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How to Become a Successful Freelance Writer or Editor

Getting Started as a Freelancer

If you have ever wondered how to become a freelance writer or freelance copy editor, you have come to the right place. The word “freelance” comes from medieval times when knights or mercenaries would sell their services to any lord willing to pay. Hence, he was a “free lance.”1

If you want to nail down an awesome writing job, sharpen your words and get ready to learn how to get started.

What does a freelance writer do?

A freelance writer is a self-employed individual that creates content for a living. They might craft content for magazines, newspapers, authors, elected officials, think tanks, companies, charities, or any other type of institution that needs content written. They might also write for different formats, from website copy and white papers to marketing materials and social media posts. Good freelance writers have a knack for turning ideas and messages into compelling writing.

Good freelance writers have a knack for turning ideas and messages into compelling writing.

Different types of freelance writers

If you think that all writing is the same, you would be seriously mistaken. The skills needed to write product descriptions are very different from the skills needed to ghostwrite a biography. There are many kinds of freelance writers, such as those that focus on:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Brand writing
  • Grant writing
  • Social media content
  • Marketing
  • Journalism
  • Ghostwriting
  • Advertising copy
  • Technical writing
  • Public Relations

What does a freelance copy editor do?

Freelance copy editors review content that another writer produces. They might correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors or ensure that content follows style rules put in place by a client. Some freelance copy editors focus on particular types of content, such as STEM content or the format of textbooks.

If you want to be a freelance copy editor, you should be able to arrange page layouts, verify facts within content, proofread a text and correct spelling, grammar and punctuation errors and rewrite text to improve clarity.

Different types of freelance copy editors

Like freelance writing, there are many different types of freelance copy editors that might be brought in for a project.

  • Line editing is exactly what it is called. Freelance copy editors that do line editing for projects edit a piece of content line-by-line and look for things like tone, clarity, and flow.
  • If the CEO of a company has a great idea for a book but doesn’t know where to start, a developmental editor could break down the idea and help the CEO attack it piece by piece.
  • After an author has written a manuscript for a book they would like to have published, a manuscript copy editor is brought in to provide feedback. This type of copy editing focuses on the manuscript as a whole rather than gritty details like grammar and punctuation.

Of course, these are not all of the different types of freelance copy editors that one could pursue if they were looking for a writing job.

It’s hard to predict how much money you can make as a freelance writer or a freelance copy editor because there are so many different variables! Whether you are a freelance writer or freelance copy editor, the rate you charge for services could vary by the project (flat-rate), by the hour, by the word count, by the page count, or by a retainer agreement for ongoing work (a volume-based discount should apply). In addition, rates could vary by industry, company, writer, location, and project.

A fair rate per word for freelance writers ranges from .20 cents for newbies to $1 for experienced writers. And, a fair rate per hour ranges from $30 for beginners to over $100 an hour for experienced writers.2

For freelance copy editors, rates tend to differ based on the type of editorial work you are doing. For example, the median rate per hour for copy editing a piece of fiction is $36-$40 an hour and assumes you can go through 7-10 pages an hour. In comparison, the median rate per hour for developmental editing a piece of fiction is $46-$50 an hour and assumes you can get through 4-6 pages an hour.3

The only business tools you really need to be a freelance writer or freelance copy editor are a computer and your brain, but that doesn’t mean they are the only business tools you should use. Many successful writers use business tools available online for FREE, such as Google Trends, Headline Analyzer, and Grammarly.

IsItWP Headline Analyzer helps you write headlines that will help you rank better in search results and drive traffic to your website. After you enter your headline in the search function, Headline Analyzer ranks your heading based on a set of criteria and offers suggestions to improve it. The criteria evaluate word count, uncommon words, power words, emotional words, headline length, and sentiment. You can then tweak your headline based on the suggestions.

Headline Analyzer is a good business tool, but its impact should not be overstated. You can have a first-class headline, but if the body of your content sits in coach, then your copy isn’t going to fly very far.

We all know that Google is the holy grail of all things internet, and Google Trends is no exception. Google Trends is a search feature that shows you how popular a given search term is in Google, suggests similar topics, and provides market analysis in real-time. If you need to develop trending ideas for killer content, Google Trends should definitely be a business tool at the top of your list.

Our biggest issue with Grammarly is that it wasn’t available while we were in school to edit our papers. Grammarly is a cloud-based business tool and writing assistant that reviews content for spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity, engagement, and delivery mistakes. You can copy and paste your content into the program or upload a word document.

One tidbit we care to point out is that you should never “Accept All Changes” in Grammarly. While the program is pretty-freaking-incredible, it can sometimes misinterpret a word or phrase and recommend changes that don’t make sense.

Even the best freelance copy editors use Grammarly, because why not? Freelance writers and freelance copy editors can always use an extra set of eyes, and Grammarly does just that.

You don't plan to make a mistake or do something wrong, but freelancer insurance is there just in case you make sure you and your small business are protected.

What kind of freelancer insurance do I need?

You don’t plan to get into a car accident, but you get car insurance just in case to make sure you are protected. The same idea applies to freelancer insurance. You don’t plan to make a mistake or do something wrong, but freelancer insurance is there just in case you make sure you and your small business are protected.

Freelance writers and freelance copy editors are lucky in that their job requires little to no overhead. There should be no doubt in a freelance copy editor or writer’s mind that freelancer insurance is worth the investment, let alone as one of your only operational expenses.

Professional liability insurance and cyber insurance are two of the best options for freelancer insurance to protect your business in the event you make a mistake or fall victim to a cybersecurity threat. Both of which are nearly impossible to avoid.

Find writing jobs

Networking with other freelancers is a great way to find writing jobs. Instead of thinking of them as your competition, look to them for a partnership. You can offer to send clients their way if you are too busy to take on a project, and they can do the same.

 

The secret to being successful as a freelance writer or freelance copy editor is to find a few regular clients that put you on retainer or can at least guarantee a certain amount of work each month. Freelancing can be risky if your income constantly fluctuates, but regular clients can provide you with the reassurance that you will be able to cover your bills each month.

Luckily, there are many websites geared toward freelancers where you can apply to writing jobs and find your future clients. A few of the best-known job sites within the freelance writing community are:

  • Upwork: Upwork connects businesses with freelancers, independent talent, and agencies around the globe.
  • ProBlogger: Since 2004, ProBlogger has been the home for bloggers to create and grow their blogs and then go professional to make money blogging.
  • iHire Publishing: iHirePublishing is a niche job board dedicated solely to the Publishing industry. From technical writers to copy editors to editorial directors and more, you can find a job or fill your opening quickly and easily.

Sections to include in a freelance contract

Once you find a writing job, it’s time to create a freelance contract. You might want to avoid the paperwork and have faith that your client will pay and everything will work out, but you will be kicking yourself in the butt if things go array and you don’t have a contract to revisit. (And if you have a client that is refusing to sign a freelance contract, you should run away, not walk.)

You should execute your freelance contract before you begin a project so all parties are clear on expectations, deliverables, and deadlines. Some online platforms might have a set agreement that they require freelancers to execute. If that is not the case for you, below is a list of ten clauses you should consider adding to your freelance contract for everyone’s benefit.4

1. Project scope

A freelance contract should include a start date, detailed description of the project and milestones, deadlines, contract end date, payment rate, and schedule. The more details, the better. Without a description of work, many freelancers experience scope creep, where the amount of work within the project increases without a change in budget or payment.

2. Payment terms

There’s nothing worse than not receiving prompt payment after completing a project for the work you delivered. That is why you have to include detailed payment terms in your freelance contract.

3. End product ownership rights and licenses (copyrights)

Freelancers often include this clause to establish who owns the work. Since the client is paying you to do the job, in most cases, they’re going to require that the freelance contract grant them full rights and ownership of all aspects of the project deliverables. If the ownership rights are transferred to the client, they get to decide what they want to do with your work and how they want to use it.  

4. Terms and termination

Including a termination clause or right to terminate in your freelance contract creates a process to end the freelance contract if the relationship is not working. In this section, you can outline the grounds for termination and the expenses or penalties associated with ending the contract early.

5. Competitive engagements

As a freelance copy editor or freelance writer, it is vital to communicate to clients the exclusivity of your services. Your client may not want you working with them while also helping the competition.

6. Non-disclosure, right to disclose, and confidentiality

It is crucial to include a clause covering the mutual non-disclosure of any confidential information to protect both parties. As a freelancer, you may receive information related to your client’s business that must remain private and confidential.

7. Changes and revisions

Creative work can be subjective. This clause outlines how many (if any) revisions are included for the project and can protect a freelancer’s time from excessive scope creep caused by clients wanting many rounds of time-consuming edits and changes. In this section of the contract, you can specify the rate you will charge for additional edits or revisions. It may be necessary to define what constitutes a “round,” “edit,” or a “revision” so that all parties are on the same page about changes to the project deliverables.

8. Indemnity clause

Indemnification, also known as a hold harmless provision, is a clause used to shift potential costs or responsibility from one party to another if certain circumstances occur. In a mutual indemnification, both parties may agree to compensate the other party for losses caused by the indemnifying party’s breach of the contract.

9. General clauses

A general clause is used as a catch-all for any additional items added to the contract. This section can include legal disclaimers, protections, and other statements such as an arbitration clause. Arbitration is an out-of-court process used to settle disputes in which a neutral third party decides the matter.

10. Party signatures

To have a legal contract, both parties must agree to the freelance contract. This is most commonly and easily demonstrated by having both parties sign the contract. So, make sure that both you and the client sign the document before starting your next project, and the signature can be electronic.

As an aside, no amount of research can replace the expertise of an attorney that specializes in freelance contracts and services. If you are not willing to pay an attorney to draw up a personalized contract for every project you work on, consider paying an attorney to draw up a general freelance contract that you can reuse rather than downloading one from some website.

Freelance writers and freelance copy editors get to work on stimulating projects while enjoying the freedom of deciding when you work, who you work with, and the projects you work on.

Enjoy the free in freelance

Freelance writers and freelance copy editors get to work on stimulating projects while enjoying the freedom of deciding when you work, who you work with, and the projects you work on. If you don’t have consistent work, there can be ups and downs, but locking down a few regular clients can let you pay the bills each month and still focus on projects you enjoy.

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Sources:

  1. Freelance Writers: What Are They? (thebalancesmb.com)
  2. Freelance Writer Rates: What’s Normal? | Austin Copywriter (austin-copywriter.com)
  3. Editorial Rates - Editorial Freelancers Association (the-efa.org)
  4. How to Make a Freelance Contract: 10 Clauses to Include | Upwork