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 $75-$100 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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