Lay of the freelance writing landscape

I wrote in a previous post that a key principle for succeeding as a freelancer is having a clear understanding of the lay of the landscape in whichever field you’re working.

Freelancers in every field will have particular considerations based on how the industry works, and it’s essential to have at least a general sense of what these are as you go forward.

For example, as a freelance writer, I see a landscape divided into two parts: Editorial writing and for-hire writing.

The former consists of journalism and essay-writing, in which you publish work under your own byline, retain the rights to that work, and are expected to avoid any incentive to express certain facts or opinions in your work.

The latter is an arrangement in which a client — usually a private company — pays you to create work that serves a business purpose, oftentimes a marketing function, and for which you usually receive no byline and retain no rights.

Editorial writing is by and large less lucrative than for-hire writing, but it is also generally more creative and interesting, allows you to retain the right to you own work, and avoids what I’ve heard called the “icky” business of helping a company sell something or make money.

Downsides of editorial are that pay is spiraling downward in freelance journalism, competition is fierce at coveted publications, and writers are often paid upon publication, so you can end up waiting months for checks. Also, pitching ideas to publications involves coming up with said ideas, which for some is a joyful and inspiring part of this side of the field and for others (like me) is a stressful and frustrating task better avoided.

For-hire writing is the side of things that’ll allow you to more easily build a high-earning career, can involve some substantial and interesting projects, can give you volume work so you can spend many hours putting words on paper, and allows you to work in partnerships with companies or organizations that you admire.

The downsides of for-hire are that you may have to do work you don’t always love, you won’t own what you create, and your primary function will be to help companies make money or help nonprofits reach followers and donors.

Knowing that these are the two primary options is important, since that knowledge allows you to make decisions about what you want to do and why.

In my case, I want to make good money, and I am in general more motivated by the hustle of my own entrepreneurship than I am by the desire for bylines. So I do far more for-hire writing than I do editorial.

Not everybody makes the same decision. There are many former journalists plying the freelance waters who want nothing to do with shilling for companies or writing on subjects other people assign to them. This is all well and good.

What’s important is knowing which elements of your own field you’d like to prioritize as a freelancer and following those priorities as your business grows.

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