The -per-Word Question
As you do more and more magazine writing, you may come to hear what is commonly referred to as “the $1-per-word question.” Basically, it boils down to the notion that “real” or “serious” magazine writers won't take less than $1 per word for anything they write, thus helping them to establish a general baseline of income no matter which magazine's assignments they accept.
These types of writers simply won't work for any editors who offer forty or fifty cents per word on an article. Some of them even refuse to work for editors who offer less than $2 or $3 per word on an article — the bulk of the magazine-writing universe.
The thing is, the more “real” and “serious” magazine writers you talk to, the more you will come to learn that there are plenty of ways to establish a general baseline of income, even if some of it comes from editors who pay forty or fifty cents per word on an article. You just have to make your contractual agreements on pay line up with your overall financial and professional goals as a magazine writer.
Don't believe anybody who tells you that $1 per word is the financial standard by which you must write to earn a good living. Yes, that level of pay can mean a decent amount of annual income, depending on how long it takes you to write those $1-per-word articles, but there are other routes you can take to greater financial success as well.
There are two specific ways that you can earn more money without falling into the $1-per-word category: repurposing the content you own, and producing quick-hit articles that give you a high-quantity base of work as opposed to a high-quality base of work.
Repurposing What You Own
Try to recall everything you have learned so far about copyright ownership and reselling your stories. The general idea is that the more rights you retain to your magazine writing, the more you can repurpose, re-slant, and resell that writing to second, third, and even fourth or fifth magazines over time.
The point of reselling your stories, of course, is to make money. Now, even if your first editor paid you $1 per word for the article, you don't necessarily have to get that same pay rate in order to increase your income. As your article stands after its first printing, it's simply something you own, like a pair of old sneakers sitting in your basement. Only after you resell the article does it begin to pay you more dividends — and you shouldn't be preoccupied with the exact rate of those dividends.
Instead, try to focus on the idea that you're making more money for work you've already completed. Even if you get fifty cents a word for your reprint on a 1,000-word article, you'll have $500 in your pocket that you didn't have before — and you'll have to do very little work, if any, to get it.
Don't get caught up in exactly how much money editors are willing to pay you for reprints and rewrites of articles you've already published. Instead, try to remember that even if they'll only offer you a couple hundred dollars, the money is income you didn't previously have — and it will require very little of your time or effort to get it.
You will be surprised at how quickly income can pile up from resales and repurposing of stories. Think of it in terms of trying to earn $1,000 in a day. You can either sell an entirely new article — going through the query process, doing the reporting, fine-tuning the writing, and sending out an invoice — or you can re-sell two or three stories you already have completed and whose rights you retained. If you have networked properly and have a few editors who like your work, the odds are you can make that $1,000 faster on any given day through article resales than through new story assignments.
Quick Hits for Quick Cash
The same is true of taking less-than-$1-per-word assignments that you can produce quickly — so quickly that it would be a sin to turn the work down. For instance, there may be a trade magazine looking for 300-word articles about subject matter that you know well. Each article pays just $100, far less than $1 per word (which would be a $300 paycheck). However, since you know the subject matter well, you may be able to turn out that 300-word article in one hour's time.
If you can get four or five such assignments from that same trade magazine, you'll be earning $400 or $500 a day for working just four or five hours. If you can land those kinds of quick, easy assignments daily, then over the course of a year you could work five days a week with a couple of weeks off for vacation, and your overall income would be more than six figures.
When it comes to increasing your income, your time is as important as your pay rate. Yes, it's nice to land a $1-per-word assignment, but not if that assignment is going to take so long to complete that it's the only thing you can do for months on end. Sometimes, lower-paying but easier-to-complete articles are more financially productive.