Get Paid for Different Writing Styles

by Loolwa Khazzoom • August 12, 2011 • Writing and Editing Tips

An Interview with Mike Chen — Copywriter, Tech Writer, Proofreader, and More

From journalistic reporting to technical writing and editing to proofreading, you can get paid for many different writing styles. Discover the possibilities through an interview with Mike Chen, who does it all and does it well.

Why do you offer so many different services? Why not focus on one or two?

The more services I can offer, the more jobs I am capable of taking, and the less I have to search for work.

What are the similarities and differences between each of your lines of work?

Copywriting, journalism, and ghostwriting are similar in that you try to generate an emotional response, and good marketing copy tells a story — even in a few words. All those lines of work are on the creative side. Tech writing and business plan writing are both rather dry; those are more about pace, accuracy, and content. White paper writing blends the tone of tech writing and the emotional response of copywriting. Proofreading is more of a mechanical gig.

What kind of training is required for various lines of work?

You don’t need an English degree, but you have to like writing and be willing to work at it — through blogging, creative writing, reporting, whatever. You need to get used to writing fast, with a certain style.

As far as tech writing, an engineering degree has helped me intuitively pick up the logical process of an assignment, even when it’s in a field I’m not terribly familiar with. Though my degree is in mechanical engineering, my tech writing has been all over the map — used in the fields of software, hardware, semiconductors, and medical devices, for example.

As far as business plan writing, I had to look at a lot of sample business plans to understand patterns within each document. Every business plan I’ve written has been different, though, and clients have wanted different extra touches here and there. One client, for example wanted success stories to start each section of his business plan, so creative writing came into play there.

Is it hard juggling these different approaches to a writing career?

I don’t think so. I think it keeps things fresh, but then again, I get bored pretty easily. I like being able to jump from web content for a health spa, over to a white paper for a piece of hardware, over to an article for a non-profit. I think that by mixing different industries and different project types, you really get a sense of how far you can push your skills. I’ve learned that there are certain areas that I can’t get into, and I’ve also learned that I can pull off some stuff I used to think was impossible.

Does it otherwise enhance your career to have your hands in many different pots?

When dealing with small businesses, the answer is yes. They love having someone who can advise them on so many different things. It gives them a level of flexibility and trust with me as a vendor. It also allows me to advertise to different niches and sectors based on what’s going on at the time.

In your experience, which lines of work pay the most money?

Probably marketing copy, but that’s if you’re looking at a per-word basis, since you’re always trying to streamline the message there. I charge by the hour for tech writing, and depending on research, you can get a lot of billable hours — even though you’re just clicking through someone’s software. I think I’m most efficient at writing articles, so if you’re looking at hourly rate, that probably gives me the best pay.

Which of these lines of work do you enjoy most?

I like them all for different reasons. Web content is always interesting — just because there are so many businesses out there, and you learn a lot about random things. Tech writing projects tickle the engineering part of my brain. Article writing is fun, because I get to tell a story and push for that emotional response. I’d say business plans and instructions are probably the most dry.

How did you become a freelance writer?

While I was working as an engineer, I began writing sports articles for fun. Then I enrolled in some tech writing classes and got a tech writing job pretty fast – just out of dumb luck. I started freelancing after reading Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer, and things kind of grew from there.

How and why did you branch out in so many different directions as a freelancer?

I began receiving inquiries about project types I’d never done before. After getting a few requests for, say, business plans, I figured I might as well look into it — to see if I could add it to my arsenal of skills.

If you were to advise a potential freelancer on how much money to expect in the first, second, and third year, what would you say?

You’ll be surprised how fast money comes in when you’re really looking for work. I think it’s feasible to basically double your revenue and clientele from year one to year two and year two to year three. At that point, you’ll probably start to max your time out, so it will be more about determining what your rates are and finding other income streams, such as consulting.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to aspiring freelance writers?

Build your portfolio by volunteering for non-profits. You’ll help a good cause, get great references, and have diverse pieces.

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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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