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5 Reasons Your Writing Career is Going Nowhere

Read Time: 5 min

Do you ever feel like your freelance writing career is going nowhere fast? Do you try to take things up a notch, but they never seem to improve, or at least not by much? You might be making one of these common mistakes that freelance writers mistake.

Here are five reasons why your writing career might be going absolutely nowhere:

1. You're not improving your craft.

Writers must constantly improve their writing.  If your writing career doesn't seem to be going anywhere, start by looking at what you're publishing. If you write low quality pieces (and you'll need to get an objective opinion on that), you can't expect to move up the freelance writing ladder very far. Make sure your formality is appropriate for your audience. If you're an ESL writer, read as much as you can and keep improving until that isn't obvious in your writing. Focus on improving your self-editing process, or consider hiring an editor. The little things you do to improve your writing now can pay off significantly by attracting a better breed of clients in the future.

2. No one knows who you are.

Being able to write doesn't make you a successful freelance writer. If you want a real career in this industry, you're going to have to wear several hats: that of writer, entrepreneur, salesman, marketer, and more. If you can't market your work and sell your style and your rates to potential clients, your career won't go anywhere. Brush up on your marketing skills, and keep doing that, no matter how much you think you know. Another way to get your name out there to potential clients is to network with other writers and industry professionals. Never neglect professional networking, especially in the freelance world.

3. People know who you are, but they just don't like you.

How do you portray yourself publicly around your target market? Do you ever have anything useful to say, or do you only surface to practically beg for work and advertise your services like crazy? You don't have to act all warm and fuzzy to get respect from clients and drive interest in your work. However, how you communicate and what you contribute to others (whether it be in forums, on blogs, articles, etc.) will play a role in whether or not your freelance writing career advances, and how quickly. It's good to be yourself. But it's even better to contribute.

4. Your customers aren't that happy with your past work.

Just because a client doesn't complain, it doesn't mean they're thrilled with your work. You'll know when your clients are really happy when they start referring your services to others to the point where you don't have to spend as much time marketing on your own time. This will also depend on the kinds of clients you work for. Clients paying peanuts for work are far less likely to go out of their way to do a writer a favor (they sometimes worry that giving you referrals will cause you to leave them or charge them more as demand increases). Clients who are willing to pay professional rates for higher quality work will have more invested in that quality, and they tend to lead to referrals to more higher quality clients.

5. Your rates are all wrong.

A lot of freelance writers underprice their services so much early in the game that they cap their own earnings potential. If you do that, there's nowhere to go with your career without changing your rate structure down the line, which can be incredibly difficult to do.

Let's look at an example, saying you've calculated your costs, and you need to make $2000 per month from your writing. If you're a writer charging $.01 per word, you would have to write 200,000 words per month (that's the equivalent of writing at least two average-length books per month). If you're a writer charging $.10 per word, you would have to write 20,000 words per month (which amounts to 1000 words per day assuming you have five working days per week and four weeks per month). That's much more doable. Even better, let's say you charge $.50 per word. To earn that $2000, you would only have to write 4000 words (which comes to an average of 200 words per day assuming that same five-day work week). Crunch the numbers with your own target per word rate, and see how the workload varies.

If a penny-per-word writer is cramming over 6000 words of writing into each day (and that's all 30 days in a month) to reach their income goal, they won't be able to take on more work without sacrificing the quality of their existing work further (which will hurt their reputation and chances of getting better clients -- not to mention risking a burn out). The $.10 per word writer, on the other hand, can reach that goal with a reasonable amount of writing each day (around one or two articles), and still have time left over to not only market themselves more effectively, but work additional clients into their schedule, therefore leaving room to grow their income without having to alter their rates. The $.50 per word writer has the ability to write fewer days during the month, giving them even more time to market their services to other clients, take on work beyond their intended goal, or work on personal projects.

Let's focus more on those $.50 per word (or higher rate) writers. They only have to write 4000 words per month to earn their income goal. Will they get as many clients at that rate as the penny-per-word writer? Of course not. But they have much more time to market themselves to find the clients willing to pay their rates, they have more time to take on additional clients (even at lower rates), they have more time to pursue their own writing projects like a blog or a book, and they'll have more time to network.

Here's the underlying point. When you launch a freelance writing business, know what you need to make each month to cover your expenses and then increase your estimate by at least 10% (because you'll almost certainly forget to account for something or need money for unexpected expenses that spring up from time to time). Once you know what you need to earn, think about how much you can realistically, and consistently, write each day (based on how many days per week you want to work on your writing). Don't overestimate this, or you'll burn out early.

Set your rates a little bit higher than what you actually think you need, so you can A) reach your goals with fewer clients, B) not risk having to raise your rates in the near future, and C) leave yourself room to grow in the future by adding more clients into the mix without overwhelming your schedule. Of course, there are some assumptions that you'll have to make, such as that your writing is actually worth the price you come up with when setting your rates, and that you actually have the marketing ability to pull in clients at those rates. If not, see the points above about those issues.

Note: This post was originally published on July 17, 2007. It was updated and re-published on the currently-listed publication date.

12 thoughts on “5 Reasons Your Writing Career is Going Nowhere”

  1. Great points; especially about marketing.

    In today’s writing environment on the Web, any writer who’s not booked solid, at good to excellent rates (50 cents to $1 and more per word), is just not marketing effectively.

    Writing is a business, and like any business, writers need to develop solid marketing skills, and then they need to devote half their available writing time to marketing – even when they’re fully booked.

    Marketing needn’t be a chore; it can be great fun. 🙂

    Cheers

    Angela

    Reply
  2. The last sentence (actually should be several) is a fine example of the piss poor writing by contemporary writers / journalists. You folks should try proofreading once in a while. If I can find grammar errors, then there is something wrong.

    “Of course, there’s are some assumptions that you’ll have to make, and that’s that your writing is actually worth the price you come up with when setting your rates, and that you actually have the marketing ability to pull in clients at those rates. If not, see the points above about those issues.”

    Reply
  3. First of all, thank you for pointing out the glaring error.

    Second of all, anonymous comments really piss me off. So from now on, if someone wants a comment published, they’ll need to leave a name and a “real” email address (which doesn’t go public). If someone doesn’t have the balls to take credit for what they want to say, they won’t be given the “floor” here.

    As this is my blog, I’ll follow whatever journalistic style rules (or lack thereof) that I please. I write for readers in a conversational manner, and it serves my purposes well. I won’t change that to conform to a standard style outside of client work. This is one of my various “homes” on the Web, and if you choose to be a visitor here, I expect you to respect me and the other writers in the group. Constructive criticism is always welcome, as well as tips for improvement, but if you insult me or the others here, you’re not welcome back.

    Now, most importantly, not a single writer in this group claims to be a perfect writer. As a matter of fact, if you had taken the time to read some of our posts, you would see that we very blatantly say that. Some of the best writers couldn’t make a living at it to save their lives. You don’t have to be the best in this industry to be a professional… it’s more about your marketing ability than your writing in the end. I’m quite proud personally to be someone who knows how to earn a living doing what I love as opposed to a closet “writer” obsessing over grammar on something as casual as a personal blog. If I used this blog to gain clients, it might be another story, but I don’t. It’s a networking tool, and “playground” for me to discuss industry issues as I please. As such, perfect grammar is far from a significant concern.

    Reply
      • Our social media plugin only enables Likes if you allow the button to display the count. That’s an unnecessary feature that doesn’t suit the rest of our buttons and that slows down page load times. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a button-only option. When I finish the new design I plan to replace that plugin anyway due to some recent compatibility issues. So I’ll look for one that lets us use the Like button instead of the Share option for FB.

        Reply
  4. Hello Jenn

    I am new to this blog and I totally agree with you. You provide
    excellent tools,resources and tips. For me the newbie on the scene
    I have been encouraged by your gift to give back and help others
    learn.
    Thanks for being yourself and much respect goes out to you!
    Keep up the great work.As writers we are all on the same team,just focusing on many different areas. May we encourage one another.

    We cannot be all things to all customers. We can take suggestions and just try to improve ourselves and our work. We are ever growing and learning. That’s the beauty of being a writer! Have a fantastic day and I look forward to being part of this community.
    Respectfully
    Trisha

    Reply
    • You can be the best writer in your specialty area and still never have a successful freelance writing career. Of course you have to be able to write, and those skills will improve over time, but generally speaking your marketing skills are even more valuable. You can be a mediocre writer and succeed with strong marketing skills. But if you’re a great writer, it’s unlikely you’ll go far if you don’t also know how to to sell those services to clients. Just keep that mind. It’s something many new writers overlook, assuming a successful writing career will involve them being “just writers.” But when you turn that writing into a freelance career, you’re a business owner first and foremost. We’re just lucky that a large part of that business involves doing something we love — writing. 🙂

      Reply
  5. I’ve stepped up my marketing game and have been sending out cold emails every day. In addition to using social media and word-of-mouth referrals. I’m looking into direct mail too.

    I tweaked my website, again. But I’m not done. I signed up for a free website evaluation from a web company and received a report. My website did better than I thought it would since I’m not a techie and do the best I can. However, I’ll need to contact the company because I’m confused by some of their findings when it comes to SEO. The company’s findings aren’t specific enough.

    Final thoughts…

    You must believe in you and your writing. This is HUGE! If you don’t think you can be successful, you won’t. Also, if you come from a place of ‘needing’ to make a living from freelance writing, you won’t. Why? Because you’re giving off a desperate energy. I know this may sound of New Agey, but it’s the truth. Relax, do your best, and have fun with freelance writing. 🙂

    Reply
    • Excellent points Amandah. You can’t come across as desperate if you want to land decent-paying gigs. You have to display confidence. That desperation is what content mills and some buyers using race-to-the-bottom bidding marketplaces rely on. You have to believe in yourself and believe that you can do better before you can ever expect anyone else to.

      Reply
  6. I’m taking workshops and I’m writing everyday and I’m taking some major big-picture courses (one planning to writing the other revising novels), I’m consistently networking, I’m polite and congenial and funny and most of all myself around those I market with/network with, I’m doing everything in my power to put out the best entertainment product I can, and I’ve done my pricing research to price appropriately, so barely into it or not, I feel like I’m really going somewhere with my career as a writer.

    Thanks for reminding of those things that matter most!

    Reply
  7. Wow. Every single point is just perfect. I was just thinking yesterday about how my rates began to compete with those in Manhattan. I remember increasing them and worrying that no one would buy. Fat chance — they paid without complaint. That’s something I wasn’t used to up to that point!

    That third one — wow. I see a lot of people making that mistake. Either they don’t get friendly enough, won’t carry on a conversation, or they act like total asses or show-offs. You’re right — you don’t have to be their best friend (or their mother), but asking how they are and listening to the response takes no time and lets you maintain your professional persona. And if you’re shouting all over the Internet, good luck to you. Some clients are totally turned off by that.

    Reply

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