Q:What are you doing to adjust to these tough economic times? It's a question we asked working writers around the country, and they were eager to assist fellow scribes with their best suggestions. As it turns out, there are plenty of ways to make money, save money, and make a living as a writer, right now, despite the economy.
What follows are lots of great tips, all geared to your success as a writer. You'll find a multitude of solutions for surviving and thriving in the recession (and any time, really). So let's get straight to the advice!
1.“Diversify your portfolio. Fiscally healthy brokers and writers have at least one thing in common—a diverse portfolio. Don't rely on one or two clients, even if you've been working with them for years. And don't rely on just one type of writing. If you've always done food or health writing, consider how you can spin those into business pieces. Look into writing white papers, editing gigs for trade publications, or web work. Broaden your client base and use a variety of your skills.”
-Kelly DiNardo, Freelance Writer
2.“Since the recession, I have been focusing less on magazine and newspaper queries and more on online and web writing opportunities; e-newsletters are booming right now. In addition, I am also shifting theme and content, focusing more on community involvement and sustainability, going green, simplifying home living and family values. Collaborating with other local writers and web designers has provided an abundance of incoming projects. Money saving tips include: online submission for queries, printer ink-refilling programs, utilizing online printing services, and attending community networking associations, open-mic events and writer’s organizations.”
-Megan Cutter, Non-fiction writer
3.“I've found that now is actually a great time to freelance, as companies can't afford staff writers and many people are starting small web-based businesses and need writers. Advertise on Craigslist under ‘Creative Services’ or ‘Writing.’ If you create your own website, make it a blog, or add a blog to your current website. Also, get a LinkedIn profile, and link it to your blog.
All these free tactics have gotten me more traffic and work than I can handle. The real trick is to force yourself to be selective and hold out for the jobs that are worthy of you, and also to be flexible about the kind of writing you'll do. I've blogged for smart startups, written reality-show treatments for aspiring producers, literary and nonfiction passages for education publishers and sales letters for non-profits I believe in. The variety is challenging, and I feel I'm making a real contribution.”
-Lisa Rothstein, copywriter and screenwriter
4.“To cut down on extraneous costs during the recession, I look for easy ways to pinch pennies throughout my writing workday. Instead of paying the Wi-Fi access fee at the bookstore, I work at the home office. Rather than shell out $10 for lunch at the corner café, I'll make my own sandwich. I've also reduced my paper and office supply usage—I never print unless I absolutely have to, and I recycle all of my printer cartridges.”
-Melissa Rudy, freelance writer
5.“I'm a technical writer and filmmaker and, like most people, I've had to readjust my activities to deal with the recession that's destroyed both Wall Street and Main Street. One thing that's been working pretty well is blogging using high-value Google AdSense words. To find the high value keyword, you set up an account at www.google.com/adwords. You create a new campaign as if you were an advertiser. Then you test different keywords to see which are the most expensive. You then create a blog, perhaps using www.blogger.com and use the built in tools to add Google ads to your page. The words you use in your blog title, article title and text will determine which ads are shown.
Good content will keep folks coming back. This method can also be used to repurpose old content from articles writers retain the rights to.”
-Nancy Fulton, writer
6.“As a professional freelance writer for the last decade, I've been able to survive the recent economic downturn with a very simple principle: diversification. If diversification is the rule of the game in one's financial portfolio, it just as much applies to one's freelance writing career.
I see the freelance world as a bunch of buckets: one newspaper here, one magazine there, one PR client here, and so on. The more buckets I have, the better because many will dry up. Focus on expanding your writing base with different opportunities, and focus on being a pro at all times. That's the surest way to survive in my book.”
-Daniel P. Smith, Journalist, Author, & PR Writer
7.“It's vital to be proactive and to market yourself. Spend 30 minutes a day (one hour is better) chasing possible work and making contact with your editors. Ask if they have other work for you. Go through your list of editors and publications you used to work for and chase them.
Look for opportunities to develop new skills—start a blog about something you want to develop an expertise in, start writing about topics you want to sell articles about. Look for guest post opportunities for that topic. Get out there and sell yourself in any way possible. Sow lots and lots of seeds. Don't sit by watching for them to sprout—sow more!”
-Helen Bradley, Freelancer
8.“Is there a topic that you are passionate about, or do you have an area of expertise that you could share with others? If so, seek out public speaking engagements.
I have been successfully supplementing my writing business with community lecturing, and continue to be asked to make presentations despite the lagging economy. In fact, I'm booked through 2010. There are so many organizations that need presenters and are willing to pay to have a professional address their members. It is also an opportunity for you to market your book, if you have one, by doing a combined book signing and lecture.”
-Diane Y. Welch, author
9.“Creatively surviving is a different issue. Writers right now need to be more tuned to where readers are—which is more stressed, more ‘going back to basics’ in their lives and their values. Fiction that provides a great escape is one kind of stress relief...uplifting themes is another avenue.
As tough as the market is right now, it's also an opportunity—books that never sold before are getting a shot; new authors (partly because they're cheaper!) are getting a chance; and there's a market for truly ‘new’ fiction right now—the book that never had a chance before.”
-Alison Hart, a.k.a. Jennifer Greene, author
10.“I've actually got more work now that ever in my 15 years as a writer. My advice (which is working for me) is:
1) Ask your existing clients/editors for more work. My two biggest clients hired me to do work outside my normal responsibilities after I told them I was more than a writer/editor. Now I'm doing marketing, PR, web work, and consulting.
2) Seize every opportunity. Even if you decide to try a gig for a while and then drop it, the experience could lead to something else.
3) Email everyone you know that you're looking for work doing A,B,C or D. Be specific. People may not know that you do copywriting, marketing, PR, editing, business profiles, brochures, etc. Also, some may not know the terminology. Use language that laypeople can understand. Instead of ‘I do copywriting’ say ‘I write text for brochures and websites.’”
-Wendy Burt-Thomas, writer/editor
11.“One possibility is to take on editing, copyediting, proofreading, and indexing jobs. These aren't always glamorous—though editing has its own satisfactions—but writers can use their skills to help other writers and, in the meantime, pay the bills.”
-Michael J. O'Neal, author
12.“FOCUS, NOT FEAR: Don’t think of the entire task ahead of you, or the entire economy collapsing around you, focus on what you can do: the next thing. Stay in the day. Do the thing you know to do. Do it even better.
RAISE YOUR STANDARDS: Do your best work. Don’t submit anything until you can’t improve it. Then wait a day. Let it cool off. You’ll see what’s wrong. Fix it. Make it impossible for the editor to pass.
SERVE: Look for ways to serve those you work with. Encourage them. Help them.
CUT EXPENSES: Take nothing for granted. Could you increase your deductible on your health insurance? Could you switch to a pay as you go cell phone? Or cut your cable/watch TV online?
PROMOTE: Maximize online opportunities to market and promote your work—with a blog, a website, Facebook, etc. Offer value. Serve. Network.”
-Sally Lloyd-Jones, author
13.“To respond to the current economy, I'm looking for new markets that I haven't explored before, being more proactive and organized about submitting queries, going after more speaking engagements than usual, and teaching some new classes at my local writers’ center. I'm also looking at a couple of topics on which I could publish new booklets or e-books, based on past presentations.
Most of my fellow writers are already watching every penny, but I've recommended finding things to sell on e-bay or Craigslist, holding potluck dinners to network and encourage each other without spending a lot on meals, and seeing if hobbies—making jewelry, baking bread, sewing, knitting or crocheting—can generate some income for savings.”
-Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Freelance writer/editor
14.“Diversify, diversify, diversify. I learned the importance of this the hard way last fall when my main freelance client was hit with orders to cut the freelance budget dramatically. With the worsening recession, they didn't have as much money to contract out for freelance work. And since I had depended on them for much of my income, suddenly I was hurting. I took a long look at my embarrassingly small bank balance, and I panicked for a little while. Then I got to work. I combed the internet for leads and hit up my friends for contacts. I networked. I sent out dozens of queries and applications, and I made a few cold calls, all with the goal of diversifying my client base. Yes, sometimes it felt like a lot of effort for nothing. But eventually, it led to some new assignments.
And now I have several clients—and I'm not as dependent on one source for income.”
-Jennifer Larson, freelance writer
15.“Keep producing. Get your writing out there and on the desk of editors. Remember, editors can take months or years to get to your project in their pile, so you want it circulating, so that when there's a break in the recession, or an editor needs something, you are ‘write’ there.”
-Kimberly Llewellyn, author
16.“I'm combing all the writers sites for anything that's relevant to my style: women's issues, book reviews, culinary stories, health and fitness, humor, and any issues parents might have. I'm not being shy when sending queries either!
I've resorted to writing ‘advertorials’ as one magazine calls them. These are 500 word stories about a magazine's advertiser. They charge the client a certain amount and give me 1/2. They're interesting and quick to do.
The only other thing I do is to keep sending out links to my articles to remind all the people I have spoken to in the past that I'm out there. I end every email with, “If you have any clients or subjects you need a writer for, remember I'm ready, willing and able!”
-Carine Nadel, freelance writer
17.“Be persistent and creative with marketing. Subscribe to Google Alerts in your favorite fields to discover new information resources. Comment on blogs and stories in your fields. One comment about a story led to a request by the publisher to write a well-paid article!
Brainstorm with friends for ideas and resources. Take on more speaking gigs, even unpaid ones, to sell more of your books and gather more useful information.
Pray a lot. Affirm success and keep on going.
Milk the address book and database for prior editors and contacts. In other businesses, former and current clients are the best source of new business.”
-Pat McHenry Sullivan, author
18.“I am doing more marketing to my niche market, I have also started compiling articles I have written and making them into e-books to sell on my website. I have also compiled many blog posts from previous years to turn into an e-book to sell on my website.
I would suggest that writers having a hard time look at some of the things they have already written and see if they can compile any of that into special reports or e-books that they can sell online. No cost for printing or shipping, and most of the work is already done.”
-Michelle Dunn, author
19.“Work with (or start) a nonprofit! Many nonprofits are open to innovative ideas for workshops, speaking engagements or readings. Poets and Writers, for example, funds writers in certain cities $500 to give a reading. Think about a social cause you are passionate about then approach a nonprofit aligned with your cause—the Sierra Club for an environmental issue as an example, and discuss how the two of you could collaborate. I have not only worked with nonprofits—I started one!”
-Dina Rabadi, writer
20.“Establishing new relationships in this climate is difficult, but my established relationships are blossoming as companies look to outsource writing cheaply and keep a streamlined staff. Additionally, many businesses are looking at putting a lot of communications online because it's cheap. I have sharpened my skills in the area of SEO (search engine optimization) and keywords, and have expanded my portfolio in this area. Work has followed. I've been busier this month than I was any month last year!”
-Alice Hohl, writer
What an abundance of truly useful tips and inspiration to get you going. We hope you found many ideas you can use to prosper during this economy, and beyond. Here's to your writing success!
MARCIA PETERSON is a columnist for WOW! Women on Writingand Premium-Green (The Women's Guide to Freelance Writing and Markets). Her writing awards includefirst prize in the SouthWest Writers International Monthly Writing Competition and first prize in ByLine magazine's short article contest. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two children.