Ed. Note: As 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to look back over the past year and consider how to better our freelance businesses in 2014 and beyond. If you’re trying to increase your income next year, then read for tips from veteran freelancer David Geer on using the writing gigs you already have to generate more income.
By David Geer
It is often easier to draw more income from the freelance writing assignments and projects that are already coming in than to gain new customers. Here are some tips on how to make that happen.
- Ask for a better contract.
Ask for a better contract when you’re giving up too many rights without receiving additional pay, when you can’t figure out what or when you’re getting paid , or if you are an authority or have a demonstrable specialty. Ask for more money when the rights they want seem excessive such as all rights. Better contracts can also ensure you are better paid over the long haul by establishing exactly how much you are to be paid, and how and when you will be paid, in case you want to negotiate for more money or quicker payment terms or simply want to ensure that you will be paid what you agreed on together.Finally, if you are an established writer, use this to your advantage. Published rates are often for new writers whereas rates for veteran writers are seldom published since not everyone can expect to receive those rates. Ask for a better rate than is offered in the first contract you receive. In a specific example of the latter case, I received almost double the advertised pay rate simply by asking. This happened with a technology publication I ended up writing for for many years.Just ask, “Do you have a better contract?” Let them ask you why you want it. Be prepared with an answer. They may not ask. They may ritually give better contracts only to those who ask. I have had this happen on several occasions. I think some publications respect writers for knowing enough to ask while others may want to save themselves from being reputed among established writers for dolling out bad contracts. In either case, they will give better contracts, but you have to ask. It can be as simple as that. If the contract still doesn’t measure up, negotiate further.
- Get reimbursed for expenses.
If you see an expense reimbursement clause, use it. Adhere to the publication’s instructions on how they will reimburse you and what charges they will reimburse. Items they take seriously may include phone charges for interviews or research (I have read lists of acceptable reimbursements from specific publishers that include phone charges); postal mailing charges; travel expenses (discuss before signing) and costs for other goods or services vital to the assignment. Ask for a list of the kinds of charges they will reimburse . There may also be a total amount they will reimburse. Don’t forget to invoice separately. And if the publication does not reimburse for certain charges, consider taking a business expense tax deduction for those charges.
- Ask for a raise after four articles? Maybe not!
In an exchange on the topic among established freelance writers on a writer forum, the consensus seemed to be that if you have turned in about four acceptable pieces without a hitch, you have just become a known quantity, a measurable asset, and you are probably worth paying more to keep. In my experience, however, that has seldom worked in actual practice.I then decided that if I expected a raise as a freelance writer, I might want to negotiate the terms and conditions under which a raise would occur and how much my pay would be raised up before I ever started writing for a publication. Otherwise, I might never see a raise. Again, in actual practice, that theory seldom held water for me either.Here’s what did work. I decided to bid the highest rate I thought I would ever get from the publisher right from the start. Once I determined an amount, I bid that. Sometimes I got the work and sometimes not. Later, as my work and relationships improved, I was able to ask for more from the start and get it. Often this was from new clients who typically paid more anyway. That was one form in which a “raise” actually came. In other cases, if people gave me a raise, they just gave it, based on my work and not based on me asking for it. That also came later in my career rather than sooner, but I would try these approaches.
- Pitch a follow-up or series.
Be aware of related stories that break just as a publication is publishing your piece or thereafter. Get the story and pitch a follow-up or series, first to the same publication, then as a scoop on that publication to their competitors if they reject the idea. In your query, cite not only the first article but also its popularity by sharing reader mail. When writing the piece, compare information from the first story – this will enlarge the readership for both.
- Turn interviews into profiles.
You take an interview for an assignment. You already know a lot about the person. Depending on their import, fame, or popularity, you may be able to publish their profile in a national magazine. If not, you shouldn’t find it difficult to publish in a smaller magazine (try the alumni magazine at their alma mater) or better-paying newspaper. When you write them properly, profiles stay fresh, requiring only occasional minor revisions. This is a built-in “freshness guarantee” that means you can pitch profiles endlessly until someone publishes your profile and pays you!
- Keep a journal as you write.
By keeping a journal of your professional writing life, you store up a slew of material for courses on writing, or even a book! More than memoirs, you can turn these slices of your writing adventures into articles, features, fiction, or meat for your bio or query letters. Journaling is impassioned, eager writing about what you know well. You generate twice the material without doing any additional research. Then you cherish it, learn from it and people pay you for it too!
- Tap into editors you know.
Current work can lead to new customers too. On one occasion when calling an editor who I really hit it off with, I got a lead right away to write adjacent material for the editor’s friend! Another time I queried an editor who, unbeknownst to me, happened to work in a building full of editors in a publishing district. She gladly volunteered to give my information to all the other editors in the building! The lesson here is to be proactively personable with editors.
David Geer is a 13-year veteran technology writer, journalist and content producer whose work appears in numerous publications, such as CSO (Chief Security Officer). Follow David @geercom on Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.