How blogging enables me to make money while traveling on a sailboat

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One of the questions I commonly get from people is how I’m able to make money while traveling on our sailboat. It’s a valid question for sure, and one that still even blows my mind at times. I mean, look at my office view today!

How I make money while traveling through blogging

My office view right now

Most people think of work as something that involves sitting in rush hour traffic to get to a boring office where they sit behind a cubicle all day.  But for the past 4 years, I’ve been making money while traveling on the boat, and having a blog is one of the main reasons I’m able to do that.

Most people think of making money from a blog as having a bunch of ads and affiliate links. But it goes way beyond that (I don’t even use ads because they don’t pay well). Having this blog has allowed me to:

  • Get generous discounts on products for the boat, just by trying them out and writing my honest opinion
  • Get free products, just for putting an ad on the site, and maybe posting a few pictures on social media of me using the products
  • Get paid to post other people’s articles on my site
  • Promote my Maggie & Milly shop, where I sell my handmade nautical bracelets
  • Get paid freelancing jobs (web design, marketing material design, etc.)
  • Get paid writing jobs (this blog serves as my portfolio and has earned me several writing jobs)
  • Get my current full-time job that allows me to work remotely (yes, my current company actually hired me BECAUSE they loved the fact that I was living on and freelancing from a boat — even though I had no formal experience in my position, working for a New York Times best-selling author)

These are just a few of the perks of having a blog like this. 90% of the work I’ve gotten has been a result of having this blog.

In fact, when I first started out, I used to manually seek out sponsors. Now, sponsors are seeking me out instead of the other way around. I’ve been approached for interviews (you can listen to our interview with Boat Radio International, an online radio program that features boaters from around the world), and I’ve been written up in several online publications.

I’m not saying any of this to brag. I want to show you that it is possible to make money while traveling by having a blog.

So now, how do you get started with a blog? It’s actually not as hard as you may think. I’ll show you step by step how to get your own blog started below.

Step 1: Choose your niche

Just because you live on or travel by boat doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start a sailing blog. When I started this blog, I didn’t want to just write about sailing or our travels, so I chose a unique angle, by writing about how much it costs to live on a sailboat, how I save money, and eventually, how I make money from a boat.

This has allowed me to separate myself from a lot of the other sailing blogs out there (which I love, don’t get me wrong), but I do think niching it down a bit further has helped me distinguish myself as an “expert” of sorts, when it comes to people’s questions about making money while traveling.

People are always interested in the financial aspect of this lifestyle, and many sailing bloggers understandably aren’t comfortable divulging financial information. So I filled that niche.

Your niche doesn’t even have to pertain to sailing or travel. It can be about knitting, or kite-surfing, or whatever hobby you may have. The point is to niche it down. Don’t be too broad.

If you’re starting a blog in order to make money while you travel (or even from home), remember that you want to choose a niche that there’s an audience for. You want to make sure that you’re giving something to your audience. Don’t just make it your personal online journal.

Even if you write a travel blog, you’re teaching people about different places, cultures, and giving them something to daydream about while they’re stuck at their desks all day.

Step 2: Choose a domain name

A domain name is the URL, or the website address you want to use (i.e. savingtosail.com). You want to pick something that’s:

  • Relevant to your niche
  • Catchy/easy to remember
  • Not too long (if possible, keep it under 17 characters)
  • Contains no numbers or hyphens (too hard for people to remember and type)
  • Has a .com or .net extension (no .org, .biz, etc.)

You can purchase your domain separately through a company like Namecheap for about $12/year, which is what I do, but if you’re just starting out, a free domain is usually included when you buy hosting (see below) and requires no additional steps, so to keep this simple, we’ll do it this way.

I recommend choosing 2 or 3 in case your first choice isn’t available.

Step 3: Choose a web host

You need a “web host” to host your website or blog. I use Bluehost for ALL of my websites (I have several). Their hosting packages are affordable, their customer service is excellent, and I’ve had nothing but positive experiences using them.

*NOTE: If you purchase through this link, you can save money and get a hosting package for just $3.49/mo…  a great deal!

The great thing is that Bluehost includes a free domain with your hosting package, so you don’t have to purchase it separately. When you go to sign up, they’ll ask you what domain you’d like, so put in your choices from Step 2. If a .com version (preferred) isn’t available, try the same URL with a .net extension.

Oftentimes you can get your first or second choice this way. But always stick with .com and .net as recommended earlier. It’s more professional, easier to remember, and Google promotes these in their search engine rankings higher than other extensions.

Step 4: Install WordPress (easy — and free!)

WordPress is hands down my #1 recommended software for websites and blogs. Most websites and blogs you see today are using self-hosted WordPress because of the customization abilities, beautiful free themes, plugins for everything you can imagine, and more.

You can install WordPress for free directly from the cPanel of your BlueHost account as follows:

  1. Navigate to the MOJO Marketplace section inside cPanel.
  2. Click the One-Click Installs icon.
    How to install WordPress on Bluehost account
  3. Choose WordPress.
    Install WP onto Bluehost account
  4. Click the Install button.
    Installing WP on Bluehost account
  5. Choose the domain name to install it to.
    mojo-select-domain
  6. If necessary, you can edit the email address, username and password for the new WordPress installation. Click “advanced options” and you can change those settings.
  7. Read through the license and service agreements and check the boxes.
  8. Select the Install Now button.
    Install WP on Bluehost

Step 5: Choose a WordPress theme

Once you’ve installed WordPress, you’ll want to log into your WordPress account and choose a theme. Your WordPress account is now where you’ll be going to do all of your bloggy stuff. You’ll rarely need to log into your Bluehost account at this point.

To log into WordPress, go to:

  • yourdomain/wp-admin

So for me, mine is: savingtosail.com/wp-admin.

Once you log in, you’ll see the WordPress dashboard (the column on the left side). This can be a little intimidating at first, but it’s an easy learning curve. To install your theme, just look on the dashboard and select Appearance —> Themes.

There are so many awesome themes that it can be a little hard to choose. I recommend Divi by Elegant Themes because it is SO easy to work with right out of the box, even if you’re a beginner and have no technical or coding skills whatsoever, and you can create a site that looks like something that a pro designed in as little as a weekend (not lying). Don’t believe me? Check out these sites I created with the Divi theme:

When I design sites for my clients, I almost always use Divi, because it allows them to make changes in the future without having to re-hire me, or hire another designer or webmaster. Seriously, it’s stupid simple. And gorgeous.

Step 6: Write your first blog post!

Now, we’re talking! To create a new (first) post, just go to Posts —> All Posts. You’ll see one that is a default “sample” post already there, called “Hello World!”. Just click on the “edit” button, and it will open that up.

Change your title, write your post, upload images using the “Add Media” button, and when everything is all set, hit the “Publish” button on the upper right hand side.

Voila!

Do you want to make money while traveling?

The point of all this is that so many people hold themselves back from their dreams because they think it’s impossible to be able to make money from anywhere, and that’s just not true.

Granted, it takes a lot of work (these posts don’t just write themselves), but writing is something I love to do, and the benefits of having an online writing portfolio have been amazing.

Will everyone have the same results? No. I know bloggers who make a lot more than I do, and I know some that don’t make any money. Hell, I don’t even make that much money through my blog itself, but the fact that I have a blog gives me credibility. I get readers who write and hire me for jobs that I never otherwise would have gotten, and I’m able to promote myself and my ventures in a way that I wouldn’t be able to without a blog. And it’s almost all pure profit because the expense to have a blog is minimal.

I pay about $60/year to host and maintain this blog, and it paid me back 200x that last year, not including the full-time job. Yes, I averaged over $1000/month in SIDE income last year — almost solely because I have this blog.

Pretty cool if you ask me.

Have you thought about starting a blog? Are you just not sure where to start, or need to bounce around some ideas? Want help withthe technical aspect of it? Post your questions/concerns in the comments, or email me and I’ll respond to every one.

Top 5 reasons you should be selling your writing to niche-market magazines

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Selling your writing to niche-market magazines

You guys know that I’m all about working from anywhere in the world, doing something you love. As full-time cruisers, it’s important to be able to create a way to make an income while not being tied to a desk or requiring consistent, reliable wifi, etc.

That’s why writing — whether it’s writing for a magazine or self-publishing your own book on Amazon — can be such a big win for us. I know several sailors who make a sustainable income just off their writing, and they don’t write just for sailing magazines, either.

That’s why I’m super excited to introduce this guest post by fellow sailor and author, Michael Robertson, who has some great tips on writing for niche-market magazines. He’s the managing editor of Good Old Boat Magazine, and he just finished an awesome book called Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and other niche mags), so he knows what he’s talking about. Be sure to read through to the end to have a chance to win a copy of his book!

Take it away, Michael!


Have you ever stopped to think that all we writers have to sell are ordinary words that are free of charge and available to anyone? Our challenge is to choose wisely from among these ordinary words and to string them together in a unique order that results in a story that’s compelling to readers. It’s like a game, a puzzle—and not an easy one. Like any game, there are other players (lots of them) choosing from the same finite word pile, each trying to spin a yarn more compelling than yours. In this environment, it can be hard to get anyone to read your writing, let alone buy it. Fortunately, there is a marketplace where selling your writing is not only possible, but where there is a very straightforward path to publication.

Niche-market Magazines

You probably subscribe to one. Maybe it’s a camping, climbing, or cat magazine? Maybe a knitting, kiting, or kayaking magazine? A gambling, golfing, or gardening magazine? Parenting, papyrus-making, or parachuting magazine? Boating, flying, hot-rodding, R/C modeling, sailing, surfing, skiing, or photo-taking magazine? There’s a magazine for everyone with a niche hobby or interest. And if you’re a writer just starting out, eager to get your first byline and your first check in the mail, these magazines are your market. Let me give you the top five reasons why this is true.

But first, I want to assure you of something: Your success will not hinge on how many editors are your Facebook friends, or even how talented a writer you are. Your success will depend only on how much you want it, whether you’re willing to learn and put in the work to make it happen. Because selling your writing to niche-market magazines isn’t sleight of hand or divine intervention or even the inspiration you’ve been waiting to strike, it’s work. You can sell your writing to any of these niche-market magazines, as long as…

  • You are an enthusiast and can identify a magazine that caters to your special interest.
  • You like to write and you are willing to take seriously the craft of writing and the business of selling writing.

That is it. You can do it. I am convinced everyone has a publishable story to write, and I know the niche market magazines are hungry for content. I wrote a book detailing the concrete steps I take to sell my writing and that have been used by others to sell their writing.

Top 5 Reasons Niche-Market Magazines are Your Market

1. Great news: Freelance writers produce a high percentage of the content in niche-market magazines. This is because these magazines’ budgets and staffs are smaller than those of mainstream magazines. It is more cost-efficient for them to buy stories from freelance writers than to hire staff writers. This is a market that favors the freelance writer. You are a freelance writer. That you are a freelance writer getting started means you are a freelance writer with a fresh voice. Use it.

2. The nature of many niche-market magazines is that they cover interests that are common to a small percentage of the population. Accordingly, this population is interested in learning about other members and how they are exploring the same interest. In other words, readers of People magazine are not interested in other readers of People magazine and do not want to read articles written by other readers of People magazine. However, readers of Model Railroader are keen to read the words of a fellow model train enthusiast, just as a reader of Yachting Monthly will give great attention to a sailing yarn spun by a fellow sailor. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, People, and Popular Science might not need you, but the niche-market magazines do need you. You, aspiring niche-market magazine writer, have it good. You have a market, an avenue to selling your writing.

3. Any niche-market magazine you can think of is a non-fiction publication. Non-fiction pays. Far more writers are able to make a living writing non-fiction than are able to do so writing fiction. It may not be fair, but it’s the way it is. Of course, writing non-fiction doesn’t mean ignoring or shutting down your creative impulses. On the contrary. The best non-fiction writing is compelling and uses the same structure and devices to grab and keep a reader’s attention as found in good fiction. So let your creative flag fly and grab some editor’s attention!

4. Niche-market magazines in general comprise a stable, healthy market to which to sell your writing. Because niche-market magazine content is focused, the audience is narrow — in some cases very narrow — and passionate. This is a readership that advertisers love and are willing to pay a premium to reach. Contrast this market to that of the mass-market, general-interest pubs available at supermarket checkouts. The broad-appeal magazines enjoy much larger circulations, but those circulations are generally in decline. They are increasingly under threat from other media sources that feature the same broad-appeal content. What’s a magazine going to tell you about the East Coast train derailment or the celebrity break-up that you haven’t already seen reported online — and that you’ve read for free? The mass-market magazines do not have advertisers who will stick with them through thick and thin; Ford and Folgers can advertise anywhere. However, the company that manufactures the tiny trees and lampposts that model railroaders love, they are loyal to Model Railroader magazine.

5. Finally, writing for magazines within a single niche means you gain name recognition quickly within your market. It means your story ideas are likely to feed off and build on one another. It means your knowledge of the subject matter builds on itself. Writer Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen (theadventurouswriter.com) has sold stories to both mass-market and niche-market magazines. She focuses on the health sector and makes a good case for the focused approach. “The more you write about one particular niche or beat, the easier it is to research and write the article. For instance, I write health articles for Women’s magazine (published by the BC Women’s Hospital). Every article I write teaches me more about medicine, medical terms, and health news, which makes me a better health writer. It’s an upward spiral!”Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and other niche mags)


Michael Robertson is the managing editor of Good Old Boat magazine and the author of Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and Other Niche Mags) (2016, Force Four Publications). He lives and travels with his family aboard a sailboat and is co-author of Voyaging with Kids: A guide to family life afloat (2015, L&L Pardey Publications). He writes regularly for half-a-dozen niche-market magazines and blogs at www.logofdelviento.blogspot.com.

Ts dotted, eyes crossed…confessions of a book editor

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Ts dotted, eyes crossed... confessions of a book editor

You know what I hate? When a word — a common word that you’ve seen a gajillion times — all of a sudden one day looks…. wrong. There you are, writing away, and you write the word “bridge” or “magazine” — and it stops you in your writing tracks because even though you know it’s spelled correctly, your brain won’t accept it and let you move on. It drives me crazy.

Anyway, that’s happened to me a lot this past month. In case you hadn’t noticed, I took a month off from blogging here because I was editing my husband’s new book, What’s Up Ditch! The Ins & Outs of Cruising the Atlantic ICW: America’s Secret Highway, which is a personal perspective of what it takes to do the ICW. It’s filled with practical and useful information about what you’ll need, including tips on everything from anchoring to hailing a bridge on the radio.

What's Up Ditch! The Ins and Outs of Cruising the Atlantic ICW: America's Secret Highway

It’s his second book, so I thought it would be much easier since we knew more about what we were doing, but nope. This book was about three times as long as his first book, so the editing process was naturally longer. In addition, this book is more of a guide than a story per se, so I had to pay careful attention to make sure everything made sense, that it flowed well chronologically, and that it was informative while still being entertaining and interesting to read.

It’s funny because with his first book, You Gotta Go To Know, we honestly weren’t sure it would even sell. It was a short story that he wrote about our experience of downsizing, selling the house, moving onto the boat, and our first 9 months or so aboard the boat, and it was written more as a way to burn some creative energy than to become something we’d actually make money from.

The beauty of it was, since we weren’t really trying to sell a bunch of books, there wasn’t much pressure at all to be “perfect” so we did our best, threw it up on Amazon, and it ended up spending 2 months straight as a #1 Amazon Bestseller in the sailing niche and has sold a few thousand copies. Not bad for a first try.

In fact, our friend John Kretschmer, a fellow author who is hugely popular in the sailing niche, couldn’t believe it when we told him how many copies that first book sold, especially since we did the publishing and marketing ourselves, without any outside help. We didn’t know anything about Amazon’s algorithms, what would work, what wouldn’t work, so we just got it done. That’s the beauty of not knowing any better sometimes.

This time around, it was a little different. Over the past couple of years, we’ve learned some of the tricks of the trade as far as Amazon goes, so we knew we couldn’t just throw it up there like we did the first time and still see the same success. We took a much more strategic and professional approach, and that’s why it took longer this time around.

So far, we’re thrilled with the success and feedback! As of this writing, it’s only been out for 2 weeks, but it has hit the #4 spot on Amazon in the sailing category, and #11 in boating. It has a 5-star rating from all 3 reviewers (none of which are our friends or family!), and… my favorite part… my moment to shine… check out what this reviewer had to say:

The editing of this book was great. I’m a grumpy reader when spelling and grammar errors are on every page. I was able to enjoy the prose without any distractions.

YES! My life is complete.

Honestly, it was really hard editing this book because, well, it’s my husband. Editing is so much more than just proofreading, and there was a fine line for me between being critical (not for the sake of being critical, but to help him), and maintaining the integrity of his writing. I was so nervous to show him my suggestions, because I didn’t want him to take them personally. Luckily, he’s freakin’ awesome and embraced my feedback, and the end product is something he and I both are really proud of.

Writing is definitely something that he’s found a lot of satisfaction in (not to mention that it helps feed the cruising kitty!), and is something I want to explore more, too, both in terms of books and writing for magazines.

Speaking of writing for magazines, I’ve got a cool guest post coming up that I think you’ll really like, plus a giveaway, so stay tuned on Friday!

In the meantime, have any of you considered writing a book and self-publishing on Amazon? Leave a comment and let me know what you’d write about!

Market First, Write Second

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Market First, Write Second - Advice from Author Annie Dike via http://savingtosail.com

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!

annie-dike-1 annie-dike-author Annie Dike, author of Salt of a Sailor

Got a question for Annie? Leave a comment below, or go visit her at HaveWindWillTravel.com!

You Can Get Paid to Write – Keys to Getting Published in Magazines (Part 2 of 2)

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Get paid to write - keys to getting published in magazines

*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 writing tool

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).

Hemingway Editor writing app

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).

The #1 Writing Tool

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:

  1. Create an outline in Scrivener
  2. Do my actual writing in either Scrivener or MS Word
  3. Input text into Hemingway App to get readability score/grade level and make necessary changes
  4. Copy/paste into Grammarly to correct grammar, spelling, and readability
  5. Go over the piece word by word, line by line, with my own eyes to see there are any other issues
  6. 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
  7. 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:

Dear Editor,

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.

Melody DiCroce
(615)xxx-xxxx

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.