Cash in Retirement
Cash in Retirement
PART III: THE WRITE IDEA
By Alan Canton
Over the course of a lifetime, people develop a knowledge-base of skills they can sell. Such expertise can be the foundation for a writing business.
Writing is a craft that is easily learned. Anyone with good reading skills can quickly learn enough to do the type of writing that will sell in today's market. You don't have to be Shakespeare to sell an article to Compunerd magazine.
More important, the writing business provides a natural business opportunity for retired individuals: it can be run from home, there are no set hours, there is little investment, and little risk. There are no products to inventory and, most often, there is no face-to-face selling. It is also a made-to-order tax shelter. Any and all expenses relative to your writing business are tax deductible. The use of your home as an office can also be written off.
If you are interested in getting paid for writing about your life experience, you must do it in relation to what is published in the nonfiction world. Writers and publishers use the French word genre to describe a specialty or general category of writing.
For example, a man who spent 15 years before retirement as the owner of an exclusive shop will find that his genre is in the retail business, as well as sales and marketing.
A woman who retires after 20 years of working for the state welfare office will realize that her genre includes a vast knowledge of government programs, human psychology, as well as the political process.
Anyone who has raised children and done community volunteer work has a vast knowledge-base of parenting, fund-raising, organization techniques, family matters, etc.
Once you determine what your specialty is, decide if it's marketable. If you were a nuclear physicist, your subject might be atomic energy. But how many writing markets are available to you? How many papers and magazines buy articles on this subject? However, if you broaden your scope to science, you'll realize that you may have a larger market.
Conversely, sometimes it's necessary to narrow the scope of the subject matter. A retired computer engineer might be able to write on all sorts of computer-related topics. However, a narrow-focused story on personal computers for businesses might find a better market.
No matter what your field, the basic concept for establishing a successful writing business is to sell material to trade publications or directly to businesses concerned with the area of expertise you have. Forget fiction, and forget most of the large mainstream newsstand magazines.
The material you sell will most often be around 1,500 words, using Microsoft Word, 12 pt. Times that's about four double-spaced pages. We're not talking War and Peace here! Short articles done quickly and easily, with minimal research, can be very profitable.
What Do You Want to Do?
Once you have determined what your skills are and what your subject is, you must decide what areas of the writing business you want to pursue. There are several avenues that can be explored.
Freelance-article writing for trade publications is how most people start out. A visit to a large library, coupled with some research in Writer's Market and Bacon's Directory will yield a large number of publications interested in your type of material. You choose a topic, write about it, and send it off to several publications in the hope one will buy it. For example, if you decide to write on topics that relate to the women's clothing industry, there are many retail trade magazines where you can submit your work.
Public-relations writing is sometimes more challenging at the start, but it always pays better. The writer contracts with businesses or nonprofits to create press material, brochures, ad copy, and features for and about the organization. If you have a health background, you might do press material for small medical groups or features for hospitals.
Ghostwriting is similar to the above. Many executives and managers would like to contribute articles to trade magazines and newsletters but don't have the time and/or the writing skills. They look for ghosts to write for them under their name. It is not difficult to find people in the business world who will pay you to be their ghost.
Grant writing is another opportunity for the part-time writer. Many organizations seek grant money and need well-written proposals. This skill is easily learned and most proposals are short. Some writers work on a contingency plan wherein the writer gets a larger fee if the organization wins the grant.
The individual who has a lifetime of skills and has organized them around a number of topics will find that many areas of the writing business are available to
him or her.
The Balance Sheet of the Business
It is difficult to support oneself soley by writing. However, if the goal is to provide a part-time supplemental income to Social Security or a pension, writing is a perfect business opportunity.
It is hard to come up with a typical earning pattern. But there are some rules of thumb when it comes to article writing, which is how most people start out. Once you have some experience, the typical 1,500-word nonfiction article should take about five hours-three of research and two of writing. You should be able to easily produce three articles a week. We're talking about 12 pages of salable copy in 15 to 20 hours per week. Work 40 weeks and the production is 120 articles a year. With a rejection rate of 60 percent (which is much, much higher than you should have) you should sell 50 of the articles for no less than $200 each. That's $10,000 per year. Not a fortune, but a nice supplemental income for a retiree.
When it comes to commercial writing and ghosting, writers often work the same hours and earn between $20,000-$25,000 a year. Of course, this is harder work with tighter deadlines and involves marketing effort.
There is no free lunch, but the writing business for the retiree is about as close as it comes! Indeed, the tax benefits alone might make it worthwhile. See your accountant to determine how this small business could help your tax situation.
Study is Needed
Most people think they can sit down at the computer and write salable copy. This may be true for some, but for most, they need to learn the types of copy that not only sell best but are the easiest to create. For example, travel articles are nearly impossible to sell. However, if the writer understands how to slant the article into an "on-location" piece, she probably has a sure sale. Trying to sell a general article on Scotland would be more difficult than one about a visit to a scotch distillery which a wine-and-spirits trade magazine might snap up.
There are specific ways to market writing. The traditional query-first system and single-submission policy has long been abandoned. Join a writing club to get in touch with other writers and learn about the various markets. A trip to the library or bookstore should provide ample reference material to help get you started. Research the marketplace for your particular genre with the idea of making multiple sales of one article. People who make money in this business have learned to find the market first, write the article, and change it enough so that two buyers will want it.
For the retired person looking for a pleasant and dignified part-time business that will keep him or her active and involved in their previous vocation, the writing business can't be beat. It's an honorable way to earn an extra $5-$15,000 and to provide an outlet to keep you on your toes.
About the author: Alan Canton is the author of The Silver Pen: Starting a Profitable Writing Business From a Lifetime of Experience-A Guide for Older People (Adams-Blake Publishing, Fair Oaks, CA, 380p, 6x9 paper, ISBN 1-883422-11-6, $22.95; available in local bookstores, libraries, or by calling 800-368-ADAM).
Books to Get You on the Write Track
Writer's Market. $27.99. 800-289-0963. A writer's bible for locating markets, including book publishers, consumer magazines, trade, technical and professional journals. Each listing provides submission guidelines and pay rates. Other sections discuss writing queries, cover letters, and proposals, selling rights, negotiating contracts and getting copyrights.
The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book. $13. 800-999-7909. Bestselling author and consultant to writers, Susan Page outlines the 20 essential steps for success, including methods for finding a brilliant title, the formula for writing proposals that get read and bought, and how to avoid the hidden heartbreaks in contracts.
More Ways to Find Cash in Retirement
Professional's Job Finder. $18.95. 888-366-5200 (toll-free). Hundreds of thousands of the best jobs are never advertised in the local classifieds. This book details 3,003 sources for finding these jobs and getting hired. Internet job sources and the limitations of online job hunting are also discussed. Also available by the same company are Government Job Finder and Non-Profits & Education Job Finder.
Sunshine Jobs: Career Opportunities Working Outdoors. $16.95. 800-634-9024. Each of the 50 outdoor jobs opportunities featured in this book include salary ranges, job requirements, growth potential, pros and cons, where to apply, and availability. The "Resource" section includes 200 key contacts, and the appendix categorizes jobs by headings such as adventure, financial reward, independence, opportunities for women, solitude, etc.
Make Money Reading Books. $15. 719-530-9887. Learn how to set up and operate a successful freelance reading service out of your home. Includes tips on marketing yourself, finding clients, and writing query letters and explains proofreader's marks, copyediting, and literary criticism. The spelling and editing tests will help you sharpen your skills.
ResumeMaker Deluxe CD ROM (for Microsoft Windows 3.1 or Windows 95). $39.95. 800-822-3522, ext. 147. This software helps you create professional-looking resumes and cover letters, locate thousands of job listings on the Internet and, with a single click of the mouse, post your resume to all of the major Web resume banks for thousands of hiring managers and placement agencies to view. Searches can be conducted by job title, location, keyword, or salary. The software also enables you to browse through the online classified employment sections of major newspapers.
The Basic Guide to Selling Arts and Crafts. $18.45. 800-235-6570. Everything you need to know to start your own business, succeed at craft and trade shows, and sell to stores. This book also provides pricing tips and additional income ideas.