Should freelance writers share information about their freelance writing income publicly? Some writers do so regularly on their writing blogs. Others refuse to ever share details about how much they make, and how they do it. What's right for you? Let's explore the issue.
Is Talking About Money Really Taboo?
I'd argue that disclosing income information hasn't been "taboo" in the freelance writing profession for quite a few years now. We're simply seeing that discussion in a new medium (via blogs, forums, etc.) and able to have more interactive discussions about the topic. Would Bob Bly have sold as many books to budding freelance writers if he didn't disclose at least a hint of his own income level? I highly doubt it.
Any copywriter will tell you that one thing people always want to know is how to make more money. It sells books, and it also happens to "sell" blogs. People also like to learn from the example of others. Knowing others have gone before you and reached your goals is inspirational for a lot of people, and that's not likely to change.
Is it Ever Not OK to Talk About Your Writing Income?
As far as I'm concerned at least, how much you disclose is entirely up to you; as are your motives. I think readers are often smarter than we give them credit for, and they'll have a good idea of your motives when you post - whether you're just happy to hit a goal, trying to be helpful, etc.
If you Share Your Income Stats, Do You Have to Tell People How to do the Same?
I don't think you need to justify your own income by telling everyone else how to do what you do. Sometimes it would be inappropriate (such as if the work itself is confidential). Other times you just want to share your success story if you reached a personal goal, and there's really nothing "special" in how you did it... you just did your job. I'll be "taboo" myself for a moment and share a personal example:
It's looking like this month or next month will be my first five figure month through freelance writing work. That's a goal I didn't expect to even come close to this year, especially considering I only write for clients part-time. (It's also something I don't expect to continue in following months - I just happened to have a few excellent contracts coming in together.) So I'm having a good year, I'm pepped up about work, and decide to share my enthusiasm with other writers. I don't think it's a big enough deal to warrant its own post if and when it officially happens, but I've found that when I discuss things like my rates (which are always publicly available on my business site), I get more of a positive reaction than a negative one.
Perhaps that's because I network with a lot of newer writers who appreciate having the positive stories to look forward to in their own work. I've even had quite a few writers tell me that they charge more now in part to seeing my rates as an example of something beyond those crappy $5 / article gigs. If I targeted an audience that was already more established, perhaps I'd get different reactions. You'll always run the risk of alienating people, but if you have something others might find useful, or if you just want some support from your fellow writers, go ahead and talk about reaching your own goals - I've found the freelance writing community to be quite encouraging and supportive most of the time.
Now, since I told you (even in vague terms) about my current writing income, should I also tell you how to do the same thing? If I could give you a step-by-step and tell you it was "easy," I would. But reaching goals doesn't happen overnight, and I don't think any reader should expect to be able to mimic someone else's success... they have to create their own.
Despite the fact that I don't think anyone has to tell you how to earn what they're earning, I'll do it. I simply followed the advice I gave to my blog readers, writers I met in forums, etc. for the last few years:
- Specialize. (For me that's press releases, business copywriting, and business-oriented content writing.)
- Don't under-price your work from the start.
- Find ways to interact with your target market, and build your reputation as an expert in your niche or style with them. (In my case, that involves a lot of forum participation around potential buyers, and running several blogs.)
- Build a strong referral network of other writers. My best gigs almost always come from referrals from other writers if they're not from a repeat client. It's a two-way street though. To get referrals, don't be afraid to give them. You can't do everything. Point clients to someone better suited to their needs, and chances are they'll come back to you later when they have work available in your specialty.
Three and four take time. There's no getting around that. Other than the four points above, I simply did what I do... I wrote articles, press releases, and Web copy for clients, and I did it based on my advertised rate schedule and appropriate discounts (for extremely large orders, old regular clients still on extended lower rates from last year, etc.). By all means, I haven't been writing as long as some (about nine years overall, and about four years online). But I had to work my ass off for those years building something from (literally) nothing. There's no magic pill or secret formula that's going to make it "easy," and I think anyone telling you otherwise is a liar.
So even if someone does give you a detailed account of how they reached impressive earnings as a writer (or anything else for that matter), I'd suggest being more wary of that than the writers simply wanting to share their good fortune, hard work, and encouraging story. All you can do is what you've been doing all along - building your writing career one (sometimes slow) step at a time.
So what do you think? Should people never share their writing income stats? Should they be more open about it in this day and age? Are you uncomfortable with doing so, but don't have a problem with others doing the same if they don't mind? Are you one of those readers who likes to see the stats for inspiration and encouragement? One that still hopes someone's going to give you that "secret strategy" to making it big?
Jenn has 19 years experience writing for others, around 14 years experience in blogging, and over 11 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.
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