Financial Travel Tip #111: 10 Rules for Earning Income as a Freelance Writer

by Nora on March 22, 2014

When I began my illustrious career as a freelance writer and blogger, I had no idea where to begin. The internet was my school, along with a few websites I found early on that had informative articles and newsletters (if you could read between the sales pitches).

But the internet is a big place, and it was tough finding information I could call on as credible or useful, when I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. With the Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing, you can drastically cut down the learning curve to becoming a freelance writer.

Here are 10 rules for earning an income as a freelance writer, inspired by reading this guide:


Rule #1: If You Know it, You Can (Get Paid to) Write It

Freelance writing isn’t quite this simple, but it’s not far off. If you have an area of expertise, chances are there’s somebody out there who wants to read about it, and somebody else yet who will pay you to write about it.

You can use your valuable knowledge to make a little extra money on the side, or make a full-time career of it. But remember – it’s a job, and one that’s not always so easy to land.


Rule #2: Freelancing is a Mindset

…and that mindset is not for the weak of stomach. It can be a “feast or famine” environment – one in which you are either inundated with too much work, or wondering what just happened to all the work. The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing does a good job of balancing practical advice with the confidence-boosting “you can do it” cheerleading that’s required to get your career off the ground.


Rule #3: There’s a Niche With Your Name on It

I’m a big fan of “the niche”, having combined my former-life expertise as a financial planner with my full-time travel lifestyle. Whamo: The art of financially sustainable travel. Outside the world of my niche-like website, I write about finance for travel publications, and travel for finance publications. Thus, I’ve found footing in two industries that find my stuff unique and useful.

Travel writing is just one niche within the freelance writing genre; maybe you want to travel full-time, but your expertise is in widgets. Don’t write about travel then (there are too many aspiring travel writers out there to compete with); instead, write about widgets! Widgets are a means to your lifestyle, which can include travel if you wish.

Likewise, blogging is just one modality of freelance writing. You don’t have to be just a blogger, or a print journalist, or a copywriter – you can be a little of all three, and more! (See also: Blogging vs Freelance Writing, and Finding Gigs)


Rule #4: Pitches Are Paramount

The world is not going to beat a path to your door to hire you as a freelance writer. (Not initially, at least). Thus, you must learn the art of pitching, which the Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing covers nicely. In addition to pitches, you might consider writing Letters of Introduction, which introduce your expertise to trade magazines and certain publications in a more informal and open-ended manner than conventional pitches.


Rule #5: The Art of Networking, Online and Otherwise

Given my ever-absent travel lifestyle, I never gave much thought to in-person networking with editors and people who might hire me. But the Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing makes no bones about the effectiveness of in-person networking, which makes sense. In this digital world, we’re all relegated to interacting with words, not people. Thus meeting a real live person stands to leave a deeper impression than the person behind yet-another-email.

In addition to in-person networking, the guide also focuses on some great Twitter tips to get and grow your freelance writing business, and explores why LinkedIn is the most useful yet underused social media platform for writers. (I can attest to this; one of my highest-paying print gigs came out of the blue through LinkedIn).


Rule #6: Get Regular

Instead of spending your time pitching to editor after editor, wouldn’t it be nice to have a regular column that you write? The Unconventional Guide gives you some tips to convert one-off articles into regular work. (I can also attest to this – in spades).


Rule #7: There’s No Such Thing as Traditional Any More

We are in changing times. The print industry isn’t going away by any stretch, but it is changing, especially with the advent of online media becoming more viable (and profitable). The Unconventional Guide explores both “traditional” and non-traditional publications, and ways of finding work in both.


Rule #8: Rates are a Moving Target

Your rates will change as your freelance writing career evolves. Although you might see fit to accept a free or low-paying gig in the beginning to develop your portfolio, years on you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) dream of it. The Unconventional Guide gives you questions to ask yourself as you set your rates, provides samples of rates by publication (from blog posts to newspaper articles to sales letters, press releases, and more), and gives you some tips for raising your rates when the time is right.


Rule #9: Get a Blog

A blog can showcase your expertise, your writing style, and your published work. With this blog, hiring editors will start to come to you for your voice and expertise – for which you can start to charge higher-than-market rates. (Quite inadvertently, this is what has ended up happening to me; I don’t generally send out pitches any more).


Rule #10: All Freelance Writers Are Hacks

….or at least we all feel like we’re hacks. Who would want to read my drivel about xyz? (Well, you’re reading this article, so I guess that answers that).

The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing shows you how to get established as a bona fide writer (despite the fact that you feel like a hack), and gives you techniques to reframe rejections so you don’t commit suicide.

I love this quote from the guide on page 44:

Some feel inadequate because they don’t have a journalism degree, some feel inadequate because they’ve never been published by a national magazine, some feel inadequate because they’ve never published a book, some feel inadequate because their book never made the New York Times bestseller list, and some feel inadequate because their book only stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for six weeks.


The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing

This book is part of Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guide publishing empire. It was written by Amber Adrian, a freelance writer of over 10 years who has worked on both sides of the editing desk.

She integrates input and quotes from successful freelance writers throughout the guide, including useful mini case studies that explore various writers’ successes by showing who they write for, how they got the job, what’s great about it, and what’s challenging.

If you’re interested in exploring freelance writing as a career, I recommend this book as a primer to get you on the right track.


The Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing


Price: Basic “pen-for-hire” version is $39, and the full “editor in chief” package (including additional writer’s resources, budgets, worksheets, sample pitches, and interview with 10 successful freelance writers) costs $58.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bob Hobson March 25, 2014 at 12:06 pm

What a great plan, getting paid while traveling. I want to add a tip that was a life saver on my last trip to Rome. I lost my passport during the day and had no idea it was missing. Fortunately, I had a tracer tag on it. A waiter where I ate lunch found it and entered my tracker number on the website. I was automatically sent a text message (and an email) with a pickup location before I ever even knew my passport was missing. Lucky for me, I was leaving in the morning for Germany and getting a new passport would have been impossible. Tags are available through That tag saved my trip from total disaster and I put them on my phone, laptop and almost everything that travels with me now.


2 Nora Dunn March 27, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Great recommendation, Bob – thanks!
I had tracer stickers on most of my stuff, but the company went out of business, so I lost all value from the tags. Luckily I got them as part of a special air miles promotion that gave me so many air miles it made the value of the stickers practically free!


3 Andreas Moser March 28, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Luckily there is no more border between Italy and Germany, so you also could have made the trip without a passport. Airlines sometimes don’t accept it (although they could accept other forms of ID within Schengen), but on trains it’s no problem.


4 Andreas Moser March 28, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Great tips!

I am a lawyer who quit the job in order to travel around the world. Unfortunately, more people are interested in my legal skills than in my travel stories – or at least more people are willing to pay for legal writing than for travel stories.

My goal for 2014 is to make a substantial move into journalism, so that I will earn a higher proportion of my income from writing than I do from talking to people about their marital or immigration or criminal problems.
In my experience, overcoming the fear of rejection or the feeling that I am “not good enough (yet)” is the biggest step already.


5 Nora Dunn March 28, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Hi Andreas,
Luckily with your legal expertise, you have a potential niche to write about that goes beyond “regular” travel writing. This could be a very good thing!


6 Jason April 3, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Thanks for sharing, you provided some great tips! I really liked the one about finding your niche. Really enjoying your articles, keep up the great work!


7 Nora Dunn April 3, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Thank you Jason!


8 MV April 21, 2014 at 5:40 pm

Hi Nora,
It’s always such a pleasure to read your articles; not only for the adventurous parts but also as a way to be inspired and to hope for a way to travel in a financially sustainable way. I love the thought of being able to support myself financially by writing. But I’m an electrical engineer. Every time I wonder about what my niche could be, I feel like I’ve run head-first into a very large, thick, hope-crushing (quite possibly, concrete) wall.
I’d really like to hear your thoughts or any ideas you might have.


9 Nora Dunn April 21, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Hi MV,
One of the things I learned from reading the Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing, is that there is a publication for just about everything. As an electrical engineer, what do you read? Are there any trade magazines or technical publications that would relish your expertise? That would be a place to start in creating your niche. Start with what you know, and go from there! I hope this helps create a wee spark of inspiration…


10 Dorothy Bryant March 3, 2015 at 5:34 am

I admire you as a professional writer, your tips are so general and that is has to be easily be followed on by the future freelance writers. We are both on the same side, since I am doing freelance wrting too. It’s not about how much the client pay you, it’s also about learning and self-discipline. I seriously see it in you, thanks!


11 Nora Dunn March 3, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Thanks for the kind words, Dorothy! Everybody has a different way of cutting their teeth as a freelancer, to be sure – but hopefully these tips can help people hone their craft. Cheers!


12 Upenpatel March 17, 2015 at 9:08 am

Very nice information about freelance writers i would like to suggest a website with a set of skills & duties of writers and there you can find many resources on freelance writers like freelance fashion writer, freelance concept artist and many more they can visit here at


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