7 Move-Up Markets for Freelance Writers Looking to Earn More

Fingers walk up book stairs

Fingers walk up book stairs

If you write for content mills or bid sites, or spend time reading Craigslist ads, it’s easy to get discouraged.

You could think there is no good-paying writing work left in the world.

But it’s just not true.

There are a ton of $1-a-word or $100-an-hour type writing work out there, and the Internet has only created more of it.

The question is how to get from here to there. And the answer is move-up markets.

To get the great-paying gigs, you need to get some better clips. Move-up markets are where you can get nice-looking bylines that make your portfolio look more pro.

What’s a move-up market?

This is the rung of the freelance-writing world that pays better than mills, but not top rates. Think $100 a blog post, or $.10 a word, or maybe $200 an article.

Often, these aren’t super-prestigious places to write for, either. But they’re usually recognized as legitimate places, where an editor reviews your work. They give you credibility.

The beauty is, writing for these middle-range markets gives you the clips you need to pitch those top-dollar markets and get the gigs. And meanwhile, you could earn a bit more, too.

If you think there are no better-paying markets, let me just point out that one enterprising writer recently had no trouble compiling a little ebook of 50 markets that pay at least $.10 a word. You can find scads more of them in The Writer’s Market, too, along with many that pay $300 an article or so.

My list of easy move-up markets

Intrigued? Good. Let me run down seven types of move-up markets I’ve written for over the years, that are fairly easy to break into:

    1. Daily papers. The pay isn’t great, especially these days. But newspapers can pay $75-$300 an article, depending on the size of your market. If you can write a brief query letter including who you plan to interview, newspaper editors may well be receptive, given their shrinking staffs.
    2. Newsweeklies. These range from business weeklies to papers covering communities that might publish once or twice a week. Pay can range up to $300 or so an article. Even in a mid-sized market, $200 an article is typical.
    3. Alternative papers. The best-known of these is the Village Voice — you can see a list at the Association of Alternative NewsMedia. Alt-papers are always looking for someone to cover that city council meeting, restaurant or play opening. I used to call the editor and just ask if they had anyone going out to X event. If they didn’t, they’d ask if I could write up 300 words on it and pay me $75. At one point, I wrote $300 cover features for alt-papers in L.A. Over the years, the reputation of alt-papers has really improved, and they’re a good place to try out budding reporting skills.
    4. Job papers. When I first moved to Seattle, I wrote $200 articles for a little free-newsbox weekly called Today’s Careers. It was mostly job ads, but needed a few articles about trends in nursing careers and such to keep it from being all ads. I know this niche is still around because I was recently contacted by Working World in L.A., a similar paper with similar rates that was looking for writers.
    5. Informational websites. For quite a while, I wrote $100 easy articles for a big business-information portal. There are many online websites that are beginning to pay a bit more for truly informed content as they seek to stand out from competitors and keep their Google rankings high. I also wrote a whole series of $100 landing pages for a legal web portal. So if you’re familiar with an industry where there’s big money floating around, know that there should be better pay. These articles took me perhaps an hour to write, by the way, so the hourly rate was actually great, though the per-article rate might have been low.
    6. Paid guest posts. I pay $50 a blog post right here, and a growing number of other blogs pay that or more. Study the topic and what’s been covered, and then send the blog owner a pitch.
    7. Niche magazines. If you’re a hobby quilter or jewelrymaker or bass fisherman, take a look at the magazines you read. They may be a great place to get an article published, earn a chunk of change, and get a nice clip.

Whenever I write about these types of markets, I often hear back from writers who say that on an hourly rate, writing for mills pencils out for them better, because it’s more work to go out and report a story.

That’s true…but the markets above help you build a portfolio to move up higher than this — to the big money gigs. Mill clips don’t do that.

So it depends on your goals for your writing career if move-up markets make sense. If you’d like to see yourself earning professional rates in the future, getting a few move-up clips can be a big step up — and your first step onto the road to even better pay.

How have you moved up to earn more? Leave a comment and tell us your move-up markets.

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26 comments on “7 Move-Up Markets for Freelance Writers Looking to Earn More
  1. Uzma says:

    The question that content mill writers should ask themselves is, “Do I want to write 10×300 words articles and be paid $300, or writing 1×600 words article that pays $300 is better? Which one will have more value? Use the additional time on hand to improve the quality of your article, increase web presence, sharpen skills, and network.
    Uzma recently posted..A Billboard that Creates Drinkable Water from Thin Air

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think no matter how fast you can go at $10 an article, it’s really hard to make a living.. And it’s hard for me to see how writing 10 quickie SEO articles doesn’t take as much time as writing a single decent article for a good market.

      It’s just that it’s hard to make the leap to markets that don’t pay you at the end of the week…but I’ve got a post coming up on cash flow management that should help people with that. ;-)

    • Lisa says:

      Of course, the higher the pay the better from the point of view of the writer. But the company or the firm that pays $600 for a 1000 word sales page will look for premium quality when compared to a company that purchases cheap articles from you.

      It all depends on the value you deliver! Makes sense Carol.
      Lisa recently posted..AUTISM: A Mother’s Sensitive Journey + a Simply Sweet Ending!

      • Carol Tice says:

        You know, people throw around that word “quality” a lot until I think it’s lost all meaning, Lisa.

        The reality is that clients who pay $600 for an article are expecting a completely different TYPE of article — not something you researched off the Internet in 10 minutes and then wrote in another 10, but an article where you spend more like an 8-hour day of time finding experts and research data, interviewing people, talking to authors and experts on the topic, and then weaving all that into a compelling feature people will want to read.

        The $10 articles are primarily written for robots to read — that’s the difference.

  2. Willi Morris says:

    This kinda blows my mind, because you are saying $100 an article is “middle of the road”! Craziness. That sounds like heaven to me. I am earning more at a local magazine for doing less work ($125-$200), but in the grand scheme of things, it does involve a good bit of research and running around. Plus, she assigns articles about two months out, and it requires some extremely specific or new topics. But it’s totally worth it for the clips!
    Willi Morris recently posted..5 Resolutions For When You’ve Really Screwed Up

    • Carol Tice says:

      Not really — $100 to me is the bottom. I got that with the first few articles I ever wrote, way back in the early 1990s. Why should writers now be making LESS than that?

      There were no mills back then, obviously. I find hanging around mills really confuses peoples’ minds about going rates out there. Seems to be one of the biggest conversations we have in Freelance Writers Den — writers ask for feedback on their proposals and get completely shocked when they find out they’re bidding way, way too low.

      More importantly, I believe the $10 assignments are fading away as Google continues to change its methods to exclude junk-content sites, so writers who rely on them need to think about their next steps.

      • Jennifer says:

        I completly agree with $100 being the bottom. If I am doing something for 100, then it’s probably 1 or no sources and should take me 60 to 90 minutes tops.

        Look at the clips that you have gotten from the magazine and see what blogs/trade pubs are available in those areas. Figure out subjects that you have clips on and then use them to move up.

        • Carol Tice says:

          That’s how many of the $100 articles I’ve done are, I’m writing off my knowledge and it takes 60-90 mins. At first I was appalled and didn’t even want to consider doing $100 articles…until I realized I was making nearly $100 an hour!

          I try to group them so I have at least 2-3 of those assignments at once — really makes it pencil out.

          • Jennifer says:

            Very good point about grouping them. I do the same thing which increases the hourly rate. I originally felt the same way about $100 an article, thinking it was too low, but I make a great hourly rate. For those type of articles, I also try to either reslant them for a different audience or write it from a reslanted perspective to increase my effeciency as well.

  3. Amel says:

    Thanks for mentioning my e-book in your post, Carol. I knew something was up when my stats suddenly shot through the roof. :)

    I sometimes visit the WAHM forums and have been really struck by how burned out a lot of the mill writers are. Not only are they seriously pressured to produce multiple articles per day for low pay (often on mind-numbing topics like indoor plumbing), but the mill owners are often incredibly picky – for example expecting writers to adhere to 70-page style guides. A lot of these writers are afraid of writing for magazines because they think that it will require even more time, energy, and research than the mills, but they are wrong. In ten years of writing for magazines, I have never encountered that type of pressure. Writing for magazines is generally fun, especially when you are working with a good editor and writing about topics you find interesting and fulfilling.

    One thing I haven’t mentioned on my blog yet is that I used to be the managing editor of a magazine that paid 10 cents per word, and we really struggled to find qualified writers. I basically had to go and recruit them myself. I suspect it is this way with many other niche publications as well. Seriously, just take the plunge and query a higher-paying market. Editors are usually thrilled when a good writer falls into their lap, and Carol has given some excellent suggestions for easy markets to approach.
    Amel recently posted..Reslant your Articles for Unlimited Earnings

    • Carol Tice says:

      I hear you, Amel. Writing for mills, for most writers, isn’t sustainable. It’s not something you can do for 20 years, the way you can writing for magazines.

      And you’ve discovered the secret — I think many writers don’t pitch legit pubs because they think they’ll be tougher, that they don’t know something they’ll need…but in fact, many high-paying markets are a pleasure to write for. One of my best experiences was writing articles for the newsletter for a Fortune 500 company.

  4. Great suggestions, Carol. I travel a lot as a part-time flight attendant and pick up regional and local magazines almost everywhere I go in the Western states. There’s a publication for EVERYTHING – from “Mamalode” in Missoula, MT to “St. George Health & Fitness.” I’m finding that many of them are filled with freelance work.

    And Amel, I love this advice: “Seriously, just take the plunge and query a higher-paying market. Editors are usually thrilled when a good writer falls into their lap, and Carol has given some excellent suggestions for easy markets to approach.”

    Sounds good to me! I’ve got lists and lists of article ideas and am excited to go out of my comfort zone and start querying. Thanks.
    Crystalee Beck (@delighted2write) recently posted..Q & A with Scott McKain + win a signed copy of his new book “Create Distinction”

  5. Rabbine says:

    I’ll admit, I am a former mill member. I don’t have any clients so I found myself going back to the mill in order to earn extra money. But I’ve been a reader on this site long enough to know better. Taking a look at all the work, what they’re paying, along with some extra requests and knowing what I do now after reading your posts, I just couldn’t do it. Clients or not I figure my time is better spent on doing something else. I can’t help but look at it differently now.

  6. Jennifer says:

    A market that worked for me as a move up market was regional parenting magazines. While the market doesn’t pay great, you can actually make a very good hourly rate selling reprints. I could get $75-100 writing for pub and then sell it to 3 to 8 mags (6 was my average) and end up making $300 for an article that took me 2-3 hours. Because the mags are regional, they don’t mind that you have published the article in another area of the country. Pay is about $30 to $50 a reprint. One article I made $500 off of over about a year. I haven’t written for RPMs for over 3 years now, but ocassionally still get sales off articles I sent out years ago.

    I worked the market one of two ways – 1. Get an assignment from one regional parenting magazine and then sell it to other regional parenting magazines as reprints. I purchased an ebook with the emails for all the regional parenting magazines. 2. Write an article on a topic that you know is of interest to most regional parenting magazines and then send it out to editors. Because this market is low paying and are buying reprints, the editors don’t mind mass emails with BCC.

    In addition to making some money, I would write purposely on topics that I could use as clips for other markets. For example, I wrote on a number of family personal finance issues that I used as clips for credit blogs. You could also do the same thing with family health topics and fitness issues.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Excellent — thanks for adding another great move-up market. I haven’t done the parenting mags, but great example of a regional magazine type where you can resell.

  7. Eric says:

    Wow! Great Information. I never knew that writing articles could be so lucrative. I see so many people out on sites like fiverr hocking articles for $5.
    Eric recently posted..In The Flesh BBC’s New Zombie Series

    • Isabella says:

      Article writing really becomes a great source of earning, I’m an example ;)

      BTW, I was one of the seller of Fiverr but never got more than 2 orders/month, then I created my same gig on SEOClerks.com, I got 13 orders 1st month and then number of orders increasing every month. I am enjoying earning from SEOClerks, also they have affiliate program which pays FOR LIFE :)

  8. I wrote for what you may consider “mills” for quite awhile when I first lost my job due to disability a few years ago. It’s ok when you’re first getting your footing, but you’re right when you say that they’re really not worth your time and effort.

    Currently, I charge about $75/hour if no research is required. Some jobs I charge $100+/hr, but those are more high profile and require more effort. I think your article is right on the money!

  9. New Month, New goals to set. Thanks for the challenge, and the information. I will be looking forward to the article you mentioned in comments about managing cashflow.
    Peter D. Mallett recently posted..Research & New Markets (part 1)

  10. Another option is to learn new things. Adding additional expertise to one’s repertoire, always adds to the bottom line, as well.

    In today’s environment, e-learning is exploding. There are quite a few websites that offer short courses for either very little or no money at all. I just found a site named Coursera, http://www.coursera.org, that offers hundreds of courses free.

    These courses are lead by universities, so cannot be bad. It is worth a writer’s time to scan the list to see if there is any potential course for the writer’s interest.

    Another option in helping yourself “moving up”, or rather enhance your earnings is think about what things you do well. You’ll be surprised how many people maybe interested to learn what you know, how to get into it? or how to do it effectively?

    All you have to do is put it in writing, either in a booklet form, or a module form, upload it to a site named udemy, http://www.udemy.com (it is free to upload your educational material); you only pay a certain percentage when someone takes your “course.” You can price your information product competitively and it is not a bad way to enhance your earnings.

    I want to assure you that I am not an affiliate of these sites or get any monetary or other benefit by informing others about their services. I am strictly trying to help people to find ways to compensate for low paying gigs for writers.
    Jayne Georgette recently posted..7 Reasons Medical Writing is One of the Best Opportunities for You to Break in Now

  11. Jono Russell says:

    Thanks so much for the great tips above. My wife and I are currently travelling through Europe and into Africa and are looking to fund some volunteer work there for a few months. We have limited writing experience and have started a wordpress blog (thenurseandthebuilder.wordpress.com) that has attracted over 3000 visits in 6 weeks.

    The travel writing scene seems very hard to crack as every man and his dog wants in on it, but do you have any specific tips that would apply to travel writing?

    I love the idea of contacting magazines, so that is our next approach.

    Thanks again Carol.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, it’s not specific to travel writing…but write a lot. As a new writer you’ll probably need to practice and crank out a lot of writing to improve and find your voice and writing style.

      There’s a lot to learn to have a successful blog — I recommend joining A-List Blogger Club if you really want to do that. That’s where I learned to build this blog. You can read all about my experience with it on the Products I Love page of this blog.

      I don’t write travel, and yes, I believe you’re right that it’s extremely competitive on the print-magazine side. On the plus side for you, taking a quick look at your blog, it appears you’re probably going a lot of places maybe that are more off the beaten trail, and there’s always call for unusual-destination stories. Start researching and compiling lists of possible markets and studying them so you can see where your stories might fit.

      Then learn to write query letters that get you the gig — my pal Linda Formichelli has a nice starter pack of query letters you can get at The Renegade Writer.

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  1. [...] a writer ought to be paid more. Established freelancers suggest that even for a rookie writer, the pay should not be less than $50 an article. Try making $50 working at the mills — before you know it, after a couple weeks of this [...]

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