If I were to ask those just starting out what is most important in having a freelance writing career, I'm guessing most would tell me what seems obvious. You have to write well. And it’s true that you do need sufficient writing skills to build a career as a freelance writer, but that’s not what is most important. In fact, excellent writing skills don’t even factor into my top three.
If you’re going to really make it in this career, you have to be willing to go the distance – and it’s probably farther than you think possible. It’s not an easy job, and there is no such thing as easy freelance money. The fact that you have to work to earn it, however, makes that money, and the control you get to have over it, that much sweeter.
Being a freelance writer means getting up at 4 am if that’s the only quiet time in your house. It means giving up a lot of fun extras you might have if you went to work in an office sometime. It means long hours and writing when you really, really don’t feel like it. If you can’t do that, freelancing is going to be a hard career for you. It’s one thing to write well. It’s a whole other ball game to write well on command.
I've been in this online freelance game for almost eight years now. Not only does that make me feel rather old, it makes me look back and realize how much things have changed and how many things have essentially stayed the same. There has been and will be stiff competition in the industry every year. There are those who specialize in things I don’t care to specialize in – and they make a lot of money. There are many faces in this community of writers who have come and gone.
Those of us still here can tell you with certainty that we’re not doing exactly what we were doing five or ten years ago. We might not even be doing what we were doing last year. The internet changes, the clients change, and the techniques of writing and marketing change accordingly. If you’re going to be part of an ever-changing world, you must change as well – and that doesn't just mean changing prices.
Finally, it is my personal opinion that being able to market mediocre writing is far more beneficial to a writing career than demonstrating amazing writing. There are countless great novels and books out there just waiting to be discovered. The trouble, at least for those amazing authors, is that nobody is racing around trying to discover books waiting to be discovered.
If you want your work in the limelight –and profitable - you must advocate for yourself constantly. Show off. Be proud of what you do. Explain your work and value to those around you. Seek opportunities and create some of your own. If you can’t sell what you’re offering, you’ll never be able to make a comfortable, sustainable freelance living on the written word. Marketing is simply too ingrained in the business model.
While these may be what I consider the top three necessities for successful freelancing, there are sure to be other opinions – especially from those who have been at this even longer than I have.
I pose the question to other successful writers: What is most critical to freelance writing successful?