For more than a quarter of a century (yikes, that makes me sound old!) I’ve kept a small piece of paper I found on the floor of a motel restroom tacked to my writing room wall. These five words sum up how I’ve succeeded in supporting myself as a freelance writer:
“I don’t give it away.”
Back in 1977 I was working nights cleaning rooms at the Holiday Inn to supplement my day-job income. In my “spare” time I cared for a father battling cancer, learned to fly airplanes, and began writing and selling a weekly aviation column for newspapers. As my newspaper column gained popularity I became overwhelmed with requests to write for other publications and many good causes. All for no pay. I usually declined because of the words on that piece of paper. While I am sure the person who wrote them was not in the same business as I, the meaning was equally applicable: if I give away my talent, no one will pay for it.
I immediately began to say “no” without guilt to requests for freebies that I did not want to write. It cost me a few friends and saved me enough time to make new ones.
I never submitted to any publication that did not offer payment. I wanted my name on the “pay to the order of” line more than a byline. I searched for lesser-known markets (where the competition was less) that paid freelancers. I made my writing fit their needs.
Above all, I consistently met my newspaper deadlines with well-written features that attracted a following of readers. What attracts readers attracts editors. When editors from other publications asked how much I would charge to write for their publications, I never quoted an amount, I just replied with a question: “How much do you pay?” Many times they were willing to pay more than I would have asked. If they were unable to pay as much, I negotiated with them to reduce the amount of work (length, content, time, etc.) to meet their need for the price they could pay.
Today I make my living as a full-time freelance writer for a variety of publications. My books include award-winning volumes for children and self-published collections of stories that have sold more than 20,000 copies. In my files are copies of thousands of articles, stories and poems I’ve sold and yes, there are also copies of many published pieces I did not sell. I chose to contribute my time and talent writing them for my own reasons and purposes, not because someone expected me to do it for free.
When I teach my Getting Paid to Write workshops I give participants a card and tell them it contains the secret to success if they want to sell what they write. The card simply says, “I don’t give it away.”
Nancy Robinson Masters, author of All My Downs Have Been Ups, The Horrible Homemade Halloween Costume, The Fabulous Flying Flag Farm, Airplanes of World War II, and other books for readers of all ages, is a popular writer and speaker whose warmth, wit and “down-home” style is known to audiences around the world. She has twice been named Distinguished Citizen of the Year by the United States Air Force and says her most important work in life is “teaching second graders in Sunday School.” For information about having Nancy as a workshop leader or motivational speaker, click on her website at: