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Freelance Author OpportunitiesGetting Started as a Freelance Writer
by Peggy Deland

One of the biggest challenges of homesteading, or even just living in a rural area, is finding a reliable source of income. But if you have a computer with Internet access, a strong command of the English language, and a knack for explaining things, you can almost certainly work from home as a freelance writer.  The real challenges lie in avoiding scams and making a reasonable hourly rate.

Think Journalist, Not Novelist

The biggest source of confusion among new aspiring writers is over what a freelance writer actually does.  Some people think they can write anything they like and make a decent living from it.  Unfortunately, this is not at all the case, especially if you enjoy writing fiction or personal essays.  Both are extremely tough markets, and your chances of getting paid at all -- let alone an amount you can live on -- are tiny.  If you have a story brewing, go ahead and write it. Just don’t expect it to pay the bills.

The vast majority freelance writing consists of non-fiction writing for a specific client.  Article-writing is the most common, but there are plenty of opportunities in other areas.  Press releases, grant proposals, sales copy, and curriculum writing can also earn you a tidy sum if you have the right skills.  Corporate blogging also pays well, but bears little resemblance to writing a personal blog.  Instead, this job mostly consists of writing short pieces about new products and industry news.

Getting Started

One of the best things about freelance writing is that there is no startup cost at all, assuming you already have a computer and Internet access.  You will, however, need to devote time to learning how to write for your desired market.  Writing articles for websites is almost always the best place to start, so be sure to research and practice writing for a general interest web audience.  This audience tends to be looking for specific information, so write clearly, concisely, and in an easily-digested format.

Once you feel you have the hang of writing for a web reader, you’ll need to put together a set of application materials.  About half of clients want to see a writer’s resume, but if you’ve never written professionally before, making one can be tricky.  Emphasize writing and communication skills when describing your previous jobs.  Perhaps you helped write a company newsletter, wrote memos, or created training materials.  You can also use your background to your advantage; if you’ve worked in healthcare, a health website may give you a chance to write your first paid articles.

Writing samples are the most important part of an application for a freelance writing job.  Samples demonstrate your ability to write well, and most clients value them far more than your education or experience.  A typical writing sample should be between 400 and 600 words, written in the3rd person, and should appeal to a general audience.  You should have at least three writing samples ready before you begin to look for clients.

Finding Clients

Once you have your resume and writing samples ready, there are several ways to go about finding freelance clients.  A few major websites hire writers on an ongoing basis, but most only hire occasionally.  You can start by checking the "Careers" section of websites you enjoy to see if they are hiring freelancers, and visit online freelancing forums for job leads.  A few websites offer daily lists of job leads. You can also work through freelance bidding sites, but keep in mind that most of the work available on bidding sites pays very little.

Aspiring freelance writers are a common target of Internet scams, so it's important to be careful when you're looking for clients.  Any website that expects you to pay -- with the exception of freelance bidding sites -- is almost certainly a scam.  Beware of sites that say they'll hire almost anyone, especially if they make claims about how much money you can earn.  Watch out for clients that want original, unpublished samples, unless they pay for the sample.  Such requests are a way to get writers to work for free.

Not every client that isn't a scam is worth working for.  Some websites offer an "online portfolio", where they will allow you to post your work for public viewing.  These sites often act as if they are doing you a favor by letting you give them your articles for free!  Other clients pay very little, or pay only a portion of the profits they earn from your work.  While revenue-sharing can be worthwhile, many people find that they make only pennies from articles posted on profit-sharing sites.

It takes time to establish yourself as a freelance writer, but the payoff is hard to beat.  You can make a living working from home on
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whatever daily schedule you please.  Deadlines are usually generous.  Clients are almost always happy to accommodate you if you want to take a break between projects.  Best of all, you can have the satisfaction of hearing from readers who enjoyed your work and are eager to read more.
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