Creative writers can develop entire worlds rich with plot twists – but getting paid for your talent is another matter. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average writer makes $62,170, but that’s a long shot if you’re just getting started. Even an entry level creative writing job demands an in-depth understanding of the market, preparation and patience.
As a professional writer in the industry for 20 years, I know the frustrations – and the best practices to foster a successful career. Here are 10 tips to score your first gig:
1) Determine Your Writing Style
When embarking in a career as a creative writer, you’ll face plenty of competition from others. These writers will have a wide range of experience and talent, so to stand out you’ll need to find where you excel.
Creative writing has fewer options for publication (although there are a couple you may not have thought of), so you may wish to consider other forms of writing. Jobs in journalism, grant writing and copywriting, for example, usually do not require a special degree. Cultivate an open mind and a willingness to learn, and you can be competitive as a writer in any style that interests you.
2) Build Your Portfolio
While jobs may require a bachelor’s degree in journalism (or English, communications or similar field), clients and editors are often more interested in your portfolio. This is a collection of your published work, smartly organized online for easy sharing. It’s a Catch 22: You need a strong portfolio to get work, but in order to have a strong portfolio you need work!
The solution is creativity. Find a non-profit agency that could benefit from your talents. Contact local small business owners who are open to trades. Write your own blog. Everyone starts somewhere, so know that with time your portfolio will only get better.
3) Niche Writer or Generalist?
Clients will often search for a writer who specializes in certain topics. It may be as broad as health and technology or as defined as automobiles and cryptocurrency. It’s smart to focus on these niches so you can position yourself as an expert and knowledgeable in industries where you’d like to work. However, stay open to opportunities. The more writing you do professionally, the more doors will open for you for engaging, fun assignments.
4) Know Your Worth
Many people starting out as a creative writer will offer to write for rates well below market value. Do not undervalue yourself. When building your portfolio, you can offer reduced rates for nonprofits or friends and family, but search freelance writing jobs boards, sites where businesses advertise online jobs, such as Indeed.com and Monster.com and even Facebook groups. Take note of what others are charging and resist the urge to underbid just to get a job. If you don’t think you’re worth much, editors and clients are likely to agree.
5) Consider Freelancing
When I was studying journalism in college, I worked as an intern for a few magazines and discovered a harsh reality. Even for international titles based in New York City, there was usually only one staff writer. The rest of the magazine was written by seasoned freelancers. Entry-level, full-time writing jobs can be hard to come by. One option is trying freelance. Working as a freelance writer requires self-motivation, discipline and focus. You may need to apply to job offers or submit many articles for consideration before your work is accepted – pitching is a skill. Keep at it!
6) Look Locally
A benefit of working as a creative writer is that nearly every town and city have a need for you. But only if you know where to look! Start locally. Scan the classifieds of your local newspaper, and look on job bulletin boards at popular restaurants and cafes around town. Check local neighborhood Facebook groups. Often, employers and editors looking for writers want to meet in person. You’ll have an edge if you live nearby.
7) Search Online Boards
Of course, depending on your location, the market may be limited. Most of the writing jobs available today are advertised online on a variety of writing boards. It’s smart to create profiles on as many freelance sites as possible. Upwork, Be A Freelance Blogger and ProBlogger are all sites that offer one-off gigs and long-term positions for writers. Some are remotely based, while others may require you to move. You may be surprised how many clients are looking for people to ghostwrite books, greeting cards, songs, speeches and short stories.
8) Apply to an Agency
Whether you’re searching for a full-time writing position or freelancing jobs, you want to connect with people with whom you’ll want to work for a long time. Check out online agencies that serve as liaisons between professional writers and companies searching for marketing-style writing.
Content mills such as Compose.ly vet writers to ensure high-quality work and employ an editing team to check assignments on behalf of the clients. It’s vital to meet deadlines and double-check your work in order to receive a regular stream of good-paying assignments.
9) Consider Other Kinds of Work
Not satisfied with the available writing jobs or freelancing opportunities? As a writer, you possess desirable skills for many other careers. To stay in the industry, check out proofreading or editing jobs. If you know other languages, you could work as a translator. Many companies employ communications experts as well. You could work in public relations, which would make good use of your skills and talents. Often creative writers will work in a complementary field and continue to freelance on topics that interest them in their spare time.
10) Keep Learning
The best writers are always learning! Read as many different kinds of writing as you can, from novels to magazine articles to blogs. Don’t be scared to reach out to people you admire who are more seasoned in the industry. Many will often work directly with new writers in a mentorship capacity.
If you want to improve your skills as a writer, consider investing in a course that shares best practices on being a professional writer. A curious mind and a good attitude will go a long way to helping you be a success as a creative writer. And whatever you do, keep writing!
Did you enjoy these 10 ways to score an entry level creative writing job? I encourage you to try these tips when beginning your search for a gig to reduce frustration and turn from amateur to professional.
I’d love to hear your feedback and if you have any other tips to share with fellow writers. Please share your thoughts in the comments and share this article with your friends!
Suzanne Wentley is an award-winning freelance writer and marketing consultant with more than 20 years experience.