How to Write for a Living–Tips from the Pros

Dear aspiring writers:

As promised, here are the take-home To Dos provided by the panelists who presented at our Writing for a Living event. These tips will help YOU get started earning from your writing as soon as you’re ready to take the plunge. Remember—be brave!

Photo Credit: wuestenigel Flickr via Compfight cc


From ROBYN ROSTE, President of the Fraser Valley chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada:

Students—you’re welcome to join our next PWAC Fraser Valley event—at 6 pm on October 24th at Mission Springs (on the restaurant side). We are having a brainstorming and planning session for ways to bring in new members plus get great ideas for events we can have in the new year. You don’t have to be a PWAC member to attend and there’s no cost (although a meal purchase is encouraged).

Other helpful and inspiring PWAC links:

You’re welcome to email me if you have any questions or thoughts to follow up on the Writing for a Living Event. Contact me at In the meantime, here’s some of my best advice to writers . . .


From CATE PEDERSEN, editor of Modern Agriculture Magazine:

Getting Paid to Write

I am a freelance writer and communications expert, and editor of Modern Agriculture Magazine. I own CopyCate Communications and I get paid to write because I love to and most other people don’t. My clients focus on their businesses, and I take care of writing the content that helps bring in more business.

The majority of my clients were referred to me from other happy clients; but, there is a trick to getting a new, cold client, and it has nothing to do with writing, but everything to do with listening.

When I meet with a potential client, I get them talking. I ask them what their business challenges are. I ask them where they see their business in five years. I ask them about their dreams and plans, and then I listen. I quickly process what they are telling me, and find a solution through content I can provide. Why do they do what they do? Who are they trying to help with their business? What areas need improvement? How can they better communicate with their target audience? What stories do they have to tell?

Not ALL writing is for a magazine

Every word you read in a newspaper, magazine, book, menu, flyer, label, billboard or website was written by a student of language.

Every tag line that gets you to buy a product, every story that fills you with emotion, was thoughtfully crafted by a master of words.

And these word wranglers didn’t create these messages for free out of the goodness of their hearts. They were paid for their work.

Is writing for a living the right life for me?

I don’t believe you can fail at anything if you love it, are determined, tenacious and ask for advice and help when you need it.

I work from home most days in my pajamas. I write and edit content for small to medium businesses — everything from emails, web pages, newspaper ads, social media posts, blogs, articles, e-Books, presentations, manuals and menus.

My career is fun and interesting, and at times chaotic, but it feels like I am in control (even if I’m not) and free to choose my clients.

When I started out as a writer, I made very little, and often submitted work for free — desperate to find regular writing gigs. I don’t advise this — charge what you are worth right away. It is hard to raise your rates after you are hired; if you started at nothing, what does that say about the value of your time and work?

There are in-house writing and communications jobs, and you can also freelance. Freelancers must be disciplined, organized and be able to generate work through networking, reaching out to people, and gathering referrals.

What do I need to start my writing career?

If you want to freelance, get the business details out of the way first.

  • Licence your business name (choose a few as your first choice may be denied. Your own name might be best to use for your business e.g. “Cate Pedersen Communications”).
  • Build a complete website (no broken links or lorem ipsum). Study other writers’ websites for ideas.
  • Choose 1 or 2 social media platforms and do them well!
  • Share regular new content.
  • Print business cards and have a 1-minute sales pitch ready when people ask what you do.
  • Community is everything! Join writers’ groups, online communities, and link and share other writers’ content (with permission) on your website.

Plus, you need to be good at writing! You need to love it and always be working towards becoming a better writer. Work that writing muscle!

What are publishers looking for?

When querying a publisher or editor, keep your letter or email short and include examples or links to work that is similar to the style and content of their publication. Ask which topics they need writers for. Be prepared to draft an article quickly or have one ready that you can send for consideration. Your writing must be original, thoroughly researched, and proofread. Especially on your first pass, don’t submit work with errors. It is an editor’s job to spot any truant commas or a missed quotation mark, but when you are trying to get your foot in the door, your first impression has to be that you are fast, factual and flawless.

You must be a chameleon, with the ability to change your style to suit the audience. A writer who gets hired is one who can research a topic quickly and produce work that reads like it was written by an expert. That being said, if you can find steady work writing on a topic of which you ARE an expert or are passionate about, build on that!

Submit your rate when you query or when you submit work. Editors and publishers will sometimes publish unsolicited work or student work and not expect to pay for it. So, when you are a career writer, you must be up front about your rates. Publishers don’t like to guess what you want to be paid (believe me, their estimate will be lower than your rate!).

Good luck with your writing career!

If you have any questions for me about writing for a living, you may email me at


From JOHN VIGNA, award-winning author and freelance writer; UBC Creative Writing professor:

Please feel free to email me if you have further questions following the Writing for a Living event:

17 Tips for Professional Readiness:

  • Be fully committed.
  • Learn the trade.
  • Don’t steal.
  • Always be on time.
  • Never make excuses or blame others.
  • Never call in sick.
  • Be on time, show up, deliver the goods.
  • Lazy, sloppy, and slow are bad. Enterprising, crafty and skilled are good.
  • Be prepared for rejection.
  • Don’t lie.
  • Revise, revise, revise your resume, cover letter, and portfolio.
  • Read! Everything. Widely.
  • Be the path of least resistance.
  • Under promise, over deliver.
  • Talk (and listen) to people.
  • Cultivate your solitude.
  • Have a sense of humour. You’ll need it.



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