Chip MacGregor

April 3, 2012

How can I make money with my writing?


Pam wrote to ask, “Can you say more about the whole freelance writing concept? I’m looking for practical ideas to help me make a living.”

A couple thoughts from a guy who would basically write for anybody, so long as they paid me…

1. If you live near a major city, check and see what organizations are located near you. Most nonprofit organizations have a magazine, newsletter, or web site, and they all need content. Check them out, find out what sort of articles, interviews, and sidebars they use, then offer them some material. I sold hundreds of things to companies and nonprofit organizations when I was free-lancing. Nonprofits have to stay in touch with donors, and that means somebody has to write their copy for them. (They also need report writers, researchers, and grant writers, if you want to check into those opportunities.) 

2. Drive down any of your streets, and you'll see businesses on both sides. Nearly every one of those businesses have a website, and they all need content. That's how the internet has changed business — every mom-and-pop shop now has the opportunity to hawk its wares worldwide via the web. And think about the changes in websites over the past few years. You used to see something that resembled a highway billboard — a business name, phone, address, and slogan ["Don's Plumbing of Portland — Great Service, Low Rates. Call Today — 555-1234"].

Now if you go to that site, you'll find an introduction to the business, a history of the company, a bio of each employee (complete with photos), a self-help section to fix your own plumbing problems, a link to order specialized plumbing parts, a section on the history of indoor plumbing, and an ask-the-expert compendium. And, of course, somebody has to write all that stuff. Most businesses do it themselves (until they figure out what's they've written is awful, since they are plumbers and not writers), then they go to a PR firm to create copy for them. This is why I've been saying to people at conferences there have never been more writing jobs than there are right now — ask anyone in the industry, and they'll tell you there is a huge need for creators of content. And, if you really check in to it, you'll find they don't teach writing in schools as much as they used to, so this need has arisen at the very time when there are fewer people who can put together a string of coherent, interesting paragraphs. If you can learn to create good marketing copy, you can make some extra money. OR you can specialize in editing other people's web copy, since it all needs another set of eyes on it. (I have a friend who has made a steady part-time living doing "editing checks" of company websites.) This may not be exactly the type of writing you want to be doing, but it's a great way to generate income while you're working on that thriller novel you've got going.

3. If you are friends with academics, think through which professors have popular classes that you could turn into books for them. Frequently a popular seminar speaker will have great content, but will struggle with moving his or her ideas into print.  This is how I got started in the freelance writing business — I introduced myself to a couple profs who had great seminars, but wrote like academics. I simply turned each section into a chapter, and in the end, they had a book.

By the way, if you know any motivational speakers, or if you live near a mega-church with a well-known, charismatic pastor (um…"charismatic" in the classic sense of the word) who creates and sells downloadable or CD sermon series, go in and offer to turn those speeches into book chapters, You can also create study guides to go along with the series. I made great money doing this, thanks to a writing friend who introduced me to some people who were creating these types of projects. 

There are opportunities with both digital and print writing. For all the talk about publishing being dead, the fact is more people read now than ever before. That means there are plenty of avenues for making freelance writing money. 


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