Freelance Writing IS a Viable Career (Don’t Listen to the Naysayers)

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Jane: One of the complaints I hear from freelancers is that online writing doesn’t pay. That isn’t true in my experience, although I can understand why that belief is widespread, especially when good online publications fold (e.g., The Toast) for lack of funds. Can you comment on the types of online writing that can and do pay, versus those that don’t?

Mridu: In my experience, whether a publication will pay well (or at all) will come down to how it’s funded. While I love the startup and issue-based feel of many online publications, they are typically run by people passionate about a topic and who have access to limited funds. So they grow organically and often take time to become high-paying markets, if at all. That’s important to remember.

In terms of the kind of writing, I think it often comes down to supply and demand. Right now, personal essays are everywhere and writers love writing them. The appetite for them seems almost endless, but perhaps for that reason personal essays, unless they’re going in the back pages of national magazines, aren’t incredibly high paying.

I do find that original reporting is almost always going to be something that’s valued and we’ve seen that shift recently in the minds of consumers. Online publications such as Ensia, which I’ve written for, will often pay for well-reported, well-researched stories, for instance. (We forgot to add them to our list, but they too pay approx. $1 a word.)

Specializing in a subject or region can also be helpful. I routinely negotiated double the initial pay I was offered simply because I was a journalist in India working for US and UK publications and translating East to West was something I did well for my clients and I was often one of the handful of people doing it.”

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