You mention that you write online features, which is a marketplace I know little about. Is this a viable way to make a living and how do you know which sites pay and which ones don’t?
— Hoping to Get Featured
Is writing feature articles a viable way to make a living? Well, it’s certainly a viable way to make part of a living.
As a full-time freelance writer, I’m anticipating I’ll make around $45,000 this year before taxes. Not all of this money comes from writing features; I’m also a copywriter, and I write blog posts for sites like The Billfold. However, at this point in my career, feature writing provides a very solid chunk of my writing income. Recently, I’ve started to make between 40 and 50 percent of my monthly writing income with feature pieces—in August, for example, I earned $1,925 from features, and I have even more scheduled for September.
Writing features is a smart choice for a freelance writer because these pieces tend to demand your best work, and—as a result— get you your biggest audience. Features also encompass a variety of writing styles, which means there is likely to be a market that fits your strengths. Some of the features I’ve done, such as “Should More Authors Take Advantage of Kindle Unlimited?” include interviews and reporting, and others, such as “What It’s Like to Take a 36-Hour Sleeper Train From Los Angeles to Seattle,” have been first-person narratives about life experiences. There’s a lot of opportunity if you are a talented writer who is willing to work your way into the features market. You can stretch your writing muscles, explore subjects that truly interest you, and create original work that stands out from the news cycle.
Aspiring feature writers break in by writing smaller pieces for smaller publications and pitch your way up. Watch this tutorial by Contently’s Shane Snow to learn more about how to move up the pitch ladder; Snow explains how to find smaller sites that are likely to accept your first pitches and how you should transition to larger publications.
Writing features is also a smart choice for the freelancer because magazines and news sites tend to pay reasonably well, usually in the range of $200 to $500 per piece.
To be fair, that $500 feature is going to take you much longer to complete than a $100 blog post when you account research, reporting, interviewing, transcribing, writing, and editing. However, if you are smart about the way you work, you can keep your hourly rate high and your productivity constant. Linda Formichelli has a great list of tips to help you minimize the amount of time it takes to complete a feature article (tip #3 is “For the love of all that is good and holy, stop over-researching”), so I’d suggest you read her advice.
Online features can also lead to print features, which can pay $1,000 or more at the right places. However, not all sites pay equally, and it’s to your advantage to avoid the low bidders and focus your efforts on publications that offer pay rates worth your time.
How do you find out what publications pay? Sometimes, publications list pay rates on a Submissions Page. Other times, you need to use resources like Who Pays Writers, a site where writers anonymously list how much publications pay per article. This type of research is a good place to start if you want to know whether pitching a particular publication is going to be worth the time and effort.
Of course, you aren’t going to know what a publication is willing to pay you for a feature piece until you build your portfolio, make your pitch, and get an offer.
Repeat that process enough times, and you just might find yourself with a viable way of making a living.
Nicole Dieker has two feature articles due by the end of this week. While she’s busy tweaking her final drafts, send your Ask a Freelancer questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.