There’s never been a better time to be a freelance writer. With ads on blogs and publishing platforms open to all, anyone with writing talent has the opportunity to make a living on their own terms. Before you fire your clients and start working for yourself though, here are 23 things you need to know.
- Your Blog is (Probably) Not Going to Make Money
Few bloggers actually make any serious money writing blog posts. According to one survey of 1,000 bloggers only around 8 percent of bloggers make enough money “to be able to support a family.” About 81 percent fail to even make $100.
- WordPress is the Most Popular Platform
When you’re creating your blog, you should probably be using WordPress. It’s the most popular platform with around 43 percent of the blogging market in comparison to Blogger’s 35 percent. Its range of themes also make it flexible and easy to use.
- Corporate Blogs Show Plenty of Opportunity
If you’re worried that your own blog won’t make money, think about writing a blog for a business. Sixty percent of businesses realized that a blog was important enough to build; sixty five percent of them haven’t updated them in more than a year. That’s a demand you can meet. Find corporate blogging jobs on Elance and Odesk.
- Starting and Running a Blog Isn’t Cost-Free
Blogs have expenses. A domain name costs money. Hosting costs money. WordPress themes are free but good WordPress themes cost money. Unique, designed themes cost even more money. And images cost money too. While those expenses might be as little as five bucks here or there at the beginning, as your blog grows so do the costs. And if you’re looking to be professional, you’ll need to lay out some professional fees. Jason Larkins of WorkSaveLive.com, for example, spent $500 to set up his blog and host it for two years.
- Income Takes Time to Build
While your start-up costs will have to be paid immediately, your blog income will take time to raise. In January 2012, Jason Larkin’s blog had picked up a little over 15,000 visits — and earned less than $28 in advertising revenue. By May, and without the help of a link on a popular site, his visits had fallen below 5,000 and his revenue to $17.
- Pay Attention to the Affiliate Sales — And the Content that Supports Them
While AdSense and other CPC ad systems will be an important part of your blog’s revenue plan, you should also be paying attention to affiliate links. They pay more per sale but those sales only come in when you write the sorts of posts that recommend the products. You’re going to have to find affiliate products you want to promote and produce the content that drives sales.
- The Audience Remains Big
Despite the difficulties of making money with a blog, the opportunity remains huge. More than 57 million people are said to read blogs, spending 23 hours in front of their screens each week. That’s a lot of eyeballs to put ads in front of.
- Tumblr is Simple Blogging Made Even Simpler
If writing full-length blog posts several times each week sounds like too large a commitment, remember that you have an alternative in the form of Tumblr. Posts can be shorter, set-up cheaper — and you can still place ads and make money.
- If You Build It, You Also Have To Build the Roads to It
Build your blog alone, and no one will come. You also have to bring people into the site. According to developer Paul O’Brien, that means using an exceptional theme, adding a WordPress Greet Box, writing controversial content, using email marketing and even using affiliate marketing to bring in users who might buy products on your site. Without the marketing, you won’t make money.
- SEO Still Beats Social Media as the Main Source of Blog Traffic
It’s notable that when it comes to building traffic, experts including Paul O’Brien, focus on SEO plugins, keyworded permalinks and linkbait content. Despite the rise of Facebook and Twitter, search engine optimization still rules. SEO brings new readers; social media turns those readers into a loyal community.
- Free Blogging Can Bring Rewards
One of the biggest criticisms laid against the Huffington Post is that the site doesn’t pay the thousands of bloggers that provide most of its content. So one way to build a blog worth millions might be to create a platform that thousands of people are prepared to contribute to. More realistically though, you can still win benefits by giving away your content. Art critic Mat Gleason, for example, has been invited to jury art fairs as a result of the valuable content he kindly gives to Arianna Huffington.
- Ebooks Cost Money to Produce
After Rasmus, a Danish entrepreneur who wanted to follow Tim Ferriss to a four-hour workweek, decided to create and sell an ebook, he laid out the money he spent on it. A set of SEO articles to bring in buyers cost him $200. A salesletter cost him $400. He paid Clickbank $50 to sell it and hired a designer for $195. Altogether, his bill came to $1,195. That was cheap. (He paid just $250 for a writer to create the 90-page book itself, a choice that would reduce the quality to a level that would make it hard to sell.) But it does show that book production, even ebook production, isn’t free. Even if you’re writing the book yourself, you can still expect to make a four-figure investment.
- Authors Earn Less for Ebooks than for Print Books
Ebooks can look like a pot of gold for writers. Apple and Amazon leave 70 percent of the sales price to authors compared with less than 10 percent for print books. But prices for ebooks tend to be much lower than those of print books, as low as a dollar or two. While the percentage might be higher, the revenues per sale are usually much lower for ebooks and overall sales are lower too. Amazon has just reported that its ebooks sales now outnumber its print sales. That still leaves half the market untapped by ebook publishers.
- Most Self-Published eBooks Fail to Make Money
Although there are now a number of top-selling self-published ebook authors, most of those 99 cent books on Amazon aren’t making money. Even some of the most successful ebook authors expect that few self-published ebooks will sell more than 100 copies.
- Many of the Biggest Selling Self-Published eBook Authors Turned to Mainstream Publishers
Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath might be raking in the cash as self-published ebook authors but most of the biggest authors are still sticking to traditional publishing. J.K. Rowling’s new book will be out in print and Dan Patterson shows no sign of firing his publishers. Even authors such as E.L. James, whose 50 Shades of Gray started as self-published fan fic used a mainstream publisher to reach the mass market.
- But Enough Writers Are Making Large Sales to Give Everyone Hope
The huge numbers of poorly-written, unedited and unsold books on Amazon should give any writer pause for thought — at least until they see the still-impressive numbers of self-published writers who have moved more than 50,000 books. That’s enough to give anyone hope.
- Forget Amazon, Sell Your Ebooks From Your Own Site
Think of ebooks and you’re going to be thinking of Kindle and perhaps iBooks too. But the real money may be away from the big platforms and on your own website. Yuwanda Black, author of 50 ebooks, sells about 90 percent of her copies directly from her own site.
- Amazon is Filled with Plagiarists
Once you’ve written and published your book, you also have to protect it. Amazon doesn’t bother to check for plagiarized content so you have to. And there may be plenty of it. Each sale of a copied book is one sale that you’ve lost.
- But Piracy — and Freebies — Can Boost Sales
Plagiarized books might steal sales but what about pirated books? If your ebook becomes popular on Amazon or your website, it’s a safe bet that it will be popular on BitTorrent too. But that might not be a bad thing. Author Neil Gaiman was so impressed by the rise in sales that each issue of a pirated book brought his titles that he persuaded his publisher to release American Gods, one of his highest selling books, for free.
- Pricing Your Books — and Changing Your Prices — Can Be a Challenge
Work with a traditional publisher and the company will set the price. Self-publish and you’ll have to decide how much you charge. That’s not going to be an easy decision. Pitch too high for a new author and you won’t be able to build an audience. Pitch too low and you’ll lose revenue. Derek Canyon, whose four ebooks generated $9,700 in royalties (and about half that in profits) found that raising his cover price from 99 cents to $2.99 raised his revenues but lowered his sales — which didn’t recover.
- Report Formats Can Demand Premium Prices
One alternative to selling books for 99 cents is to sell content for $99 and more. Startupplays.com, for example, charges relatively large sums for relatively short guides. You’ll need to have a proven record, a good idea and a platform from which to sell but readers will pay premium sums for content that they believe will deliver premium rewards.
- You Can Create Your Own Magazine
Not every writer wants to be an author — or a blogger. If you fancy yourself as more of a magazine journalist (or editor), you can also set up your own magazine. MagCloud is run by HP and allows anyone to lay out and print on demand their own magazines.
- You Have to Write Stuff People Want to Read
Whatever you write and however you want to publish and sell it, there’s one rule that remains true: you have to produce content that people actually want to read. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed even while the rest of publishing is undergoing a revolution.