A Writer’s Guide to Freelance Blogging
Selling the written word is precarious business these days. We regularly hear about declining circulations, layoffs in newsrooms and magazines folding.
So what’s a freelance writer to do?
Consider science fiction writer Tobias Buckell.
Last year, Buckell found out his job at a university was on the chopping block. Finding a new job would have required moving, plus it would mean his wife would also have to search for a new employer. Having spent nearly a decade writing in his personal blog, he decided to become a freelance blogger.
He scoured job boards, Google and anywhere else he might possibly find openings, mostly catching ones that paid very little. But persistence paid off and after a few months, he landed a few paid-posting gigs and was able to make a livable income.
This is the age of Media 2.0 and there are plenty of opportunities as a professional blogger.
A Bit of History
Blog is short for Weblog, a web-based collection of chronological entries.
The early blogs generally consisted of online diaries and collections of links. But bloggers began to build them up into something more. The free-flow of information on the Internet allowed sites to spring up that covered niche topics in-depth that print publications wouldn’t put the same effort into. Plus, the information was available to readers much faster.
Gradually, these niche blogs started to build up large readerships of like-minded web surfers. The blogosphere as it’s called, had been brewing since the new millennium but things exploded in 2002.
These sites with massive traffic didn’t go unnoticed by advertisers and many bloggers were now seeing their work as a business opportunity.
Now, with hundreds of thousands of visitors generating billions of dollars in ad revenue, large blog networks like Gawker Media and Weblogs Inc have become media empires in their own right with sites boasting readerships that rival large circulation magazines.
Of course, with so much information being posted so quickly, someone has to write it. That’s where opportunities exist for the freelancer.
Now, given the minimal start-up costs for a blog, why write for someone else’s?
First off, with a larger blog, there’s built-in traffic, the regular readers and subscribers. Plus, someone else gets to deal with the time consuming parts of finding sponsors and marketing the website.
“You let someone else take the risk and you have a definable pay usually,” wrote Buckell in an e-mail.
Now, how much can you make as a blogger?
This depends on how the site works. Some offer a stipend and a share of the ad revenue, which can add up if it’s a high traffic blog, while others work with a flat rate.
The pay for a contributor ranges from $2 to $75 per post, with $15 to $20 being the median, which is a far cry from the $0.10 to $1 per word most print writers are used to. For more regular gigs, bloggers can sometimes get incentive schemes based on advertising revenue or subscriber numbers.
All up if you’re writing for a large blog where you make 10 short posts a day, that’s decent money and there are other benefits to consider, like exposure.
Clive Thompson is freelance contributor to Wired, The New York Times Magazine and many other publications and runs his own blog, Collision Detection. He gets more work from editors who contact him, asking for an article on a topic he’s blogged about.
“If you’re really good at writing short blog entries, that can be proof to editors that you’re good at writing well overall in short formats, a valuable skill,” Thompson wrote in an e-mail interview.
Depending on the blog, posts typically range from 50-500 words, often an excerpt from another news story with some commentary added or a quick link to something of interest to the readers.
Thompson pointed out that if you’re looking to break into long-form writing, a personal blog is the way to go.
“If you want to prove you can write longer pieces with some serious thought, I’d stick to blogging at your own site – the way I do – where
you can write precisely the length you prefer. You won’t make money, but you’ll have a better vehicle for showing off your chops,” he wrote.
Your Personal Blog: The new resume and portfolio
In order to get started, the first thing you need is your own blog, if you don’t already have one. Many sites will host your blog for free and require almost no technical knowledge to operated.
There’s the Google-owned Blogger which has recently undergone a redesign, looking sharper than ever. The new interface makes it very easy to customize the look of your blog.
Another favourite is WordPress (the hosting service, not to be confused with the software) which has also made a lot of changes recently. Although you can set up a free blog, they also offer additional features for paid users, like your own domain name.
Realize, though, that with the free services, your URL is going to be a sub-domain of the host’s site (ie. hiremeblog.blogger.com) which can look unprofessional to some. It may be worthwhile to consider investing a little money in your own domain.
Once it’s up and running, write! Write about your areas of expertise or passion and make sure it’s top quality. Any site looking to hire a blogger will always ask to see your own blog. Make sure you’ve got something to impress potential clients.
Of course, you’ll have to keep in mind that along with a new medium comes a different style of writing. Blogging is usually more personal than most writing and involves more commentary and a healthy dose of wit.
“Let your personality and sense of fun bleed through a bit more than usual. The most interesting blogs are the ones that are confidently themselves, and you can really run with that online more so than you can in print,” Buckell wrote.
Thompson concurred with this point.
“Blog readers tend to respond more warmly to a slightly more conversational tone. When I’m blogging, I write in a tone much closer to — sometimes even identical to — the way I talk,” he wrote.
Buckell added two other considerations when it comes to blog posting. The first is the immediacy of the Internet. With the push of one button, the article is online for everyone to see, rather than going through the lengthy editing and fact-checking sessions that occur at a magazine. This creates the pressure to be the first with the scoop, since blog posts are up faster than even a daily newspaper.
But then there’s the opposite consideration for online writing that with blogs, the information is archived indefinitely.
“I find that holding those two thoughts in my own mind indicates to me that I should really work harder on writing blog posts for an audience that finds articles through searches or archives. And that might mean focusing less on the immediate,” he wrote.
With the rapid growth of the blogging industry, blogger specific job boards have begun to pop up to fill positions, here are a few of them:
And of course, FreelanceSwitch’s own job board posts openings for bloggers as well.
Gone through them all and still haven’t found what you’re interested in? Well, there’s also the traditional route of finding and researching a publication to target.
Blog Network List maintains a directory of blogging networks and also lists their estimated value, a good resource for finding potential clients. Plus, some networks have writer application forms on the site.
Blogging as a Springboard
While there’s some money to be made blogging, it can also work as a springboard for other opportunities.
Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of the gossip blog Gawker is now a contributing writer and editor for New York Magazine.
“Most editors pay close attention to their favorite blogs as a way to spot good new writers,” writes Thompson.
Meanwhile, other bloggers have successfully turned their sites into books. Not only does a blog give the writer content to show publishers, but it also provides a platform for promoting it. Lifehacker editor Gina Trapani detailed the process she went through turning the blog into a book.
Or Fire Your Boss…and Your Clients
Finally, there’s always the opportunity to start your own blog and make a decent income from it, effectively becoming the editor-in-chief and staff writer.
Even though Technorati lists more than 70 million blogs, there’s still room for high quality niche-topic blogs. Web hosting costs have dropped significantly making it a small investment and there are plenty of resources out there to help the would-be professional blogger.
“If you do your own, you get all the upside if it takes off,” wrote Buckell.
So it’s possible for that personal blog to become the professional blog. Put some ads up (Google’s AdSense, while not the biggest online revenue generator, is incredibly easy to setup.)
Just remember, it’s a large undertaking and it takes time to build-up the readership required to make any decent money. Thankfully there are plenty of resources available to help you along the way, take a look at these for starters: