The Modern Day Writer’s Survival Kit
Table of Contents
Let’s be real. Being a writer today looks a hell of a lot different than being a writer in the days of Hemingway, Twain or Fitzgerald.
On top of the parties being significantly less wild (most of the time), the day-to-day activities and roles for writers are remarkably different as well. This is especially for copywriters, ghostwriters and freelancers.
The rules of the game have changed--and as a result, the best practices, tools and tricks you need to come out on top have changed as well.
Despite this massive shift, there’s very little content online helping modern day writers navigate this particular aspect of their careers--that tackles everything from the educational materials you’ll need to crush it as a freelance writer all the way down to the physical supplies you should purchase.
Which is exactly why we put together this guide for our readers. From the products I use to write 10,000+ words per week for Inc.com and various clients to the actual email templates I used to land book deals and lucrative copywriting contracts, in this guide, we’re gonna lay it all on the table.
Ready to get started? Same. Let’s do it.
The Educational Materials You’ll Need
If you’re a copywriter, ghostwriter, freelance writer or something else related, there are a LOT of resources to sift through. Some fantastic. Others...not so much.
Here’s a curated list of the resources I always recommend, and think are absolutely essential for the modern day writer.
Note: from a business perspective, the two most lucrative avenues for writers is through copywriting and ghostwriting on a freelance basis. Because of that, my list is tailored toward those styles.
If there was a “Google” or an “Amazon” of the copywriting world, Copyblogger would take that crown by a long shot.
The amount of content they have on all topics related to content marketing, generally, and copywriting, specifically, is immense. In fact, they have so much content that they actually created a free online platform called MyCopyblogger, where users can access all their ebooks, in-depth articles and courses more easily than they would on the blog.
The thing I like most about Copyblogger is their content toes the line between being succinct, yet very well-thought-out and formulated, a balance that’s very hard to get right.
To start, I highly recommend reading their 5 P’s ebook(link?), which I often look to for reference even to this day. Whether you’re a full-fledged copywriter or a poet, this book gives you the tools needed to sell anyone on your ideas through writing--and boils down complex concepts into 5 easy tips.
2.) Kopywriting Kourse
Kopywriting Kourse is a super helpful copywriting blog created by Neville Medhora. The material Neville gives to his readers is thorough and entertaining, plus he just seems like an awesome, down-to-earth dude.
Neville also covers more general topics that web writers might find interesting, such as how to price your creative services and self development tips. Check it out if you’re looking for a fun blog to help take your writing to new heights.
3.) Tutorial Tuesdays by Copyhackers
Tutorial Tuesdays is a free weekly webinar series taught by Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copyhackers. On a personal level, this series is how I stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of the new mediums copywriters have to master, whether that's Twitter Ads, website copy, sales emails or something else related.
Copyhackers does a great job with putting out high-quality, information-rich content that can serve as an encyclopedia on a number of copywriting topics--and that same attention to detail is reflected in Tutorial Tuesdays.
4.) Len Smith's Udemy Course
Len Smith was a successful copywriter whose career spanned many decades. He put down all the lessons he learned over the years into a Udemy course called Copywriting secrets -- How to write copy that sells. This course, priced at $89.99, is actually what got me interested in copywriting, and where I first learned how to write captivating headlines. If you're looking to increase your open rates with stellar headline writing, this course has almost everything you need to know.
Another aspect of Len Smith's material that I like is that it's centered around B2B (business-to-business) copywriting as opposed to B2C (business-to-consumer).
Because so many copywriting gigs are done for B2B companies, with white papers, case studies and more, knowing the fundamentals of the style is important.
5.) The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman
When it comes to direct response marketing, there are few icons more accomplished than Joseph Sugarman, making him more than qualified to be the author selected to write Adweek's "bible" of copywriting. This book has become the all-encompassing textbook I refer to on a regular basis to address any and all questions I have with the fundamentals of copywriting (and the amount of notes I've scribbled in the margins proves that outright).
While this book, priced at $17.93, isn't tailored specifically for 2018, the principles and lessons laid out in the book can be universally applied across a wide variety of platforms, from email marketing to LinkedIn posts.
6.) The Copy Buffs Blog
I’d be remiss--and a crappy founder--if I didn’t throw my own company a bone when it comes to shouting out kick-ass content for writers.
At Copy Buffs, we’re constantly publishing blog articles, long-form content, Instagram posts and newsletters to help writers navigate the landscape and make more money doing what they love. Topics range from helping you establish an unforgettable social media presence to how to land your first paid writing gig.
Additionally, while we love creating content, we’re also working day in and day out to build a tight-knit community of badass writers who support each other.
If you like this article and want more tips, then be sure to check out the other posts on our blog and subscribe to our newsletter--which we put a lot of work into and use to announce each new post we create and launch.
The Physical Materials You’ll Need
Full disclosure here: I’m not being compensated for promoting these products by any means--I just think they’re super dope products and hope you find value in them as well.
1.) AmazonBasics Keyboard, Mouse and Laptop Stand
Depending on how the sales pipeline is looking, I write anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 words every single week.
That’s a lot of typing for your fingers to be cranking out.
Because of this, unless you want to end up with carpal tunnel two years down the road, you’ve got to take the necessary precautions to keep your fingers and hands oiled up and in good shape. After all--until they develop voice recognition technology that doesn’t suck--as writers, our fingers are our money makers.
To deal with this, I bought a mouse, keyboard and laptop stand from Amazon Basics. Specifically, the ones provided by AmazonBasics below. The whole bundle is affordable as hell too. The total cost for all three items came out to just over $31.
What these tools and other similar products do is allow us to elevate our heads and necks to be more level as opposed to hanging all day from looking down at our laptops. Additionally, it eases the load for your fingers and wrists versus doing it all from your keypad.
2.) Mushroom Coffee
If you’re a writer and aren’t a coffee addict, I don’t know if we can be friends…
Almost all writers I’ve met are coffee fiends. And it’s all fun and games until, after a while, your caffeine tolerance gets too high.
That’s exactly what happened to me one fateful, ominous day in 2018...A cup of coffee--or five--just wasn’t giving me the same kick it used to.
So, like the enabler I am, I started looking elsewhere for something more. Maybe not the best idea health-wise, but hey, I’m only human.
That’s when I stumbled on chaga mushroom coffee. I’m no scientist, but apparently the chaga mushroom helps boost your immune system, clean out your liver and reduce inflammation.
While all this nutrition stuff is cool, to be honest, I mainly love chaga mushroom coffee because it gives me a laser-focused mind in a way I haven’t felt since I sipped coffee for the first time--and I don’t even crash after taking it.
If you’re looking for the extra jolt of focus to keep your writing flowing, mushroom coffee could be a solid option for you. I usually buy Four Sigmatic, but have heard good things about Huron River as well.
3.) A Leather Bound Notebook
Even though we live in a time where cars can drive themselves and supercomputers can fit in our pockets, I’m still a big believer in going old-school and writing in a notebook.
That’s exactly why I keep a leather bound notebook with me at all times. Whether I’m in a cafe on a Sunday or taking my lunch break by the beach, writing my ideas down in a notebook helps me in a couple ways.
Because you write with a pen slower than you type, writing in a notebook forces you to be more selective and intentional with the things you write. This makes your brain to draw deeper connections and curate your thoughts more than you do when you’re typing away on your keyboard.
As a modern day writer, I think notebooks are still a must, and always will be. Barnes and Noble is where I usually buy mine from, but there are countless vendors out there including online stores.
The Mindset Shifts You’ll Need to Activate
Mindset Shift #1:
To make the most money you can as a writer today, you need to begin thinking of your writing less like the final product or offering, and more like the vehicle to showcase your knowledge & expertise in a specific area.
Here’s what I mean by this, and it may be hard for some of you to hear (I know it was for me): nowadays, unless you’ve built a massive following on social media, on your blog or somewhere else, it’s going to be very tough to make a substantial amount of money selling stories or poems online.
The market is just SO saturated with content, making it harder than ever to break through the noise.
Now, this isn’t to say you should ever stop writing fiction or poetry or any other creative projects (hell, I still work on my screenplays most Saturday & Sunday evenings).
What I mean here is you shouldn’t expect these styles of writing to make you a lot of money in today’s marketplace.
**Instead, you should think of your ability to write as a gift to enable you to put your knowledge on a specific topic on full display.**
Maybe this is your extensive digital marketing knowledge.
Maybe this is your extensive blockchain programming knowledge.
Maybe this is your musical ability.
Whatever it is, your ability to effectively communicate with words can reel people in so they can hire you to tell them about this knowledge, in the form of:
Paid speaking engagements
Freelance ghostwriting on the topic
Selling online courses or gated content
The list goes on and on.
Yet, the main thing to remember here is you always have to be learning. The more knowledgeable and well-rounded you are as a person or thought leader, the more work you’ll be able to charge clients for.
Mindset Shift #2: You’re worth more than you think you are.
Okay okay, I know this sounds corny, but let me tell you a quick story to illustrate the power of increasing your rates.
Just a little over a year ago, I was talking with one of my friends who runs a very successful social media advertising agency.
We somehow got onto the topic of clients being late on payments, ghosting us, etc. This was beginning to take a toll on me. I would work day in, day out for clients who didn’t really value my work or respect my time — all for less money than I was worth.
I felt like a hamster caught in the wheel...or however that saying goes. Without hesitation, my friend told me the solution he used to rid himself of the same problem — doubling your rates.
I’ll be honest, at first, I didn’t really believe it would work. I was worried my current clients would get scared away and head for the hills if I told them I was doubling my costs.
He then explained the genius behind the move — by doubling your rates, both parties win. For one, you’ll get more money for doing the same amount of work you’re already doing.
Secondly, you’ll begin to weed out the clients who don’t respect your time or see the value in your craft.
Thirdly, remember that perception is reality. There’s a reason why shirts at Ross cost $15 and those at Gucci cost $1,500 — the quality is better. By being cheap, you’re intrinsically sending a message to all potential clients that your work isn’t as good or of the same quality as those who charge much higher rates.
Lastly, by getting paid what you’re worth, you’re creating an “unspoken contract” between you and the client, where you’ll perform your very best and give the project your full attention because you’re getting paid what you should be getting paid. This is so important because, let’s be real, what writer ACTUALLY puts their absolute best foot forward into a project when they’re getting paid $5 to do it? None that are any good at their craft.
I was sold. I loved the idea and decided to take my friend’s idea a step further and triple my rates overnight — from $30/hr to $90/hr.
Sure enough, business started booming, the penny-pinching clients began to disappear and be replaced with those who valued my services. Plus, I was happier than ever before.
If you’re in a similar position, as a freelancer or other type of writer, double your rates tonight and see what happens. Just do it. Trust me.
There’s a very good chance that by taking the leap, it’ll make all the difference.
Mindset Shift #3: Don’t wait around for others to reach out to you.
Despite common belief, not every speaker you see on stage, bestselling author or ghostwriter who just landed a six figure deal was SO great that all the clients and coordinators came searching for them.
In fact, more often than you may think, it’s the opposite way around.
Most authors send out dozens, if not hundreds, of query letters before getting accepted by an agent — for me, the number of 27, which included 26 rejections.
Many successful freelance writers block out a couple hours every single week to send out cold emails, proposals or DMs to try and land more gigs.
Starting to see a pattern here?
If you’re ready to get started, know that it’s going to take a lot of groundwork and rejection to get to where you want to be.
Be proactive, don’t wait around for the “right opportunity” to present itself. Be relentless in your networking and self promotion. It’ll take you further than you might’ve ever thought possible.
The Email Templates You’ll Need
Sometimes, lessons and tips can only go so far, and actual examples are the best teachers. That’s exactly why I wanted to throw in the actual text of the emails I’ve used to land a book deal, spots on big-time podcasts, speaking engagements and some of the most lucrative contracts and partnerships of my career.
I’m giving you permission to completely steal these templates. Tweak them to your own situation, and I’m sure they’ll benefit you in some way, shape or form.
Here’s the email I used to land a book deal by reaching out to a top literary agent:
I hope your day is going well!
My name is Dakota Shane and I wanted to reach out with a pitch for a book expanding upon the ideas laid out in an article I wrote, which gained immense readership and positive response: The 7 Mindset Shifts Needed for Successful Social Media Marketing.
I am qualified to write on this topic because I am a Top Writer on Medium in the Social Media and Business categories. My articles have been read by over 500,000 people world-wide, shared by over 80,000, and have been featured alongside icons like Gary Vaynerchuk & Ryan Holiday (here are some examples of my work: 1,2,3).
In addition, despite only being 24, I have been featured on Social Media Explorer, Social Media Today, PR News, Google's Medium publication The Startup Grind, and more. I am also the co-founder of a social media agency.
I realize social media topics are generally cast to the side by publishers given how fast the industry moves and innovates, but this book will be different. The primary reason is that it will cover the mindset shifts associated with successful social media marketing, and not the tactics used on specific platforms. This will make the book relevant and timely for decades to come.
Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in. Thanks for your time and I hope to work with you soon. Have a fantastic day.
Here’s the email I used to land my first paid speaking gig at the Central Coast Writer’s Conference:
I hope your day is going well!
My name is Dakota Shane and I wanted to reach out with a speaking proposal for next year's Social Media Summit on a topic that would be extremely valuable for attendees: using Medium to grow & nurture your audience and influence.
This topic would be highly valuable and timely to your community since Medium is growing extremely quickly and will only get more over-crowded in coming years.
To illustrate this point, I have put together this infographic and thought I'd share it with you:
I would love to speak on why Medium could be an integral tool for social media marketers. This will include proven and actionable strategies to stand out on the platform.
I am qualified to speak on this topic because I am a Top Writer on Medium in the Social Media and Business categories. My articles have been read by over 500,000 people world-wide, shared by over 80,000, and have been featured alongside icons like Gary Vaynerchuk & Ryan Holiday (here are some examples of my work: 1,2,3). In addition, the social media agency I co-founded has reeled in over 70% of our deals solely via Medium. Lastly, by leveraging Medium, I was able to become a weekly columnist for Inc.com, so the platform is ripe with opportunity.
Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in. If so, I can hop right on it!
Thanks for your time and I hope to work with you soon. Have a fantastic day.
Here’s the email template I used to land a partnership with an industry-leading blockchain PR (public relations) agency, which has proven to have been one of the most lucrative relationships for Copy Buffs to date:
Headline: Quick Question From an Inc.com Columnist & Crypto Writer
I recently came across your PR firm, and given my background in crypto/blockchain copywriting, I thought it would make sense to connect!
I would love to get a better understanding of your current writing/content marketing needs to see if there is alignment with my integrated copywriting/content creation packages.
A little about me: I am a columnist for Inc. Magazine, Top Writer on Medium, public speaker and the co-founder of Arctiphi, a social media & copywriting agency located in Los Angeles. We have experience writing for a number of blockchain startups (1, 2, 3), and more.
I was wondering what day/time works this week or next for a quick call?
Thanks and I look forward to connecting.
These are the things that must be in your email: intro to who you are, proof points (links to articles, portfolio, brands you’ve worked with), relevant links, clear/easy call-to-action.
Talk about how many emails you should be sending out per week - talk about how Kevin blocked out 4 hours per week, Josh Fechter sent 200 cold emails along with how many I usually send out.
Canned Responses in Gmail & Google Sheets:
Once you have your email templates created, make outreach easy on yourself by taking advantage of tools like Gmail’s Canned Response. With the click of a button, this plug-in will populate an email draft with whichever templates you have saved.
If you want to learn how to install this free app, follow this guide here.
From there, make a simple Google Sheet or Excel Sheet so you can keep track of who you’ve sent emails too. This also makes it easy to check who you still need to follow up with after you send the initial email.
If you take a close look at the email templates above, you’ll start to see a few patterns. No matter if you choose to use these templates as your anchor, or a different template entirely, all great email pitches have couple things in common.
Intro: a quick intro to who you are. This includes your name, title, company you founded, etc.
Proof points: you might only have one chance to land whatever you’re trying to land, so don’t be scared to flex your muscles. Let the [target person] know your accomplishments, why your qualified to do what you’re pitching. This could include links to viral articles you’ve written, pictures of previous speaking engagements you’ve had, big-time publications you’ve been featured on and other related [items].
How this will benefit them: don’t let the flexing get it twisted, your email should always always always be crystal clear about how your request will benefit the target person. Never be self-serving. Be explicit on how this will add value to your target.
Relevant links: by including relevant links--whether those include your portfolio, articles, videos, book reviews or something else--in the body of your email, it will have everything the target needs to make a sound decision in one place.
A quick and clear call-to-action: don’t make things complicated. You’ve worked hard enough creating awesome writing, so don’t blow it with an overly complex call-to-action. Make it short and sweet. Your conversion rates will thank you for it.
Final Tips & Tricks You Should Use
Here are some final survival tips that are important but I couldn’t really fit them anywhere else. Following these steps though is critical if you want to become an established writer online today, and never go hungry.
This is the exact framework I used to land my column on Inc. Magazine, reach my first 1,000,000 readers online and sign my first book deal.
Build a Personal Brand
Today, we live in the trust economy, and people trust other people more than they do logos.
Whether you’re looking to increase your freelance writing rates or sell more books, having a strong personal brand will do nothing but help you get there faster.
Gary Vaynerchuk’s marketing agency began landing marquee clients right out of the gate because he’s f***ing Gary Vaynerchuk, a person with MASSIVE influence and reach online.
I’m able to charge clients the same price as people with decades more writing experience than I have because I built a personal brand that allowed me to get published on Forbes, Inc. Magazine and more.
So, how do you do it? Easy.
Be active on 1-2 social media platforms, where you regularly publish your thoughts and musings related to your industry.
Build up an active and entertaining email newsletter. This way, no matter what happens to your preferred social media channels, you’ll be safe from harm.
Be a student of the game
In order to become a successful web writer today, you’ve got to be a student of the game as it relates to content marketing, copywriting and freelancing.
Why? You’ll be able to notice trends and opportunities in the marketplace that could potentially give you the edge you need to put you over the top.
When it comes to opportunities in the online publishing world, being an early adopter beats out talent any day of the week. One of the main reasons I was able to rise to the top of Medium and become a Top Writer (which later led to me becoming an Inc.com columnist) was because I was an early adopter of the platform.
By being a student of the game, I was able to identify that Medium wasn’t just another overhyped puff of smoke. Instead, it was going to be something. You can reap the same exact benefits simply by listening and paying attention to the landscape.
Leverage freelancing platforms like Upwork
One of the things that makes rising to the top in copywriting or freelancing today is simply the level of competition out there. Having the ability to curate the terrific freelancers from the shitty ones is exactly why platforms like Upwork are doing so well (in fact, they just went public not too long ago--so they’ll be around for a long time to come).
As an agency owner, I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to hop on Upwork at first. I thought it was where crappy writers went to do work for pennies. Yet, after reading through some success stories, I decided to give it a try.
Less than 6 months later, from Upwork alone, I was able to generate an extra $12,000 for my business. On top of the potential earning opportunities, one of the best things about Upwork is the platform takes care of everything for you: client outreach, contracts, client payments, getting reviews/testimonials and more.
This is a big thing to keep in mind...and one writers seem to overlook most. Don’t get screwed by the IRS.
Remember, as a freelancer in the United States, to be safe, you should be setting aside around 30% of your total sales for taxes. The way I do this is setting up what I call my “Uncle Sam savings account”.
This is simply a Payroll account where I send along 30% of all client transactions. I like using a third party tool as opposed to a bank because it feels more separate and “untouchable” than an actual bank, but you can do whatever you feel best jives with your personality.
Have a workout partner
Much like working out, it can be easy to put aside writing “for later”. And since it’s such a solitary activity, no one can call you on your bullshit.
That’s exactly why I so firmly believe in the power of having a writing workout partner. This person helps keep you accountable by frequently checking in to see how you’re coming along with your writing projects, and you do the same for them.
By having someone you respect continually seeing if you’re sticking to your promises as a writer, you’ll begin to develop the habits you’ll need to make it in this cutthroat business.
If you’re looking for community, we’d love to have you be a part of the Copy Buffs community and help build it :) To get started, if you aren’t already, subscribe to our newsletter and be sure to follow us on Instagram.
We get it. Being a writer today may not be the same as it was for Hemingway or Shakespeare back in the day. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be any less enjoyable, lucrative and fulfilling.
Here’s the thing though: the game has changed. A lot. And in order to become a successful modern day writer, you’ve got to start with the essentials--and I hope this piece of content will help get you off on the right foot.
Best of luck.