Stop doing one thing and do it all.
Stop doing one thing and do it all.
E.L. James’ writing tips may not be a template you want to follow. Her work has been sneered at, criticised and made fun of.
But, her success cannot be denied.
She had never written a book before. But when she did, her success launched her to the top of the Forbes list of highest-earning authors.
Her debut novel Fifty Shades of Grey was even quoted as being “bigger than the bible.”
After becoming obsessed with the Twilight series in 2008, E.L. James (real name Erika Mitchell) decided to write the Fifty Shades trilogy. She describes it as her:
“my midlife crisis, writ large. All my fantasies in there, and that’s it.”
James’ claims that the trilogy is based on a combination of her personal experiences and imagination. Here’s more on what she has to say on the subject:
About this heading – I couldn’t help myself. #sorrynotsorry
But on a more serious note, there are so many red flags surrounding this author’s work that her success is truly fascinating.
Aside from the fact that E.L. James had never written a novel before:
Seriously, how did she do it?
Her trilogy is scattered with grammatical errors, adverbs and repetition. The basic rules that us writers wouldn’t dare to break.
But this didn’t stop its success.
Maybe this is because breaking the rules is okay – sometimes. After all, people have been doing it for years, even Shakespeare.
While James’s success might not reach as far as Shakespeare’s, she has proved that mainstream readers are more interested in the content than the technicalities. And if they are engrossed in a story, they’ll be forgiving of technical issues.
“a cut-price Mr Darcy with nipple clamps…the joke is taken too far…creepy doesn’t even begin to cover it.” Bryony Gordon, author of The Wrong Knickers.
“Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t just a literary copycat of Twilight, but a cultural copycat, as well.” Jenny Trout, a contributor on Huffpost.
“I’ve been thinking of alternate titles…Something succinct like: ’50 Shades of Grey’, ‘7 Shades of Scarlet’, & ‘372 Pages of Dumb.’ Or maybe: ‘120 Days of Boredom.'” reader review on Dear Author.
These are just a few of the criticisms of James’s work.
Even J.K. Rowling had something to say:
“Think how many books I could have sold if Harry had been more creative with his wand.”
It didn’t stop there.
Hashtags were created in her honour – #BritishwritingisnotallGrey (Fiction Uncovered).
Alternative books were inspired:
So, how did the Fifty Shades trilogy develop such an immunity to bad press?
One word. Curiosity.
A naughty novel is something that can sell through word of mouth but James’s success was about more than that. It seemed that everyone had something to say about her work – good or bad. And this made people want to find out for themselves.
Zoe Williams’s acknowledges this in her article Why women love Fifty Shades of Grey’. Her opinion of the first novel isn’t too scathing but Williams’s describes the second volume as being “a bald and rushed go at monetising the brand.” She goes on to write, “The third in the series, Fifty Shades Freed, is … Oh what am I doing? You’re going to read it. Of course you’re going to read it. You’ve probably already read it.”
Moral of the story? As Dan Brown also demonstrates, writing about something that sparks curiosity and evokes controversy is a good start for a bestselling novel.
Would you believe that a computer can calculate the chances of a manuscript being a bestseller?
Jodi Archer and Matthew L. Jockers do. So much so, that they developed an algorithm and even wrote a book on the DNA of a bestseller.
Let’s see whether E.L. James has it.
Here are some examples of the elements of a bestseller taken from their book:
Shorter sentences – James’s trilogy is full of short, staccato sentences.
Voice-driven narratives – the novel is told from the perspective of Anastasia Steele. She not only tells us every thought she has and every move she makes, but we even get a narrative between her and her ‘inner goddess’.
Less erudite vocabulary – James has written these books not only from a young person’s perspective but in teenager-style language. Her language is simple, easy to scan and not very provoking. The reader very rarely needs to read between the lines.
An emotional beat – Archer and Jockers state that many bestsellers have a series of emotional highs and lows. We can’t deny that the Fifty Shades trilogy has this in bucket loads.
Human closeness – their algorithm concludes that ‘how humans relate to each other in intimate moments’ is the most popular topic. Anastasia Steele gives a constant narrative of hers and other people’s reactions to intimate moments. In fact, it is the cornerstone of the narrative.
Archer used the algorithm to plot the ’emotional beat’ of Fifty Shades of Grey and The Da Vinci Code.
She found that “They were the only two out of the thousands of novels we studied that had this up and down plot at the right pace.”
As she was writing Fifty Shades of Grey I am sure that E.L. James had several daydreams about it being a big hit. But did she write strategically to create a bestseller? I doubt it.
If she had, I am certain that she would have had it professionally edited – at least.
In my opinion, she found the formula to writing a bestseller by:
What do you think?
See more in the Learn From The Best blog series:
SEO is about more than keywords.
But since SEO performance depends on it, keyword research is a must-have.
Search engines serve users. They seek to find web pages that answer a users’ question. I say ‘they’ but let’s remember that search engines aren’t human. So, all they can go by is what the user types into the search bar.
Those words are the keywords.
Naturally, you would think that placing those keywords as many times as possible in your content would be a good strategy. It’s not.
It’s called keyword stuffing and if you do it, your website will get penalised and drop in its rankings.
This practice used to fly. As a result, the Internet was littered with web pages that were hard to read and often not very useful. So search engines like Google wisened up.
See my 5-step process to writing SEO-friendly content without compromising on the writing brief.
Search engines want website content that is:
Content is deemed as being related to users’ intent if it contains the keyword once. But it becomes useful when it also contains semantic keywords. These are words that explore the meaning behind the keyword.
For instance, if someone typed in “keyword research”, do they want to see:
It’s informative when it contains in-depth content and is credible when it includes links to other credible websites. Its credibility is boosted if other authoritative websites link to the content too.
Let’s see how we can achieve this.
Let’s say you are looking for free keyword research tools. What would you type into a search engine? Here are some ideas:
As you can see, all of these contain at least 3 words. Most of them contain more.
Given that one of the SEO considerations in 2018 is to cater to voice searching, these longer keywords are even more important.
There are three main types of keywords:
Head – single word phrases e.g. SEO. These are extremely competitive. They also don’t convert well because of how broad they are.
Body – 2-3 word phrases e.g. SEO keywords. Body keywords can be less competitive and more accurately represent what users are likely to search for.
Long Tail – 4+ word phrases e.g. free online keyword research. These descriptive phrases are less competitive, are therefore easier to rank for.
The advice about what type of keyword to use varies from expert to expert. Some will say that body keywords are the sweet spot of SEO content. Others will tell you that long tail is the way to go.
Here is what Neil Patel says about them:
“long-tail keywords are how you outrank the competition.”
In my experience a combination of body and long tail keywords is ideal.
Both are descriptive and specific. Most importantly, they accurately represent how people search online.
In the past, long tail keywords were to be avoided. But in 2018, long tail keywords are estimated to account for 70% of searches.
Here is how the different types of keywords have shown to convert:
The next step is to get more ideas for keywords by actually typing them into Google.
Here’s what I see when I type “free keyword research tool”:
The results are interesting for two reasons:
You’ve made a good start. You have an extensive list of keywords.
But before you start writing your SEO content, you need to measure and analyse how well these keywords are likely to perform.
There are many free keyword research tools online such as:
You may notice that I have not mentioned any tools provided by Google. They can certainly help with keyword research but are not as intuitive to use as the ones listed.
If you would like to learn how to use them, here is a useful video:
When it comes to shortlisting the keywords that are best for your websites SEO performance, there are a few things to consider.
What are your chances of success?
In order to outrank your competition (which is the aim), you need to choose keywords that are highly relevant and low in competition. In short, body and long tail keywords.
If your website drives huge volumes of organic traffic, you may have more success with more competitive keywords.
Here is Ubersuggest’s analysis of one of my keyword phrases:
The lower the score, the easier the keyword is to rank for.
This gives you an indication of how many searches there will be for the keyword.
In the example above, the volume is low (70 searches per month).
Logically you would think that this means that it wouldn’t be a good keyword. But as arefs point out, this isn’t quite accurate. Even if lots of people don’t search for the keywords, when they do, you have a better chance of a high ranking in search results.
This is about choosing keywords that your customers will use.
Ask yourself, what do they want to do?
Backlinko have four useful categories:
I’ll digress for a second. As Robert W. Bly, copywriting guru quite rightly points out, ‘free’ has been effective for years – for good reason. People like things that are free.
Don’t be afraid to use it. Just be selective about when you do.
CTR (Clickthrough Rate) indicates how likely someone is to actually click on your link versus just passing by it.
Many keyword research tools use this to give you an estimate of how much income you are likely to make through paid ads. Organic CTR tells you how likely someone will click on your website without you paying for it to appear high in search engine results.
Before you write, follow these guidelines to make sure that your keyword research, is put to good use.
As I mentioned at the start, SEO does not solely rely on keyword research. But as a content writer, it should be your main focus.
If like me, you manage your whole website, then you should also look into other ways to optimise.
Here are some useful links:
His books have been translated into over 50 languages.
The Da Vinci Code reached the New York Times Bestseller list in its first week of release with an estimated $250 million worth of sales.
It’s safe to say that Dan Brown knows what he is doing.
So, what can we learn from him? Here are some of Dan Brown’s writing tips.
He says that after completing Angels & Demons, he “never imagined it would turn into a series.” And yet so many of his books to date follow the adventures of his fictitious character Robert Langdon.
So where does this leave us? To plan or not to plan?
Planning each novel is certainly useful. It can avoid writer’s block and importantly, keep your novel on track.
When it comes to a series, it seems that your planning depends on whether or not you have decided that it will be one.
For example, J.K. Rowling decided from the outset that Harry Potter would form a series. So, she outlined her plots. But after writing her first book, she realised she’d given away the plots for all of them. So she re-wrote.
Dan Brown, on the other hand, create a character and world that he fell in love with. After writing Deception Point he craved “the semiotic world of Robert Langdon” which led to The Da Vinci Code.
The moral of the story? If you know you want to write a series then plan it. That’s the ideal approach. If not, then let the strength of the characters and worlds you create, guide you.
Dan Brown believes that “research is the most overlooked facet of writing a successful page-turner.”
I like this.
Regardless of your genre, carrying out detailed research adds depth to your writing.
Imagine you were reading a scene about someone on death row. If you have no knowledge of what being on death row is like or no insight into real people’s experiences, then how will you transport your reader to your world?
Brown raises another good point:
“…the research process often unveils dramatic options that take your plot in directions that you (and your readers) did not expect.”
So, in addition to making your novel credible, research can also help you with plot twists – a crucial ingredient of a page-turner.
Here is what Dan Brown says about his research process:
If you are wondering where to start with research for your novel, Notion Press shares some ideas:
This is an interesting take on novel planning.
To avoid plots getting blurred, Dan Brown advises starting the writing process with the first and last chapters. He says that this “serves as pillars on which to construct the middle of the book.”
Makes sense. If you know where points A and B are, you can find a route from A to B.
In my opinion, the success of this tip depends on the type of writer you are.
I, for example, am a planner. I like to storyboard my entire novel before writing it. So essentially I know my A and B points beforehand even if I haven’t fleshed them out.
If planning isn’t your bag then perhaps Dan Brown’s writing tip is worth a shot. If you try this, I’d love to hear about how it worked for you.
It’s obvious really. But always worth reminding ourselves of it.
When I find an author I love, I tend to read a few of their books in a row. This perhaps isn’t the best strategy if you are reading to develop your writing. If you are anything like me, I find myself writing like that author.
It’s important to develop your own voice. To do this, Brown actually advises to “not read other novels while writing your own novel.” He acknowledges that other novelists would disagree. But he justifies his opinion by saying that “the less you read (while actively writing), the more eagerly your mind will strive to create.”
Having said that, he does agree with the commonly dished out tip that “reading great novels is crucial to the development of any novelist, and there is no substitute for reading voraciously.” Brown particularly likes to read a lot of non-fiction (it forms part of his research).
Usually, aspiring writers are advised to write about what they know. But Brown raises a good point – if you write about what you know, you make it harder to stay intellectually interested during the writing process.
He talks more about this here:
I’ve Googled it and I can’t find it. Brown isn’t giving this golden nugget away.
Having read all of his books, here is what I have gleaned:
I’ve tried my best but I am sure I haven’t covered everything. If you have some tips to add, or can share your own experiences, please comment below!
See more in the Learn From The Best blog series:
Haven’t got time to read this now? Download the PDF and read it later.
This page contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you use them. I only recommend tools and products that I use and trust.
Maybe you are trying to break free from low paid writing jobs and content mills. Perhaps you want to find a way to make money from home.
Regardless of the ins and outs, you have landed on the right page.
I have been a freelance writer since 2012. It was a side hustle for a few years while I worked full-time. But since the start of 2017, my freelance writing business earns a generous part-time salary while I work on other projects.
I’m going to show you how you can:
Who are you? A newbie freelance writer? Someone who has been freelance writing for years but not earning enough?
Regardless of where you are in your journey, you are your biggest marketing tool. So you need to put out your style, abilities and knowledge for everyone to see.
When trying to make money freelance writing, you need a niche that will make you money.
It is a good idea to choose a topic that you are passionate and/or knowledgeable about. But since this post is about making money freelance writing, you should also consider how profitable your chosen niche is.
Unfortunately, not every niche is profitable. Here are some ways to find one that is:
Perform searches on Buzzsumo
Buzzsumo gives you a list of top performing online content. You can see who is posting them, how many people are sharing them on social media and the level of interaction with it.
Carry out some Google searches and note the types of websites that show up in results. If you see that there are many online shops, blogs etc. in your chosen niche, it is an indication of how much demand there is for it. It is also a sign of how competitive your chosen niche is. But more about how that affects you, shortly.
Browse through job boards
On PeoplePerHour for instance, I have seen a recent rise of clients wanting writers for blockchain and online currency related articles. This tells me that it is a profitable niche because lots of buyers are willing to pay freelancers to write about it.
Although there are many freelancer marketplaces, for instance, Upwork, I have personally used PeoplePerHour the most. In fact I used it to initially establish my writing business.
Within just a few months of starting, I increased my earnings fivefold. Keep reading to find out how…
Check out your competition
If you want to make money freelance writing then you must position yourself correctly in the market.
Let’s say you wanted to create a blog all about finding freelance writing jobs.
When I type ‘freelance writing jobs’ into Google this is what I see:
As you can see, the majority of results show websites from well-established companies. So competing with them would be tough.
So although there is clearly a demand for information about freelance writing jobs, starting a blog about it is unlikely to be profitable. At least not for a long while. The positive side of this is that it is clearly a profitable subject area. So you can instead, find a niche within it like, ‘tips on finding freelance writing jobs’.
Bonus: not only does this help you find your profitable niche for freelance writing, but also gives you great ideas for blog posts!
Now that you have decided what to write about, it is time to show off your knowledge and writing skills. The best way to do this is by starting your own blog – essential if you want to make money freelance writing.
A blog is great for a number of things including:
It doesn’t matter what industry your business is in. A blog serves as a platform to spread your message from and to create samples around your niche topics.
Setting up a blog is quick and easy. My favourite blogging platform is WordPress.com (in fact, I have used it to create this entire website).
Follow my step-by-step guide to setting up a WordPress blog or watch the video below.
Pro Tip: When you have the budget to do so, upgrade to a business plan. It gives you flexibility over design, features and plug-ins. The latter is useful if you want your digital content to be search engine optimised.
Once you have a blog up and running, you can set up your website. If you chose WordPress.com, adding pages so that your blog becomes a part of a larger website is easy to do.
To start with I would recommend the following pages:
Once your freelance writing business has gained momentum, you could add the following pages to your website:
It was 2012 and I was on low paid trainee teacher’s salary. With a mortgage and bills to pay, I needed to supplement my income with something. And that something was freelance writing. I stumbled across PeoplePerHour, signed up and started bidding for jobs.
My first client wanted twenty, keyword-stuffed blog posts, per week. I took it. But, I only charged £5 for 500 words! Although this gig was bringing in £100 per week, it was nowhere near what I should have been charging.
In less than six months I was making five times that amount. With some experience and client testimonials under my belt, I had the confidence to charge £25 per 500 words. Miraculously, my client paid. Now I charge a minimum of £30.
The moral of the story: don’t undervalue yourself!
It was a quick lesson in marketing. I found that by charging higher rates, clients had more confidence in my abilities. It also reflected the quality of work I was producing more accurately.
I talked earlier about how valuable a blog can. I’m going to show one way to monetise your blog that will make money while you sleep (literally).
Two words. Affiliate Marketing.
Blogging can attract a lot of attention. Some of the most successful blogs have thousands of followers and social shares. So naturally, many companies want a piece of the action. One of the ways they do this is through affiliate marketing.
This is how affiliate marketing works:
To find companies who offer affiliate marketing, perform an online search like the one below.
I would advise promoting products and services that are related to your niche. Why? Well, put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Let’s say you are reading a blog post on social media marketing. You click on a link within the post, assuming that it will be useful. But it takes you to a website that sells dog food. How would you feel? I’m guessing you would be irritated and unlikely to return to reading the original blog post.
Another good tip is to promote services and products you have actually used. It means you can write about it in depth and is a good way of gaining your reader’s trust.
Pro Tip: in some countries, it is a legal obligation to make clear that your blog post contains affiliate links. Since your content is online, you are likely to attract readers globally. So if you use affiliate links, state this at the start of your blog post (like I have).
Affiliate marketing is not the only way to make money blogging. You can also:
In an ideal world, clients will come across your website and hire you directly. This is not an unrealistic goal but is difficult to achieve, especially if you are just starting out as a freelance writer.
The key to getting well paid freelance writing jobs is to know three things:
Let’s get stuck in.
A great place to start is by performing a Google search like the one below:
This will give you access to various job boards.
But beware of content mills. Typically these are websites that earn a lot of money through content but pay their writers very little. You can earn a lot through them but when you compare your earnings to the number of hours you work, your hourly rate will be low.
As well as looking for freelance writing job vacancies, you can sign up to job boards targeted specifically at freelance writers like ProBlogger.
But even these websites can lead you to low-paid freelance writing jobs and scams.
For instance, a start-up business is unlikely to have a big budget. However, getting involved with them may lead to long-term and more lucrative work. You have to judge whether it is a worthwhile investment for you.
I am always wary of job descriptions with very little information (like the one below).
In my experience, they are usually low-paying and in some instances, have turned out to be a scam.
When growing your client base, I would advise trying to forge long-term relationships wherever possible. One of my clients, Acuity Training, hired me for two years. Not only did I earn a steady income but the quality of content was consistently high because I was so familiar with the brand.
Ben Taylor from HomeWorking Club shares a real-life example of a suspicious experience – about a month ago, I had a very similar one.
Here was the freelance writing job description:
He highlights three main areas:
Also, the advert lacks specific information. The description is very broad e.g. ‘Create website content, articles, and blogs.’ There is no mention of the subject matter.
Ben goes on to share that when he applied, they contacted him on Skype and sent him a suspicious file. It turned out to be a scam.
An offer that seems too good to be true usually is.
This is when you contact companies directly about your services. For example, you may find a local business who does not have a blog. You could pitch your content writing services and explain how you can help them grow their business.
Applying For Jobs
This can be hard for new freelance writers who do not have extensive portfolios. But on job boards like ProBlogger and Blogging Pro, you will find a variety of jobs suited to different levels of experience.
Keep An Eye On Social Media
Many people advertise jobs on social media networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. A good tip is to join freelance writing groups and follow users who represent job boards.
Write Guest Posts
Although guest posting doesn’t help you make immediate money through freelance writing, it is a great way of increasing how many people actually see your work. And with more visibility, you increase the chances of professional opportunities heading in your direction.
Publishing your writing on other websites is also a great way to diversify your portfolio.
To find websites that welcome guest posts, perform these Google searches:
Warm Up Old Leads
If in the past you have liaised with potential clients that didn’t quite lead to a job, there is no harm of re-visiting them later. Also, contacting past clients from time to time can be lucrative – it has certainly worked for me. Simply writing a short email that reminds them of who I am and offering my services, has secured a lot of recurring freelance writing work.
I adore being a freelance writer. I get to work from wherever I want, write about interesting topics and make money doing something I love. Although it can get busy at times with tight deadlines, I am in full control of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
If you are interested, you can take my free course (a series of 6 lessons straight into your inbox): How To Land Freelance Writing Jobs.
It is not hard to make money freelance writing as long as you have a strategy.
This page contains affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you use them. I only recommend tools and products that I use and trust.
So, you want to start a WordPress blog? Great! I’ll show you how.
Blogs are great for businesses, entrepreneurs and people who love writing. If you are using it as a marketing tool to generate leads, blogging is a sure-fire way to:
My blog also helps me get freelance writing jobs. It is an easy way for me to showcase my skills to clients.
The short answer: because it is easy.
The longer answer: because you can easily integrate it with your website or, set up a website on WordPress.com.
The even longer answer: because with inbuilt themes and SEO plug-ins, you have control over the design, can optimise your digital content for search engines and have your own domain names. Just to name some benefits.
Let’s get started.
3. Complete the details following the instructions below:
What would you like to name your site? This will be displayed as the site title but you can change it later.
What will your site be about? This will influence the sorts of themes you will see as a priority. Again, this will not limit your options so don’t worry if you think you might change your mind later.
What’s the primary goal you have for your site? Like the previous question, this helps WordPress personalise your experience but is no way limiting.
How comfortable are you with creating a website? Choose your level.
4. Click ‘Continue’.
5. Enter some keywords to help WordPress give you ideas of domain names.
A domain name is your website’s address. For instance, mine is freelancewritingteam.com.
You will see a list of free and paid options.
Free domain names – you can select one of these to get started. But this will not serve well for SEO purposes (if you want your online content to show up in Google search results).
Paid plans – select the plan that is right for you. I started with a Personal so that I could have a custom domain name. Now I have a Business plan to have access to:
6. Choose your domain name and click ‘Select’. This takes you to the plans page. You can either select a plan or ‘Start with free’ (circled).
7. Complete the details to create your account and click ‘Continue’.
8. Click ‘Continue’.
Congratulations – you have set up your WordPress blog!
Now you can start blogging. The great thing is that you can add as many blogs as you like under the same account by simply setting up a new ‘site’.
To set up your user profile, complete your details in the ‘My Profile’ section.
There are a number of ways to customise the design WordPress blog.
Themes are in-built design templates. You can customise certain elements if you are on a free or Personal Plan. For full control, you must have a Business plan.
Here you have access to free and paid themes. You can choose to have a live demo before activating on your site.
Each theme has further customisation options. These can vary from theme to theme.
Installing plug-ins (only available on the Business plan) are a great way to have further control over your website’s design.
Some that I use are:
I hope this has enabled you to get started with blogging. WordPress.com is a powerful tool that provides much more than a blogging platform. This has been a quick run through but for a more detailed guide take a look at these 5 steps to set up a blog: