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February 9, 2015 10:42 AM   Subscribe

How can I turn my writing skills into "I earn $$$$$$$$ working from home!" with immediate effect and without the use of magic?

I have a horrible job that makes me feel bad about myself. Sometimes it feels like the company does everything they can to make life awful. As well as cutting my hours (mine is a zero hours contract) without warning, someone has even picked their nose and wiped it all over the wall by the urinals so that every time I go to answer nature's call I am confronted with flecks of crusty hopelessness. You get the idea. I need to leave. The situation is becoming increasingly urgent because the company is going into meltdown. I live in London, a city with more opportunities than almost anywhere else in the world, and now I need to bail.

Here's my golden ticket: I can write. A few years ago I wrote a novel which got me signed to one of the best literary agents in Britain, and had four major publishers interested. WOO HOO! Except that that novel didn't get bought in the end, and I'm now on my second (I still have the agent). I would like to earn money by writing while I work on my book, but how? IMPORTANT: I AM NOT LOOKING FOR WHAT - "TRY ADVERTISING!" - AS MUCH AS HOW, I.E. THE STEPS I NEED TO TAKE.

Issues and considerations:
*I have never earned money by writing. I have always had other day jobs, so other than my literary agent I have no tangible proof that I can write well. I have been a live TV producer, a TV presenter, and a charity fundraiser. I have a 2:1 in English Literature from a very good university;
* I would be happiest to work in-house for a newspaper or magazine, but how feasible is this without a journalism degree?
* If I write freelance, where do I begin? What I am best at writing are factual pieces which are fairly intellectual and emotive. I am confident writing about psychology, South African culture and history, literature, gay issues and science.
* I'm 32. I would like to earn in the region of £30k p.a. My favourite film is 'Before Sunrise' and my star sign is Leo.

Please answer quickly. My bladder is filling up and I just can't face going to empty it.

Thank you!
posted by matthew.alexander to Work & Money (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

* I would be happiest to work in-house for a newspaper or magazine, but how feasible is this without a journalism degree?

It's not feasible even WITH a journalism degree.

Most writers have day jobs. Most of us give it away in blogs. Making money from writing has never been more grim and it's certainly nothing you quit a job for.

What you do is find a new, better day-job, and then do freelancing on the side. Once you've got a steady stream of assignments, you'll be in a position to determine if you can quit and write full time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:11 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Not wishing to thread sit, but looking for HOW I can earn money from writing, not "It's hard" or "Don't quit your job" or "Write freelance". Steps, people. I need steps.
posted by matthew.alexander at 11:17 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't know about writing jobs, but one general principle of job hunting is to work your existing contacts. "One of the best literary agents in Britain" should know people who apply their writing skills to non-literary pursuits; ask your agent - who knows and believes in your skills - for advice and contacts.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:35 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

1. Sign up for sites like Elance and Freelancer. You will not make a lot of money on these sites but it's a good training ground for how to pitch yourself, what to include in a bid, how to deal with difficult clients (this is a big one) and what kind of work you are suited to..

2. ...For instance, are you willing to do copywriting? Writing corporate blogs? Sponsored "article" content? Because that kind of work is the most widely available.

3. Exploit every connection you have, however tenuous, in order to start building a network. Ask absolutely everyone you know if they know of anyone who might have some freelance writing work.

4. Create a list of potential clients and then send them work samples you've created. For the ones you really want to work with, send them a sample of something you've written SPECIFICALLY for/about their business.

5. Have a website with a regular stream of new articles/blogs/whatever. Keep these short, you want a place that shows you are a serious writer and showcases your writing style, but you don't want to devote enormous amounts of time to this aspect because it's not a direct money-maker.

6. Join LinkedIn if you're not on it already and start joining relevant groups, making connections, and posting pieces of work with links back to your website. Similarly, join Twitter.

7. Try to say yes to as many jobs as you possibly can even if it's not strictly in the area you want to focus on. BUT be careful not to commit to a project that is beyond your capabilities because you'll just end up disappointing clients and burning bridges.
posted by reshet at 11:38 AM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

The steps are like this:

1) keep a day job
2) write for free/very cheap in 100% of your spare time
3) gradually use those free/cheap contacts to build up a stable of better-paying clients
4) probably still keep a day job.

Having a literary agent who can connect you with editors seeking freelance pieces puts you ahead of 99% of would-be professional writers.

Alternately you can train as a technical writer and find jobs at large corporations (e.g., pharmaceutical companies) doing technical writing or in-house or B2B media.

I will tell you I have been a professional writer/editor for 10 years and have only made your requested salary in One of those years. That year is not this year, or last.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:41 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

In my experience, the biggest two steps you're going to have to take, no matter what, are"keep doing [whatever you've been told to do] for several years" and "be lucky".

In terms of practical getting-of-work, it's just like any other job - you work your contacts, network, give people samples of your work and negotiate them giving you something to do.

However, be advised that the pay for individual work is small - that's just the nature of the beast. I'm making about $25-50 (US) for each of my own articles - which is simply not enough for me to live on. But for someone who's only been at this a year, it's REALLY good.

Being able to achieve the salary you want right away is simply not going to happen. You may be able to work up to that point if you're very lucky and very persistent and are doing this for a very long time, but it simply is not going to be something you will do within just a year.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:42 AM on February 9, 2015

Also, "write freelance" may not be the step you want to hear but it is the step that exists. Like, seriously, unless your granddad runs Conde Nast, it's what you're gonna have to do.

If you absolutely won't accept that, I dunno. If the UK has temp agencies you might try to get on their roster for jobs that are communications based? But in my experience these jobs will not actually ever involve as much writing as you would like and may not generate any useful contacts, so it might be a completely lateral move.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:46 AM on February 9, 2015

Oh, I'll bite.

I am going to strongly encourage you to ask people, whether it be info interviews or finding people on LinkedIn in your area because I do not entirely know how this would apply to someone like you in the UK (if you were based in the US, then I could vouch for some companies).

There are caveats/challenges along the way for each possibility.

Let's just say that you want to get clips (ie, a published sample that someone pays you for with little background required). Please refer to what selfmedicating posted here, because I followed those steps (ie, bought the book, perused through what I thought I could write, wrote a few query letters/pitches). I was offered (and subsequently paid) to write something on spec. Now here is the giant caveat: If I could go back in time, I would not have done it? Why? It wasn't really something I would ever want to read (I thought most of the publication was crap), but I did it for the sample - and you have to write something consistent with the publication if you want it published. In the end, though, you can easily get samples this way (not easy, it takes time, but it worked). You may be okay with this compromise, but I am mentioning it in advance. Also, the pay was not and would not be worth it for these types of clips (for me).

If you want to work at a newspaper, I think that this answer was helpful (it breaks it down step by step - if you get a clip and learn how to find the info, then you could do these step).

Since you list science as an area that you feel comfortable with, then I will suggest being a writer for a medical communication company. You typically either write about diseases (to educate doctors or info for medical journals); they absolutely hire freelancers and you can eventually work from home, although it would take you a couple years to get to that point. There are other areas within a company to work (ie, copy editor, fact checker, etc.) I already wrote in the past as to what steps to take to get prepared to be hired at a medical communication company (the UK has several). Getting hired in the US was usually a matter of taking a writing test, and also reading a few journal articles/interpreting the information (or finding peer reviewed articles and information during the test). For me, I also have a background and degree in science - for you, if you were in the US, there are companies that would hire someone with an English degree or general BA, etc, but I don't know if that does or does not apply to the UK. Contact people who work at companies and find out, whether it be forums in LinkedIn or info interviewing. Memail me if you want the names of companies that hire people to write this type of info in the UK, but again, do some ground work to find out if it is worth taking all the steps in the linked answer.

I do think technical writing would also be worthwhile financially, but I don't know the route to get there (but you could search through metafilter, I would be someone has written questions/posted answers on the topic).

Also, just as heads up (this is my experience, I can't speak for everyone). I do research/write information, but at the end of the I sell myself as a person with science skills and not as a generic writer. What you would do is look at your list and think: Which of this areas are harder to get to for the average person. For example, if you pick topics (you did not, but if you did) such as cooking, exploring, eating cookies, and napping, well, you would have 100000 thousand competitors and probably no pay or $25 per publication max. But if you can pick things that you know the bar is higher and harder to reach for other people, then you've got a way in.

Seriously, do info interviews with people who make a living writing in your area; I did this, and learned a great deal about different places that would hire someone with my background (and you get to see what types of projects and writing is out there). But I used that info to go in a certain direction.

Good luck. Feel free to memail - I can point to a couple companies in the UK.
posted by Wolfster at 12:00 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

This can totally be done. You just have to hustle. Make a list of venues you think would make you look good. Then pitch them. Then once you have those out there, pitch the various Guardian departments endlessly. It's not that hard. This helps a little for getting started. No you don't need a degree for nothin'. :)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:09 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Calling yourself a "writer" and expecting to get paid is a hopeless endeavor (trust me - I'm a writer).

It's better to look for jobs where "writer" is not in the job description, but where writing is a fundamental part of the job.

Anyway, if you want to get paid you have to master, or at least understand, the various kinds of writing people will pay for, from blog posts to white papers to infographics.

It should take 3-6 months for you to get your first paid writing gig.
posted by Nevin at 3:43 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Writers are pretty much considered useless and the first to be laid off these days. If I were you, I'd concentrate on finding any other shitty day job than trying to make money off writing.* My former newspaper colleagues have been doing freelancing and most of them can't find shit. Try to go into clerical work, like the rest of us. Or fast food when that doesn't work out.

* unless it's marketing, which is the only thing people will plug on Metafilter. Or "social media expert."
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:42 PM on February 9, 2015

I came to recommend the same as Wolfster: medical or technical communications. I'm a technical writer, so I can speak most to that experience. It's not quite like journalism, but it can be a stable career that requires more creativity than you might think. There's quite a bit of diversity in the field; I work in software, but there are tech writing jobs in industries such as computer hardware, banking, transportation aerospace, oil and gas, and others.

I haven't worked in the UK, but based on some Googling and on my experience working in the US and Europe, you can expect a £25k-£30k salary for an entry-level tech writer. After 8-10 years, you're probably looking at salaries around £50k.

Freelancing is popular in the tech writing field. I've known many writers who rely on a steady stream of long-term (6-8 month) freelance contracts, or who have a part-time or full-time gig and freelance a bit on the side. Of course, as with any freelance work, it takes time to find contracts, build up your network, etc.

Your literature degree can help you get a foot in the door, but to break into the field, you'd probably need to build up a portfolio. One of the most common pieces of advice for tech writers is to volunteer to work on doc for open source software projects. This shows that you're not afraid to learn about technology, and it gives you a set of publicly available writing samples. There's more info about that here.
posted by neushoorn at 3:26 AM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

nthing the other responses here; this is an unrealistic goal in the timeframe you have set ('immediate effect'). Have you been published before at all? You'll note in the resource linked by RJReynolds the vast majority of the reports are less than $250 USD for 2000-4000 words. That is a lot of work for not a lot of money. So Step 1 is to manage your own expectations.

Step 2, subscribe to the Longreads weekly roundups and the Buzzfeed Buzzreads Twitter feed. Get a feel for what sorts of stories trend and get passed around. You will find a lot of stories about psychology, literature, gay issues, culture/history, and science.

Step 3, write one of those stories IN FULL ON SPEC and ask your agent to help you pitch it. This is what your agent is for. If s/he is truly representing your interests, they will give you contacts, as this will help down the road when your novel is finished.

Step 4, publish story, pay your agent 15%, get paid. Repeat steps 1-3.

Honestly if I were you (I am you) I would look into temping rather than stay at your current job, which sounds like a convenient excuse for not working on your novel right now. At least at a temp job, if people wipe their noses on the wall, you know you only have to stand it for another X weeks/days. Plus at most temp jobs the people in charge are over the moon if you just show up on time and can rub two brain cells together. They are also overworked/stressed and tend to have greatly overestimated the time required/complexity of the task, which means they won't think twice if you're devoted to a 'really tricky Word project' for several hours a day.

Source: 8 years spent working at big NYC publishers/literary agencies, 1 year of an MFA, good pay history for my own freelance writing, numerous temp jobs.
posted by sideofwry at 7:59 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

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