I’ll never forget my first published article. It came in the July 2007 issue of a small regional magazine in Palm Beach where I was living at the time.
And it wasn’t just an article; it was the debut of my “Travel with Terri” column. The publisher had not only given me the opportunity to write an article, but she had also given me a monthly column. This article and subsequent editorial didn’t come with a paycheck, but I didn’t care. I was just thrilled someone wanted to print something I had written.
At the time, I had a full-time career as a tax accountant and writing the travel column was a creative outlet—a hobby. Eventually, I added a chocolate column to the mix. It came with a little bit of cash here and there based on the number of readers, but again, I didn’t care because it came with lots of chocolate samples.
Things have changed significantly for me in the past 12 years. After attending the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop in 2011, I got serious about my writing career, and over time, I found additional publications to write for—publications that paid. Eventually, I was able to leave that tax accounting career behind. Oh, happy day!
When I first left my tax accounting career, I did what many first-time freelance writers do, accepting every job that came my way. I would labor over articles that paid $25 each. I edited an online magazine for a flat rate of $200 monthly. And I took on a transcription project that took so much of my time my writing suffered.
Sure, I was free from a ball-and-chain office job, but I wasn’t accomplishing what I wanted. I filled my days with so many tasks, I had no time left to pitch the magazines I truly wanted to write for. It was time to make some changes.
First, the transcription project had to go. I didn’t leave my lucrative tax accounting career to become someone’s administrative assistant. The time I was spending on that project was the time I needed to write query letters to land the assignments in more prominent publications.
Next, I re-evaluated the editing job. It required at least 10 hours each week which meant my hourly rate was roughly $5. Although I enjoyed editing, I decided it was time to let that go, too.
The additional time I gained by letting go of those projects allowed me to focus on pitching larger publications. As a result, I’ve landed several assignments at $1 a word. The more query letters I send out, the more opportunities I have for these assignments. It’s that old principle of working smarter not harder.
Once you have a few bylines under your belt and want to make more money for your work, here are some points to consider:
• Calculate your hourly rate for each proposed project based on how much time you’ll need to complete the assignment. If you’re not happy with the result, turn the job down.
• Set aside time for researching publications and writing query letters each week. If you aren’t pitching editors consistently, you won’t have a pipeline of income coming in.
• Look for opportunities to secure regular monthly assignments. I write for one publication that assigns me three articles each month. I pitch the editor 12 ideas each quarter, and he chooses the nine he likes best. That’s income I can count on every quarter.
• Don’t be afraid to accept non-travel-themed assignments. While travel articles are my preferred assignments, I often write service pieces about the business of writing when the rate offered is acceptable. It’s all about diversification—think multiple streams of income.
Every writer’s career is different. Most travel writers I know do several types of writing to make the income they need or want. The most important thing is to find the balance between work, income, and travel that works for you.
Even though my focus has shifted to more lucrative assignments, I continue to write my monthly “Travel with Terri” column without pay. I write it in gratitude for the opportunity given to me—a prospect that started me down the road toward the life of my dreams. And that is priceless.