Become a Freelance Writer: Career Guide

Freelance writers are contracted employees who are typically paid per writing assignment or per batch of assignments. These professionals often work from home and may be employed by multiple clients.

Should I Become a Freelance Writer?

With the evolution of technology, freelancers conduct most, if not all, of their work using computers and often submit finished pieces to clients via the Internet. As salaried positions become more difficult to secure, competition for freelance jobs may increase and cause a writer's income to fluctuate.

Education is helpful in developing and honing writing skills, but experience and samples of published work often carry more weight with prospective employers. A degree in journalism or a related field might be advantageous when competing for assignments.

Career Requirements

Degree LevelAlthough not always needed, some clients may require a bachelor's degree
Degree FieldEnglish, journalism, communications
ExperienceVaries based on client expectations
Key SkillsExcellent at writing, spelling, grammar and research, creativity, persistence, persuasive abilities, scheduling flexibility, proficient with multimedia software and Word processing programs, quick at typing, basic knowledge of graphic design and page layout, marketing, management, accounting and other business skills can be beneficial
Salary (2015)$37,634 per year (Median salary for all freelance writers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Payscale.com

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

While formal education isn't required, freelance writers often have a bachelor's degree in English, journalism or communications. Common courses in these programs include literature, creative writing and introductory journalism. Some colleges and universities even offer freelance writing courses that can benefit students looking to break into the field.

Success Tips:

  • Write for school publications. Aspiring freelance writers can improve their writing skills, by writing for student publications such as newspapers, magazines, blogs or newsletters. These opportunities provide writers with valuable experience and professional writing samples.
  • Take business courses. Marketing and accounting classes instruct freelancers on how to promote themselves and manage their finances as independent contractors.
  • Take computer classes. Since the majority of freelance work is conducted online, freelancers should be computer savvy. Computer classes teach aspiring writers how to use word processing, spreadsheet and multimedia software.
  • Participate in an internship. An internship in journalism allows aspiring freelancers to gain valuable experience outside of the classroom. Internships may also appeal to potential clients when listed on a writer's resume.

Step 2: Build a Portfolio

A portfolio consists of samples of published work that highlight a writer's style and composition skills. When looking for freelance jobs, a writer needs a portfolio. A beginning writer's portfolio may include work completed in college or through an internship. Collecting a body of published samples may entail writing for newspapers, magazines, blogs or other publications.

Step 3: Seek Freelance Assignments

Much of a freelance writer's time is spent looking for work. Writers can find job opportunities through both print and online media. Freelancers can apply for writing positions, or send out query letters and article proposals directly to editors of various publications. If an editor approves a proposal, he or she may negotiate a contract with the freelance writer and outline requirements for the article. Freelance writers seldom work for just one publisher and often work for several at the same time.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. Professional organizations like the American Society of Journalists and Authors or the National Writers Union are helpful for new writers. These organizations offer networking opportunities that assist freelancers with acquiring clients, internship opportunities and even insurance discounts. Local writing organizations also exist for writers living in or near major cities.

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