When you’re looking to earn a living as a freelance writer, there’s one important thing to know: Not all freelance writing jobs are created equal.
Some types of writing offer terrific pay, while others always seem to pay peanuts. If you focus your efforts on better-paying opportunities and avoid wasted time on niches that don’t offer pro rates, you’ll improve your odds of building a serious freelance income.
Recently, I’ve had quite a few coaching students announce plans to focus on niches where I believe there is little or no paid opportunity. So I think it’s time to call these out, so writers can avoid them.
Wondering which types of writing are unlikely to pay the bills? Here’s my list of the five worst types freelance writing jobs:
1. Describe this
There used to be great money in writing product descriptions. Sadly, the Internet seems to have driven rates on this niche through the floor. I haven’t heard of a single freelance writer earning well with product descriptions in the past decade.
It appears that writing product descriptions just isn’t considered a high-value type of writing, and that many companies don’t care if their descriptions are dull or even ungrammatical. So this has become a niche that’s increasingly the domain of ESL writers who’re willing to work for rock-bottom prices. And that’s driven market rates for this writing niche through the floor.
I’ve also been disappointed to learn of cool brands such as ThinkGeek that don’t offer professional wages for description writing, even though they require highly creative writing craft to fit their humorous brand vibe. Shame on you!
2. I’ll find a job myself, thanks
Resumé-writing is another niche that used to command decent wages. Now, most job-seekers use simple, free online tools to construct their own.
I gather there are still a tiny proportion of C-Suite managers (CEOs, chief financial officers, chief marketing officers, and such) who might still pay a few hundred dollars to have a really polished resumé put together by a creative writer. But there doesn’t seem to be enough work that pays a real wage.
Besides imploding wages, the other reason resumé writing is a bad niche is that each customer tends to need only one (maybe two, if they’re going after different job types)–and then they move on. That leaves you doing constant marketing, and the small money you get for the resumé work doesn’t cover all those unpaid hours.
Every writer I meet in this niche wants coaching from me on how to transition to better-paying writing types–and I’ve even met resumé writers who’ve been evicted and become homeless. Stick with this type of writing, and soon you may be writing your own resumé, because you’ve gone broke and need to leave freelancing behind and find a full-time job.
3. Let’s review
One of my first ongoing freelance gigs was writing $75-$100 book reviews, so it makes me sad to say this: Paid reviews are dead.
And let’s face it–reviews never paid great to begin with. Reading a whole book and writing a review for $100 never penciled out. Most of us did it for the free swag.
Whether it’s a restaurant, book, play, or movie you long to write about, crowdsourced free-review sites such as Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes have cornered this market. The wealth of free reviews has reduced pay or ended paid reviews altogether at most publications and websites. Outside of the New York Times Book Review section, Entertainment Weekly, and a handful of other elite opportunities, good luck getting paid to write a review.
4. Save the drama
In the past year, I challenged two different expert writers to create a big list post for this blog on good-paying markets for personal essays. Both of them failed to deliver–because pay for these personal stories has all but vanished. I’ve listed a few in the past that pay over $100 a post, but it’s hard to find pay for personal essays at even that modest rate.
The rise of ‘publish your personal story free’ websites has had a chilling effect on personal-essay rates. If you can find a market that pays over $100 for a lengthy essay, you’ve struck it rich. There are still a tiny handful of national women’s magazines that have a $1,000 back-page essay opportunity, but my experience is that most of those gigs go to bestselling authors, not garden-variety freelance writers.
Besides the generally low pay, the other problem with personal essays is that like resumé work, they tend to be one-off wins. You’re left having to endlessly come up with new essay angles to pitch, each of which may or may not find a paying market.
Newspaper op-ed pieces have always been free, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that this niche is a challenge to earn in. And now, nearly everyone seems to have a personal trauma or three they’re dying to tell the world about, free of charge and despite any resulting family ostracism.
5. Here’s a story…
My heart breaks every time I meet a writer who asks my help marketing their poems or short stories. It hurts to have to tell writers there is no reliable living in their fiction work.
The market for poetry has really never been there, and magazines that publish short stories have all but vaporized. This is a super-tough market that writers should pursue as a passion project, rather than thinking of it as part of your freelance writing career. All the poets I know have day jobs.
Building your own online site and platform for promoting your fiction writing is a great idea, if this is your writing focus–but it’s still a moonshot if you can find that audience and earn real money from your own fiction writing.
Find good-paying freelance writing jobs
You may have detected some common patterns in why these gigs all pay little. To earn well as a freelance writer, you’ll need to reverse these conditions. Instead, find writing jobs that:
- Offer ongoing work
- Are in (or about) a lucrative industry
- Require in-depth interviews and research, rather than your personal thoughts
- Aren’t a quick, easy assignment
- Call for knowledge not all writers have
These are the types of writing that tend to pay well. Instead of beating your head against the wall trying to earn in niches that everyone on Earth thinks they can write, driving rates through the floor, focus on topics you could write about that few people know about.
For instance, I’ve encountered writers who have experience writing grant proposals, or who know a lot about marina management, cybersecurity, or fine jewelry making.
Make writing niches like these your primary target, if you want to leave employment behind and earn a full-time freelance living.
What do you think is the worst freelance writing job? Let’s discuss it on Facebook.