Fact is, anyone who writes for a living isn’t (or shouldn’t) be in it for the money. We’ve already covered this before: writers don’t earn squat compared to other professions. Of the jobs that typically require a bachelor’s degree, reporters and correspondents were the lowest earners, according to 24/7 Wall St. The median wage is $34,530 per year, while the bottom 10 percent made less than $20,000 per year.
To put that in perspective, the 2014 poverty level for a single person is $11,670, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, or about $8,300 less than what the lowest-earning writers make in a year. Therefore, you’re not quite scraping the bottom of the barrel, but it’s not exactly what mom and dad were hoping for when they paid for that fancy journalism degree.
And that’s for newspaper and print journalists. Bloggers and SEO writers? Many of them earn even less. It’s not uncommon for a SEO writer to earn around a penny per word. Think about that for a moment. In order for a SEO writer to earn $30,000 per year, he’d have to write 125, 500-word articles per week, or a headache-inducing 25 articles per day.
It’s enough to make you want to quit your writing gig and take a job with McDonald’s (btw, hourly crew members earn around $15,550 per year).
Before you take up residence in mom and dad’s basement and start repeating the phrase, “Would you like to Super Size your order?,” consider this: Anyone with a bit of writing talent can earn a good living.
1. Write Until Your Fingers Bleed
Back in the day, I covered prep sports for several small and large newspapers. And I sucked when I first started out. But I also took any assignment I possibly could, whether it was sports-related or not. For example, most of my colleagues would cover one football game per week. I’d cover four to five. So, by the end of the regular season, most of my colleagues had written 10 game stories, while I had written around 45.
At my peak, I was cranking out 125,000 inches of content per year. Granted, some of that was for briefs, stats, etc., but that’s still a lot of content – about 3.75 million words per year, or around 144 500-word stories per week. At that ridiculous pace, I had no choice but to improve as a writer.
Figure out your point of no return as a writer, meaning, how much copy you can crank out in a single day without diminished quality, then aim to increase that week by week. Pretty soon, you’ll see a noticeable improvement in both your writing and how quickly you can crank out quality content.
2. You Are Your Best Copy Editor
Simply put, you can’t seek out (or retain) higher-earning jobs until you can consistently crank out clean copy.
“I soon found out that, the cleaner my copy was, the more assignments I received,” said Phillip Brunswick, senior writer for Nimble Media. Brunswick personifies many of today’s blogger or SEO writer. The 26-year-old Jacksonville, Fla. writer is a full-time student who’s working on his master’s degree in finance from the University of North Florida. He had zero experience as a writer before hooking up with Nimble Media.
Brunswick’s advice? “Proofread your copy over and over and over again before turning it in,” he said.
3. Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On
Ever watch the TV show, “The Middle?” If you want to start earning more money as a writer, then you have to become Brick Heck-lite from the ABC sitcom. Brick, played by Atticus Shaffer, literally reads everything, including product labels. That, of course, is an extreme example, but it helps illustrate a very important point: “The more I read, the better writer I become, because it expands my vocabulary and knowledge, and it teaches me how to write different styles and topics,” Brunswick said.
4. Become an Expert on a Niche Topic
Just about every guy has at some point dreamed about covering sports for a living, and why not? We certainly love our football, baseball and basketball. Problem is, those are extremely competitive beats, so you have to be the best of the best if you want to work as an NFL reporter, for example. Then add another five to 10 years before you’re considered for one of those gigs.
That’s why you have to become an expert in a niche topic or subject matter.
“I have a friend who became an expert in ayurvedic medicine just by writing one article,” says Corinna Rogers, novelist and managing editor at Nimble Media. “This friend took an assignment on ayurvedic medicine, then a magazine called her afterward to say they were looking for an expert on it. Now she has a consistent writing gig and writes a weekly column on it.”
Rogers, like Brunswick, comes from a humble writing background – she says she took one creative writing class in college “on a whim.” These days, the 27-year-old Wilmington, N.C. writer’s first novel, “Icebound,” (HarperImpulse) will hit bookshelves Aug. 14, 2014. Her niche? Erotica.
“Now I can’t stop writing,” she says. “I literally write every day, even when I’m not working.”
5. Take On Every Assignment – Until You Shouldn’t
No one is handing out $75,000 a year writing jobs. You have to earn it. And how do you accomplish that? Start by following steps 1 and 2.
Don’t know much about cloud computing? Still think torts are a pastry? Take on the assignments anyway. Say you take on a $10, 500-word assignment about expatriate taxes, but you still get your dad to file your own taxes. Odds are good that it’s going to take you two to three hours to write that first story, well below minimum wage. But look at it this way: The next assignment on the same topic will take you even less time. And by the time you’ve penned your 100th story on expatriate taxes, you’re flying through the assignments. Your topics will be better, your stories will flow better, and the research will take less time.
The best part? Now you can seek out higher-paying writing jobs on the topic.