How I Make $2k – $3k per Month as a Freelance Ghost Writer
By Paul Deines
No one is expecting to buy a mansion in the Hamptons with their freelance writing income, but we should aim to receive decent compensation for our work.
Using sites like Upwork, Guru, MediaBistro and Freelancer – as well as pitching websites and journals I find in the Writer’s Market and online – I have built an income of $2,000-$3,000 per month. It requires a fair amount for boot-leather, but here are some best practices I have discovered.
Keep a Diverse Stable of Clients
I pitch clients constantly. It’s a part of my weekly writing routine. Of course, the most important component in developing a steady freelance income is having clients that come back to you again and again.
The good news is that if you produce quality work, clients will come back. They don’t want to spend money and time posting jobs on freelancer sites when they have a consistent writer they already know. So once you’re getting repeat offers, you need to diversify your stable.
Right now, I have three regular clients that reliably return to me multiple times throughout the month. Each has a different deliverable and turnaround expectation:
- One client expects a 20,000-word novella every two weeks.
- One client expects a couple of 3,000-5,000-word short stories a month.
- One client expects an Instagram caption every couple of days.
I can write for all three of these clients concurrently. I know what they expect and when they expect it. The first two require me to sit at my desk and type. For the third, I can produce Instagram content on my phone while my daughter eats breakfast.
What these clients have in common is a consistent rate. Combined, they guarantee a little under two-thirds of my monthly income. The rest I can fill in with one-off commissions.
Look for Work that Interests You
All writing takes time, but some writing will be easier on your time.
Obviously, we cannot always pick and choose, but I encourage you to seek out work that is as close to your interests as possible.
Early this year, I happened upon a contract for a 25,000-word story in the style of Ian Fleming. I’m a huge James Bond fan. I have read most of the Fleming books and have a sense of their appeal and, crucially, their shortcomings.
Never have I been so confident in a proposal, and sure enough, I got the commission.
I wrote the story in four days, with minimal revisions. Was this because I am some preternaturally talented writer. While I’d like to claim that, the reality is that I could write quickly and well because I loved the work. Six thousand confident words flowed out of me each day.
It’s a cliché but not untrue: if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. The same is true of finding writing you’re interested in.
Know and Build Your Value
It’s easy to say that you value your own time and work, but properly valuing your work can be a tightrope walk. I can insist that I be paid two dollars a word, and the work will never materialize. On the other hand, there are plenty of potential employers out there that want to pay you five dollars for 1,000 words. How do I thread that needle?
Unfortunately, I have found that sometimes I need to take a lower rate when pitching to an industry or on a genre I haven’t written before. Is that fair? No. I’m taking less money to produce the same amount of work.
But I think of these lower-commission jobs similarly to a paid internship. You know you’re being short-changed, but you are gaining some experience, a reference, a portfolio sample and a little cash. Once you’ve knocked out a couple of these, you’ll have something for the portfolio and can increase your rate.
I’ve had some incredibly nice, supportive clients that simply haven’t been able to match my increasing rate. I have to walk away from them. I always thank them for their continued confidence and ask them to think of me if their budget increases.
Queue Up Work for the Future
Just because you’re booked solid with current projects doesn’t mean you stop pitching. Lots of employers set deadlines far into the future, so you should be doing the same.
Queuing up future work is imperative to maintaining a regular income. You may be killing it today with lots of lucrative contracts. If next month rolls around, and you have nothing in the pipeline, yesterday’s workload will be cold comfort.
So line up next month’s work today.
But remember: you have to maintain your clients’ expectations. If you won’t be writing word-one for a week, tell them. That way, they won’t be refreshing their inboxes, wondering why you haven’t submitted anything. You also won’t have to update them constantly when you haven’t started.
Set a Schedule and Stick to It
Being a freelancer requires lots of hustle and elbow-grease. I write, on average, fifty thousand words per month for my various clients. Much of this work flows quickly, but I’m still putting in a lot of time at the keyboard.
The only way to ensure you meet your deadline and don’t because overwhelmed is by planning your days ahead of time. Create a schedule with your most challenging work at your most productive hours. I’m a morning person, so I tend to write my research-heavy pieces first thing. If I’m writing something action-driven or salacious, I schedule that in the evening when I’m in a looser mood.
The point is, I schedule. Each day, I know what’s on my agenda and have blocks of time for each item. If I don’t get everything completed that day, I go back to my agendas and reschedule those words for later.
Remember that revision has to be a part of your schedule and incorporate that into your time. Reviewing, proofing and refining your words takes time. Don’t take it for granted.
I won’t guarantee that if you stick to this advice, you can immediately quit your day job. But I have found a modicum of success by holding to these tenets. I don’t plan to change course anytime soon.
About Paul Deines:
Paul Deines is a New York-based writer focusing on beer and culture, sometimes together and sometimes separately. His work has appeared recently in SR-Mag, Brew Studs, and Hop Culture.
As a freelancer for hire, he ghostwrites novels, crafts marketing copy and contributes dialogue for video games and other digital content.
An occasional playwright, Paul’s plays have been performed both online and on stage around the country. In his spare time, he enjoys experimental cooking, classic cinema, watching football, attending the theatre, and constructing playthings for his daughter.
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