If you’re a freelance writer, one of the biggest issues you have to deal with is the unevenness of income. No more steady paycheck where the same dollar amount is automatically deposited in your bank account on the 15th and 30th of each month. Checks may dribble in at any time, usually many weeks or months (or years) after the writing assignment is completed. You may not receive any income in some months; most months, perhaps.
So how do you deal with the ebbs and flows of income as a writer. Here are five quick tips.
- Diversify: Expand your ability to write for a diverse network of paying outlets. Delve into both your career specialty and your outside interests. In my case I can write about both science and history (in particular, Abraham Lincoln). Also diversify the type of writing – long form, short form, blog posts, newspapers, magazines, books, and corporate copywriting. Need ideas? Check out a great book by author I.J. Schecter, 102 Ways to Make Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less.
- Specialize: Yeah, yeah, I just said to diversify, and you should. But you can also be successful taking the opposite strategy. Become the “go to” expert in your field. If you can build a reputation as someone who knows more than others in a given field, potential paying outlets will start contacting you.
- Repurpose: For a lot of freelance writing jobs, in particular magazines, you’ll have to do some research, perhaps some on-site visits, interviews, and other means of collecting information. Much of that research won’t be included in the finished piece. So use it. Write another article with a different slant or using information left on the cutting room floor. If an article was picked up by some regional outlet, see if similar outlets in other regions would be interested in a similar article. Bottom line: Max out the usefulness of the information you spent all that time gathering.
- Don’t quit your day job: Well, that’s depressing. Aren’t you freelancing because you hate your day job? Or just want extra income? Or “have a book in you?” Notwithstanding your rationale, the brutal fact is that “making a living” as a pure writer is an all-too-rare occurrence. So keep the steady employment, at least for now, until you are sure you can handle the finances. [Alternatively, it helps to have a spouse with a secure income.]
- Save: This should go without saying. When you have income, make sure to put some aside. Again, it helps to have a second, more secure, income.
There are other ways to deal with an uneven income, which I’ll cover in more entries in this “On Writing” series. Stay tuned.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book on Abraham Lincoln is due out in 2017.