Fiction Freelance Writing
In fiction writing, writers have the ability to utilize the elements of fiction to explore and examine topics and themes in society. The end product of fiction writing is usually a novel or short story; however, the styles, themes, settings and messages of these pieces of writing can vary greatly.
Fiction writers, like other freelancers, most often work from their homes. This provides a sense of flexibility, but also requires strong motivation by the writer to finish a piece of writing and push it towards the process of publication.
Most fiction writers work with an agent because publication can be a competitive and difficult process. The agent works as the mediator between the writer and the publisher. Finding an agent who fits your needs or even finding an agent at all can be a challenge. Also, even if an appropriate agent is found, publication is not guaranteed.
Fiction writing can be a difficult field to hold a career in. The field can be cutthroat and also requires a large amount of hard work with an emphasis on creativity and also hours of revision and editing before a final piece of writing can even be submitted for publication. Many writers work alternative jobs to maintain a stable lifestyle.
Necessary and Useful Skills and Characteristics
- Creativity and Sense of Imagination
- Writing Talent
- Ability to Undergo Rejection
- Working Individually
- Determination and Competitive Nature
Fiction Markets and Genres
Usually fiction writers establish and market themselves in a specific genre of fiction. Examples of these genres include: science fiction, mystery, romance novels, history or politics.
Sticking to one genre helps to build the reputation of a fiction writer and readers who enjoy a writer’s work may begin to associate them with a specific genre. However, after success in a specific genre, some writers choose to dabble in other areas, which can produce unpredictable results. Sometimes, the expectations of readers, editors and publishers are not met when a writer switches genres.
Elements of Fiction
Freelancers who write works of fiction have a great deal of flexibility within their writing; however, there are key formal elements of fiction which include: plot; character; setting; point of view; style, tone and language; theme; symbolism, allegory and image. These elements provide writers with a standard guideline and sense of organization in their writing. Fiction writers utilize these elements to effect their readers’ perceptions of their writing.
Balance within Fiction Writing
In his guide to fiction writing, The Fiction Writer’s Toolkit, Bob Mayer explains two different sides that fiction writers have to find a happy medium between in order to write fiction: the craftsmanship side and the artistic side. The craftsmanship side involves the techniques and plotting aspects of fiction writing, while the artistic side involves more of the personal satisfaction derived from fiction writing. Finding a balance between the two sides requires writing practice, time and work experience. (Fictionwise.com - The Fiction Writer's Toolkit)
Stephen King, a well-known horror writer, advises writers about the hard work involved in fiction writing.
“Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write everyday, the characters begin to stale off in my mind-they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.”
King attempts to write 10 pages or 2,000 words a day; however, he admits that those words come easily some days and take longer on others. (Heather Routh - Writing in Major)
Non-fiction Freelance Writing
Within nonfiction freelancing, there are many opportunities ranging from the personal essay and poetry to academic research and writing to greeting card blurbs. Though it is impossible to create a complete list of available nonfiction freelancing jobs, here is a list of some common ones:
- Writing job descriptions
- Writing/researching academic papers
- Ghostwriting memoirs or other non-fiction
- Writing poetry or personal essays for publication in magazines, journals, etc.
- Writing job descriptions
- Copywriting/promotional writing
- Travel writing
- Writing resumes
- Health writing
- Writing slogans for t-shirts, bumper stickers, magnets, etc.
- Web design or content writing for the internet
- Writing E-books
- Writing Newsletters
- Writing a book
- Working on a smaller part of a larger project in just about any field
Necessary and Useful Skills and Characteristics
Answering only to yourself on a daily basis, as most freelancers do, means that unique skills are necessary to succeed in this field. Futhermore, the variety of available work for freelancers mean that they must possess skills in many different stages of the writing process, as well as be able to work with the relevant technology of the day. Some of the most important skills to consider focusing on (not in order of importance!):
- STRONG self-discipline: you’ll be working your own hours and accomplishing only as much as you can make yourself do. You’re directly responsible for your own earnings so you have to be able to get out of bed and get to work every day, without the advantage of someone to answer to at 9 a.m. every morning.
- A firm grasp of the English language: writing for businesses or organizations requires a working knowledge of grammar and an ability to write just about anything, clearly and effectively.
- Versatility: While specialization seems to be the route that many freelancers choose to take as it allows them to build their skills in one area and therefore become a more desirable candidate for that type of work (read: more money!), it is also invaluable to be able to work on many different types of projects as the world of freelancing is a dynamic one. This is especially important when first beginning your career as a freelancer, as you will most likely be clamoring for any and every single job available to you.
- Access and knowledge to technology and the internet: As a freelancer, you must be able to keep up with the changing technologies and also be able to work in a variety of programs such as photoshop, dreamweaver, etc. Even if you are not a webmaster or graphic artist, having a grasp on these programs will ensure that you able to get freelance work in a variety of fields and media.
- Research skills: As a freelancer working for various types of clients, you may spend days, weeks or months immersing yourself in a particular topic only to find your next job in a completely unrelated field. While as a writer, you aren’t expected to become an expert in these fields, you must be able to research and learn as much about them as possible so that you can meet your client’s needs completely.
- Ability to Compete: There are tons of people who would love to make $50,000 sitting at their computer in their pj’s, so if you’re serious about being a successful freelancer you’re going to have to be really good at what you do and ambitious about finding jobs, ensuring repeat clients, making connections, etc.
To develop these skills and prepare for a career in nonfiction freelancing, students should consider taking a variety of classes throughout writing disciplines; this includes everything from web authoring to creative writing. If a student has a specific area or career in mind, they should take writing classes that pertain to the functional aspect of that area as well as supplemental classes that will better inform the student about the professional world they will be working in. For example, a student who wishes to do freelancing web page design for corporations should take an advanced web authoring class, but might also consider business, graphic design, communication or computer skills classes. The professional writing program at Michigan State University gives students looking for a career in freelancing the freedom to shape their own education, therefore personalizing their employable skills. This is both an opportunity and a challenge, reinforcing the idea that freelancing is best suited for the self-motivated worker.
Pay for non-fiction freelance is (for the most part) by word or page, or by hour. Specific rates or “salaries” are impossible to estimate as the clientele and projects vary so widely in the freelance world. Some companies will determine a freelancer’s pay by starting with the salary gives to similarly skilled or assigned employees, dividing it by 52 weeks and 40 hours, and coming up with an hourly figure. The better companies to work for will take in to account weekends, vacation time, benefits and materials when coming home with a starting number for this technique. Larger corporations tend to pay better, especially for web projects, as companies are desperate to utilize the latest technology to reach customers and project their images. It is possible, with great perseverance and dedication, as well as continuous honing of one’s skills, to work your own hours, choose where you live, and make enough money to support yourself.
"When I started out as a writer more than 20 years ago, I freelanced for various newspapers and magazines, and continued to do this for a number of years while I was a staff journalist and later a commercial writer. For the past 11 years, I have run my own marketing communications business and worked the other side of the fence, primarily writing for small and large, private and public businesses. If nothing else, I've learned that the major advantage of writing for businesses is the income. Businesses, by and large, pay far more handsomely than magazines." –Michael Meanwell, author of “The Enterprising Writer”
"Living the literary life means living out of sync with society...Victims of this craving to create face the universal conflict of conventional 9 to 5 living versus unpredictable schedules (dictated by the muse). A successful writing career mandating different habits and rearrangement of daily life can be personally costly, unless you are lucky to have a fully supportive family. The real reality? Remuneration is often nil, fame and fortune ever illusive. But if you were meant to be a writer, you'll hang in there until you sing your song." –Delma Luben, author of “The Writing World”
Additional Resources for Fiction and Non-fiction Freelancing
Freelance Writing - a site with a useful job bank and links to articles about freelancing
Worldwide Freelance - a site that connects freelancers globally and provides specific areas for fiction and non-fiction freelancers
Writers Write- a site that explores different fiction markets
Poewar- a site with freelance writing job postings
Content Developed by:
Hayley Roberts and Emily Morrison