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Income Diversification for Authors: Freelance Writing

A few weeks ago we talked about what income diversification is and why it's so important to authors. Over the next few months, I'm going to walk you through some of the best ways to diversify your income and create financial security so that you can live your best life.

A note about full-time jobs

Many writers get most of their income from full-time jobs. Working full-time is a great way for some people to maintain multiple income streams, but we're not going to talk about that for a couple of reasons. First off, if you have a full-time job, writing IS your form of income diversification.

Second, a full-time job can sap your creativity and make it impossible to live your best life. If you don't love it, you shouldn't feel obligated to continue it. The goal of this series is to help you create enough income streams that you can leave your full-time job if you want to. If you love your job, keep at it! Just remember that no job is guaranteed forever, and income diversification is still your best safety net.

Oh, and I've never had a full-time job—I've always been a freelance writer with part-time stints in a variety of industries. So, I'm not really qualified to talk about full-time jobs. Lots of other writers can (and have) talked about that better than I can.

Now, without further ado, let's get into it:

What is freelance writing?

A freelance writer is self-employed and typically writes for a variety of magazines, websites, and companies. Many different types of freelance writing exist, and if you're good at it you can get paid to write about virtually anything. During my freelance career, I've mostly written about business and marketing, but I've also worked for tech companies, pet care companies, and even a wedding DJ.

As an author, freelance writing sounds like a no-brainer. You already have the most important skills. You know how to explain concepts in a compelling way on the page and how to edit those words until they sing.

But freelance writing has some very specific disadvantages for authors, and these become more pronounced if you want freelance writing to become your main source of income.

Today I'm going to walk you through the pros and cons of freelance writing for authors so you can make the decision that best suits you.

Pros of becoming a freelance writer

There are definite downsides to being a freelance writer, but I love my work, so let's start with the perks:

  • You stretch your writing muscles in new ways every time you do a freelance gig

  • You can get paid to learn and write about things you're already interested in (There's a reason I write so much about marketing)

  • You completely control how many hours you work and when you work

  • You choose the amount you get paid

  • You get to work with words, potentially all day

  • You can work anywhere

  • You can work in your pyjamas

  • You can get nonfiction articles published much more readily than short stories and definitely faster than books

  • Every article byline builds your author platform; this is most effective if you write nonfiction books, but some trickle inevitably happens even if you write novels

  • Freelance writing doesn't require much physical movement or any heavy lifting

  • Or a commute

In short, freelance writing can be done entirely on your terms. You can write occasional pieces, or you can make it your primary income stream and use it to shape your ideal life. Freelance writing also directly benefits your career as an author since you're constantly improving your writing skills.

Cons of becoming a freelance writer

Unfortunately, freelancing also has some pretty serious drawbacks, especially when you're first starting out:

  • Finding decent-paying jobs and markets to submit to requires a significant time investment; the market is flooded with writing jobs that offer nothing close to a living wage

  • You must build separate platforms for freelance writing and fiction writing; even a published novel isn't a great clip when you approach a nonfiction editor

  • Many freelancers live in a feast-or-famine cycle, alternating between too much work and virtually none, especially for the first few years

  • Most clients pay on time, but chasing down the ones who don’t can be extremely frustrating

  • Freelance writing can leave your writing muscles tapped out, slowing progress on your actual books

In short, freelance writing is a business, and you'll face many of the same challenges any business owner would face. Many of those challenges are ones that you already face as an author. Trying to do both freelance writing and novel-writing at the same time can be incredibly stressful.

But it should be noted that these cons only become a major problem if you want freelance writing to be a major source of income. You can write the occasional paid article without exhausting yourself much, and over time you'll naturally build a platform for your freelance writing. It will just happen much slower.

So, should you become a freelance writer?

Freelance writing is a natural extension of the skills you already have, but it isn't for everyone. It has worked for me because I thrive on being able to change my routine at will. I love writing nonfiction and I enjoy building multiple platforms. I'm also able to keep nonfiction on a separate track in my brain, so I'm usually still eager to write when it's time for my novels.

If that sounds like you, then give freelance writing a shot. If you're already overwhelmed by all the work required to build an author platform or if you struggle to meet your current daily word counts, freelance writing probably isn't the best choice for you—at least not as a major source of income.

Remember, the goal is to live YOUR best life. Every new stream of income you create should be something you love doing.

Think it's for you? Here are a few resources to get you started:

Dianna Gunn is the author of YA fantasy novella “Keeper of the Dawn” and a columnist at Writer's Corner for both Creating Great Characters and Professional Interaction for Authors. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.


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Twitter: @Write_Plan

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