Why You’re a Better Writer Than I Am — But I Still Earn More

I’m not the greatest writer ever to pick up a pen.

In fact, I marvel at the work of more skilled writers almost daily.

I consider my husband who went to UCLA Film School to be the creative genius of the family.

I certainly feel I’m a competent writer. But I’m not outstanding.

So how do I earn six figures as a freelance writer? (Yep, happened again last year.)

How do I pull that off, when hordes of more talented writers can’t seem to keep their fridge stocked on what they make from their craft?

Here are the reasons I believe I’m an outstanding earner, even though I’m not an exceptional writer:

  • I’ve got positive vibes. I like myself, think writing is really fun, and know I have a lot to offer clients. I think prospects pick up on that.
  • I’m willing to put myself out there. When the economy went down in 2009, I learned how to market myself as a freelance writer. From scratch. I went to in-person networking events, answered online job ads, got on social media… I became a marketing machine.
  • I love to learn new stuff. When I discover an obstacle to my earning more, I climb right over it. Technology is not my strong suit, but I slogged along and learned how Twitter worked. I learned about SEO. I learned three different blogging platforms.
  • I’m kind of a dork. What can I say? I was a legal secretary for years. My dad sold life insurance. I used to think this was a shameful history, until I started making big bucks writing on legal and insurance topics. Often, these gigs are not for national magazines, but they pay the bills like you wouldn’t believe. Speaking of which…
  • I don’t need my name in lights. While a lot of writers dream of seeing their byline on the covers of glossy national newsstand magazines, I’m not hung up about where my work appears — or if my name is even on it. I’m open to both publications and businesses as clients. That flexibility keeps my income growing.
  • I can’t resist a challenge. When a client throws me an assignment about something arcane — say, actuarial forecasting — I’m delighted. I get bored if I’m writing on the same topic all the time, so I welcome writing gigs that force me to stretch.
  • I negotiate. Where most writers seem to jump at the chance to work for any rate no matter how bitty, I’m a student of the art of dealmaking. I’ve earned tens of thousands more over the years by making counter-offers and holding out for a rate I believe is fair.

What skills have helped you earn well from writing? Leave a comment and tell us about your strategies.

P.S. Here’s how you can become a high-earning writer: Get the knowledge you need to land good clients and run a successful freelance-writing business in today’s fast-changing media world. The Freelance Writers Blast Off Class – a 4-week course I teach with Renegade Writer Linda Formichelli — starts next week. (Congrats to Christen, who won a ticket to the class’s Participation level in my Friday contest, and to Jason, who won a ticket to Audit the Blastoff.)

Due to the holiday, Blast Off registration has been extended through tomorrow (Tuesday).


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27 comments on “Why You’re a Better Writer Than I Am — But I Still Earn More
  1. Jenifer says:

    I haven’t actually launched myself as a writer yet, but it is encouraging to see I share many of the same traits you listed. After reading your previous post asking what keeps writers up at night, I actually feel more confident & more driven about this new endeavor of mine. I feel better about my skills than many who posted but I’m nowhere close to your level Carol. I am ok with being somewhere in the middle because I know I am making progress & that there are good days ahead if I just keep moving forward.

    I’ve learned from past mistakes that writing something good doesn’t guarantee people will see it, so my focus this time around is to be less timid about promoting what I write. I think marketing yourself is key to earning money!

  2. Josh Sarz says:

    Nice post, Carol. I have a question, though. What about if you’re building a brand for yourself as a freelance writer? Wouldn’t it help to have your byline and backlink on your work and add them in your portfolio?

    I have a feeling you’ll counter bylines with referrals.
    Josh Sarz recently posted..How Other People’s Writing Shaped My Life

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sure, it does help to get a byline for SEO purposes, Josh. But sometimes you just get paid real well, and you’re willing to overlook that ;-)

      You can still use no-byline work in your portfolio — everyone who writes brochures and corporate web content is doing that. You can still link out to it, too, unless you were sworn to secrecy when you wrote it. In which case you should get paid a BIG ton.

  3. Cindi says:

    This is a great post, Carol. I would add that you write succinctly: clearly & concisely. Readers (and editors) like that; I know I appreciate it. Thanks for reminding me that writing isn’t a perfectionist’s sport.

  4. Jill says:

    I appreciate your humility, but I think you’re a much, much better writer than you think. You have a linear, orderly style that is easy for the reader to follow.

    You also beat everyone at marketing. Most writers loathe selling themselves — they want to write, not make cold calls. I know I hate negotiating!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Honestly, I think that’s the hokey pokey these days — as in, that’s what it’s all about. The marketing.

      And you nailed it — most writers are petrified of marketing. Lots of us got into this because we’re sort of solitary folks…and now you have to be out there shaking your tail feather! But that’s the reality of being a successful freelancer in this economy.

  5. John Soares says:

    Very good list Carol. I’d add maintaining good physical and mental health and developing good time management skills.
    John Soares recently posted..2011 Social Media Statistics and Your Plans for 2012

  6. 1. NO EXCUSES. I’m the homeschooling mom of 5 with no college degree and just turned 40. I’ve written now for 100 regional parenting mags in just a few years and self-published an ebook about how others can also do it. That being said …
    2. LEARN from people like Carol Tice. You challenged me once about why I take such low pay for jobs … the reprints from the regionals has turned into residual income, but now I have listened to you and gone out for higher-paying writing jobs.

    $100 per hour used to sound preposterous to me … now I see that you are right and any writer CAN do it! You rock, Carol!

  7. Lisa Gerber says:

    Hi Carol!
    It’s interesting…I come from this from a PR perspective. I’ve noticed many many of my writer contacts over that past years have dropped out altogether from freelancing while others have been very successful as you have.
    In addition to what you’ve identified here, the pattern is the successful ones run their craft like a business. They are online and available, easy to work with, meet deadlines, and do their own PR – with their clients and their PR contacts alike.
    Lisa Gerber recently posted..Four Ideas for Your Business Facebook Page

  8. Jan Hill says:

    All true Carol – except I think you’re a pretty great writer too! Mostly, you’re a multi-tasker, it seems. You write on a lot of different topics, accept a variety of gigs, and don’t spend all your time on any one thing. You don’t shy away from the stuff most writers hate – marketing and negotiating, which sets you apart when the good paying gigs are being assigned. One of the most important things I’ve learned from you is that you never stop learning and trying new things, and that is what I believe truly sets great earning writers like you apart. I’m working hard to join you…

  9. I really like this one, Carol. I feel the same way and I tell people all the time that while I know there are better writers than I am in this industry, I’m also very, very good at what I do. Talent is so important. But so are persistence, marketing and just being willing to get your hands dirty. Ideally, we have both. But when push comes to shove, hard work will beat talent any day of the week. Great post and thanks for writing it.
    Princess Jones recently posted..The Death of a Blog

  10. Hi Carol,
    Great stuff… highly encouraging :)
    @ “I’m not the greatest write” Well, you are great… a great writer & a great person :)
    I really look up to you as a source of inspiration. I am improving a lot as a ‘writer’, but not as a ‘marketer’ :(
    Ali | Writers Blog recently posted..Turn Your Copy into an Effective SEO Copy in 11 Simple Steps

  11. Gaurang says:

    Congrats For your Earning Figures :)

    Yeah, you are correct. Writing a good content is a thing which is not easy to learn, but how do you Present your content (Marketing) Matters a lot in Earning High Figures. And if you learned that trick, then You will be definitely a big earner.
    Gaurang recently posted..WordPress Easy Navigation: Next and Previous Buttons

  12. Kim says:

    Great advice! I like that you pointed out that you aren’t the “greatest writer to pick up a pen” but that you get so many jobs because you work at it – I think it’s easy for writers to become intimidated by all the writing talent out there and think that you could never earn money like those “others” do because they are so much “better” than you – when really it’s not that simple! You could have all the talent in the world but if you don’t know how to find work and market yourself, then you won’t be a big earner. Thanks so much for your great advice, as always!
    Kim recently posted..golden year

    • Carol Tice says:

      I hear that ALL the time — “How can I ever get started with all the great, established competitors out there already?”

      You can do it by being you. None of them are you.

      And I can tell you, there is a TON of mediocrity out there in the pro writing arena, and editors are always happy to find someone with fresher ideas or more creative execution.

  13. Carol Silvis says:

    Interesting post. Marketing seems to be the buzzword these days.

  14. Catwoman says:

    Really nice article, and I totally agree! The talent is only one thing, and it is not enough to be a good writer. To be talented means, that you got a gift. A gift, which you have to handle with. Talent without sedulity is nothing. And that’s why you deserve your status;)
    Catwoman recently posted..fogfehérítés

  15. Marla Markman says:

    All great points Carol, and an awesome headline!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I had one person unsubscribe and tell me they were offended by that headline…so who knows what would happen if I made it “Why I’m a better writer than you are…” I thought it was sort of a compliment! But shows you can’t please everybody.

  16. Amandah says:

    Positive vibes do help. It reminds of what spiritual teacher Sonia Choquette says, “I always trust my vibes.” I’m too hard on myself. I have a bit of perfectionitis (a word I made up) which I inherited from my dad. I’ve been working on letting it go. Sending everyone positive vibes. :)

  17. Amy Gutman says:

    Great reminders, Carol!

    Speaking of which, I’ve recently encouraged several friends to enroll in your bootcamp, which gave me a hugely helpful jumpstart. Update: In the past couple months, I’ve picked up a tech company client (I’m blogging for them–would have had no idea what $$ to ask for if I hadn’t taken your course. That in itself more than paid for the class.), another freelance marketing gig, and also launched my Plan B Nation blog–which in the two months of its existence has already been featured on New England NPR and named Website of the Week by SecondAct (a website operated by Entrepreneur Media)

    So: THANK YOU! And have fun with the next bootcamp. :-)
    Amy Gutman recently posted..On writing for free in Plan B Nation: The real-life Anonymous Lawyer explains why you should

    • Carol Tice says:

      So thrilled to hear your success stories, Amy!

      I always thought that PlanB Nation concept seemed like it had real potential. Exciting to hear it’s getting some attention.

  18. Hi Carol,
    Wonderful article. My new motto is: Don’t Overthink; Just Do It
    Taking risks lead to rewards. When I first started, I turned down jobs fearing I couldn’t write the material well enough or work with a wide variety of clients. I was afraid the telephone would ring. But I decided to fly by the seat of my pants. The results: a recent feature release I wrote for a company led to newspaper, magazine and documentary television coverage; a second release resulted in a news feature and a magazine article for a client who richly deserved but had struggled to get press. And, I just had a request to create a tagline for a new medical practice. Did I say no? No way! Each time I say yes, I learn something new and can provide a wider range of skills to all of my clients.
    Marcy Orendorff recently posted..How to Write a Great Business email

  19. LuAnn says:

    I need to work on my negotiation skills. I did when I first started freelancing, but for the past year, I’ve been content with accepting what I’ve been offered.

    No more!

    ~~LuAnn
    LuAnn recently posted..Twitter Chats and Writing

  20. This points are really good. Thanks because I have learnt a lesson on negotiation issue

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