Freelance writing for the internet

As an internet-based forum, The Crafty Writer thought it was high time we offered you some advice on writing for this medium. So we asked freelance web writer and editor Suzanne Elvidge to share her top tips on writing for the internet. Suzanne specialises in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, though she says she will write anything that results in an invoice. She writes poetry and short fiction in what she laughably calls spare time, and is plotting a novel and a book on being green. And now, over to Suzanne.

So you want to be a freelancer writing for the internet? Firstly you need to know how to write for this medium, and secondly you need to know how to find the work. And thirdly? You need to think about both the up- and down-sides to life without a boss to answer to.

How to write for the Internet

Writing for the internet needs a subtly but importantly different set of skills to writing for print. According to Jakob Nielsen, a web usability consultant, most Internet users read web pages in a different way to print, by scanning the page and picking out words and phrases, rather than reading the text word for word. Reading on screen also takes about 25% longer than reading print. Because of this, when you write for the internet, you need to:

  • highlight keywords, by using hypertext links, or changing the style or colour
  • use clear and informative subheadings
  • use bulleted lists
  • include one idea per paragraph
  • start with the conclusion
  • be objective, rather than promotional
  • use familiar words, rather than unusual or newly-coined ones
  • keep it short (or at least shorter than a print equivalent).

Finding freelancing work

This is the hard bit and sometimes it is a real slog. It’s a bit like applying for jobs every week, but it has to be done if you want to pay the rent, and it gets a teeny weeny bit easier with practice.

Where to find the work

Sign up for mailing lists like PayingWriterJobs and Freelance Writing Jobs, and pitch ideas to all your favourite websites. If you want to make a living as a freelance writer for the web, be prepared to write about pretty much anything for pretty much anyone. I have been referred to as a writing tart, by a vicar no less, but the description has more than a grain of truth.

Pitching for work

Preparation pays off. Have a stock of your best articles that you have had published (or if you don’t have a portfolio yet, create a set of sample pieces), with a recent copy of your CV (spell-checked and proofread) ready to email out, or create an online portfolio.

If you are answering an advert, make sure that your covering letter (most commonly an email) responds to all the points in the ad. If you are pitching ideas, make sure you are familiar with what the website covers – no point suggesting ideas about bacon recipes to a vegetarian organisation.

Check the email before you send it. I suspect I have lost a number of jobs because I’ve spotted a typo just as I’ve clicked send – especially embarrassing when the text says what a good eye for detail I have (obviously not) got.

Don’t forget to pitch for work even when you are busy – otherwise when you have finished your current project, you will be left twiddling your thumbs.

And finally, remember ‘you’re worth it’. So, watch out for how much things pay. It’s fine to work for low pay (or sometimes even nothing) when you are building up your portfolio or moving into a new market, but remember that this is your job now, and your time is valuable, and might be better spent looking for other work.

The freelancing life – joys and realities

Freelancing sounds like an ideal life, doesn’t it? Living in a stone cottage deep in the countryside, and working from home to your own hours at a desk that looks over a valley and a fast flowing river.

However, freelancing is scary – there’s no longer a salary appearing on the 25th of the month, and what you earn is dependent on your own efforts. There’s no sick pay or maternity pay. And you have to be your own payroll department (don’t forget tax and National Insurance), your own IT department, your own HR department and your own manager. And you don’t get an office party, unless you have taught your cats to pull crackers (mine hate wearing party hats).

But the upside is – well, the stone cottage and the knowledge that what I earn is mine (once I’ve filled in the tax return, that is). Terrifying, yes – but I could never do anything else!

Thanks Suzanne! I couldn’t agree more – once you’ve had that taste of freedom, you can never go back.

For more on writing for the internet, check out my free non-fiction writing course.

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Related posts:

  1. Freelance writing markets
  2. Tips from a ‘generalist’ freelance writer
  3. Writing for women’s magazines

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6 comments on “Freelance writing for the internet

  1. Tambra Kendall on said:

    Suzanne,
    Wonderful informative article. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

    Hugs,
    Tambra Kendall

    P.S. LOVE writing tart!!!

  2. Amanda Evans on said:

    Suzanne,
    This was a great article and so very true. Many people assume that freelance writers and those who work from home have a great life. They can be right to a certain point but you have to remember that freelancing is a tough business and at times can also be a very lonely area to work in. You only have yourself for company most of the time and this can get pretty unbearable at times. You can also find that some months are extremely busy whilst others are very quite and this means that you really have to learn to budget too.

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Amanda

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen on said:

    These are great tips…..I’d also had KEEP TRYING!! I’ve written for MSN Health, Reader’s Digest, Woman’s Day — and only because I keep pitching ideas even when I don’t hear anything back. A few have editors have commented on my perseverence :-)

    Don’t give up if you don’t sell an article right away, or even in the first year. Keep pitching, fellow scribes!

  4. Well said Laurie!

  5. freelance writer on said:

    Great Article
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Many people assume that freelance writers and those who work from home have a great life. They can be right to a certain point but they have to remember that freelancing is a tough business and at times can also be a very lonely area to work in. You only have yourself for company most of the time and this can get pretty unbearable at times. You can also find that some months are extremely busy while others are very quite and this means that you really have to learn to budget too.

  6. Fiona on said:

    The difficult thing with working from home for me is my daughter’s little five-year-old friend who keeps knocking on the door every half hour wanting to know when Megan will be home. If I don’t answer it, she stands under my study window and screams Fi – o – na!!!!!!! until I finally snap. It’s times like this that I think about getting a proper job :)

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