by Josh Davis
I know, I know…everybody wants to be a professional writer, right? Everybody thinks that he or she has what it takes to chase the dream of being a professional writer. “The problem is,” people will say, “not everyone is going to make it big as a writer. You should give up and get a real job to support your family.”
Believe me, I’ve heard that all before.
After all, I’ve been a writer for about twenty-six years now. Considering that I’m only 26, I’m sure you are wondering how I managed that!
Born, not Made
You see, I say that I’ve been a writer for 26 years because I am of the firm opinion that writers—or, more specifically, story-tellers—are born, not made. You either have a burning desire deep inside your soul that commands you to share stories, or you don’t. That need, that burning desire consumes your being, and it cannot be ignored. And sometimes, that need manifests itself in such a way that you need to do it all the time, which is not conducive to keeping a job…unless your job is to tell stories.
How to Get Paid to Tell Stories
There are several ways that you can get paid to tell stories: you can enter short-story contests, and hope to win the cash prize. You can write novels and fight to get traditionally published—or else, self-publish—and hope that you sell enough copies to get your next meal. You can get a job as a 9-5 employee at a publishing house, as a ghostwriter, or you can do what I did: become a freelance ghostwriter.
How I Did It
My good friend, Andy, and I both love to tell stories. He had a dream, and so did I…but I had kids to feed. So, while I was taking the safe route—slaving as a construction laborer for a framing sub-contractor—I was also listening to my buddy tell me how he had quit his day job, and started freelance ghostwriting.
So, it started as an idea for me, rooted in jealousy.
I asked him, “How did you do it?”
“I registered on oDesk and Elance,” he said. “They are both platforms for clients to find freelancers in their fields.”
“Interesting,” I thought to myself. I want to do that!”
So, I went on the same two websites my friend was on, and created accounts. I couldn’t afford to give up my steady, regular job, yet.
oDesk and Elance have since completed a merger, creating Upwork, the world’s largest freelance community.
When I first started freelancing, I was not paid much…at all. My first gig had me writing an 80,000 word novel…for only $75. That breaks down to less than one tenth of a penny per word, meaning that I made just under $0.01 for every ten words I wrote. My second gig was article writing for $1.50 each. Each article was 500 words long, making for three tenths of a penny per word, or one penny per 30 words.
That kind of pay doesn’t support a family, but I kept at it.
Where I’m at Now
These days, after having done this full time for over a year and a half, I won’t even talk to a potential client if they are unwilling to pay at least $0.04 per word, or $4.00 per 100 words. At that pay rate, I would have been paid $3,200 for the first job I did, or (quite literally) 4,266.66% more than I was paid. I regularly command $0.05-$0.07 per word, or $500-$700 per 10,000 words.
I got there because I refused to give up. I took low payment for a few months, and I worked a lot to ensure that I made enough money to support my family. Between my day job and writing at night, I easily put in 100 hours each week of work, plus spending time with my family. That all combined to ensure that I only slept about four hours every night.
Now, however, I work normal office hours (9-5, Monday through Friday), while making sure my bills are paid.
How You Can Do It, Too
The number one thing I can tell anyone starting out as a freelance ghostwriter is this: take your lumps. Work for next to nothing, build your portfolio and job history, and build up your name. Eventually, your time will be spent working and fielding requests from potential clients clamoring for your services, as opposed to applying to every low paying job out there. If you love writing and the freedom that comes with running your own business, but you are in the same place I was (and can’t run the risk of your novels not selling), then there is no better way to get started than freelance ghostwriting.
Josh Davis is a Freelance Ghostwriter editor, novelist, publisher, avid fisherman, and terrible golfer. He lives with his wife and three children, five-fish tanks, and five insane dogs. He recently started a print-on-demand publishing business, Davis Publishing Company, in his home with his wife. He blogs weekly on his personal site, Josh Davis-Writer, and currently has two books in progress with the working titles of “Power of One” and “Stockholm Syndrome.”