How to Make a Living as a Freelance Writer
"Having a blog or website is no longer an option for writers – it is a necessity. How can you expect someone to buy your products when you don’t even have a shop? Thanks to platforms like Blogger and Wordpress, writers can easily set up their own website or blog at minimal cost. Your website should contain all the info that a prospective client would need in order to make a decision to hire you. Keep it clean, simple and easy to navigate."
In Part 8 of The BW INSIDER series, we revisit our interview with freelance writer Shuchi Singh Kalra. Read tips about making a living as a freelance writer and find out about the importance of social media in our globalised world.
The BW INSIDER SERIES: Part 8
B is for...book. What is your favourite childhood book?
I grew up on a steady dose of Enid Blyton but ‘Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ by Mark Twain is one book I can read over and over again.
A is for… animal. If you could transform into one animal for one week, what would you be?
A bird, just to experience the freedom of flying and the joy of high BMR.
N is for… necessary. If you were banished to a desert island and could only bring two items, what would they be?
A hammock and a laptop/tablet/smartphone (with a solar charger of course)
A is for… authentic. How would you describe yourself in three words?
Hippie. Moody. Foodie.
N is for… novelist. Which writer do you most admire?
It is so difficult to pick one but for now I’ll go with Salman Rushdie – his writing is beautiful, uninhibited and gutsy.
A is for… appetite. What is your favourite banana themed food?
Banana cake with a generous dollop of chocolate icing please!
How did you become a successful freelance writer?
I have always found solace in writing, even as a child. I remember writing little poems and stories although I never tried to get them published. All through my school years, my writing skills were my only saving grace as I had no other talent to speak of. I can’t say I wanted to become a writer because those days (using those words makes me feel very old), it wasn’t really seen as a career option, at least where I came from. But I did maintain a personal journal and won the occasional writing/essay competition. My journey as a professional writer began in 2005, when I was working as an Optometrist at an eye hospital. I took up some academic writing assignments just to escape the drudgery of 9-5 (which was more like 7-9 at the hospital where I worked) and it was only when I received my first payment that I realized that I could make a full-time career out of this. I quit that job, took the plunge and kept at it. Looking back, I feel so glad that I did. I wouldn’t trade my career and lifestyle for anything else in the world.
How do you get work?
In the beginning, I practically wrote for free because building a portfolio at that point was more important than anything else. When I had a few clips to show, I approached smaller publications in India and applied to some freelance gigs on job portals and LinkedIn. All this while, I kept strengthening my portfolio until I reached a stage where clients started approaching me for work.
Tip for aspiring writers: Apply for a writing job as you would for any other job – complete with the covering letter, updated resume and samples of your work. Be professional in your communication and build a strong connection with your clients. A very annoying trend that I have observed among newbie writers is that many of them aren’t too bothered with research and instead pester established writers to outsource work to them. That is no way to go about it, really. Reach out to “real” clients, and choose projects that will add value to your portfolio.
As a freelance writer, how important is the usage of social media?
It really depends on individual preference and comfort levels. Social media provides fabulous opportunities to writers who wish to promote their work and network with the right people. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are all fine but I have personally found LinkedIn to be the most useful of them all. It is indeed a treasure trove of prospective clients. In fact, I have bagged a good number of assignments from the job boards on LinkedIn and have even written a blog post describing how writers can use the platform to their benefit. I am also quite active on Facebook, and I use it extensively to talk about upcoming projects, books, and writing in general (you can find me here).
Blogging is another medium that holds immense scope for freelance writers, if used correctly. For a new and unpublished writer, a blog can double up as a portfolio and a potent networking tool. My blog, which goes by the name of Indian Freelance Writers, enjoys reasonably decent traffic and most prospective clients first land at the blog, and then waddle their way over to the website. So it does help my business even if it isn’t monetised.
What advice would you give to someone who is writing a blog or creating a website for the first time
Having a blog or website is no longer an option for writers – it is a necessity. How can you expect someone to buy your products when you don’t even have a shop? Thanks to platforms like Blogger and Wordpress, writers can easily set up their own website or blog at minimal cost. Your website should contain all the info that a prospective client would need in order to make a decision to hire you. Keep it clean, simple and easy to navigate. Place your contact info where everyone can see it. Back it up with compelling content without being too sales-y. Put your best foot forward in terms of samples, and you are good to go.
Now, throw yourself headfirst into promotion. Milk all the mediums you have at hand. Tweeting about your work, posting your articles on Facebook, sending out mailers, including a link to your website in your email signature, writing guest posts on popular blogs and asking for a back-link are only some ways to go about it. More than anything else, keep updating your blog with interesting and high-quality content because without that, everything else will just fall flat on its face.
The writing industry is such a competitive industry. How can a new writer stand out?
Whatever you do, it is only your work that will make you stand out. There are no shortcuts around that one. The kind of jobs and the rates offered to you are going to be proportional to the quality of your services. If you want to command a premium price, learn to deliver a premium product. Treat freelance writing like any other business and do whatever you can to improve your writing skills. I have always been stressing on the importance of building a strong portfolio because that is the only way writers can project their worth in the market. Bottom line: Write prolifically and write well!
Do you think going to creative writing courses help?
I think writing courses are a great way to build confidence, learn new things and get an objective feedback on your writing. That said, they are in no way mandatory for anyone aspiring to take up writing as a profession. I had signed up for the Writers Bureau course long ago and I did learn quite a lot from it in terms of writing styles, genres and markets. But once I set out to make a living out of writing, I was pretty much on my own.
The primary aim of a writing course is to help students improve their writing skills. That said, the only way to become a better writer is to read a lot and write a lot. If you cannot cultivate these two habits, writing courses won’t be of much help. BW
Shuchi is the owner of Pixie Dust Writing Studio and the Indian Freelance Writers Blog. Travelling is her first love and she leads a happily nomadic life with her fauji husband and livewire toddler. Pay her a visit at www.shuchikalra.com or join her on Facebook.