How I Made My First $1,000 as a Writer

How I Made My First $1,000 as a Writer


My first $1,000 as a Writer…oh, it’s been a while.

Let’s time travel.

I’m taking you back to 2010 when I was a freshman at Pierce College in Puyallup, WA. I was in my second year as Municipal Liaison for Tacoma::Pierce County’s NaNoWriMo, I just created a writers group I wasn’t sure if it was going to get off the ground, and had an idea to make money while getting my degree because we were in a recession (although we didn’t call it that).

I grabbed a nugget of information I stored my whole life – was there a way to make a living at this writing thing? How the heck did they do it?

The answer took more than a year. But I had to start somewhere. For me, the answer was a two-step process. Here, I’m going to share with you my process and also the top thing that would have helped me better myself and my writing back then.

If you’re a returning adult to education, you know my pain. I was surrounded by kids (sorry, but that’s the truth) way younger than me. I wasn’t sure if I belonged. Then I realized the diversity of people around me – and that I was one of several adults returning to education. It was difficult, but so worth it. But how did I create a business from scratch?

I created the Five Stage Writing Business Plan

[For details on writing a business plan, check out How to Start Freelance Writing Part 2: The Plan].


Stage 1, Step 1. Fiction

I was a NaNoWriMo writer. I didn’t publish my first book – thank goodness – The Forty-Five is awful and sitting in an archive file in the back of my computer, perhaps never to see the light of day.

No, I edited and proofed my second novel and had a writer friend go over it too. I wanted to self-publish a novel…and so I did. Zombie Slayer was born.


I loved the novel – the characters – and the fact that I got to blow up the Earth as we know it and start again…I think that’s one of the reasons writers write dystopian and horror – we get to play outside the norm.

It’s why I write horror, fantasy, and sci fi.

Darlene Reilley and Zombie Slayer

Zombie Slayer


Stage 1, Step 2. Nonfiction

Reilley Writes

I created a freelance writing business. Oh, it was a good idea at the time. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I figured I would learn on the fly. Somewhere between full-time school, full-time caretaking, and writing, I stumbled into a method that worked.

I found my first dozen or so clients through Craigslist. I wasn’t picky – I’d write almost anything for money. I had two rules: don’t write other people’s papers for school and half up front, half on delivery.

I read writing manuals the way some people watched tv. I read that being a member of a content mill wasn’t a good idea to make a lot of money for writers. I’m sure that someone out there has made money off of it, but I wanted to do something different, so I created business cards with Vista Print and created a logo that was okay, and off I went.

I made my first $1,000 writing from a combination of Zombie Slayer sales and freelance writing. I have totals somewhere, but it was about 70% freelance and 30% fiction.

Looking back, I can see that I made a few missteps, but I never gave up. When something didn’t work, I’d stop doing it and try a different method. I think that’s a necessary viewpoint for entrepreneurs – to succeed, you need to adapt on the fly.

If I could sit down with coffee and my 2010 self, I’d tell her that you need to do two things to level up your success: 1) you need to pick a niche that you love and is profitable, and 2) Pitch. Pitch. Pitch.


Niche It Down

I’m talking about freelance writing here. There are pros and cons to being a general freelance writer and a niche writer. Either way, you’re doing the hard work of sourcing your own clients. But you’re going to have a narrower target if you choose a niche. I’m not the one to talk to about finding a niche – there are plenty of blogs out there that do that. I am still a general freelance writer. Why? I love the adaptability. I can work on anything – and I have – I’ve covered so many topics as a freelancer – and if I chose a niche, I wouldn’t have the variety of clients I have had from jewelry designers to real estate companies. But that’s me. It could be different for you.


Pitch. Pitch. Pitch.

As a freelancer/entrepreneur, you have to set up a professional website. You have to have a place where people can go to see your work. You need to start a publications list. You need a client list. But most importantly – and I don’t care what anyone else says – you need to pitch your work.

There are books out there that can teach you how to do this. I bet your library, like mine, has at least three. Go there. Use the resources. Google it. Do your research. You’re going to hope that other people have done this, and they have in bits and pieces, but you are responsible for your own research. Do it.

This applies to all research including who you pitch to. Pitch often. I have at least 13 pieces in the world at a time. If I do more than that, I’ll get overwhelmed, but if I fall shy of it, I won’t get a response.


A Note on Growing Dragon Skin

You’re going to have to grow a coat of dragon’s skin. Don’t let anyone get to you. Take constructive feedback, but realize that in the end it’s your work. When you’re freelancing, you and the client are the people who need to be happy with what you write. The client takes precedence if you disagree because they’re the ones paying your bill. That said, if you disagree to an extent that you can’t work with them, so be it. Cut them loose.


Seriously, those two things can take your business from beginner to intermediate. Yeah, you’re going to make mistakes. We all do. But do your best and when you learn something, apply it immediately across the board – fiction, nonfiction, or whatever.

write on! darlene reilley

Elemental Writing and Insecure Writing

How to Start Freelance Writing, Part 1: My Story



Enjoyed this? Buy my books.


About Darlene Reilley

Hey, I'm Darlene, a nomadic writer and teacher. If you're looking for writing prompts, inspiration, and a fellow writer to commiserate with, you've come to the right place. If you're a reader looking for a fun mix of poetry, romance, science and fiction, you've found a buddy!
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