Depending on who you ask, freelance writing can be anything from just one massive edifice (it's all just writing, right?) to a broadly varied and heavily subdivided industry.
I'm somewhere in the middle. I've seen lists with as many as 25-30 different "types" of freelance writers, but when you get that deep into it, you start to see things like "educational blog post writer" and "informative blog post writer," which, to me, aren't really different.
These range from specialists to generalists but have enough differences between them that focusing on the right kind of writer is hugely beneficial. Here are my twelve categories and some tips on how to hire them.
Every website is packed with written content. Someone has to write that content, and that's where website copywriters come in.
Website copywriters write non-blog content for websites. The writing on your homepage, on your About page, and on your services pages; these are all written by website copywriters.
These kinds of articles are usually much more self-aggrandizing, self-referential, and sales-focused than your average blog or content writing. They have a high bar for accuracy, consistency in tone/voice/information, and requirements to be persuasive and educational to people who are in the middle and later stages of a sales funnel.
Website copywriters are also usually a very temporary position. Once your business sets up all of your usual service pages, you don't necessarily need much more from a website copywriter, right? At most, you might need them to produce landing pages on occasion.
Content marketers are often mistaken for generalists, but content marketing is actually a specialty within content writing. Content marketers are the ones writing your blog posts, primarily, though they may also branch out into some website content, eBooks, and other related content.
Content marketers typically need to have a good working knowledge of SEO and how things like keywords work. They need to be familiar with web writing standards, and they should know how to format content for maximum ease of consumption. And, of course, they need to be subject matter experts.
One of the most important skills a content marketer can have is being able to write appropriate blog content that matches what a target audience is searching for in a way that can be persuasive for the stage of the sales funnel, without being overly persuasive or too "salesy" and driving them away. It's surprisingly difficult, which is why a great content marketer can have a long career.
Where content marketers try to avoid being overly sales-focused, sales writers are the opposite. Sales and ad copywriters are the people who generally write shorter, much more sales-focused content. They write the copy for paid advertising, social media advertising, and potentially even other forms of sales media, like radio and TV ads, print ads, brochures, mail flyers, email newsletters, and more.
These people often may not consider themselves to be freelance writers. Rather, they will tend to call themselves marketers, sales specialists, or other such roles. Often, the division between these roles depends on whether the individual is a writer first and works with a sales team or if they're a salesperson who picked up writing to better handle their sales optimizations.
Technical writers are just about as far away from content marketers as you can get. They aren't persuasive; they're instructional. They aren't prose; they're purely functional. They're dry, precise, and highly accurate.
Technical writers are the people responsible for things like documenting business processes, creating employee handbooks, writing internal knowledge base articles, creating support documentation, developing care and maintenance guides, and more. Any time you buy a product and get an instructional document with information on how to set it up, how to maintain it, and the various legalities, warnings, and other information, that's technical writing.
In fact, technical writing is an important enough specialty that I wrote an entire post about it.
Book writers are a specialty kind of writer focusing on long-form content. This content can be anything from a tell-all vanity book to an "auto"biography for a CEO to a marketing-focused eBook. Often, eBooks range from around 5,000-10,000 words and are more like extended blog posts, so content marketers can produce them. However, more biographical books tend to be written by people who focus on book writing.
Book writing is surprisingly difficult even for writers who are used to creating relatively lengthy website content. Writing that sheer volume – often with a conversational format, maintaining a consistent tone and voice throughout – can be a challenge. Book writers tend to charge a premium, and with good reason.
Book writers also need supplementary skills, like the ability to conduct interviews, go back-and-forth with a client quite a bit more than your average content writing, and work in phases on a per-chapter basis.
Fiction writing isn't quite as frequently a freelance career as other kinds of writing, but it's not entirely uncommon, either. Many fiction writers try to make it on their own, but also, there are quite a few major series' that have freelance ghostwriters producing the actual content.
Prominent examples include:
As you can see, in many cases, they're long-running series where the original author wrote the first dozen or two books but hired ghostwriters to carry on afterward. There are many such examples throughout literary history, as well.
Sometimes considered a kind of technical writer, these tend to be more company-focused and sales-focused than your usual technical writer. White papers don't have to be dry and boring, and press releases – while rigid in format – can be powerful and compelling in the right composition.
Writing white papers is a specialty skill, and many freelance writing professionals either don't know how to do it properly or don't want to. Those that can do it well are worth their weight in gold, though, so if you want to take advantage of white papers for your marketing, a good white paper writer is a great find.
Academic writers occupy a somewhat controversial niche in freelance writing. Generally, you see them in two forms.
First, they're the kinds of people hired to write up journals and reports on studies and academic topics. They may help turn the results of an experiment into a piece of writing for publishing in journals and industry publications, or they may be part of the research team themselves. They are often tied into academia and have other specialties, as well as writing. As such, they're not often freelancers at all.
The other kind of academic writer is the kind that essentially does homework for other people for a living. These can range from vaguely unethical to academic dishonesty, but they always seem to exist. I don't recommend pursuing this kind of career, though.
Video is increasingly important on the internet, and while there are millions of people producing videos, not all of them are writing their own scripts. Some are unscripted, sure, and some write their own scripts, but many more will take a general topic and ask a freelancer to convert it into a compelling script for them.
Script writing is unique in that the visual medium of video has unique pressures attached to it. The way people write and read is different from how they talk, and a freelance script writer will also need to keep the tone, voice, persona, and other factors into consideration as well.
Grant writing is sometimes a freelance role, though more often, it's part of being hired or volunteering for a non-profit or non-governmental organization. Grant writers are the people who write compelling proposals to present to an entity, be it the government, a capital firm, or an investor, to explain what they're doing and where the money invested as a grant would go.
Grant writing needs to be highly persuasive, but not in the same way sales is persuasive. The aims are different, the information necessary is different, and the tone of the presentation is different; it's all a very specialized form of writing. It's also hard to get a foot in the door since failure in a grant proposal is very challenging for a non-profit org.
Journalism isn't dead, as much as it looks that way when you read the latest articles on any of the modern news sites. News writers, reporters, journalists, and other writers are often freelancers today since it's cheaper for news orgs to pay freelancers than fund real journalism.
News writers can pick a topic and focus on it, like tech, games, beauty, health, or another niche. Writing is actually the easiest part of this career; it also requires a significant amount of networking, keeping a finger on the pulse of the industry, and proactive investigation.
Businesses very often outsource their social media management to a team that, combined, knows about managing social media ads, data analytics for the metrics, and writing for the post content itself. These writers specialize in short-form content, knowing the various quirks of each social network, and presenting a business in a positive light on those platforms.
This has a lot of overlap with sales and marketing writers but can be a specialty all its own. It varies, as well, whether or not it's a freelance career or whether the writer gets hired to work with a social media management agency instead.
Contrary to popular belief, social media accounts are rarely actually run by random interns these days. Social media is far too important to a business and its reputation to be left to a newbie.
When you want to hire a freelance writer, you have quite a project ahead of you. There are a ton of writers out there, but also a ton of people who claim to be writers but have little or no skill in the area. On top of that, just because a writer can write in one of these specialties doesn't mean they can write effectively in another.
The first thing to do is define the kind of writer you want. The narrower you are, the more likely you'll be able to find the specialists you want.
Next, come up with a way to test them. I highly recommend a paid test project, even if it's not at your usual full rate; good writers don't want to work for free. Evaluating a portfolio is a good start as well, but it's not always enough. Remember, a portfolio represents the writer's best work, not their average work.
When it comes to looking for writers, there are plenty of options. I've written numerous posts about job boards and freelance hubs where you can find good writers, so start there. You can, of course, also just post job listings, but those are less likely to be effective. And, of course, you can always check in with my job board up top.
Remember, too, that if possible, you want to find a writer who has knowledge and experience in your niche. The more familiar a writer is with your industry, the more accurately and comfortably they can write the kind of content you need. You may also be able to cross-train an expert writer in another form of writing, as long as they're a subject matter expert.
Do you want a deeper dive into one of these writing specialties? Do you have another you think should be added to the list? Remember, many of these can be subdivided into different kinds of writing, so the definitions aren't super strict. Feel free to leave a request in the comments, and I'll see about writing about it down the road. If you have any other questions, be sure to drop those down below, as well! I always love hearing from you and will gladly help you out however I can!