AARGH! #3: Oh No, Someone Published My Work
Sometimes, only thing more terrifying than failure is success.
I wanted to wait to make this post. I’ve actually already had a few successes in freelancing, but I wanted to wait until my first piece was actually published before posting about it. That time has come!
So far, writing has been awesome. It’s still daunting in terms of building a consistent pipeline, and I’m nervous as to how different each month is going to be.
Since my last post, I pitched several websites having ZERO published works to show for and only samples I wrote purely to be samples.
For the love of all that is good, if you are a competent writer, please stop taking gigs for $0.01 per word. You will never earn a living at those rates, and there are far faster routes from zero-experience to living-wage that don’t include a daily grind for pennies from abusive, bottom-of-the-barrel clients who treat you exactly like the shitty bosses and middle management that we were trying to escape when we entered this career. Don’t let your work trauma normalize abuse. You are your own boss, now. Don’t get out of bed for less than $0.10 per word.
On top of that, writing for $0.01 per word or less devalues you as a writer and makes it harder for other writers to get a leg up. If you want to get working but have nothing to show clients: build samples. Think of an article you’d pitch someone, write the article for yourself, revise it, and then revise it again. Publish it on your Medium, WordPress, or just your website. I have CopybyCody.com/content.
When you write for that cheap, you’re using what’s called a “loss leader strategy”. Loss leading is, in most cases, good for you. Though we’re all scattered little ships in the night, and not a cohesive workforce, we still ought to look out for one another. What’s bad for one writer is bad for all of writers. If we normalize the idea that you can hire a competent writer for pennies on the dollar, then we all suffer for it. And this isn’t like the antiquated idea of “starting in the mailroom” where you use the opportunity to network. We work remote and alone. Starting your prices low makes it difficult to climb out of that hole, and you’ll be trading the daily grind you were likely trying to escape by going freelance for unsustainably low prices for another, even grindier grind.
Back to the Piece
That one was a big hurdle, because even if your samples are good, the editor looking at your work is still taking a chance on you. So, after three weeks of pitching on an almost daily basis, I was thrilled when I finally caught a break. A small entertainment outlet called Uppercut decided to commission a piece I wrote. Fuck. Yes.
This was huge for me. As someone who loves writing but had never really been paid for it before, this was a big moment. There’s no better treatment for Imposter Syndrome than getting paid for work that only you created. The pitch was about 300 words long; a few short paragraphs painting the broad strokes of a 1,500 word piece I want to write about HBO’s Station Eleven and the video game Outer Wilds.
After the pitch was accepted, I got to writing. I turned the piece in, their editor hopped onto the Google Doc and gave me some great tips and a few compliments. After some back and forth, the final article was ready to go. They reached out to pay me the day before it was published. From pitch to published was about a month, and from what I gather this is pretty normal in our world.
The pay for this piece was nothing crazy, $100. I remember feeling really great when I got paid, followed by anxious. Why? Well, in order to keep the lights on, I’d just have to do something just like this fifteen times per month. Oh, shit.
It’s not that bad. As you write more, find more clients, build relationships with editors, and become a better writer, the money will come easier. It’s just daunting because it feels like I put so much energy into getting that one pitch accepted.
Because I did!
I’m new to this, rough around the edges. My pipeline isn’t streamlined and my work ethic is garbage because I’m still working a day job and writing in what little free time I have. If I kept at this like a full-time job, I could improve more quickly.
Where else have I had success?
Alright, here goes: I read through the wiki for Reddit’s freelance writer community and made profiles on Upwork and Fiverr. Technically my first client actually came through Upwork, writing erotica for pennies. I don’t count that as it doesn’t really help me build the career I want. I also prefer Fiverr just from an energy-usage standpoint. On Upwork, you’re still spending hours and hours and hours AND HOURS cold pitching to people. Worst of all, the platform is home to tons of writers who have no problem devaluing our trade by charging less than a penny per word. Fuck. That.
Fiverr, while you still see people charging low cost, is an energy-saver. You put together a solid gig, with pictures, a video, and some solid copy that shows what you can do. The clients come to you with their needs. The more hands-off, the better for me.
But, where did I nab that Uppercut gig from? That one was pure cold emailing. I found a newsletter for freelance writers that aggregates tweets from editors seeking pitches from freelancers.
Every day, I scroll through that newsletter and other sources and select anything I’m even remotely qualified for. Then, over the course of the week, I start writing pitches and sending them off. After that, it’s fingers-crossed. I won’t know until I have more data, but I threw together a spreadsheet to track my pitching metrics. It’s a basic Google Sheets chart that tracks how many opportunities were in the newsletter, how many I pitched, how many pitches got responses, how many were accepted, and how much I got paid for the piece once accepted. Over time, I hope this will help me adjust my strategy to better my consistency.
Any notable tips and tricks? Don’t be terrible at writing. Take breaks and don’t burn out. It sucks, but if you have another job, try not to write on days you work your other job. It’s exhausting. Cut out like an hour or two from your day off. And study! Always be growing as a writer.
How much money have I actually made so far? $400 or so in February. Not enough to live off of, but it’s good for being brand-new to the game.
So that’s all I’ve got for now. $0-$400 in roughly the space of a month. Will I double that? Will I make nothing in March? I guess we’ll have to find out.
Yours in perpetual terror,
I just got back from a backcountry camping trip out in Big Bend National Park. Got some stellar pictures… literally.