There are about a million different kinds of writers if you go by personality or genre. You've got dedicated full-time writers, academic textbook creators, hobbyist poets, horror writers, romance writers, fanfiction writers, and more. They're all equally valid and equally interesting, but the writers I know best are those who make a professional living out of it in the freelance world.
When it comes to freelance writing, there are five general specialties:
• Content Writing
• Ghost Writing
Notice that I said “specialties;” most freelance writers will float the line between these titles, often taking on more than one at a time. These categories describe the kind of work being done, not a specific career path. Let’s gather a basic working knowledge of what each one entails.
“Copy” is the technical name for persuasive business writing. What does that look like? Well, think of any big business’s website. Think of press releases. Think of pamphlets and Amazon sales pages and the “buy me!” button in newsletters sent out by retailers when they have a big sale. Copy is the writing used by a business - any business - to sell either themselves or their products to someone else, be that a customer or another business they’re looking to partner with.
A copywriter, then, writes copy. They put together effective writing that encourages sales or other growth metrics for a company. Copywriting is a powerful industry; every business needs effective copy to be successful, so there will always be a need for copywriters.
Now, does that mean copywriting is a stable job? Sometimes, but you’ve got to prove that you can be effective before that happens, which means that you need to know what goes into good copy, how to produce it consistently, and how to connect with the businesses that need that writing done. Copywriters have to sell themselves before they can be trusted to sell anything else.
If copywriting is very specifically writing to sell, then content writing is the larger umbrella category.
Content writing is, quite literally, writing anything at all for a client that’s going to be published. It’s writing content - what’s on the website, what’s in a book, the meat and potatoes of what people are reading. It’s a more general term that can include blog posts or articles, scripts or ebooks, product descriptions or announcements - all kinds of things.
If you’re a content writer, you probably have a field of expertise that you create content about. Because content writing as a job is so general, content writers themselves tend to be extremely niche and specific; you find a dedicated, if often relatively small, audience and write for them.
That being said, content writing isn’t limiting by any means. It’s incredibly important for the modern brand to invest in creating interesting, non-sales content for consumers; having active and engaging content on your site offers more value to customers than simply hawking your products all the time.
Pretty much everyone has an image in mind of journalists. A plucky kid with a notebook and a camera, working under a demanding editor who may or may not be asking for more Spiderman pictures at all times. Or maybe you’re thinking of a full-out field reporter, live on the scene with a mic and a cameraman ready to get the latest scoop fast. Maybe you’re thinking of the sea of people yelling at a press conference, waiting to ask important or scandalous questions of the hot shot at the front of the room.
While yes, most of those things really do happen - obviously not Spiderman, not yet - the reality of day-to-day journalism is a person whose job it is to find timely, relevant stories and report them as honestly and plainly as possible so that people can understand them. This means spending a lot of time sorting through sources and research, asking for and performing interviews both in-person and online, and lurking on Twitter’s infamous Trending tab. It also means dropping the fancy metaphors and flowing language that we use in creative writing - journalism is about facts, and facts only.
Freelance journalists write up news reports on a pay-per-piece level. They may work with multiple outlets or in many different genres. Some may even run their own news blogs or websites. I’ve been a freelance journalist; I’ve written gaming news reports for The Gamer about everything from scandals with popular Twitch streamers to new game releases to industry statistics.
It’s dry work, but it’s consistent, and it means you keep on top of your niche should you want to expand and do other kinds of work.
A ghostwriter writes a book under the name of another person. Sounds a bit like cheating, right? But what’s really happening most of the time is a qualified professional in some field is excited to share their knowledge with the world…but can’t write. They don’t have the talent or developed skills to string together an interesting narrative. Writing is hard, as we all know, and not everyone is willing or able to do it.
So, in order to get the book they want out into the world, they hire someone to actually string the words together for them. They provide the ideas and the outline, and the ghostwriter provides…well, the writing!
Ghostwriters are paid handsomely for their invisible position. They’re often paid upfront and in advance of a book’s publication, and may even take a fee from the royalties the book earns. Of course, ghostwriting happens on a case-by-case basis; as a ghostwriter, you’ll have to work with a lot of different clients over your career rather than finding one core group of clients to stick with.
I’m including editing as a specialty option here because it is incredibly closely linked to writing; almost by definition, to be a good editor, you have to be a good writer.
Editors comb through written works – sales copy, blog posts, novels, grant proposals, and everything else under the sun – with scissors in one hand and a pen in the other. Their job is to improve the work in some way. The way in which they do that defines what kind of editor they are:
• Developmental editors look for ways to improve the overall content value of the piece. They’re the ones who point out and work through plot holes, missing story elements, and key information gaps.
• Line editors are looking for errors on a line-by-line basis. They pick out inconsistencies with character descriptions, worldbuilding, facts, angles, and voice.
• Proofreaders are the last line of defense that an author has against the dreaded typo. They’re your classic grammarian: no missed commas, misplaced colons, or sentence fragments escape their ruthless red pens.
• Copyeditors ensure that the copy matches the brand it belongs to. They’re the ones who police writing for tone, style, and accuracy.
A freelance editor often has multiple skill sets across these titles but will focus their work on one or two titles.
You can learn practically any writing type if you try hard enough, but you'll always have the best time if you're enjoying what you do. Consider trying different types of writing, then explore the one (or ones!) you like best. Freelancing writing is all about having the freedom to do what you enjoy for a living, so find what works for you.