Writing for a living - new fledgling career please help

(49 Posts)
lisalisa Sun 21-Oct-12 22:02:21

That's just it really. I have been a solicitor for nearly 20 years and have always felt that I wanted to write. Due to life circumstances recently have written about 4 articles all accepted for publication. Publication is to be in 2 different magazines sold in England USA and other countried but aimed at my religious group.

the pay is not soemthing you could live in or even start on really - more like pocket money.

Which publications in England are known to be good to write for money wise?

Any tips anyone?

Thanks xx

SilverCharm Mon 22-Oct-12 08:35:34

I write for a number of publications but none pay very well! The best clients for me are trade magazines. If you have any specialist knowledge then you can capitalize on it by approaching related trade mags with articles.

Since you've been a solicitor, you could approach related mags...such as The Law Society Gazette and others.

Read a few issues and then come up with an idea, write it and send it to the editor with an accompanying letter....maybe outline some more articles you could write.

I write for gardening and DIY publications as well as travel news for various websites because those are my pet subjects and it is so much easier writing about what you know!

Nancy66 Tue 23-Oct-12 08:53:38

lisa - I'm a journalist, now an editor.

I'm sorry but all these 'I'll just become a writer' posts on MN really piss me off...you can't just wake up one morning and decide you'll be a journalist any more than you can wake up and decide you'll be a solicitor.

It's a job you need to train to do if you're going to be any good at it.
You need to know about the legal aspects, the pcc, the difference between news and feature writing, how to handle dialogue etc.

I can tell you now that with no experience or training you won't be any good and you won't make any money at it.

If you want to write fluff for websites and earn £200 a month then that's fine but if you want to make a living at it then you need to learn how to do it properly.

The publications that pay good money want good, experienced writers.

MummyBeast Tue 23-Oct-12 10:25:55

I think Nancy66 makes a good point. This is something that has crossed my mind but I am well aware of my lack of experience.

There are lots of courses on the internet. Could you recommend one, or is the NCTJ the only reputable place for distance learning?

lisalisa Tue 23-Oct-12 21:11:07

Ooh Nancy66 that was a bit harsh! I do understand what you are syaing though and of course appreciate that proper training is necesssary to really earn from it.

I do feel I ahve talent as all 4 pieces I have written have been accepted by the publicatinos I sent them too ( circulation around 250,000 so not massive but not small either ). Writing was always my forte and remember being vaguely pissed off at uni in first term gettng essays back with red pen all over and tutor commenting that we don't want descirptsions of the judge an defendant and their feelings just the law!!! SAorry for typos I 've had general anaesthetci this morning and hands a bit shaky.

Nancy66 Tue 23-Oct-12 21:53:22

Wasn't meaning to be harsh - just realistic.

Hope you're recovering well from your anaesthetic

PermaShattered Tue 23-Oct-12 22:21:49

Nancy66 is dead right. I'm a dual qualified solicitor and journalist (NCTJ) and i get annoyed with posters saying they've 'decided' they want to write for a living. Actually, it's more a case of frustration for their sake, at their ignorance. Again, that also sounds harsh but i'm being realistic.

The poster who referred to the Law Society Gazette really annoyed me. I used to write features regularly for them for years - but they currently have a very small freelance budget and mainly use their inhouse staff. Ditto for the other legal publishers/magazines- you name it, I've written for them. But their budgets are very limited now. Legal writing is exceptionally hard to break into. I've done it so believe me, I'm speaking from experience.

But I do have regular clients and am better paid than I was as solicitor. And that's working home home with four children.

HOWEVER! If you want to start a new career as a writer and you're prepared to be realistic:

a. Decide what your field of expertise is.
b. Hone your writing skills by making sure your grammar and spelling is perfect.
c. Find your 'voice'.
d. Get practicing. Find publishers/websites that will publish your work free of charge if necessary.

Hope that helps!

PermaShattered Tue 23-Oct-12 22:24:03

Just read your later post!

I doubt you'd need formal training - you should have sufficiently good command of the necessary writing skills already with your qualifications.

And well done with your 4 pieces. That is a Good Start! Build on it! smile

MrsCantSayAnything Tue 23-Oct-12 22:34:04

OP has had 4 pieces published. She's obviously capable...and sometimes talent will out without formal training.

lisalisa Wed 24-Oct-12 00:45:22

My style is reality pieces so I've written a post about mourning after the death of my father fairly recently. i also wrote a different peice on my mother after my father's death. I've also written a story for teens with a moral and another piece about one of our religion's festivals and how it is for outsiders trying to fit in. Fairly varied pieces . I think I'd like to stick to this angle of writing for magazines either life experiences ( I seem to have 100s just waiting to pour out of me!) or short stories with morals. Expanding beyond my religious magazines /newspapers I don't really know whom to approach and send potential work too ? Also does it happen that a magazine think that is a good idea and just copy it without paying you?

Anyone any ideas on which magazines may use free lancers?

Also as I am feeling a bit fragile - drastically declining income as a self employed solicitor cobmined wtih operation this morning and recent death of my father and depression from that could I really respectfully ask that posters be positive ? If they find that they don't have anything positive to say it would be most appreciated they not post at all. This is not directed at anyone in particular but I just need to hear positive and helpful suggestions really rather than criticism or ire .

Thanks all

toysoldiers Wed 24-Oct-12 09:18:01

I would be a little easier on yourself. Having 4 articles published is an amazing achievement and you should be proud of that.

However, given all the other things that have happened to you recently, I would not throw yourself headlong into becoming a professional writer just yet. You will need a very thick skin to cope with a lot of rejection (which ALL freelancers/writers get).

I also think, whilst you may not need formal training, you probably need a greater portfolio than you have currently.

Do you have a blog? If not, get one and update it regularly. Then people will be able to see your style and how good you are. You may also receive positive feedback or suggestions.

I'm not saying - don't do it, but I think you need to accept that it could take a while to become established and to view it as a hobby that makes money for the time being. Then, when you are feeling more confident, and have a bigger portfolio behind you, you can throw yourself into it a little more.

You may find you get work very easily, but I would try not to put the additional pressure on yourself of earning a full time wage straight away.

PuffPants Wed 24-Oct-12 09:36:56

I disagree Nancy, on the job is everything in journalism. And I speak as one wink Doing a NCJ course is expensive and time-consuming, most of the content is filler, beyond the legal stuff - which she can learn from a book, as Manuel would say.

I think writing for trade publications is quite different from sitting on the Newsdesk of the Daily Mail. Far more time is given to writing articles and more eyes will see it before publication. She is on safer ground.

Nancy66 Wed 24-Oct-12 09:51:47

there's no money in it though - trade publications pay peanuts

broodylicious Wed 24-Oct-12 16:14:51

As a former journo, I have to say nancy is right (even though yeah maybe you were a bit harsh hun blush) It does annoy me that people think writing for any strand of the media is an easy career to drop in to. The NCTJ is expensive and time consuming for a reason - being a journo is a profession, not something you just do on the side after getting fed up with your original choice of job! Proper training where you learn about law, public affairs and writing is actually essential if you're truly serious about the change angry

However, having said that OP, I do respect the fact you want positive posts so forgive that little outburst smile ....

Have you tried getting in touch with your local newspapers? It won't be as glam as magazines but it could give good experience and expose you to the workings of a publication and get your name about. You could perhaps offer the idea of a regular column, on a topic you consider yourself an expert in (maybe if they have a business section, you could offer a legal piece every week or month? Or answer people's questions on legal matters?) Other than that, there's loads of websites I've come across in the last few weeks (as I'm going freelance rather than returning to my marketing and PR job) so you just need to get signed up and look out for opportunities.

Good luck and pls take it easy. Sounds as though you've been through an awful lot of £@%23^ recently.

Themumsnot Wed 24-Oct-12 16:35:20

Trade publications pay peanuts.
grin Nancy66 - not so!

Some trade publications pay peanuts, many pay more per thousand words than the majority of nationals (I'm aware that you work for one of the better-paying ones). I've written for a wide variety of publications and I can tell you that there are many more financially solvent freelances out there with a good solid client base of trade publications than there are of those hoping to make a living freelancing for the nationals. The nationals are much more volatile as well - sections are dropped and editors move on at a faster rate.

OP - freelancing is a very precarious business. To make more than 'pocket money' you need: good contacts on a range of publications; the ability to turn out well-crafted pieces to deadline without excuses; a brass neck for pushing your ideas to commissioning editors; the ability to deal with constant rejection; being able to live with the fact that you only know what your income is going to be four or five weeks in advance; that your work can suddenly fall off the edge of a cliff without warning leaving you scrabbling around to fill the gap; a financial cushion for the months when you still haven't been paid for features that were published six months. As a new freelance you will be lucky to be offered £200 per thousand words so you had better be able to research and write at least three features a week if you want to make a living out of it.

It is not an enterprise for the fainthearted and the pickings are getting slimmer as more publications migrate online.

Nancy66 Wed 24-Oct-12 17:21:07

fair enough Themumsnot - and good advice to the OP

once again, not intending to be harsh - just realistic.

When anybody posts on MN about wanting a change of career 'become a journalist' invariably pops up.

Writing is one of those jobs - like acting, like TV presenting - that everyone thinks they can do. But the truth is that hardly any of them can.

Themumsnot Wed 24-Oct-12 17:27:50

Writing is one of those jobs - like acting, like TV presenting - that everyone thinks they can do. But the truth is that hardly any of them can.

So true, Nancy! And a midlife career change has taken me into another job in that category - teaching.

MrsCantSayAnything Wed 24-Oct-12 17:38:35

Look, I make a living as a writer...I have a degree in acting. It can be done but you need a natural flair...an innate ability. It's not very well paid but I do make enough to enable me to stay at home...I write regular features for two trade mags and that nets £300 per month.

Then there are my regular online pieces...that's around £200 a month. So it's akin to having a part time job in a shop. Not a "living" but some pocket money that helps DH and I manage.

I wouldn't claim to be a "great" writer...but I can string a sentence together and I have written many comedy sketches that have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 ....you don't need a degree in writing to get work.

Themumsnot Wed 24-Oct-12 17:46:39

Mrs - fair enough and nobody is saying that you need a degree in writing to make a living as a writer. But you don't make a living as a writer, do you? You make £6,000 a year. That's a reasonable contribution to a family income, but it's not a living which is, I think, what the OP is hoping to be able to do.

wordfactory Wed 24-Oct-12 18:02:10

I know what nancy is saying and I hear it.

If I had a quid for every SAHM who claims their brains are not rotting because they are writing a novel...well, I wouldn't have to write any more novels wink.

Writing is a tough gig. Most folk with a facility for language won't be any where near talented or tough enough.

But that said, some people do make a go of it. I wrote a book and the rest is history. I've also punted some freelance articles and done okay. Never been trianed or what have you...

lisalisa Wed 24-Oct-12 20:48:14

thanks everyone for your useful posts

wordfactory when you say you wrote a book and the rest is history did that book " make you " so to speak? I have also written a book and long to send it off but have heard it is a very lenghty process indeed to get it published if indeed anyone wants it

MrsCantSayAnything Wed 24-Oct-12 21:03:42

TheMumsNot I believe Nancy said that you need to train to do it....which I contest. If a writer has an innate talent, then a degree is not necessary.

Also....I make that little because I write only part time...I do no writing during the day, that's when I am caring for my DC. I work extremely part time...were I to invest more energy, I have no doubt that I could make four times the money I make atm.

It's nothing to do with the quality of what I write...more to do with the time I invest.

wordfactory Wed 24-Oct-12 21:07:46

lisalisa I wrote a book (for a bit of a laugh) and its been what I've done ever since.

Most folk don't finish the book they're working on, or sub it, or sell it, or make a decent amount of money in descending order.

But some of us do. So I never say never.

wordfactory Wed 24-Oct-12 21:09:45

The length of time it takes a book to get published really depends on so many factors out of your control.

My first book was bought, edited and shoved out onto the shelves in what felt like a whirlwind. But I have other mates for who the process was interminable.

PermaShattered Wed 24-Oct-12 21:35:53

lisa i can also say i wrote a book and the rest is history. I just happened to write it at the right time and submitted the synopsis to the right publishers at the right time.

And you wanted something positive and inspiring? You CAN make a GOOD living as a writer. I have a few regular clients each month, including 4-5 regular gigs each month (so i know AT LEAST what i'll be billing each month)Over the last few months I've been billing between £3k and £5k a month.

And you know what? I'm working from home with four children including a baby who has just started nursery 2 mornings a week now that my 4 yr old has started reception. I'm having to turn work down because I can't physically do it.

And because I have so much work I'm going into business with a colleague and we're having a fabulous website set up and we're nearly ready to go. It's sooooo exciting! But 12 yrs ago I was just starting out....

I hope that's inspiring!

PuffPants Wed 24-Oct-12 21:40:00

Wordfactory - I know you won't want to out yourself, but can you give us a hint as to the nature of your book? Fiction? Non-fiction? Romance/historical/humour etc?

Just curious.

motherinferior Wed 24-Oct-12 21:40:55

I am a journalist. It is bloody hard to get work. I am actually rather a good journalist, editing a section of a mag at the moment. It is still bloody hard to get work.

(My book, though obviously a Terrific Work of Genius, is also not quite cutting the mustard.)

wordfactory Wed 24-Oct-12 21:54:59

Crime fiction.

I've also written some drama for radio.

The journo stuff I've done has mainly been about writing lol!

wordfactory Wed 24-Oct-12 21:55:40

Mother do you mean you can't sell it at the mo?

motherinferior Wed 24-Oct-12 21:59:55

Yep. No bugger of an agent nature has so far been interested in it. Admittedly it is rather complicated non-fiction.

wordfactory Wed 24-Oct-12 22:08:51

Thing is, and I know everyone says this, but the market is trully awful at the mo.

I got in quite a few years back when things were less gloomy, so it's been easier to keep on keepin' on. Agents are soooo bloody risk averse at the moment. Terrified of trying to flog stuff that the publishers don't want for fear of being the agent who tries to flogg stuff the publishers don't want.

Frankfurt was like the Marie Celeste apparently.

oranges Wed 24-Oct-12 22:16:38

That's reassuring to know wordfactory. I'm a journalist and always had good jobs and good money through writing. But my book (complicatednon fiction too) is getting zero interest Interestingly, one agent said he;d take if I could turn it into a novel.
I'm getting the feeling that Frankfurt depressed instead of inspired the industry.

PermaShattered Wed 24-Oct-12 22:20:00

Mother, you 'sound' familiar! Can almost hear you speaking...

wordfactory Wed 24-Oct-12 22:24:06

I spoke to my agents after Frankfurt and they were fairly sombre.
They really wanted to sell a new children's book they've got which they say is one of the best new things they've had for a while and got very little interest.

And a fair few UK writers are now selling all their fireign rights to their UK publishers. I think that's bonkers myself, but the UK publishers are really throwing their weight around asking for all mannner of rights for the tiniest of advances.

Curtsey Wed 24-Oct-12 22:34:29


I make a living as a writer and I make good money from freelancing, but my area is very specialised and I have trained long and hard to get where I am.

You've made a great start already, and continuing in that vein (focussing on religious publications etc.) seems like a good idea to me. You've got to really know the market you're writing for. You say you've got loads of ideas for articles. Keep refining these and keep pitching. Read as much as you can - analyse the work of the professionals you admire. See how they do it and be hungry to learn. Read read read!

I know you only want to hear positive stories, but I do have to be negative about one thing. Short stories with morals. Please do not write these. Please, just don't.

NotQuintAtAllOhNo Wed 24-Oct-12 22:41:27

LisaLisa, I am sorry to hear about your father, and I hope you are on your way to recovery.

I know nothing about law, and I know little about writing. Other than how hard it is to get published. I came pretty close to get a book published many many years ago. It is buried far into my hard drive, and I guess it will always be the one that nearly got published.

But one thing I DO know, you have a fantastic imagination, and you do have some writing skills, judging by your funny threads with knickers in lunchboxes, and ghosts.

Good luck.

You could consider writing for blogs, and just for fun, but dont give up your day job.

MissM Fri 09-Nov-12 22:05:34

Do you want to pass some of your excess work my way Perma wink?

Lougle Thu 29-Nov-12 17:21:34

I'm sure it takes a lot of dedication and talent to write for a living. However, having seen the spelling and grammar in many Daily Mail articles, the standards are shocking.

CajaDeLaMemoria Thu 29-Nov-12 18:39:15

The Daily Mail doesn't often recruit. It seems to headhunt people instead - so they are very unlikely to have been chosen for their writing ability, more for their fame and reputation, or their connections.

Lougle Thu 29-Nov-12 19:13:41

Surely, though, they have editors who can see the errors?

"Authorities said that zoo staff and then police responded 'within minutes' but visitors described that time as being filled with screams for help.

Zookeepers called off some of the dogs, and seven of them immediately went to a back building.

It was shot dead by an officer. Experts said the death is highly unusual.

The dogs were put in quarantine, not euthanized." For example.

It doesn't even flow confused

Today, a headline:

"Mechanic whose heart stopped beating for 80 MINUTES brought back to life 'like a spluttering old Fort Cortina'."

Really? You didn't notice that one of the most famous car manufacturers on the planet is spelled incorrectly in a headline?

WilsonFrickett Fri 30-Nov-12 16:49:19

Is that the paper or the website Lougle? As far as I can see, the website isn't subbed or checked at all, and a lot of the stories are bought in through syndication. There's always at least 3 Kardashian stories on the website and I can't see them being in the main paper, for example.

Lougle Fri 30-Nov-12 16:57:35

Website. I have to say that I didn't realise it was different from the paper version.

"Lily was prescribed with methotrexate number of unpleasant side-effects, which include vomiting, hair-thinning, weakening of the nails, and a lowered immune system. here

It looks like a set of crib notes, ready to be fleshed out later.

WilsonFrickett Fri 30-Nov-12 17:03:03

Yeah, the main stories from the paper will be uploaded to the website, but there will also live content management (probably not by actual journalists although that's me speculating) which won't be subbed. You also see a lot of poor updating, where new info is added at the top, then the background is added next, then you see the original background further down the story.

MysteriousHamster Fri 30-Nov-12 17:13:16

It is hard earning any kind of money as a writer. Most people can read and write and it doesn't necessarily seem that hard but there's a bit more to it than that.

OP, if you've sold four articles you're clearly not doing too badly. If you can find a niche and build up some regular work you're doing well.

But generally, people are naive to think they can jump into freelance work and make money.

The best way to do it is to make yourself an expert in a particular field and then you might get decent freelance, regular work or even consultancy work.

re. trade mags, I work for one and we don't have any freelancers. Often people write for us for free.

I've done a tiny bit of freelance for other magazines but most of it has been based on my connections and has faded away now - there's not a lot of money out there to get in the first place.

Also journalistic writing and creative writing are different beasts. I'd love to sell a novel too (have finished a couple) but I'm realistic that doing so is a long shot. The first step is actually finishing and polishing a book - most never manage it. The second is writing another book instead of pinning all your hopes on dreams on just the one.

It winds me up when people say 'oh yeah, I want to write a book' and they've never even typed out the title. I'm not exactly the most disciplined writer either, but I'm here at my computer most nights, at least, trying to get better.

It's easy to talk about writing. It's hard to finish things.

MysteriousHamster Fri 30-Nov-12 17:23:08

hopes and dreams, jeez. Better get back to novel editing.

spatchcock Fri 30-Nov-12 19:21:02

Lougle I'm a former sub editor who worked in a sub editing 'hub' (ie, loads of newspapers subbed by one central team), and the pressure I was under to sub 60+ stories a day meant that I often missed mistakes. Some were real clangers that I cringe about now. It was like working in a factory.

Just another symptom of yet another industry that is constantly 'downsizing'.

Nancy66 Sun 02-Dec-12 14:06:07

the website and the paper are totally separate.

There are always loads of mistakes online but you don't find many in the print edition. Pages in the Daily Mail's print edition are proof read twice.

Lougle Sun 02-Dec-12 16:12:57

Perhaps I should be a volunteer proof reader for the Mail then grin The errors leap out and I end up remembering them more than the story!

MathairMahoney Mon 07-Jan-13 00:11:44

WordFactory I just stumbled across this thread after starting my own and you were exactly the kind of person I was looking for - Anyone making a living from freelance writing?. I got a book deal last year and while it was an excellent advance I did have to sell world rights rather than just world English. I'm philosophical about it as it was a great deal for an unknown author and unless the books REALLY take off the publishers are likely to lose money rather than me! And if they don't do well I reason that they have helped me get established and give me a better chance of self-publishing afterwards. On the flip side if they do well I get royalties and am in a better position to negotiate on future deals.

It is still possible to get a book deal but you do need to be tenacious. A lot of well known authors have confessed that there is no way they would have book deals if they were starting out now because you have to do well from the very first book. I remember reading an interview with Ian Rankin who said it wasn't until his sixth or seventh book that he started to sell - and that he knew no publisher now would give him anything like that long to get established.

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