Pitching a Freelance Travel Article vs. Keeping It for Your Blog

Is it better to publish an article with a branded media site and get paid quickly? Or is it better to put it on your own blog and potentially earn far more in the long run? Could pitching a freelance travel article end up costing you?

pitching a freelance travel article

When a magazine offered Jeremy Jones a slot to write an article for them, he figured it would be a good way to spread the word and attract more local readers to his blog, plus it was a byline in a glossy publication that he could add to his credits. The communication dried up before it came out, however, so he published it on his own blog instead. That mishap turned out to be quite lucrative in the end.

"In 2018, a local magazine in Pittsburgh contacted me about a freelance piece about day trips from Pittsburgh. They wanted me to write an article (unpaid, mind you), featuring day trips and they were going to have a graphic designer illustrate it and have it be a prominent feature in their print magazine. I wrote an article and they more or less ghosted me after that and never replied back to my email. After several months I revoked their rights to have the article and published it on my own site.

Since then, the article on Pittsburgh day trips has had well over 100,000 views on our site and earned me thousands of dollars in ad and affiliate revenue. Mediavine alone showed 129,000 page views and $3,500 in ad revenue from that post, but it looks like data from before 2019 is missing (and the article was originally published a few months before that). I suspect that my total earnings are closer to $5,000. According to Mediavine (2019-present data, at least), it is the 10th most popular article on our site by traffic.

Their loss, my gain! I haven't freelanced since."

The Advantages of Writing Freelance Articles

At times, it can make more sense to write for others than to keep the article for your own site. Maybe it doesn't fit into your niche, your traffic isn't high enough to monetize it well, or you need the earnings now, not two years from now.

In my Travel Writing Overdrive course, I cover freelance writing and blogging together because there are advantages to both. Over the past year I've written articles for Global Traveler, CNN, and Westways. Before that a whole series of short pieces for Outside. I don't regret taking those assignments at all. I got a nice paycheck from each one and got my byline into publications that I don't own and run myself. In some cases, the tweaks from a good editor can make the story better than it would have been if there hadn't been a second set of eyes and two of the stories recently won awards in NATJA's annual travel writing contest.

I've written articles that fetched a buck or two a word, which would take quite a while to earn from one article on one of my own sites. One that I wrote recently for more than $1,000 was on things to do in Puerto Vallarta: tours and activities. If I did put that on my own blog, it would have been a tough slog to rank well in search for such a broad and competitive topic.

In a print magazine though, they don't need to care about any of that. The article just has to work for their readers.

Many other times, however, I've faced the common freelancer problem of rejections or being ignored and I've eventually given up on pitching that particular idea. When I've posted it on my own blog instead, the money I've earned from advertising has often eclipsed what I would have gotten paid from the outside publication.

Long-term Passive Earnings Vs. Trading Time for Money

In my own experience, several articles I've failed to find a home for as a freelancer have paid off well on my own site. I pitched two beer magazines and a well-matched travel publication on the idea of beer and biking on the Pinellas Trail in Florida, a Tampa Bay bike route that's a40 miles long and has more than 20 breweries along it. One editor never replied, the other two told me there was no reader interest for an article like that.

Tim Leffel blog article

So I put the article on the Cheapest Destinations Blog in 2021 instead. To date it has received more than 20,000 page views. The display ad and affiliate earnings revenue together have topped $700 so far, for an article with just average performance, not in the top-10 at any point. YouTube has sent a bit of cash for the associated videos and I've added e-mail subscribers that I can stay in touch with.

The article hasn't made me rich, but richer than I would have been if one of those editors had said yes. Plus I had fun researching it!

Here's another one I pitched here and there and got nowhere, though now I see big publications doing their own version of it now since mine has had success and U.S. ski resort prices have kept rising. This ski article made $231 from display ads in the past year, which may be less than a freelancer made from doing a version on a mainstream site, but this article has been up since 2018. I've done updates now and then to keep the prices fresh, but it has been earning that kind of money for five years now with about an hour of work per year.

Mediavine earnings from one article

Lillie Marshall had a similar experience with her site DrawingsOf.com.

"I started my travel blog in 2009 and always had the goal of getting guest posts in big-name publications. When I finally got a travel article published on the Huffington Post, however, there was a huge let-down. Yes, I got a brief burst of traffic, but then the publication added so many new articles that my post was quickly lost in the shuffle, never to be resurrected again. The same thing happened with three different educational sites -- each of which paid $150 or less. Undaunted, I did another guest post for a different publication for a few hundred dollars -- only to have the site go out of business, causing my post to evaporate into nothingness.

Therefore, when it came time to write my extremely close-to-my heart article in 2022, What to Say to Someone Getting a Divorce, I wisely hesitated before agreeing to give it to another publication, even though several big ones were an option. I'm so very glad I followed my gut and kept it on my own site! It's now been read more than 14,000 times. It is building in momentum and readership by the day, as it's become the top search result for the query.

Naturally, since my site is monetized, each of those reads is providing me with ongoing (and increasing) ad revenue... money that is sorely needed after the expense of divorce! I can also continue to promote and link to and feature the post in ways that other sites do not with freelance content. If I'd given away the article, I would have maybe gotten a few hundred dollars and a little extra traffic -- a brief flash in the pan that fizzled out after a week or two. Instead, this is an ongoing paycheck.

A similar thing happened with my workout reviews, which are now the #1 earner on my entire (supposedly) TRAVEL blog. Though these articles were not on the main topic of my site, by keeping them for myself instead of giving them away, I was able to create a whole new ongoing and profitable silo."

The numbers from Lillie and I pale next to the ones from Bret Love, however, who shares this story:

"I wrote a 1000-word story about Asheville for a freelance outlet (Yahoo Travel) many years ago, for which I was paid $400. I’ve rewritten and expanded that article for my Blue Ridge Mountains site several times over the last few years, and it has now been read more than 300,000 times and has brought in over $11,000 since we joined Mediavine in October 2020."

blog income vs freelance income

It's worth noting that there's not a publication on the planet willing to pay you that kind of money for an article, no matter how long it is, and that's more than you're probably going to earn as a publishing advance for a book deal.

Finding a Happy Balance Between Freelancing and Blogging

My Travel Writing 2.0 book is in its third edition now, but one of the core lessons in there hasn't changed: continually diversify your income streams so you're not in trouble if one goes away. If you have 10 or 12 origins for the money flowing into your bank account each month, you have less to worry about. If an editor gets fired, Google changes its ranking factors, or your main affiliate program changes terms, it's annoying, but not deadly. You've got backups.

I practice what I preach in obvious ways (5 websites and 3 books), but also in less visible ways. I try to mix up the ad sources for my sites as much as possible and I do offline things (like tours) that benefit from the online presence. I would rather have passive income than active income, but sometimes it pays to trade my time for money via consulting, a course with phone calls involved, or yes, freelance writing. The latter is not what has supported my family and put a kid through college, but it has contributed to paying plenty of bills along the way.

As I mentioned though, there's a credibility aspect to freelance articles that you have trouble getting from your own site. That "As Seen In" collection of credits is always nice, plus if someone else has paid you to write something, it's validation from an independent source. Often you get a link back from online publications you write for, which can be worth as much as you're actually getting paid.

Nora Dunn runs The Professional Hobo blog and an associated YouTube channel, but she has also published more than 100 articles as a freelancer. "I believe the combo of both worked best for me; my blog has the DA that it has precisely because of my backlinks from publications I’ve written for. That’s an intangible value that I’m grateful for."

The decision is not always an easy one to make, but it's worth at least pondering the question if you have a good angle. "Would I make more money in the long run if I just put this on my own blog?"

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