Written by Lora Brothers Matthews
How to Write for Money on Upwork! 5 Insider Tips
I’ve been freelance writing for the last seven years.
I started out doing articles for Demand Media for $5-$15 each. Those required research and citations and, frankly, nonfiction has never been my scene. I did like the extra income, though.
After a few years, I branched out and enrolled in the free version of Elance, which is now Upwork.
The set-up was different. Instead of choosing an available title and clicking “claim,” I had to write a bid, quote a rate and time frame for the project and include work samples.
It was a more demanding process, but I learned the ins and outs of winning bids over time.
I wrote education and curriculum articles that were in my area of expertise, before moving on to jewelry descriptions for a retail site.
I wrote HUNDREDS of those things for five dollars apiece and, I can tell you, I know some seriously obscure facts about semi precious gems as a result. (Did you know that the relatively valueless lime-green peridot was once highly prized and known as “the evening emerald” in England? Did you NEED to know that? Yeah, didn’t think so.)
I took a shot at writing fiction, bidding on a job for a paranormal romance short story about vampires. The price range was specified at $150 to $350. I bid at the lowest end, $150 and described in the bid both how much I’ve always liked to read romance in many subgenres and how I wanted to try this job for a fun change of pace. The client hired me and I wrote a story in less than a week. It was the most fun I’d ever had freelancing, and soon ghostwriting was my new side hustle!
The client hired me and I wrote a story in less than a week. It was the most fun I’d ever had freelancing, and soon ghostwriting was my new side hustle!
I learned to search the thousands of available jobs quickly using keywords like “novella,” “romance” and “ghostwriting” so I didn’t end up with page after page of results seeking someone to write their best man speech or an upcoming eulogy. ( Although if you’re into that, there are totally jobs out there for you.)
In addition to my day job, which is not creative at all, I’ve done exclusively romance ghostwriting for the last three years. Last year I pulled in over $12,000 doing about one story every 4-6 weeks.
Last year I pulled in over $12,000 doing about one story every 4-6 weeks.
Here are the top 5 insider tips I can give you.
I learned these the hard way, by which I mean I wasted a lost of time and lost money screwing these up, so learn from my mistakes and start rocking your writing for cash!
1. Write up a standard proposal.
In most cases, you’ll bid on several jobs before you even get a reply back from a client, so you need a quick and easy paragraph or two that you can customize to each job.
“I work retail in real life, but I have a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts and I made extra money editing people’s term papers in college. I’ve always written for fun in (favorite genre) and I pride myself on creating engaging stories with exciting plots. Attached you’ll find my work samples that relate to this project. Thank you for your consideration.”
2. Bid low at the beginning.
For your first few jobs, bid at the low end of the range to rack up experience and good reviews. Then you have leverage to bid a little higher either with repeat clients or new ones.
3. Give yourself extra time.
I write fast. I can do 7000-10000 words in a day if I apply myself. By that token, I could crank out a novella of 30K words in a week easily.
I never, ever bid at less than three weeks. Life happens and computer glitches happen and I would rather underpromise and then surprise my client with a swift completion than have to beg for an extension on my deadline.
4. Define your terms.
I can’t say this enough. This is the number one tip I can give you. And also the second and third because it’s so important!
I have lost money and time on this more times than I care to admit.
Here’s the thing: You have to state in your proposal what is included.
If you’re going to include the outline, say so and charge for it. I used to do those for free. Mistake. Either specify that you’ll write from their plot by creating an outline as your first milestone or else ask to write from an outline they provide.
List whether you’re going to turn in one finished product by the deadline or if you’re going to submit a chapter or three chapters at a time.
My preference is always to turn in the finished product only. In the past, I have written for clients who wanted three chapters turned in at a time, then wanted to critique them and have me make changes.
If I tried to stick to my timetable by going ahead on chapters 4-6 while they still had 1-3 in turnaround, I wound up having to revise 1-3 and then go change things in 4-6 and it was a massively inefficient pain in the writerly butt.
If you decide to submit in multiple milestones, allow extra time to complete the project because you will spend time waiting for your client’s reply.
Here’s the big one: Revisions.
I used to state that I would do one revision included in the price of the project. Which was fine because for like my first four novellas no one ever asked me to change anything.
Then I ran into trouble and wound up losing my favorite client.
Here’s what happened: The client wanted a different ending. I had to do what amounted to a 3500-word rewrite on a 20000 word novella for zero extra dollars.
It took two weeks, I was crazed trying to make the mad-hatterish changes work in the narrative (they didn’t) and I ended up saying something rather rude to my client about how in the future any revisions in excess of a page would cost him a certain percentage extra.
He never hired me again after that. But I learned an important lesson.
In every proposal I write, I include the statement:
“The price of this project includes one revision at client request not to exceed five hundred words. Any further revisions required by client will be prorated at a cost of $50/500 words.”
5. These people are not your friends.
Just a word of advice, since freelancing does involve building client relationships. These clients are not your buddies. They are business people and will attempt to screw you in some cases, by saying they can’t release funds due to car trouble or computer problems or something.
Nonsense. They don’t tell the electric company or the Internet provider that they can’t pay and you mustn’t let them use that excuse with you. When someone tries to delay payment, and it will happen, here’s what you do. In your most civil fashion, message them to say that if the fee for the completed work is not released within five business days from this message, you will void the contract, petition Upwork with a complaint and all rights to the work you produced will revert to you.
Part 2 of “they’re not your friends” is: don’t give discounts. I don’t care how nice and complimentary and fun to work with your client is. Don’t give it away. If your plumber is nice and you tell him you like his shoes, do you then tell him that you want a 30% discount? No, of course not.
You are selling your skill set to someone who needs it. Don’t sell yourself short.
Best of luck and happy writing!
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