Stacy Sare Cohen - The Penny Hoarder

We all relish true stories about love and redemption. And if you write one, The New York Times might buy it.

Here’s the scoop: The wildly popular Modern Love column, in the Fashion & Style section, is seeking deeply personal essays about contemporary relationships, marriage, dating, and parenthood. And, believe it or not, you don’t need a Masters in Journalism to be published.

If your story is selected, The Times will pay you $300.

Run by editor Daniel Jones, the column features essays from dozens of first-time writers, such as Dominick Zarrillo, as well as essays from previously published authors.

Jones doesn’t care about an impressive list of writing credits but he does care about good writing.

I judge a submission solely on the writing before me. So don't feel like you are being pre-judged if you submit without writing credits,” Jones notes in the Modern Love submission guidelines, a 36-page document on how to submit to Modern Love. (An abridged version is available here.)

What’s important is that essays “spring from a some central dilemma the writer has faced in his or her life,” emphasizes Jones.

Insider Tips from Two Modern Love Columnists

To give you an inside perspective, we tracked down two Modern Love columnists, Ada Calhoun and Amy Sutherland. Both women shared their experiences about writing for Modern Love and offered great advice for pitching an essay.

Amy Sutherland has written two essays for Modern Love: “What Shamu Taught Me About Marriage,” and “Opening the Heart’s Floodgates With a Paw.” She currently has a standing column, “Bibliophiles” for the Boston Globe and recently published Rescuing Penny Jane” in February.

Ada Calhoun has published three essays for Modern Love: “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give,” “To Stay Married, Embrace Change,” and “You May Call It Cheating, But We Don’t.” Ada is currently completing a book tour for Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, which is based on her Modern Love essay and magazine freelance writing.

Both columnists’ essays led to book deals, and the writers have been featured on the popular Modern Love” Podcast, a radio show produced by WBUR NPR that’s based on selected Modern Love essays.

What is it like writing for Modern Love?

Amy Sutherland: Dan Jones, the editor, is a really great guy and the best editor I’ve ever worked with. We went back and forth with my essay. It was one of the better editing experiences I ever had. He gave me really good pointers and pushed me a little bit in a good way. He helped tease out a stronger point on what this had to say about Modern Love.

Ada Calhoun: I think the Modern Love column is an amazing platform. So many people read it around the country. It’s about our most personal stories, so I think it’s one of the best ways to connect with people on an emotional level as a writer.

How did you choose your Modern Love essay?

Ada Calhoun: I had this argument with my husband, and I thought what better thing to do with my feelings than to write an essay about it and send it to The New York Times, not to get revenge, but to make something good out of an annoying situation. I’ve written on and off as a freelancer for The New York Times, and I had been a reader of the Modern Love column. It seemed to be the best fit for this essay.

Amy Sutherland: My essay was about how I used a technique I learned from a dolphin trainer so my husband wouldn’t be on my nerves all the time. I read Modern Love and put two and two together. I thought no one else would write that exact column. It was a pretty safe bet. I studied Modern Love and hashed out my piece and submitted it via The New York Times website.

What do you think makes a good Modern Love story?

Ada Calhoun: I think honesty is the most important thing. I think that people want others to be real with them about the beautiful things and the horrible things about love. One thing the Modern Love column really works to do, and that I admire about the editor, is he looks for essays that tell the truth about people’s experiences.

Amy Sutherland: You can’t just have a good story. You have to have a broader point or message about the meaning of love. It has to be really fresh, something they never thought about. In my sense, my central point was we can love our spouses and they can drive us crazy. That’s nothing new, but the way I went about writing it was completely fresh. If you want to write for Modern Love, you should sit down and probably read six to 12 of them and you’ll get a sense of what the editor, Dan Jones, is looking for.

Word has it, your Modern Love essay led to a book deal. Can you talk about that for our readers?

Ada Calhoun: The second Modern Love I wrote, The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give went really viral. I heard from so many people, couples who have been married a long time telling me they liked it. A lot of people said they thought there should be more talk about what it’s like being married for your whole life. So my editor on my last book said I should turn it into a book of essays, so that’s what I did and it just came out in May. My husband is quite proud of himself for making that financial error [that was the basis of the essay]. He jokes, “If I hadn’t screwed up, we wouldn’t have this book deal. I need to screw up more often. We’ll be rich.”

Amy Sutherland: I did get a book deal out of the Modern Love column and then wrote a book based on the column, and I also had a movie that was based on the book that was based on the column, if that makes sense. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. I had publishers and film people and also got interviewed by reporters all around the world. It became quite a firestorm. I had quite a strong and quick response to that column. It took over my life for a few weeks.

You’ve heard their stories, now it’s your turn.

15 Tips from the Pros on How to Submit to Modern Love

1. Your essay should stem from a “central dilemma” you have faced in your life.

2. Tell an honest story. Readers and editors can tell the difference.  

3. Write about something meaningful. “For better odds, avoid exploring topics of death, grief, and loss,” the guidelines say.

4. Modern Love has a contemporary slant, so it’s recommended to write about new angles of love or how things are different today ( eg: Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, social media, online dating).

5. Set the story close to present times, although you can reflect back in the past for backstory and context on occasion.

6. Don’t begin at the beginning. Consider starting your story with dialogue or in the middle of the action.

7. Decide what scenes you’ll use to move your story forward or push it through the dramatic arc, similar to how a short story or novel is written.

8. Have a story no one else can tell or tell it from a fresh perspective.

9. Don’t give everything away at the start such as “I met my husband in college.”  Your story should unfold in a dramatic arc. How you met can be told in the third paragraph.

10. Your story should stem from a conflict. Conflict makes good writing.

11. Use mystery and surprise to arouse the reader’s curiosity. Make the reader wonder what will happen with each line you write.

12. Your story doesn’t need to have a happy ending. What’s important is that the person learns something by the end of the story they didn’t know before.

13. Use killer verbs. Don’t worry about adjectives.

14. Keep an open mind as to where the piece can go — it could go in a different direction than what you thought originally.

15. Spend a lot of time revising your essay.

Is writing a story about love and redemption on your bucket list? Why not submit it to Modern Love? You could be $300 richer, and who knows, it might land you a book deal.

You can visit Modern Love on Facebook or find the book, “Modern Love: 50 True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit, and Devotion,” where books are sold.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. By checking out this featured content, you help us bring you more ways to save!

Stacy Sare Cohen is a freelance writer who writes stories about personal finance, travel and tourism. She’s addicted to Modern Love and reads the column religiously every Friday.

On a sunny afternoon last June, I stood in line at a buffet table at my friend’s wedding. Somewhere between the chicken marsala and the sautéed mushrooms, I struck up a conversation with another wedding guest. He asked me what I did for a living.

When I told him I had a freelance writing business, he replied, “Oh, so you don’t really need to work. I mean you can’t support yourself doing that, right?”

Like that other guest, many people have a mistaken belief that freelance writers don’t earn good money writing from home, but they are misinformed.

Smart freelance writers earn enough to pay their bills with plenty of cash left over to eat at great restaurants and take fun vacations. While it might not happen to you overnight, here’s how you can earn a ‘pretty penny’ as a freelance writer.

1. Specialize in a Niche

Put simply, a niche is an industry specialty like technology, travel, or finance.

And when you’re a specialist, clients will pay you a better rate for your subject expertise. It’s similar to paying more for a heart specialist than you would to see your GP.

Integrate technology writing into your niche and you can earn big bucks. And you don’t need to be a tech wiz!

I spoke with six-figure freelance Technology Content Marketing Writer, Jennifer Goforth Gregory who offered advice to new writers.

“Because technology is part of every industry, writers should look at their current niches and see how to add technology. Travel writers can write about hospitality technology; education writers about education technology.”

“Since you are writing for a non-technical audience, the most important skills you need are industry knowledge and the ability to ask technical experts the right questions.”

2. Skip the Content Mills and Bidding Sites

Content mills typically pay $5-$15 per article. If you write for them, you can end up earning less than minimum wage. These articles have to be written so quickly, they usually don’t make good portfolio samples.

Bidding sites are like eBay; customers shop for the lowest bidder. That might be okay for buying a second-hand watch but not for writing an original article.

3. Write a Killer LinkedIn Profile

With 433 million professionals registered on LinkedIn, this popular social networking site is a great resource. On LinkedIn you can connect with other professionals, join groups in your industry and make great contacts. But you need a good profile to make headway.

And here’s how to create one.

5 Actionable Tips to Make Your Profile Stand Out

  • Upload a good profile photo. If you can’t afford a professional headshot, use a photo with good natural lighting.
  • Put your specialties in your headline and be sure to add the word “freelance,” so clients searching for freelance writers can find you.
  • Take time to write a compelling summary that showcases your skills and industry expertise.
  • In the experience section, add links and images of work you are proud of.
  • Ask your former supervisors, clients, and co-workers for good recommendations praising your abilities.

4. Join Professional Groups on Social Media

Networking opportunities are infinite with social media! You can connect with editors and find writing gigs on Twitter and discover content writing work and ghostwriting jobs on Facebook groups.

But my favorite social media site to date is LinkedIn. After getting serious about my LinkedIn profile, the site has proved to be a fantastic inbound marketing tool.

Now clients contact me regularly on LinkedIn and when I check the analytics on my writer website, the majority of traffic comes from LinkedIn. So, work on that profile! LinkedIn is a great marketing resource to have in your arsenal.

A caveat: When connecting with editors and industry professionals on social media, it’s best to take the time to build relationships. Read their posts and add comments that add value to the topic they’re discussing.

Never ask them for a writing job at first introduction, unless, of course, they are advertising for a writer.

5. Get Out of the House and Attend Networking Events

We all love searching online for contacts in our PJs, but meeting people face-to-face is a great way to drum up business. I attended a boat show, since one of my niches is boating, and schmoozed with a few yacht companies.

After leaving my business card, (always leave one) one of the marketing managers contacted me two weeks later and offered me a well-paying gig, and I accepted.

I learn about boating networking opportunities on industry websites such as boating industry news. And that’s just one. You can find important news and events for your niche industries through Google alerts. Visit the site, type in your keywords and Google sends news right to your inbox.

You can also join networking groups on Meetup and business network chapters in your local area that hold regular industry events.

6. Pick Up the Phone

Does the idea of ‘cold calling’ send chills down your spine?

A way to ease the angst is to write up a 20-30 second script that you can practice before you call. Focus on how you can help your potential client. Be proud of your talents. You have valuable skills to offer.

The best time to make calls is between Tuesday and Fridays. This gives the content manager, marketing manager or business owner time to catch up, as Mondays are usually busy (so are the first couple of days after a holiday break). It’s not advisable to call editors on the phone due to their busy deadline schedules, but most editors post contributor guidelines with an email address on their websites about how to pitch story ideas.

7. Negotiate Rates

The Art of Negotiation

Want a better rate than the client is offering? You can get it. That’s because you have a say in what you earn! If your client likes your work samples, you can often negotiate a better pay rate.

I’ve negotiated rates up several times when I’ve felt the client’s offer was too low. I’ve even had clients say no and come back a week or two later and accept my rate.

If you’re new to the art of negotiation, here’s a helpful article “10 negotiation tips for writers” written by Forbes writer and Freelance Writer’s Den community owner, Carol Tice.

Remember, when you start viewing yourself as a business owner rather than a writer for hire you’ll communicate your value and earn what you’re worth.

Always Work with a Contract

No matter what you do, always work with an agreement! Sometimes your client will have one. But if they don’t, write up your own. This way you’ll have your terms in writing to refer to in the case you and your client have a misunderstanding.

Always require a deposit when working with a new client. I ask for a 50% deposit before I start work unless I’m familiar with the reputation of the client.

When I’m working with a new client, I write up a 90-day contract. A short-term contract provides the opportunity for you and your client to see if you enjoy working together. It will also enable you to revise your project rate if you discover you’re putting in more hours than you intended to on the project.

Emails, meetings, and revisions can be time-consuming, especially when there’s a large number of people involved in what you’re writing. If you didn’t anticipate this extra time, you can add it to your project rate later when you renew your agreement in 90 days.

8. Write More than Blog Posts

Blog posts are cool to write because they’re conversational. But there are other writing projects that can bring in good money: consumer magazines, trade magazines, ebooks and more.

Check out Freedom with Writing’s list of 67 magazines that pay writers $100 or more and websites that pay $200 per article.

Contrary to popular belief, you can make fantastic money as a freelance writer when you specialize in a niche, become a networking pro, and market to the right clients.

Follow these tips and soon you’ll be packing for that Hawaii vacation you’ve been dreaming about and sipping on coconuts through straws in the tropical sun.

Stacy Sare Cohen is a freelance content marketing writer. She’s worked for big brands and specializes in personal finance, travel and tourism, hospitality, real estate and tech.