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5 years ago, I never would have thought I could live a laptop lifestyle – one that would allow me to make money online – some from freelancing, some from passive income – from anywhere in the world.
In fact, when we first started thinking about selling the house and going cruising, my biggest fear was what we’d do for money.
At the time, I was working for a small promotional marketing company that I’d been at for 7 years. I worked from a small windowless office (which was a huge upgrade from my former cubicle), and my salary was meager at best. I did not have a big savings account, and I knew I’d never touch my 401k, so the day I went in to tell my boss I needed to quit because of this whole moving-onto-a-boat thing, I started to doubt every decision we had made.
What was I thinking? What the f#ck did I agree to? I must be INSANE!
I thought about backing out and finding some way to put off our plan, or just go bury my face in a monster sized glass of wine instead, but I summoned my inner rockstar, knocked on my boss’ door and upon getting permission to come in, I sat across the desk from him…
…and broke into tears.
My boss was a really kind and understanding family man with a wife and teenage daughter (so I’m sure he’s seen his fair share of tears), and that was the only thing that kept me from walking out of his office and going to throw myself off a bridge out of embarassment at my spectacle.
But after I wiped away the salty mess on my face, I explained this super scary, but exciting adventure we were going on, and to my relief, he was really excited for me.
I then said the words I had been so scared to say… out of fear of the future, and of guilt for letting down these people who had been really great to work with.
I need to quit.
He sat and thought about it for a few seconds, then said, “Hmmm… well… could you work from the boat?”
WHAT? Could I work from the boat?
He then went on… “All you really need is a phone and a computer, so if you think you could find a way to work from the boat, we can try it out for a year to see how it goes, and then reassess from there. If you want to, of course.”
And that was the magic answer. I could work from the boat – it wouldn’t be without its headaches of course, but it was a paycheck, and it eliminated my biggest fear about jumping into this lifestyle and then not having any money to pay for it or enjoy it.
I gotta say – my being able to work remotely from the boat was a saving grace for the first year or so, because as Murpy’s Law goes, everything seemed to break that first year, and had we not had jobs, no way would our savings have covered it all.
Not All It Was Cracked Up To Be
I was super stoked for having this set up where I could work from the boat. I’d pass people who were on their way to the beach and they would tell me how lucky I was to have a company that allowed me to work remotely. But as time went on, I realized that while it was awesome to have a steady paycheck, and I was very lucky that my employer did this for me, I wasn’t living the life I thought I would be.
Because of the particular job I had, I needed constant wifi connectivity, at least 8-10 hours a day. My entire job was centered around email, and I probably exchanged about 300 emails a day on average. That’s one email sent or received every minute and a half for 8 hours a day.
Shoot me now, please. I honestly don’t know how I stayed sane for so long.
Not only was the work constant and didn’t allow me to do things like even go hang out at the pool for an afternoon, but because my work requirement for reliable wifi at all times, we weren’t able to sail to the Bahamas with our friends, or do anything that was much fun. In fact, not much had changed at all – I worked just as hard. I just had a better view.
Now I know that sounds like I’m a spoiled brat. I was still on a boat and I still had a job. Oh, boo hoo. I know I didn’t have any reason to complain, BUT when you take a big leap like we did, you want to enjoy it. And I wasn’t enjoying it very much.
The Aha Moment
One day, I was browsing for books on my Kindle and saw a book called The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. It introduced something I hadn’t really thought of when it came to working – setting up a business that is systematized and more automated, so you can earn seemingly passive income with just a few hours a week of hard work.
I devoured that book in a weekend, and I gotta say it changed my whole mindset. While I had been simply happy for being able to work remotely (which I am still grateful for), other people were setting up these “freedom businesses” that allowed them to live a laptop lifestyle and travel the world!
If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it – even if only for some of the killer information on the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of our results come from just 20% of the work, so the other 80% of the work you do is almost inconsequential. If you can figure out how to leverage that concept to your advantage in all facets of your life, you could become infinitely more productive, and yet have more free time on your hands.
Living the Laptop Lifestyle
After reading that book, my entire way of thinking shifted, and I started thinking more and more about the laptop lifestyle. I began studying ways to earn money on the side, and it paved the way for the direction this blog has taken.
Since then, I’ve started an online jewelry business. I’ve taken online classes on how to build better websites and turned that into a side income. I’ve taken classes on writing and marketing, and now I have clients who pay me to write for their company blogs or their websites.
While I’m not 100% where I want to be with my laptop lifestyle (we still aren’t in the Bahamas yet, and while I did eventually quit the other job, I do have a full-time job now as a proofreader/quality assurance specialist for a NY Times bestselling author), I have a lot more freedom than ever before, and I make more money than ever before, thanks to my side income.
Pretty soon, I’ll be officially launching a new website in which I will be working with and teaching female entrepreneurs about getting more clients by implementing SEO, blogging techniques, proper social media plans, guest posting, and other growth strategies.
I’m working on a couple of online courses (because that’s been my favorite way to learn so far) and a membership site that will act like a sort of mastermind group, where women can collaborate and bounce ideas around in a safe environment, and help eachother grow their businesses.
I’ve not officially launched as of this writing, but will update here once I do!
In the meantime – leave me a comment and let me know what your biggest questions are when it comes to living a laptop lifestyle.
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Last night I went to a friend’s house for dinner, and we were all sitting out on the balcony which overlooks the Gulf of Mexico (yes, I am lucky to have such friends). So there we are, drinking wine, and having a great time. As the sun got lower in the sky, it was shining right on us, and it was pretty warm, so we decided to go inside where it was cooler (#firstworldproblems), and it hit me that it’s October.
While the rest of the country is starting to get the first inkling of fall weather, we’re sitting in Florida, where it’s a balmy 85 degrees, completely oblivious to the fact that the seasons are changing. And while there’s always a twinge of jealousy when I see the new fall trends with all the cute scarves and boots filling up my Pinterest feed, I gotta say that aside from two days a year, I never miss the cold weather. (Those two days are Thanksgiving and Christmas – for some reason, they just don’t feel the same when it’s 80 degrees outside!)
Our friends and family up north are already gearing up because they say it’s going to be another bad winter (is there ever a good winter?) and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone wouldn’t want to live on a boat – where you could dictate your body’s comfort level in accordance with the outside temperatures by simply sailing north or south at the appropriate time of year. Where every day, you have views that the real estate market charges millions of dollars for.
We tell people we live on a boat, and they look at us like we’re crazy (and they’d be right, but not because we live on a boat), but I feel like we’re in on the best kept secret of all – that we’re part of this supersecret society that has it all figured out, and by God, we should all just stop blogging about it RIGHT NOW lest everyone catch on and sell their shit to follow in our footsteps, at which point, they would just ruin it for us all!
But that won’t happen, because as a society, we love our big houses, big cars, and our big closets filled with big collections of super cute scarves and boots, and most people would never dream of getting rid of them to live in a 200 square foot space with a 2 foot wide closet.
Whew. Distaster averted. Thanks, consumerism.
September Side Income Report
Back when I was younger and dumber, I worked as an independent contractor for a software company making pretty good money. And like any irresponsible young woman, I decided to spend more of that money shopping at Bloomingdales and Nordstrom than on my taxes. (That young woman would have never lived on a boat then.)
Due to my stupidity (and some mis-reporting of income by my former employer), I incurred a 5-figure tax bill that I’ve been making payments on for several years now, and guess what? In September I paid that sucker off! I can’t tell you how amazing that feels! The IRS was even kind enough to send me a refund check… to the tune of $3.04 for overpayment of my taxes. (Couldn’t they have just applied it to my refund for next year rather than send me a check for a whole 3 bucks?)
September was pretty quiet as far as side hustling went. We spent over half the month traveling from St. Simons Island down to the west coast of Florida (by way of the Okeechobee), so while we were out, I did zero hustling for new gigs, and actually turned a few down, because I wanted to enjoy our trip. Even still, I managed to bring in a little bit, mostly from my online jewelry shop (which I’ve got some cool news to share soon!) and a new writing gig I landed (yay me!).
Anyway, so even though my side income wasn’t stellar this month, the combination of new clients with the payoff of old debts makes me very happy. Now for the numbers:
My side income report numbers are an accurate depiction of what I’ve made on the side, bad or good, compared to the previous month. These numbers don’t include my income from my full-time job as a QA Specialist (aka glorified proofreader), or my handsome hubby’s income (from his music, book, and freelance work).
Webmaster/Web Design: $0
Online Sales: $268.75
Affiliate Income: $43.56
Writing Gigs: $152.81
TOTAL: $535.22 in extra income (Down $1049.55 from previous month)
So not great, but still not bad. Anything over $500 for just a few hours of extra work is worth it to me, and helps build the cruising kitty, or rather, the new boat kitty (did I just let the cat out of the bag on that? Yes, we’re going to be relisting our boat for sale to start the process of getting our forever boat…listing to go live hopefully this weekend!)
I’ve also saved a total of $375.77 so far with Digit, the free automated savings app that I am absolutely in LOVE with. You’ve heard me talk about it before on here, and it’s really an awesome way to save money. I love that it just pulls a couple dollars here, a couple dollars there – amounts so small that they are inconsequential to your banking balance, but when they sit and accumulate in your Digit account, they add up relatively quickly. I highly recommend the service. And it’s free!
So I’m still working on a few things that I hope to be able to share more about very soon. It just seems like sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day, so it’s time for me to really get focused.
Right now, I’m working on a website for a new service I’m creating, so that’s one of my bigger goals/priorities right now. I hope to have it up and running by the end of the month – crossing my fingers! I’m also working on a bunch of stuff for my nautical jewelry shop and I’ll be sharing more about that in one of my next couple of posts.
One of my other main goals is to start working out more. We already eat pretty healthy, but I understand that simply eating healthy doesn’t make you healthy. And sadly, I don’t get nearly enough exercise, so I want to start making a point to get fit. I’ve been looking at gyms in the area to find the right one for us, so I hope to get into a regular routine. And even though we do eat healthy, I want to incorporate some new recipes into the mix. If you have any good, healthy, easy-to-prepare recipes, send ’em to me!
So now, I have a question for you guys – what would you like to know more about as far as side income, or working from a boat? I want to make this blog as useful as possible, so if you have questions, please put them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them, or write about them!
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Many of you have written to me, expressing interest in self-publishing your book. I’ve got some info coming on the logistics of self-publishing, but in the meantime, this post is a guest post written by Annie Dike, a sailor who quit her job as an attorney, and now writes books, in addition to a hilarious blog at HaveWindWillTravel.com. She’s smart, funny, and she’s going to give you her best piece of advice on marketing your book (although I think this advice could apply to marketing other things as well). You can get her books on Amazon. Now, without further ado, heerrrreeee’s Annie!
“You know, it’s funny. I thought they would just fly right off the shelves.”
That’s me. It’s a quote from a podcast interview I gave recently about how to make money remotely and I was talking about the first book I wrote — the one that I polished, perfected, self-published and watch sit stagnant for months. Why? Because I did zip marketing for it.
Marketing? Why, what is this marketing of which you speak? Long story short: in a former life, I was an attorney and the first book I published was a practical guide to hourly billing: The Billable Hour. Ooohh… But simply because it was a good idea — I had a certain skill-set that would be incredibly useful to thousands of young attorneys if only I shared it — I got delusional in thinking this little book might be my #1 bestseller, my thank-you-I’m-going-to-go-live-in-the-Bahamas-now book if I just wrote it.
I’m here to tell you it was not, not initially anyway. After a year of hard-fought, heavy marketing, I’m proud to say it was finally picked up by a legal publisher. I made mountains of mistakes and learned a ton about marketing in the process, though, and I’m happy to share.
When I talk to budding authors about self-publishing, marketing is always my primary focus. This is because I believe anyone can write and self-publish a book. I didn’t say a good one. Writing skills are different. But, the mechanics of self-publishing are not really that hard. You write the book, you fit it into Amazon’s user-friendly template (or hire a graphic designer to do that), you upload, you publish. Then it’s out there. That’s really about it.
While I am happy to answer any questions and share the totality of my experience about the actual writing and publishing aspects of being a self-published author (please contact me if you’re interested in discussing further), I believe the more critical advice for a new author is a discussion about marketing, because publishing a book that sells? For me, and many other struggling authors, that is the real hard part.
There are probably hundreds of thousands of amazing self-published books on Amazon that no one knows about. I don’t want that to be your book. I meet so many cruisers who say they have many stories to share and that they want to write a book. I want them to! I want them to enjoy the process, take pleasure in watching their stories grow and blossom on the page. But, most importantly, I want their book to sell so their stories actually reach and impact people. As an author, isn’t that the true goal?
Whether you like it or not, one must market. I used to hate it. It made me feel like a sleazy car salesman because I was piss-poor at it. When it finally dawned on me that I might have to — aha! — tell people about my Billable Hour book, I decided forceful email was definitely the way to go. I created a Constant Contact account, gathered some emails (I won’t say how) and fired off 250, 500, 1,000 unsolicited epistles thinking surely I would sell at least a hundred books. Surely!
How many did I sell? Two. After weeks of vigorous, aggressive marketing? Two. Why? Because my efforts were just that — vigorous and aggressive. My outreach pitches reeked of desperation. I sounded like I was literally begging people to buy my book (because I was).
Don’t be me. Stand on my mistaken shoulders and get a leg up. Once I learned what marketing really is, I embraced it, and I’m going to let you in on the secret. All marketing really boils down to is sharing yourself — your vision, your passion, your content, your stories, your struggles, your everything.
Market First: Grow a Loyal Audience
You have to give away SO much content away for free, over and over and over again, every day — good, quality, took-you-a-long-time-to-create content for free (yes, free!). People expect that. They get it elsewhere. Once they start to connect with you and your free (yes, I’ll say it again — free!) content, you eventually gain the reward of their attention.
If they sign up as a follower (and still haven’t bought a darn thing), reward them for that simple act by giving them exclusive good free content. Give and give until you’re almost exhausted creating it. But, trust me, once you learn what “good content” is, you’ll find it’s rather easy to sweep up off the floor under your writing desk and share.
People want to be a part of your writing adventure. They want to know what stories you scrapped, what settings you like and why, what characters you’re thinking about killing off. Think of it like rolled-out cookie dough. Your book is what you punch out with cookie cutters but there is always so much good dough left in between that can be mashed up, re-shaped and used again. That’s what your followers are interested in — the in-between stuff. Share this with them, every day, for free, for a long time. Feel free to check out any of my examples shared via the blog, Facebook and YouTube at HaveWindWillTravel.com.
Take the time to grow your audience, reward their loyalty and attention with valuable free content and then, one day, you announce the all-too-exciting, the unthinkable: “Guess what guys. My book is complete.” Now — before your book has even been published — you have a whole audience salivating for your stories, eager to buy your book.
The reason I always talk about marketing first is because I think it’s the most important part of self-publishing and, actually, should be the first thing you think about. You can market — a.k.a. share the journey and grow your following — the entire time you’re writing the book. Why would you not? Think of how much more fun the writing process will be — to have “fans” following you for the whole adventure.
I want to help you self-publish a book. But, more importantly, I want to see your book reach and impact people. You’re writing to share yourself, so start doing that now. That is always my first word of advice. And, speaking of, since I’ve got your attention: “Guess what guys. My second book is complete!” Keys to the Kingdom goes to print in October!
Got a question for Annie? Leave a comment below, or go visit her at HaveWindWillTravel.com!
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Untie the Dock Lines
This side income post is fun because I’m writing it from somewhere south of St. Augustine. I’ve mentioned before that after awhile at one spot, we grow a little restless and feel the need to get moving again. After all, if we can’t quite get to the Bahamas or the Caribbean just yet due to work restraints, the least we can do is see places we’ve never been before.
We’ve heard a lot of cool things about the Tampa area. There’s apparently a great music scene in both St. Petersburg and Sarasota, and awesome sailing in Tampa Bay. Chris is currently working on his 4th album (you can check out his last EP here), and we want to be somewhere where there’s a healthy music culture. So, on Labor Day weekend, we decided to take a drive down and check the area out for ourselves.
Chris has an old friend who lives there, and he and his wife acted as our unofficial tour guides, and we had an awesome time. Checked out some marinas, and finalized our decision to check out the gulf side for awhile — why not, right?
See, that’s one of the things I love about this lifestyle… if you want to go somewhere else, you just untie the dock lines, and that’s that! I mean, obviously we did a little more preparing than that for our trip down and across (as in, I went shopping and bought enough food to feed a small army). But other than that, all we did were some weather checks, checked the oil, and off we went.
You know how they talk about being “sail-ready in 15 minutes”? Well, we can be sail-ready in less than 10 minutes. 5 if we’re really diligent. (We always keep a full tank of diesel, even when sitting at a dock – for both condensation purposes, and because you never know what could happen, so we’re always prepared).
Anyway, we’re excited about our trip across the Okeechobee. We’ve never done it before, and it’s bound to be a learning experience, what with the 49-foot bridge that we’ll be going under with our 53′ mast… I’ll keep you posted on that.
Side Income Summary – August 2015
Now, for the side income summary. If you’re new here, I post my side income each month. My side income is just that — money made from what some call “side hustles”, minus any expenses directly related to my side income. This income report doesn’t include my income from my full-time job (which I do remotely from the boat), or any of Chris’ income.
I post these numbers in order to hold myself accountable, to see my progress (which motivates me to keep working hard), and most of all, to inspire others — to show them it can totally be done. I would have never thought before that I could make hundreds, let alone thousands of dollars each month in side income. But, inspired by other stories, and by my desire to live more freely and not be tied down to a desk from nine to five for 250 days a year.
The below numbers are an accurate depiction of what I’ve made on the side, bad or good, compared to the previous month.
Webmaster/Web Design: $0
Online Sales: $446.31
Affiliate Income: $19.93
Writing Gigs: $1008.00
TOTAL: $1584.77 in extra income (UP $810.42 from previous month)
I was super excited that my side income for August was up from July. The extra money covered some of our honeymoon expenses.
So, a quick breakdown of the above numbers, so you can see how I did it.
The web design/webmaster income was zilch in August. Which isn’t terrible, as sometimes building websites can get tedious, so a break was kind of nice!
Online sales is money I made online a few different ways. Most is from my handmade nautical jewelry website, Maggie & Milly. It also includes money I made by selling a couple domains I owned that I decided I wouldn’t be using. Note that there is not much profit in selling domains, and I do not buy domains in order to flip them. I just have several that I got in the past “just in case”, and since I’m not using them, I’m simply getting rid of them.
My affiliate income is made from a few different affiliates. I am an Amazon Associate, meaning that if you click on one of my Amazon links within the blog (sometimes I link to books or products I love), then I get a small commission off any sales made via that link. Small as in 4% commission, so no one’s getting rich here, but it all adds up. I’m also an affiliate for a few other companies, such as Bluehost (I use them for all of my web-hosting). Some money is made from affiliate links that I share on this site, and some comes from other sites that I own.
Adsense income is simply that – income from Google Adsense ads that I have on the site. I try not to have too many of them because I like keeping the site fairly uncluttered and would rather give value to my readers than make a few cents in ad clicks from more ads. That said, they do bring in a little bit, and basically they help pay for my website hosting and not much else.
Writing was definitely up in August, and I would love to keep that trend going! August writing income was from a few sources. I wrote reviews of various pet breeds I’ve owned for a website that matches pet types to people based on their lifestyles, a couple of SEO articles, and a customer service manual for a company. I’ve even gotten paid to write photo captions, and Pinterest descriptions before! This just goes to show that you can make extra money by writing in ways that aren’t what you typically think of when you think of freelance writing jobs (such as writing for magazines, etc.) Some pay better than others. I try not to discount the smaller jobs, as they are low-hanging fruit, but they can be tedious and a bit of a time-suck, so I just choose my battles.
Miscellaneous income is from little things here and there that don’t fit into one of my standard job categories. Usually what I put here is the cash back rewards from using my credit card (which I pay off each month). I’m also reserving this spot for my big lottery winnings one day (I’m a very lucky person — seriously), but I think you have to actually play the lottery in order to win something, and I’m too frugal to do that. Oh, well.
So there you have it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m exploring new avenues for side income, and I’ll talk more about those as we go along. In the meantime, my next post is a guest post from a totally awesome (and hilarious) cruiser and blogger, so stay tuned!
Have anything in particular that you have questions about or want to share? Drop me a comment below!
This post may contain affiliate links.
*This is part 2 of a series on writing for magazines. You can read part one here. I also wrote about sailing magazines that pay for articles to introduce this series.
Imagine for a minute that you’re the editor of a popular magazine. You arrive to work one morning, settle in with your coffee (the first cup of many), fire up your computer, and open your emails. Wow – already you can see that you’ve got at least 100 submissions sitting in your inbox, waiting to be read. It’s going to be a long day.
One by one, you read your emails, shaking your head as you quickly hit the delete button over and over. The submission guidelines specifically say not to send attachments. Guess some people apparently felt that it didn’t apply to them. *Sigh*
As you skim through more submissions and queries, you do one of two things: delete those that are poorly written, irrelevant, or just plain uninteresting, and flag those that look halfway decent, so you can read later.
After an hour or so, you grab a second cup of coffee, take a few phone calls, have a quick meeting with the managing editor, then settle back in with your third cup and start reading the emails you flagged earlier.
At this point, you’re getting hungry for lunch. You’re also feeling pressure because the next issue goes to press in 4 days, and you still need a couple of stories — good stories.
You read through each email, saving the ones with potential, when one catches your eye.
The subject line is a headline, and it’s a great headline. You recognize the name of the sender — this person sent you a good query letter a couple of days ago — hmmm, they turned that story around fast.
You open the email and as you read it, you notice that not only is it well-written, but the writer even took a suggestion you made in your initial response to their query and used it in the finished piece. You don’t see any typos or mistakes on your first read, so you say a silent thank you to the person who just made your job easier.
This writer just hit the jackpot. Not only will their story likely get published, but the good impression they made just elevated them to “dream writer” status. This is what I call writers who get paid to write for magazines on a consistent basis because editors love working with them.
Contrary to what you might think, it’s not that hard to get into the “dream writer” club. There are tons of great writers out there. Sadly, there are a lot fewer writers who can follow directions. If you can do both, you’ve already beat out at least half of the competition.
Below are some tips to use when writing your article that will make you stand out like a beacon in the night to editors and help elevate you to “dream writer” status.
First Impressions: It Starts With a Good Query
Depending on who you’re pitching to, and what type of story you’re pitching, a query letter may not be necessary, but it will boost your chances of getting published overall.
What’s a query letter? It’s a one-page proposal offering to write a specific piece for the magazine you’re targeting. It can be a good way to gauge interest from an editor first — without going to the trouble of actually writing an entire article. Typically, the format is as follows:
- First Paragraph: The lead-in or the hook is meant to draw people in. This paragraph should be written in the style that you’d write the article in… in other words, it could double as the first paragraph of your finished article. This will give the editor a quick idea of your writing style, and whether or not the topic is compelling or will interest their readers.
- Second Paragraph: A summary of what you’ll be offering and how you’ll tailor it to their audience. You can give a brief description of your focus or angle.
- Third Paragraph: The actual pitch – this gets down to the nuts and bolts of your article. If you’ll be using sources, talk about those and what you plan to glean from them here. Show the editor that you’ve not only got a great story idea, but that you’ve got some research and sources to back it up.
- Fourth Paragraph: The “Why I’m Awesome” paragraph. Do you have any writing credits worth mentioning? Do you keep a regular blog? Talk about it here.
- PRO TIP: The “Ask”: Even though an editor knows that you’re sending the query in hopes of getting published, you still don’t want to leave this important step out. Most advice I’ve read about writing a query doesn’t even mention this step – they always just say, “Don’t forget to follow up!” (and you shouldn’t forget to), but my marketing background tells me to put a clear CTA (call-to-action) at the bottom of my query. It’s human nature for us to want to answer a direct question (after all, it would be rude to leave an open question unanswered, right?). This is a psychological hack that encourages a direct response, one way or another. My advice is to make it a yes or no question that doesn’t require much thought to answer.
So, for example, if I were going to write a query about this post, it might look like this:
Dying to get your name in print? Want to break into a freelance writing career and get paid to write, but not sure where to start? Or worse, is your inbox filled with rejection letters? You’re not alone. Many writers have the ability to tell a story, but can’t seem to crack the code that takes them from the editor’s inbox and onto the glossy page.
In my article “You Can Get Paid to Write – Keys to Getting Published in Magazines,” I’ll share proven tactics to help writers improve their writing and capture the attention of magazine editors. From writing hacks such as coming up with ten different headline ideas, to technical tools that help automate the editing process, I’ll show writers how to drastically improve their chances of an article being accepted by a publication.
For example, I’ll offer tips from magazine editors, such as:
-Become intimately familiar with the publication you’re pitching.
-The importance of explicitly following instructions in submission guidelines. This proves that you are paying attention, and that you can follow simple directions.
-Don’t send anything that requires heavy editing. It’s not the editor’s job to rewrite your piece for you, no matter how compelling the subject matter is.
I’ll also share tips from professional writers:
-Write compelling headlines that are engaging and relevant
-Be succinct in your writing – get to the point (and tools you can use to help you stay on track)
-How the Hemingway App (a free online tool) can help you write better
I’m a freelance writer in Florida who lives on a sailboat and writes about saving and making money on my blog, SavingToSail.com. I’ve also written for blogs like Making Sense of Cents and Budgets are Sexy, and have been featured in the magazines Nashville Lifestyles, Nashville Arts, and Spinsheet. As a professional proofreader, I understand the behind-the-scenes details of the publishing process — and as a writer, I know how to translate them into readable and interesting articles.
Is this something you’d be interested in for your magazine?
There. See how easy that was? The more you write queries, the easier they will get. Some other articles on writing a good query can be found here, here, and here.
Write Headlines They Can’t Help But Love
Every writer is different in their approach, but one thing I do produce interesting content is to write the headline first. (It’s kind of like buying the shoes, then buying the outfit to match the shoes.) I often do this when writing for my blog. (Write a headline… not buy shoes.) By selecting the headline first, it gives me a precise target to aim for.
In fact, don’t just write one headline. Write ten headlines. Yep.
I know that sounds like overkill, but how often is your first idea your best idea? Not often, I bet. Brainstorming for different headlines gets your creative muscles warmed up, and a killer headline will almost guarantee that an editor will open your query or read your article.
I just recently learned about an amazing tool for analyzing headlines that’s totally free. It’s called the Emotional Marketing Headline Analyzer, and it measures the emotional impact of your headline and assigns it a score, based on how Intellectual, Spiritual, or Empathetic it is. Most professional copywriters see a 30-40% EMV score, while the most gifted writers will score in the 50-75% range for their headlines. It’s rare to see 100%.
For this article, I analyzed several potential headlines, and the one I chose scored a 38.46%. Not too shabby!
If you want to read a really interesting article I found that goes into detail about the power of headlines and how effective this EMV headline analyzer can be, check out this post at OkDork.com.
Build a Foundation: Creating an Outline for Your Article
When you’re writing for money, you can’t just write willy-nilly and expect good results. Like it or not, you need structure — just as we put a lot of thought into our topic and our headlines, we should be putting as much (or more) into the article itself. You wouldn’t build a house without a foundation, would you? The key to writing good content is to organize the points you want to address ahead of time.
I consider an outline an essential part of the writing process. This was one of my least favorite things to do when writing in school, because I felt that it was unnecessary. I knew what I was writing about, and I wanted to just get started writing, so come on, already. Don’t add yet another process to it!
But now that I’m writing for an actual audience (and money!), I understand that an article needs structure in order to make sense, and to maintain relevancy. A basic outline with topics and points you want to cover will help you immensely.
The tool that I use to help me with this is a software program called Scrivener. I use this regularly to help me organize my thoughts and my draft. You organize your ideas on virtual index cards that are easily rearranged by dragging and dropping onto the virtual corkboard. It’s perfect for writing articles and even books. There’s also a distraction-free writing mode so you can block out the rest of your desktop as you write.
Scrivener is an awesome tool for organizing your article or storyline
Scrivener is also what the hubby used to write his Amazon best-selling e-book You Gotta Go To Know. It’s a great tool, and I highly recommend it for anyone doing any serious writing. You can get your own copy of Scrivener using my affiliate link for just $40 (Windows) or $45 (Mac).
Put Your Best Foot Forward and Start Writing
Now that you’ve studied who you’re pitching, picked a great topic, written a killer headline, and have an outline for your article, it’s time to write the piece. I could fill an entire blog with ways to improve your writing, and as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of books and websites about writing techniques that you can research yourself. Frankly, the best way to get better at writing is simply to write.
The main thing you want to keep in mind when writing is your audience — or rather, the magazine’s audience. Be interesting. Write clearly and succinctly, so it’s easy to read and understand, and be sure to stay on topic. When you’re writing a blog post, you have a little more leeway in your writing style — you can meander a little bit, but when writing for magazines or print publications, you need to stay on point.
PRO TIP: Don’t try to edit your article for grammar and misspellings as you’re writing. When you’re in writing mode, be in writing mode. If you try to edit while you’re writing, it puts you into a critical thinking mindset instead of creative mindset, so for now, just get the article written.
Unleash Your Inner Grammar God(ess) and Start Editing
Once you’re happy with your draft, that’s when you want to go in with an “editor’s eye” and start making changes. One of the first things I do once I’ve got a draft finished is to read it once or twice to make sure that the content flows and is easy to read. I often catch most of my mistakes during this process.
Revise. Then revise again. As my journalism teacher used to love to tell us, “Trim the fat!” Cut out the fluffy words. Make every word count. If you’re unsure about something, take it out, re-read the paragraph, and if it still makes sense, leave it out.
Keep revising until you have something that’s worthy of being read by thousands and thousands of people. After all, you’re name’s going to be on it, so make it great!
You can also get someone else to proofread/edit it for you. My Dad (who was also a writer) used to just send everything he wrote to me for editing. That way, he didn’t have to worry about getting distracted. He knew if he started picking things apart or analyzing each sentence for errors, he’d get so focused on that, and it kept him from making progress on the actual writing.
No matter which way you do it, it’s still a good idea to have a few tools in your arsenal to help you with the editing process.
My Can’t-Live-Without Editing Tools
One great tool I like to use is the Hemingway Editor. Just input your text and it will analyze it for readability, as well as grade level (lower grades are considered better – you want your writing to be clear and concise).
I used the Hemingway editor to test the readability score of these posts on writing
I don’t always use its suggestions, but it does alert me to hard-to-read sentences. I mainly use it to get the readability score (also known as the Flesch-Kincaid Score). Optimally, you want to write at a 6th-grade level or lower in order to reach the broadest audience. Write too complicated, and people could lose interest. They have a free version and a paid version (paid version is just $10 and can be used offline).
My favorite app for editing (which I use both personally and professionally) is Grammarly. To say it makes my life easier is an understatement. I’m a full-time proofreader* by day, and this makes the editing process so much more efficient. It checks for spelling, grammar, overuse of words, run-on sentences, plagiarism, and more.
They have a free version and a paid version. I use the paid version because of the additional features, and my subscription for the entire year was only around $70. It has already paid for itself because I use it so often, and it saves me so much time. Click below to get your copy of either the free or paid version (affiliate link).
Grammarly is my go-to editing tool for everything I write
While the editing tools I’ve mentioned can help you with your writing process, it’s always good practice to never rely on just one tool. Here is my method for writing and editing:
- Create an outline in Scrivener
- Do my actual writing in either Scrivener or MS Word
- Input text into Hemingway App to get readability score/grade level and make necessary changes
- Copy/paste into Grammarly to correct grammar, spelling, and readability
- Go over the piece word by word, line by line, with my own eyes to see there are any other issues
- Once I’ve made all edits, I sit back and read the piece in its entirety again from a reader’s perspective to make sure I’m happy with it
- Rinse and repeat as necessary
Submitting Your Article
First, make sure you don’t submit the same article simultaneously to other publications to avoid copyright infringement should more than one publication accept your article.
When you do send your article, be sure you follow the submission guidelines to a tee. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t send as an attachment if the submission guidelines advise not to. I’ve had writing jobs whose guidelines were so specific that I was asked to send my article in Calibri font, size 11, with specific spacing guidelines. It’s imperative that you carefully read their guidelines for things like this, as it may make or break your article getting picked up or left in the delete pile. Remember, editors want to work with someone who makes their job easier.
I email my submissions unless otherwise directed. If I sent a query and got a reply, I simply reply to that same email (so it shows the editor that there has already been contact), but I change the subject line to the following format: [SUBMISSION] Captivating Article Headline Here
The reason for the above format is that it tells the editor immediately that it’s a submission, and then the captivating headline will pique their interest.
In the body of my email, I write a very brief note to the editor to remind them about our initial discussion, and then paste the article below that (or if they prefer attachments, I attach… remember to follow their guidelines). Something like:
I’ve included my article below titled “Get Paid To Write – Keys to Getting Published in Magazines.” As I mentioned in my initial query, this includes lots of actionable tips that I think your readers will enjoy. Please let me know if you have any questions or need changes made. Love your magazine.
Notice I keep it brief and professional, but still fairly casual and light. I don’t say, “Please let me know if this is something you could use?” or “Let me know if you’re interested.” Instead, I show a little more confidence by simply saying, “Please let me know if you have any questions or need changes made.” I then end it with a sincere compliment, and then my name and phone number (in case they have a quick question). You can put your website (if you have a writing portfolio) here, too. The main thing is to keep the entire intro brief and to the point.
Get Paid To Write – Final Tip: Keep Writing!
Congratulations – you’ve submitted your first article! Now is where it’s important not to get discouraged if you don’t get a response right away, or even if it gets rejected. At times, you’ll feel brilliant, while other times, you’ll think you suck. And sometimes you may suck!
After some practice, your query letters will get better, your headlines will rock, and your writing will improve. Instead of feeling defeated when an article is rejected, you’ll see it as a learning experience, and even a way to build a relationship with the editor. The key is to keep writing, and keep submitting. Like Wayne Gretzky said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
The main thing to remember is to go the extra mile for each piece you submit. Be professional. Follow directions, and make it almost impossible for the editor to say no. If you use some of the things I talked about in this post and the first post in this series, it won’t be long before you can get paid to write for magazines.
*Shameless self-promotion: I’m available for hire if you need anything proofread. I do this professionally for a NY Times best-selling author and professional blogger, and I’m very careful and thorough. Contact me if you want to discuss your project and get a quote.