Become a Highly Paid Writer: Avoid These 7 Habits

    It’ss painful to see how many great writers are willing to accept low paying assignments or to write for free.

    This is not okay.

    Skilled writers who are committed to their craft know the amount of work that goes into a well-produced work. and should be compensated accordingly.

    While some writers live by the ‘feast or famine’ philosophy, there are many who are earning a sizable income from their talent and expertise.

    The seven habits below separate underpaid writers from ‘well-fed’ writers, a term coined by Peter Bowerman, the author of “The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less”.

    Avoid these habits to become a highly-paid writer. Begin living your profitable writing life today!


    1. Wallowing in stinkin’ thinkin’


    Do any of these statements look familiar?

    • “I’m not good enough.”
    • “There are lots of great writers; why would they choose my article, story, etc.?”
    • “I can’t…”

    If you find yourself thinking – or worse – saying any of the above, stop now.

    These statements are not only spirit killers; they are dream killers. Stinkin’ thinkin’ is the main reason why most writers are underpaid – the lack of belief in themselves, their skills, and the value they offer through their writings.

    There are three ways to get over this condition:

    • Affirm every day: “I am the best writer I know and the world is waiting to read my work.”
    • Write every day, even if you’re just journaling.
    • Join a writing group. It could be a professional association, a local meetup or an informal writing group.

    I know of a small business owner who admits to having a poverty mindset. She would accept low-budget clients who had high expectations just to pay her bills, which was emotionally and financially draining.

    When she finally got fed up with that lifestyle, she changed her mode of operation. She invested more time in attracting her ideal clients, which made her feel better about serving others. She now has a prosperous mindset and the bank account to match it.

    Only when you change your mind will you change your bottom line.


    2. Playing it safe


    There are several ways writers play it safe.

    • Only writing what you know
    • Not taking risks
    • Hiding behind a computer and pen
    • Afraid of being controversial
    • Giving in to the fear of rejection

    When I left my job to write, I submitted query letters to a few magazines, received rejections or no responses, and got discouraged.

    After that experience, I completely stopped pitching stories for a few years.

    Today, I have a new outlook on my magazine writing life: pitch, submit, follow-up. And I look forward to rejection letters. It means that at least one person has read my work.

    Be bold. Be courageous. Dare to be different and do things you’ve never done before.

    Be the “you” that you didn’t know you could be. 


    3. Accepting low rates


    Accepting low rates is one of the worst things writers can do.

    But when you are in a famine mode, you will work for food, no matter how little you are paid.

    There are at least three reasons why writers do this:

    • They are in the early stages of their writing career.
    • They just want to pay their bills.
    • They want to get and keep clients.

    What’s worse than accepting low rates? Quoting them. It’s one thing for people to offer low rates, but it’s entirely different when you subject yourself to them…on purpose.

    Early in my writing career, I would tell people to “just give me something” for the work I provided – which was usually between $25 and $50. And I used to actually think that a client ‘picking my brain’ over a $20 lunch was a good thing. Now, I prefer that people pay me for consultations and I eat only when I’d like to.

    When you get to the point where you really believe that time is money and that your time is invaluable, you will charge differently.

    When you build the confidence to ask for the rate you desire, you will most likely get it.


    4. Not building your skills


    • If you are still using a typewriter, a tape recorder or any other pre-21st century gadget, it’s time to upgrade to new technologies.
    • If you do not write often, take classes or attend workshops and conferences, you need to change your mode of operation.
    • If you are not active on at least one social networking site, you need to get started today!

    You have to write often; stay abreast of what’s happening in the writing world; and understand multimedia and social media.

    Most importantly, you must be tech savvy. You don’t have to be a guru but you need to have basic knowledge of online, tablet and mobile technology because this is where everything is moving.

    A member of the Chicago Writers Association shared a story about pitching an editor for her book. The editor wanted to know how big her platform was – how many followers she had on Twitter, friends on Facebook and connections on LinkedIn.

    She did not have a social media presence. Do you know they rejected her, not because of poorly written work, but because she had no platform?

    Building your skills is not only a resume-booster; it will also position you for personal and professional opportunities.


    5. Failing to plan


    There is no truer saying than “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

    When I first left my job and 12-year human resources career in 2008, I knew that my name would grace the bylines of Chicago, Essence, Parade, Time and Entrepreneur magazines. I had no plan B because my plan A just had to work.

    Well, it didn’t.

    And when the money ran out, I was a wreck.

    To avoid being like me (which I highly recommend), mix paying gigs with writing for fulfillment to ensure you can sustain yourself. 


    6. Thinking like a writer, not a business owner


    Generally speaking, most creative people like to create. Period.

    Writers like to write; painters like to paint; and musicians want to play. However, until we attach a value – specifically, a dollar value to our expertise – we will continue to be starving artists.

    I, personally, like to eat.

    There are five things to consider when assessing value:

    • The services you are going to offer
    • To whom you will offer your services
    • Your experience
    • The value of your time
    • The value you provide to your customers.

    Ultimately, the answers to these questions will become the foundation of your business plan, which is your roadmap to becoming a well-paid writer.

    Remember that I had no plan when I left my job? I would write anything for anybody for any amount they gave me. I was just happy that they liked my work enough to consider me for their projects.

    As I began to write my plan, my confidence in myself and my writing increased, because seeing the dollar figure confirmed the value of my work. It also made it easier to quote my rate.

    Today, I have a 10-page business plan to highlight the services I provide, the rates and estimated times for those services, and the value I provide to my clients.


    7. Lack of marketing


    Marketing is necessary.

    You may not want to do it but you have to do it if you want to get paid what you’re worth.

    It is also one of the ways you can distinguish yourself from your competitors.

    Here are a few tools you can use to promote yourself and your services:

    Website or blogSocial media presenceBusiness cards
    BrandingBrochuresE-mail signature
    PostcardsVideosGuest blog posts


    I know an author who has published five books but has no website. I was floored. Do you know how much money this person is losing because she cannot be found online?

    Here’s the main lesson from this author: at a minimum, have a website or blog site that highlights your offerings. Accidental visitors can convert to actual clients.

    Always  promote who you are, and the value you to provide to others.

    If you are practising any of the seven habits above, you need to stop immediately!

    Declare today that you are going to kick your bad habits and become the highly paid writer you deserve to be.

    Do you have a ‘starving writer’ story? What did you do to become a highly paid writer? Share your story in the comments section below.

    About the author

      Marcie Hill

      Marcie Hill is the author of "62 Blog Posts to Overcome Blogger’s Block", the only book produced to date that focuses exclusively on how to create content for online properties. Check out her blog to get free tips on how to overcome blogger’s block.

    • First off I would like to say great blog! I had a quick
      question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.

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    • Hi Marcie,
      These tips mentioned are highly useful and effective. Keep it up and thanks for sharing this blog post.

    • Marcie says:

      Hi Bruce. My advice to you would be to commit to dedicated writing times. The day, time and length of writing time is based on your schedule, but you have to make it a habit. And it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can write during the commercials of your favorite TV show or half-time during sports shows. Heck, take pen and paper to the washroom with you. You have to be a little creative in making things happen.

    • Bruce Parsons says:

      I relished the article and it was all good sense and advice however I still find it hard to knuckle down and write consistently something always gets in the way

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    • Become a Highly Paid Writer: Avoid These 7 Habits | Write to Done

    • Marcie says:

      Daley, I decided to stop the madness and get real. While living my writing life was wonderful, it was not totally sustainable. So, I got work to keep me while I worked my dream.

    • Daley says:

      “Mix paying gigs with writing for fulfillment to ensure you can sustain yourself.”

      100% agree with this (and the rest too, but especially this).

      I mix up paid blogging and article writing gigs with guest posting and my own screenwriting and short stories.

      I’d go mad with that balance!

    • Great post Marcie!

      A couple things I started doing this year that have really paid off are:

      1. Carefully considering my options before accepting a new assignments
      2. Not offering any of my work for free

      In the first instance, taking a few days before replying gave me time to prepare an outline of the work I would do in order to determine my earning potential and bill accordingly. This showed the client that I was a professional who new her own worth. This action also gave the impression that I was not desperate for work, which often makes clients more eager to hire me! Go figure.

      In the latter, I have worked hard to build up my portfolio and perfect my queries (often with a brief lede of how the intro to the piece) to suit specific publications. If they want samples of my writing, they can look at my online portfolio. If they insist, they are not the right client for me.

      • Marcie says:

        Kudos to you, Jessica! I hope the people reading this will learn from you and increase their bottom lines.

    • Marcie says:

      My pleasure. I hope this help my fellow scribes get to the next level of their income potential.

    • Marcie,

      Thanks for sharing these actionable tips.

    • Marcie says:

      Mitch, I wish I had known not to write for free – EVER. But that’s a piece of advice that many career changers and newbies are brainwashed with. I guess I want to know is when did most people decide to STOP writing for free.

      And yes, you are super social and easily found.

    • I have never written for free, but when I started out I certainly did go cheap because I thought that’s how it was supposed to be. You get mighty tired writing multiple articles for a penny a word, and you look at the stuff & say to yourself “this is writing?”

      The thing is, if you’re not getting enough money for it, not only can you not live off it but you start hating yourself and writing and you might give it up for something else. I know I don’t market the writing as much these days and I probably should. On the flip side though, I certainly can’t complain about not having a social media presence, as you know. 🙂

    • Marcie says:

      Clara, congratulations on your decision not to work for free. You have done more than your fair share of free labor, and like you said, “Moving forward.” Happy writing.

    • Clara says:


      These are great tips. I was starting to second guess a decision I made to turn down a print magazine’s offer to be a monthly contributor (no pay) until your post reaffirmed my decision. A great opportunity for exposure for sure, but, I’ve been there and done that! Moving forward 🙂


    • Marcie says:

      Hamid, can you really buy anything with $2 these days? That’s not survival, that’s suffering! I don’t think it’s worth the time and effort to even consider such projects.

      Also, if writing for your blog is generating an income, that’s great. If not, you will have to find other means of survival while you pursue your passion.

    • some people start bidding for extremely low price which is not good,i.e $2 per article, etc
      They should also think that We are here to earn and they cannot get quality work in that poor rates.
      and I think Writing for your own blog is good enough than being a paid writer

    • Hi,
      it’s quite encouraging and insipiring that your points are helpful to upcoming writers like me. I promise not to fret but work extremely hard. I want to market myslf !
      I will keep on reading your posts,I enjoy them.

      • Marcie says:

        Hi Benf,

        It takes a while to get to the point where you are comfortable marketing yourself, especially if you are new. One was to build your confidence is to always say, “I am a writer.” When people ask what you do, respond, “I’m a writer.” The next question is usually, “What do you write?” And that’s when you get into the nitty gritty of what you do. Actually, that’s the main way to market yourself: tell the world what you do and be proud about it.

    • Marcie says:

      I tell people all the time to just write. Don’t worry about a title; don’t worry about order of the content. Just commit to putting your thoughts on paper.

    • With regard to number one (great point that you make), just putting down sentence after sentence without agonizing over content has helped me in the past. You can always (and will) edit down later.

    • I just wanted to offer my advice to those who don’t have a social media platform. Writers, especially those who are loners, need to try to put themselves “out there”, and building a platform does not mean that they have to go on Facebook and Twitter every day. Start out small. Devote one hour to social media once a week, if that is all you are comfortable with. Your comfort level will grow… and then so will your followers! Things take time. Move forward at a pace you are comfortable with! In time, you will get to know what each is about, and what you like and don’t like to do. I speak from experience, as I have only been “on the internet” for a few months. My blog is 3 months old, as are my social media accounts. I am not tech-savvy, either; fortunately, everything is pretty much done for you! You can connect things to one another, too. For example, when I post a Tweet, it shows up on Facebook. When I hit “publish” on my blog, my post is published to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tumblr. You can “be everywhere” without “being everywhere”. It’s not that difficult! If I can do it, so can you!

      • Maureen says:

        Thanks Loraine, what you and most of all the other writers on this site have said makes a lot of sense and honestly, all of your post have been very effective to me. Now I understand and know which steps to start taking for my writing materials..

        • Marcie says:

          Lorraine, thank you for sharing your experience.

          Best of luck in your writing life, Maureen.

    • Maureen says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t have a website and have not published any of my writing material. I know that my writing are more than good, not from being my own worst critic, yet from my readers, peers, and public commentators where I’ve performed. However, I am much of a procrastinator due to my shy characteristics. Do I need help? yes, I do and I am thankful for this article because I have found a writers workshop that I will now join.

      • Marcie says:

        Maureen, the world is waiting to read your work. Please do not disappoint.

    • Marcie says:

      Hi Roberta, thank you for leaving a comment. I have not used O’desk. However, I have been making cold calls to organizations

      • Yes, I’ve found cold calling very helpful. I usually devote some of my marketing time to fine-tuning the list of organizations I want to contact and my offer to them. The revenue is worth the effort.

        Also, once you’ve built a reputation, word of mouth counts for a lot of business. I usually tell satisfied clients to recommend me when someone in their network needs services similar to what I provide. Thus far, it’s worked well! 🙂

        • Marcie says:

          Vinita, how much time do you dedicate to marketing per week? How long did it take to get your first client with cold calls?

    • Great list. Just wrote a similar blog the other day so I totally agree. One question, do you use things like O’desk or are you selling your writing skills direct to potential clients?

    • Marcie says:

      Ms. Flora, thanks so much for your insights. The key to being a highly paid writer is to first change our mindsets, then gain the courage to begin and stay on our paths. Everything we need will come to us along the way. But we must persevere.

    • Hi Marcie,

      Your tips are on the mark, especially #6 and 7. Part of the downfall for aspiring authors is comparing themselves to highly successful authors, such as Stephen King, and feeling that they can’t possibly compete with them.

      They are right, they can’t and shouldn’t set out to compete with these well-paid authors. Without studying the paths these authors have taken, folks don’t realize the suffering, rejections, depression and setbacks they encountered and overcame, not to mention the years of honing the craft.

      The key to doing #6 and 7 well is finding our own way that suits our personalities, lifestyles and is in keeping with our values and goals.

      Thank you for giving us valuable tips, tools and examples from which we can draw inspiration, but from which we must create our own way. In so doing, we build our skills, increase in confidence and eventually become well-paid writers.

    • Marcie says:

      Anthony, here is something that stumped me for years. While I know many of us start our careers working for free, at what point do we move from free to paid? As I stated, I was stuck for years until I read “The Well-Fed Writer.” That book gave me the confidence to ask for rates based on the value I provide, not per hour. And it gave me the courage to make cold calls.

    • Hi Marcie,

      I believe most writers when they were starting accepted low rates.
      It’s inevitable.
      To be honest about it, I myself did it just to survive.
      However, as you gain more commercial value as a writer, you have to be bold and raise your rates.
      There’s no point in getting stuck in low-rate jobs.
      We have to get jobs that challenge us; the ones that match our skills and we have to bill the client the rates we deserve.

      Excellent job here! All points are well explained and to the point.
      I love the focus of having a business mindset even if writers are first and foremost artists.

      Looking forward to more of your posts.


    • Julie Luek says:

      Great article. This one gets saved. It was affirming to see I’m doing so many of these things already. I too quit work to give this writing dream a real shot. I’m willing to put in the time and pay the dues. I’m considering this year my internship year–building a presence online, gathering clips, and writing as much and as many places as I can, trying different forms and venues. My goals are to make my passion into a living. Thanks for offering me new ideas and avenues to consider as well. Wonderful.

      • Marcie says:

        Congratulations on stepping out on faith and moving forward with your dream. I know it wasn’t easy, but I promise, it will be well worth it.

    • eleaor says:

      I can’t believe it, well yes I can, syncronicity, perfect timing. I read the whole article and I have every one of the stinking thinking. I thought that would make me feel worse having to admit it but I looked and got a bit ticked and now I am going through each one and doing something about it. I have wanted to write for years. I have taken some writing courses but quit because I got jammed up and scared myself, felt embarrassed that everybody had something better written, better thoughts, etc. I am smiling now, thanks to you because of how ridiculous it sounds and is. I appreciate the article and how timely it is for me. This is a major exercise for me and I willo succeed. Keep writing and I will keep reading, and now yes, writing. Take care and thanks for the help.

      • Marcie says:

        Hi Eleanor, I’m glad my article helped you move forward on your journey. Feel free to contact me if you need an accountability partner to check in every now and then.

    • Figuring out the business aspects of your business and marketing are the two key pieces to a successful writing career. You really nailed the article. I think many would be writers don’t think about the fact that to be a writer is to be a small businessman. The prospecting alone trips up many. To be successful I tell people who want to write that I prospect every day. I try to set aside a few hours just to contact people I think could use my services and it has paid off.

      • Marcie says:

        Thanks for sharing your experience, Wendy. Prospecting is scary because you have to do things you’ve never considered before. I was the same way before reading Peter Bowerman’s, The Well-Fed Writer. Now, it’s nothing for me to call or e-mail a company to ask if they hire freelance writers. Now, I just need one to say they have immediate needs. 🙂

    • ‘Time is money and your time is invaluable’ is not a phrase we writers use very often and it can feel like it’s diametrically opposed to how a writer is supposed to function. But in the end we all want to be well-fed writers.

      Thanks for the reminders! 🙂

      • Marcie says:

        I promise, once you really start valuing your time in all aspects of your life, you will think and do things differently.

    • Maranna says:

      I agree with you. Most of us are simply in the early stages of marketing know how. It’s overwhelming in many ways. Writing seems to be the easy part. I use twitter and facebook, but I know there are things that I am not quite ‘getting’. My tiny URLs , for instance, look rather different from others I see. That’s just one thing. What else am I missing out on?

      • Marcie says:

        Maranna, you’re not missing out on anything. It’s just a matter of learning how to market our work, which is a process, and then doing it. It’s a matter of trial and error. I would encourage you to do a Google search on how to market your book, read ezine articles, and check out Peter Bowerman’s book, “The Well-Fed Writer.”

    • RD Meyer says:

      I think a lot of writers get numbers 1-5. Six and 7, however, are less often understood. Too many think of the business aspect as “too hard.” Until a writer understands the business part of this, he or she will never succeed to the level at which their talent is capable of taking them

      • Marcie says:

        Hi RD, I agree with you completely. And many writers do not fully understand the value of what they offer. But I also understand why they do not want to deal with the deal with the business part. Asking for what you want is the easy part; chasing your money was not part of the deal when you signed that contract. And then there’s marketing which is an altogether different animal.

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