How to Make a Great Living Writing

Carol Tice was a struggling songwriter when she entered LA Weekly’s 10th anniversary writing contest — and won. “I wrote about how hard it is to make it as a songwriter. It wasn’t going well, and I hated having to be in bars with drunks late at night.”

Freelance writer and mentor Carol Tice

Tice’s life was about to change. She wrote several pieces for the Weekly, which led to a continuing relationship with the L.A. Reader. Then the Los Angeles Times’ real estate section hosted a contest. She won that one, too, and soon was writing cover features for the real estate section on a regular basis.

Her first stint at freelancing ended when National Home Center News hired her as a full-time staff writer, and she spent seven years traveling the country covering home improvement retailing. In 1999, tired of constant travel, she took a job at the Puget Sound Business Journal — a job she loved.

She lost that job when a new editor took over in 2005, so she started freelancing again. “At first I thought, ‘I have to get another job. I have three kids to feed.’ ” Six months later, though, she had successfully replaced her previous income — and soon after, she surpassed it. “I’ve made more money each year since 2006,” she says.

In 2008, Tice realized how many writers were earning pennies writing for content mills. “It made me angry,” she says, “so I started blogging.” The blog — whose tagline is “practical help for hungry writers” — was named one of the top 10 blogs for writers for 2011.

Tice’s Make a Living Writing website is more than a labor of love — it’s become a legitimate second business. Tice offers webinars, e-books and mentoring services for aspiring writers. In the past few weeks, she’s inaugurated The Freelance Writers’ Den, an online community that offers live calls and webinars with top experts, e-courses, and forums – all for $25 a month.

Tice says it wasn’t as easy as posting a blog and then waiting for the cash to roll in. “I spent four hours a day marketing my business for two years,” she says. Nowadays, people contact her,  instead of the other way around.

Tice says she did everything except make cold calls, including a lot of in-person networking at organizations including local chambers of commerce and BNI. She also worked LinkedIn thoroughly — which led to contracts with several major corporate clients.

Says Tice, “What I did with my website and LinkedIn and social media created a passive marketing engine.” That also included building up her website’s key words — the words that people will be searching for. She has it down to a system: “It takes five minutes of work a week to get found by the Fortune 500.”

Now, she says, she’s maxed out. “I basically work 8 a.m. to midnight,” she says. “The hope is that soon I will be freelancing less.” In fact, she’s already downsizing the freelance side of her business.

Her advice to freelancers:

1.    Get a lot of support.

2.    Don’t write for content mills—you don’t have to. “Millions of us launched freelance writing careers without ever doing that,” she says.

3.    Make sure you have a marketing plan, and that you market consistently. And find a kind of marketing you like to do. If you don’t like social media, find another way.

4.    Learn a lot, especially when it comes to the latest technology, such as WordPress and social media. Tice, who says she not technologically inclined, has worked hard to master the digital world. “You need to know it,” she says. “I think in the future it’s going to be hard to get work without these tools.”

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