How to Become a Freelance Writer

Considering becoming a freelance writer? Learn about pay rates, the skills writers need, where to find remote writing jobs, and how to get started.

portrait of Jenna Glatzer
by Jenna Glatzer

Updated May 9, 2022

Edited by Giselle M. Cancio
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How to Become a Freelance Writer
Image Credit: mapodile / E+ / Getty Images


Freelance writing is an alluring career for many reasons: You can do it from anywhere, set your own hours, specialize in topics that interest you, and get paid to talk to interesting people.

If you're a self-motivated person who knows how to research, conduct interviews, and meet deadlines, it might be a good career for you. Even better, it's a career that's on the rise. According to a 2022 report by the Content Marketing Institute, 75% of large companies surveyed said they outsourced their content marketing work, up from 71% in 2019.

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Ready to start your journey?

The pandemic has led to growth in the freelance economy, but even prior to that, freelance writers were in demand. Brands and publishers have an almost bottomless need for new content, both online and in print.

What Does a Freelance Writer Do?

Freelance writing can encompass many tasks. You may write for newspapers, consumer magazines, trade magazines, custom publications, blogs, newsletters, websites, business reports, podcasts, commercials, videos, or even greeting cards. Freelance writing is a field of many possibilities.

According to Payscale, the average annual salary for a freelance writer was $40,450 in April 2022. However, pay varies greatly. It's possible to make six figures a year as a freelance writer.

Staff writers work for one company, but freelance writers generally work for several. Freelance writers can work remotely, but they may be asked to meet in person from time to time.

What Do You Need to Become a Freelance Writer?

To succeed as a freelance writer, you'll need more than just writing ability. You'll also need the discipline to keep yourself on track and stay motivated when work isn't pouring in.

You'll also need to be able to take criticism and rejection well. Editors sometimes ask even experienced freelancers for extensive revisions.

A reliable computer and internet connection are also crucial. Depending on the kind of writing you want to do, you may need a digital recording device or app to record interviews.

To find freelance writing jobs, you'll need proof that you can write. Many freelance writers compile portfolios of clips to share with prospective clients and editors. ("Clips" are links or files of your published work.)

While some freelance writers possess degrees related to writing, it's possible to pursue this career path without a degree.

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Freelancer

1. Educate yourself

Read books, take courses, and seek online resources to learn more about the specific types of freelance writing you'd like to do. Online, you can find resources about content marketing, grant writing, technical writing, and more. Take the time to understand how to write effectively for today's market.

2. Get clips.

When you're starting out, you may build clips by writing for local publications or your own blog. You might also write "on spec," meaning that you write a few pieces in full to submit rather than sending out pitches, or ideas. Try to build a niche or two: Write several articles on a specialized topic to position yourself as an expert.

3. Build a website.

Store clips on your own website or on Contently. Links get outdated, so be sure to save online files as PDFs, too. Your website doesn't need to be fancy or cost a lot of money to keep up. You can build it yourself using a template on any of the popular do-it-yourself platforms like Squarespace or Wix.

4. Look for calls for writers.

Social media is a great place to hunt for work, but trying to find individual calls for writers yourself can be tedious. There are a couple of great aggregators. Try Sonia Weiser's Opportunities of the Week newsletter, which compiles a list of calls for pitches from publications.

5. Network.

Learn how to build an effective LinkedIn profile, and join writing groups online or in person. Attend conferences for writers. You can pick up so much from other professionals in your field — everything from tips about editors who are great to work with to warnings about companies in financial trouble.

6. Send pitches and letters of interest.

Pitches are proposals of what you'd like to write. In a pitch, a writer outlines their article or blog ideas and explains why they're the right person to write the piece. Pitches are usually no more than a paragraph or two. Letters of interest are more general introductions that allow you to share your availability, introduce yourself, and discuss your skills.

Pros and Cons of Freelance Writing

Pros

  • You can work from home. Remote work means you won't lose time by commuting, and there's no need to put on shoes.
  • Your income is unlimited. Depending on your output, you may earn far more as a freelancer than as a staff writer.
  • You get to choose what projects to accept. As a freelancer, it's always your choice to take assignments or look for ones that interest you more.

Cons

  • It can be unpredictable. Losing a steady client can mean a big drop in income.
  • Remote writing jobs don't usually come with benefits. You'll likely need to buy your own health insurance. There's also no paid time off or retirement fund.
  • You'll pay self-employment tax, which is currently 15.3% of your net earnings.

Frequently Asked Questions About Freelance Writing

How much do freelance writers get paid?

Freelance writers are paid in three ways: per word, per hour, or by flat rate. There's an enormous range of fees depending on the size and budget of the publisher or business, the research requirements, and the niche.

National magazines sometimes pay $1-2 per word, but their online counterparts may offer half that amount. You'll find countless low-paying opportunities, but if your aim is to earn a living, you can't spend much time answering those calls.

Content writers frequently quote flat fees per project that are based on projected hourly fees. Your rate per hour should depend on the intensity of the project and your expertise. In these situations, the rate could be $150 or more per hour.

How do I become a freelancer with no experience?

It is possible to send a query letter or pitch to a major publication and get an assignment even if you have no clips to show, but it's unlikely. When it happens, it's usually because you have a story no one else can tell: a personal essay or unusual expertise or experience.

More often, writers break into the industry by first writing for a few smaller markets on spec or demonstrating their writing skills by maintaining a blog.

You can also get started in content marketing writing by sending letters to content managers you find on LinkedIn, explaining what you can offer, and asking about their content needs.

Is freelance writing a good career?

Freelance writing is a great career -- for some people. But it may not be a fit for others. Freelancing requires a lot of discipline and the ability to withstand uncertainty. Your income may fluctuate considerably from one month to the next, so you need to be comfortable managing your finances.

If you enjoy getting paid to learn about a variety of topics and share what you've learned with others, freelance writing could be right for you. For many, freelancing is a satisfying and lucrative lifelong career.

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