. Why don’t editors respond to your queries? Likely because they are overwhelmed with work. Most editors I know work very long hours. If they want to buy an article or give you an assignment, I can promise you they’ll be in touch.

Another reason may be that you don’t write strong queries and don’t come across as a professional, so they’re blowing you off.

Another possible reason: You’re sending in completed articles that aren’t compatible with the style, tone and length requirements of the publication. New writers do that a lot. When you’re a new writer, you should try to get assignments so that you know you’re writing something the publication actually wants. Saves a lot of effort writing articles no one wants.

4. No one owes you a living as a freelance writer. This blogger has a real hostile attitude about their lack of progress in getting paying writing assignments. Makes me wonder if that tone comes through in their communications with editors. Because bud, nobody owes you a living in this trade, and that attitude may be turning editors off big-time.

5. Maybe you just don’t write well. There. I’ve said it. A lot of writers who write for the free sites are on there, and not in Rolling Stone or Fast Company or wherever, because they’re not super-talented. If they are truly talented and believe in themselves, then they will be able to work their way up the freelance food chain to better and better paying writing jobs.

Doing that takes an inner drive, writing talent, self-discipline, and a willingness to listen to editors and write what they want. With this newbie, I’m sensing maybe one or more of these elements are missing.