How to Write for Money

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?

Business Writing

Generally speaking, the more “business” oriented the writing (corporate newsletters, brochures, proofreading, etc), the more money you can make.

Newsletters

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).

Web sites

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?

Greeting Cards

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.

Resumes

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

Op-Ed Pieces

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.

Teach

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.

9 thoughts on “How to Write for Money

  1. May topics were very informative, and inspiring. I have a passion for writing and most often my thoughts are put through as words quickly so I hope I can improve on this skill while making money.

  2. RE: innocent on June 2nd, 2010 6:46 am

    help me i really want to make money from write, is it espensive.”

    I’d give it up now if i were you mate, You can’t even put one single sentence together without spelling errors lol

  3. I have been told a number of times, many actually, that I should write a book regarding my life experiences. My first one would be a book comprised of short stories about my adventures while hitchiking to California in 1978. I left Little Washington, North Carolina on a tuesday morning and arrived in Huntington beach, California on the following sunday. I got a job the next day and lived there 12 years. I slept on the back porch of an elementary school across the street from where I worked for 2 weeks until I got my first paycheck and the rest is history. A 20 year old blonde haired, blue eyed country boy in southern California. YES, I have some stories to tell! My question is how do I get them published and make money at it as well?

    1. Hi Ronnie,

      I’m afraid short stories about your life in the seventies are not the sort of thing that bring in much money. You should only write them if you honestly want to tell the stories, because they are not likely to sell widely. Anything is possible, but money is not a good reason to tell those stories. You write short stories for love, not for money. If you happen to make some money off of them, it would be a nice (but unexpected) bonus.

  4. Dear sir, Thank you for responding. To tell you the truth, I was shocked when I pulled up this site and saw you had! My stories are many and all true. I don’t know which angle to pursue as far as marketing them to begin building a reader fan base, so to speak. I keep having the idea of steering towards the christian segment of readers. This is only because of my own personal faith. I’m not much of a church goer but my faith in God goes far beyond believing. I KNOW He’s real. in To be considered a “christian” seems to be primarily based on simple acceptance of the established guidelines set forth by man and all his “knowledge. Repeat after me the mantra and presto, welcome to the club. For me it is an entirely different story. He, the old Man, has stepped in and interceded in my life MANY times and made it quite clear, in his own way, that He and He alone got me out of this latest predicament. In other words I want to write my stories with a religious undertone. Non denominational. God doesn’t have a denomination. Mankind screwed that up a long time ago. I live in the Greensboro, N.C. area and travel to Asheville often. I have a meeting with a professional muse who lives there next weekend. I’m so ignorant I didn’t even know what the word means when I first contacted her. All my folks, 3 generations back are from those storied mountains. Well, I guess I’ll close with a question. Can you give me any insight as to what possible approaches have the best potential to get my foot in the door? Thanks, Ronnie

    1. Ronnie,

      Write your stories. That’s how you get your foot in the door, by spending genuine time writing the best possible stories before you start to worry about anything else. When you’ve written the best possible story you can write, and done that about a dozen times. The very best possible stories. Then you can start sending them out to literary magazines and see if you find any interest.

  5. GREAT article! Thanks for all the advice. On the proofreading line of things, you have a couple typos in this piece.
    “$1000 do rewrite” do should be TO
    and
    “give them there own web site” there should be their
    :)

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