The Best Way for Storytellers to Earn Well as Freelance Writers

great storytellerYou have a real knack for telling a tale.

Maybe you’re working on that novel. Or you’re the type that can sit around a campfire and spin a fascinating yarn right out of your head, to entertain your kids.

You may be wondering if there’s a way to make this skill pay — reliably, and well. And not just if you happen to hit the bestselling-novelist jackpot one day.

As it happens, there is. Freelance writers can make nice money telling stories — if you pick the right types of projects and the right types of clients.

Personally, I didn’t start out thinking of myself as a particularly strong storyteller. But I ended up falling in love with the form, as I discovered how useful stories can be when it comes to business writing.

Business may seem boring on the surface, but underneath, it’s drama like you wouldn’t believe — and you earn well from telling those stories.

Stories that pay

Most storytelling writers starve, because they only use their skills to submit short stories to the few surviving anthologies and magazines that accept them. Even if you can get a story accepted, pay is usually small.

The client you want to earn more isn’t a publication — it’s a decent-sized business. That is the best-paying client for stories.

Businesses need to tell stories, because people hate ads. But people love stories and will listen to them.

In particular, the more sophisticated the product or the audience is, the more likely a company needs to tell stories to make sales.

Here are my favorite types of great-paying storytelling writing:

1. Advertorial articles or native ads

Offline, these have been around for ages — they’re those feature articles surrounded by a box that says “advertising.” Often, they tell the story of the sponsoring business’s success, or of why their product is exceptional, but in the style of a reported article. When these appear online, these are called sponsored posts or native advertising. I’ve written these at $1 a word, too.

2. Ghostwriting placed articles

For these, you flip your point of view, and write as that business owner — tell the story in first person, how ‘your’ business grew and prospered, why it’s innovative, what recent experience or event has changed how ‘you’ do business.

Many businesses want these professionally written articles to submit to business publications, so they can raise their visibility and build their reputation. I know one freelancer who charges $1,200 per placed article.

3. Annual reports

Yes, they’ve got those boring charts and graphs about the company’s finances. But annual reports also must tell a compelling story about what happened in the business during the past year, and what’s coming next. Publicly held companies are required to issue these reports and need to tell a great story to keep investors on board, but private companies and major nonprofits often put out annual reports, too.

Think of the annual report as a lengthy business profile that focuses mainly on one year, instead of covering the whole company history, as you’ll often do in a business profile. Investors don’t just want to see the numbers — in an annual report, they want to know why the business had this level of revenue and profit last year. Your storytelling provides the answer. You tell readers exactly how the company put their top competitor out of business — or why their closure of 20 stores will really be a good thing, in the long run.

Annual reports at major corporations can top 100 pages, and can be $10,000 projects or more.

4. Customer case studies

If you like to dig into a lot of nitty-gritty details in a story, this could be the niche for you. Case studies tell the story of a customer who used your client’s product or service. These stories convince more customers to sign up — but only if you tell them everything.

Why did the customer choose this solution, and what did they compare it to before they bought? What happened when they tried it? Were there any problems, and if so, how were they handled? And so on. It’s like a mini-soap opera about this customer and the product, how they came together and how it worked out.

The more drama you can build into these stories, the more clients love them — because they get results.

Making business fascinating

For instance, I recently wrote a case study about a woman who came home from a trip to discover a slow, undetected shower leak had ruined thousands of dollars’ worth of dress clothes and leather boots in an adjoining closet. Horrors!

She thought she would never be able to replace many of the items, especially since she had a chronic immune-system disorder and it was hard for her to get out and shop. Until… a specialty cleaning company rode to the rescue and restored all her duds to good-as-new condition. Just like a Hollywood movie, there’s a happy ending to case studies.

I once wrote another case study for a business-insurance firm, and got to interview a woman who survived unscathed after her car caught fire while she was driving it. It doesn’t get much more dramatic than bursting into flames! She then described how the insurance firm did a super job helping her quickly replace her vehicle, and — happy ending. That one went in the newsletter of a Fortune 500 company, and paid $2 a word.

Case studies can pay $750 for short ones, and $1,500 or more for longer, highly detailed ones. Is it me, or is that a fun way to make a nice chunk of change?

Get curiously well-paid

You don’t even need to be a great storyteller yourself to do well with these. Just be curious, ask a lot of questions, and listen. The business owner, or their customer, will spin the tale for you.

Want to look like a story pro? Just keep asking: “What happened next?”

Then, all you have to do is tighten it up and put the story into the format the business wants.

Look into putting your storytelling skills to work for businesses that need these sorts of projects written, and you’ll find a lucrative arena for story writing.

Are you a storyteller? Tell us how you earn from that skill in the comments.

Freelance Writers Den

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29 comments on “The Best Way for Storytellers to Earn Well as Freelance Writers
  1. I’m going to dive on this idea. Since I blog about the things in front of me, why not get in front of the business end of things?

    Thanks for the timely post.
    David Gillaspie recently posted…END OF THE CHEESE STEAK TRAIL IN OREGONMy Profile

  2. Interesting article. What’s your opinion on self-publish stories and using a website or blog to market them? I heard it can be quite profitable.
    Timothy Torrents recently posted…Checkpoint 2015: What Weโ€™ve Done With Our LivesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Can you give examples? I personally don’t know anyone who earns well from short stories, either traditionally or self-published. Novels yes, but stories, I’m not so sure.

  3. Carol, this post gives me even more confidence! Storytelling is what I do best!

  4. John says:

    No more starving Carol! “You donโ€™t even need to be a great storyteller yourself to do well with these. Just be curious, ask a lot of questions, and listen. The business owner, or their customer, will spin the tale for you.” My best takeaway!

  5. Mary says:

    I used to write a lot of fiction, and met an editor on an online fiction critiquing forum. I was offered work writing for a B2B – interviewing the CEO’s of companies and writing up their stories.

    At first, I was a bit embarrassed about this role – it was just a bit too dull for an aspiring fiction writer. And at times it was just very difficult as often companies just want to tell you good things about themselves, and not about their economic challenges or how they could improve.

    I’ve been doing this work for a few years now and have grown to love it! After a time, you start to form a picture about different countries and regions, like, companies in India generally make more of an effort to practice CSR. Or how companies have modified their business practices post GFC – for example, many have chosen to broaden their activities in a bid to decrease risk. And overtime, I have become better at drawing out people about the more interesting aspects of their work.

    I believe my fiction writing experience has been crucial in transforming a potentially dull non-fiction prose into a more thrilling creative non-fiction like prose. And the stories I have heard from all around the world – especially those provided off the record – have taught me so much, and will eventually be incorporated into my fiction. Some of the interviews I have done have left me dumfounded, even moved to tears – and with invites to stay with people around the world.

  6. Great article, Carol! I identify as a storyteller and this was quite inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Matt Eastwood recently posted…How to Own your Story and unleash the Star Entrepreneur in You.My Profile

  7. David Frank says:

    I really like your “What happened next?” approach. if every story teller is able to ask himself this question and also give the answer, the probability of their story being read more becomes substantially higher.

  8. Storytelling is my favorite kind of writing! The storytelling is a powerful tool often used when the purpose is to change the readers’ behavior, such as grantwriting.

    Thank you, Carol, for a great article on storytelling for freelance writers.
    Sudie Alexander recently posted…Nonprofit WriterMy Profile

  9. Katherine says:

    I always pictured case studies to be boring! I didn’t realize they could be so dynamic. I was so interested to hear how she replaced all her clothes … that was very artful. I may have to try that style of writing to generate income. It doesn’t look as boring as I thought. Thank you for sharing your insights!
    Katherine recently posted…Make a Website for MoneyMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      That was my total take on business when I got my first business writing gig — man, this is going to be boring! But really, there’s so much human drama going on in business, there’s always a great story to find.

  10. Jim Porter says:

    I like to tell stories–make ’em up as I go along, or tell the real ones. There are bigfoot stories, space alien stories, stories about the little people my aunt saw on the east end of the old homestead, over near where Jim Day and his sister lived. (Jim Day’s the man who paid for my Dad’s clothes and Greyhound bus transportation back to Wichita when my Dad came home and found that his family had gone somewhere–he knew ’cause the wagon was not there, and the two horses were gone. But, of course, the mosquitoes were.)

    That sometime after Dad had the bigfoot encounter. Well, it might have been a bigfoot. Because, if you take away the tribal folklore elements from his account, it was a typical bigfoot encounter. And it was real enough that my grandfather and my uncle came running down the path to the toolshed the toolshed with the flintlocks as Dad ran toward them, screaming, “Nokozjumi! Nokozjumi!” The encounter occurred before my Dad learned to speak English.)

    Mostly, I use these stores in my novels because it’s difficult to find markets for them.

    But they fit very well into longer works.

    Oh, remind me sometime to tell you the story of how Patrol Officer Candice Showalter found herself fighting alongside
    a patrol officer from the Alpha Triangle Command in the southern Arizona desert, on the Thono-O’odham reservation. Officer Showalter’s still not certain she was talking to the right part of the Alpha Triangle Command patrol officer. But wouldn’t you know it. The three Men-in-Black showed up right on schedule the next morning.

  11. Linn Reights says:

    Carol you are my SHERO!!

    Like Susan… I love this suggestion. I write Children’s Books so this seems like a good way to exercise my imagination. I like the idea of listening to the stories of clients and filling in the blanks for them. It’s a good way to start tuning my skills as a ghost writer (while getting paid to do what I love)… One question… I live in Atlanta, GA so that would be 2PM Tuesday for me right?

  12. Don Stephens says:

    Hi Carol,

    The advice I got from your book, The Step By Step Guide To Freelance Writing Success, got me in the door with my own company and their blog site, but my own story-telling style got me my first paid job. I wrote an article about achieving customer satisfaction in the service industry and used one of my favorite personal anecdotes to highlight what not to do. I was contacted a month later by another site that has paid me very well for a similar article, and they want my writing to be a regular feature of their site. Thank you for your book and your encouragement. You always have the best tips! Cheers! ๐Ÿ™‚

    DB Stephens
    Author and Freelance writer

  13. Susan Hudson says:

    Finally a suggestion that fits my style! Not that all of your other tips and advice are not useful, but I have been having trouble finding my niche for earning. I am a storyteller, and I am working on a novel. It will be easy to interview people and then tell their story about how a product or service met their needs. Now…to figure out how to find clients who want this type of service from me! Any ideas on that Carol? Thank you!
    Susan Hudson recently posted…Does It Make You Happy?My Profile

  14. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

    Great and interesting ideas, Carol. I’m just starting out and am wondering where you go to find these clients? Anyone have any thoughts?

  15. I’m a seasoned journalist (I love the word “seasoned”!) and I had been feeling rather pessimistic about the future of quality writers and writing over the past several years. However, I have actually begun thinking the future is quite bright due to exactly the sort of writing Carol has pointed out in this post. There is a huge demand for quality story-telling that is targeted and structured appropriately. You just have to broaden your idea of the market and the type of content/documents you will be writing. Excellent post, Carol!

  16. Mateeka says:

    Thanks for this, Carol! Fiction is my first love, and these are great areas and techniques to out those skills to use. Will definitely have to sddnthese projects to my list of options for business clients.

  17. Really interesting post. Like you, I never thought I was an especially strong storyteller, but once you start seeing its power, and start learning the skills, it’s an incredibly valuable tool in the writer’s toolbox!
    Philippa Willitts recently posted…Donโ€™t Undervalue Your Talents and Skills | Freelance PricingMy Profile

  18. Rohi Shetty says:

    Hi Carol,
    Thanks for this wonderful post.
    I see that you wove potent success stories around each example.
    I plan to blog about scientific happiness studies this year and will be using quotations, stories, case studies and anecdotes to illustrate each happiness principle.
    Rohi Shetty recently posted…How James Chartrand Helped Me Publish 6 Kindle Books in 5 MonthsMy Profile

    • Greta Godaert says:

      Rohi, I’m finding and following my road to happiness (reading a lot, the right books seem to keep popping up at the right time) and I’m seeing and following signs everywhere, including Carol’s post today (as a young child I used to make up stories for my sisters while laying in bed and, if I took too long to continue the story, they would invariable ask “and then …?” which feels exactly like Carol’s “what happened next” in her last paragraph). When I read that you are looking into happiness studies, it spurred me to action (first comment I’ve ever left on this or any blog!). I’m very interested in following your blog, perhaps even participate in some way? I would like to keep in contact with you in some way.

      • Carol Tice says:

        I always feel honored to be the first blog someone comments on, Greta! Sounds like telling business stories could be a natural fit for you.

      • Rohi Shetty says:

        Hi Greta,
        Like Carol, I’m honored. Thanks a ton for your interest and support. I plan to start my blog on happiness studies next month, using the Audience Business Masterclass (introduced to me by Carol and Linda).

        And yes, I had the same experience – making up stories for my younger brother and later for my nephews and niece. ๐Ÿ™‚

        The “science of happiness” is a fascinating topic – I can’t wait to share it.
        Rohi Shetty recently posted…Let Humor Accompany You Like The Shadow That Never LeavesMy Profile

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