Monday, May 7, 2012

Breaking Into Writing Nonfiction Articles For Pay Part 1

Before fiction, I wrote non-fiction articles for websites and content for private clients. In four years of working in the time it takes to do a hobby, I made over $8,000 (I did take about 18 months of maternity leave from when my pregnancy became problematic until my little one was about a year old). Could I have made more if I wrote more? Absolutely. My articles that I wrote on speculation, meaning just what I wrote because I wanted to, have a greater than 85% sales rate. After three years in the business, I knew if I wrote 10 articles, 5 would be sold within three months, 2 within six months, and one or two of the stragglers within a year. In fact, even though I have not written a non-fiction piece for profit in almost two years, I still made $20 this year alone in residual licenses selling.

I'm not an expert, but I know what I know. The first tenet of breaking into nonfiction writing is to never, ever PAY to sell your writing. Never. A site that sells memberships is not making enough money off the content they are selling, and therefore not a site you want to waste time with.

I've written for/sold writing on
Associated Content (now Yahoo! Contributor Network) (by far my biggest money maker)
And another one briefly that feed eHow and Lance Armstrong's site, but the name escapes me.

Every online writing site is great for a specific type of writer. Here are the main categories:

Revenue Sharing Sites

You write, they pay you based on the page views you get because that equates to advertising dollars for them. Yahoo Contributor Network and many others do this kind of revenue. Some, like Helium or the various lenses pages (aggregators like Hubpages, Squidoo etc) have incredible hoops to jump through before you see a dime. I encourage new non-fiction writers to try out Yahoo! Contributor Network for two main reasons:

  1. They offer upfront payment on exclusive content in certain categories (not oped, humor)
  2. They pay $1.50 per 1,000 page views across all of your articles.
You want to be a subject matter expert on local geological digs and write a weekly column about it? YCN is for you. You can tweet your articles and develop a niche following, and people can easily follow you through their Yahoo account. I still earn about $5 a month on my articles listed there. The upfront pay is very small, a few dollars per article, IF it's accepted by their editors for upfront payment.

Bidding Sites

Other sites, like Guru, and the elance sites out there have what's called opportunities for work. Here, you write up proposals or bid on how much it will cost you to do a job. requires a good nose for BS. The legitimate customers on there are tough to find, but when you do find one, and win the proposal round, the working relationships can be some of the best I've found. I had three long term clients from the site, and more than made up my $85 yearly membership fee (I know I said don't pay, and you shouldn't when you're just starting out. Guru doesn't require a paid membership, and I only bought one after I landed my first client with the free membership and my profits from the site covered it).

Bidding sites require some experience, that's why starting off with revenue sharing sites helps. Each bidding site requires a profile and portfolio pieces. After you've been on a revenue sharing site for a few months, you can see the articles that are getting the most hits. That's a great way to see what's resonating with readers. You have stats you can use to help a prospective client judge you: I have five SEO optimized articles this month with over 4,000 hits each. Also, and this is very, very important, you will know how long it takes you to write. You can't bid on a job that is "Write 50 blog posts for me, 500 words each, $5 a piece" unless you know that you can write that fast to make it worth your while. Many of the jobs are going to seem like peanuts. Keep in mind not everyone lives in the expensive USA and grumbling about it won't help. There are two types of writers using bidding sites: those that will roll up their sleeves and take any kind of work, and those who cherry pick for the best assignments because they have the luxury of experience or time to do so.

Auction Sites

If you want to skip bidding sites, auction sites are awesome. On auction sites, you write and set the price of your work. is one of the best sites I've worked for in this regard. The basic system is geared towards high-end non-fiction content where you set your own price. Once the article clears the editors, then it's up for sale. Once it sells, you get 65% of the article price you set. There are three types of licenses, Use, Unique, and Full. A Use license lets the buyer use the content as is, and allow you to sell it to another buyer down the road. My article "Fun Springtime Activities For Kids" sells 1-2 licenses a year at $10 for 500 words. It's been out there for 4 years.

Here is an article I wrote and sold for full rights, meaning no by line.

Here is an article that sold Use licenses (2 times for $20 a piece) meaning they can't change it and I have a by line.

Some auction sites also include a bidding site type system as well. Here, clients can give specific writing job needs and then look through the submissions that come in. Some sites require the client to buy a submission, others do not. This is a shot in the dark for the writer. For me, I only wrote the Public Requests as they're called on if I could easily spin the content another way if the buyer passed me up. For example, one client asked for somewhat specific articles on solar panels. My article joined probably twenty other submissions. I did price mine a little higher than others (clients give a budget range) hoping a little it wouldn't sell. It didn't. I raised the price to what I would normally sell 1,000 words for (at that time, $45 for full rights, the market changes depending on demand, the topic, etc), and put up two companion pieces that I was able to write from the same research.

I sold one solar panel article for $85 (that was the original request that was only going to pay about $25) about three weeks after the original request closed out, and another shorter article for $20 for a use. That article has sold one additional time, in 2010. The original articles sold in February of 2009. The $85 article was 1,350 words long, and titled "What's Really Involved in Installing Solar Panels for my Home?" and tied with the tax breaks being offered at that time. The $20 article was 650 words on "How to Maximize a Solar Panel System in Less Than Ideal Weather."

Before you sign up with any website, I would write up a resume (to make profile writing easier), take a professional photograph (a home digital camera will work, but it should mostly be a head shot with you in professional looking attire) and setup a professional email account (your name or initials on a free email account, I prefer google myself for the added benefits of Google Docs, video conferencing, and other built in goodies). Finally, you need to set up a Paypal account. Also, if you do not want to give out your Social Security number (and I don't recommend that you do) sign up for a EIN with the IRS. To learn more about the differences between a SSN and an EIN, read here.

Next time I will talk more about the craft of writing for internet outlets. Stay tuned.

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

WIP: STONE. Never up Mom's expectations, a clothing designer kicks "Mr. Right" to the curb.


  1. Thank you very much for sharing the info Elizabeth :D

    I've actually been giving a lot of consideration into freelance writing, especially since I already kind of do it for I'm not sure how much I'd make from it, but it looks like a fun thing to do and something that might give some wallet padding.

    The part where I have to be an expert on something terrifies me. I suppose I've always had a deep interest in stories and I've grown up in and around the film industry, but I'm more of a jack of all trades. However, I suppose freelancing might be worth a try.

    1. I was an expert on nothing. LOL. If you can research you can write. (not wikipedia, but the sources at the bottom of wikipedia are usually very helpful).

      Even fiction authors I think can benefit from learning to write non-fiction well, it will help your blog posts etc. :)