You 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.