Freelance Writing: What You Need to Know Before You Jump
Recently I had a rather frustrating experience with a new writer I've been mentoring. Actually, I didn't even realize the extent to which I've been coaching him until he took all the (free) information I've given him over the last several months and did the exact opposite of what I advised. I made him take down the blunders he posted on his website or he could have found himself in a heap of legal trouble.
I’d like to save you the embarrassment and possible legal repercussions of jumping into a freelance writing career before you’re ready.
I’m not the most successful freelancer in the world (yet), but I’ve spent the past year learning the tricks of the trade and it’s starting to pay off, so I’m pretty confident in what I pass on. I’ve had several contacts I made on LinkedIn reach out to me for advice and critiques on their websites, proof their articles or eBooks, etc. so I must have something of value to share with fellow writers.
This may be old news for many of you, but I’m sure there are plenty of new writers who will benefit from what I have to share in this post.
Build a Library of Clips
Clips are examples of your published pieces. Prospective clients want to see your work and where it’s been posted online or published in print.
What? You have no clips? That’s okay. Not many newbies do. Then again, you may have clips you’re overlooking. Have you written an article for your company newsletter? If your name is attributed to the piece, scan a copy of the printed article and save it to your computer. Same goes for any distributed contributions you may have made in your school days. Did you respond to an article in your local paper and your letter was printed in a subsequent edition? Copy, scan, and save. You now have a base on which to build your library.
That’s all well and good, you may be saying to yourself, but how does a new writer get clips in real time with no experience as a professional writer?
Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom; most of us do. However, you need to be aware of what you can use and what you can’t.
The only clips that are permissible and legal to use are those for which you have the byline. A byline is your name printed below the article title or at the end. The important thing to remember is your name must appear somewhere on the page as author of the piece.
Before moving on to where a new writer can gain experience and actually be paid for his/her work, let me explain the two basic types of writing you’ll find yourself doing.
Ghostwriting versus byline
Before you earn a name for yourself and enjoy the privilege of carrying a byline, you’ll spend most of your time ghostwriting. This means you write the piece but don’t get credit for it. Usually you’re at the end of the line between the person who’s paying you and the person who hired them to hire you. This may also be true if you write web content directly for a client. You exchange copyrights for pay when you work as a ghostwriter. The rights are assigned to the paying client unless otherwise agreed upon by contract.
As stated earlier, when your name clearly states that you are the author of the work, this is your byline and is really the only form of writing that allows you to add the work to your portfolio. A byline includes a brief bio of the author with links to their website and other areas where their work can be seen. This is excellent exposure and can lead to more lucrative writing gigs.
Until you’re an established writer and have the luxury of writing for magazines, newspapers, or clients who give you the byline on their website, most of what you write will be ghostwritten.
It is vital that you understand this: in no way can you use ghostwritten pieces as clips.
Why? Simply and brutally stated, you have no rights to the piece. Yes, they may be your words but the work does not belong to you – it belongs to the client. Therefore, you cannot claim it as your own.
Where Does a New Writer Find Paying Gigs?
Unfortunately, unless you know someone in the business that’s willing to take a chance on you, you’ll probably find yourself writing for the mills, which is actually better than taking your chances with bid sites. Bid sites are notorious for paying writers $1-$3/500 word articles. Those really are not worth your time. Plus, you’ll more than likely get bid out by a writer from a foreign country who has a much lower cost of living than we do here in the States.
The more reputable mills have you go through training and certification before they’ll award you projects. The education you gain while going through the training is invaluable. Even if you never write word one for them, the training is free. You learn how to embed links, attribute photos, apply SEO practices, AP and Chicago grammar rules, and so much more. These are all skills that will help you climb the writing ladder, giving you the tools you’ll need to pitch editors, clients, and bloggers.
I have been writing travel articles for CopyPress. Their training is very thorough. Unless you rank an A on their certification tests, chances of being offered assignments are slim. Although most of what I’ve written so far is in the capacity of ghostwriter, one client, Hipmunk, is giving each author the byline to accepted articles. Once the articles go live, I will now have professional clips to add to my library.
Online writing sites that give you the byline
Another way to claim rights to your work and have clips to show a prospective client is to write for sites like HubPages. Just make sure your real name appears somewhere on the page. Pen names are great, but clients don’t Google pen names, so make sure you can be found.
Another great way to retain a byline is to start a blog. Include your blog on your writer’s site. That way, a prospective client knows what you have to offer and can click over to your blog tab to get a feel for your writing style. Again, include your name. I put my full name directly beneath the title and timestamp on every blog I post. This also helps you rank with Google which brings me to another point.
Whether you like it or not, Google is your friend. When you approach a prospective client or editor, the first thing they’ll do is Google you. Make sure you have an online presence and a positive one at that.
How and Where to Post Your Clips
Your writer’s website is the place to post links to your clips. If you don’t have a writer’s website, build one. Consider it your online office. It’s your marketing department. Create a page on your site for clips. My page is called Testimonials/Samples.
Include links to your best clips. Don’t post the article itself (or you risk pissing off the Google gods for duplicate content and possibly violating first rights agreement with the site where it appears); rather embed the link (to open in a new window) in the title. Use your best work. If your site has a specific niche, choose articles for that niche. Try to customize the clips to the services you offer. For instance, if you mention product reviews, include a clip. If you tout versatility, include clips on various topics. You get the idea.
It’s a big no-no to include clips for ghostwritten work. That would be plagiarism (even though the words came out of your brain) and you don’t want to go there. What you could do is ask clients for whom you’ve ghostwritten to send you a testimonial to post on your site. Testimonials speak volumes to a prospective client who doesn’t know you from Adam.
Learn All You Can
While you’re waiting for the magical assignment that will bring you fame and fortune, learn everything you can about freelance writing.
Subscribe to blogs and newsletters about writing posted by real-life successful writers. Follow them, read, and leave comments using your full name or the name that appears on your website. This also helps build your online presence. Note: be consistent. Use the name clients will Google on all of your social sites, especially Google+. Google+ is gaining more and more strength over LinkedIn.
Sign up for the free webinars held by prominent, successful writers and bloggers. Be active in the online communities. Comment often. Become friends with writers and bloggers. I’ve had job leads come my way by online writer friends as well as copy editing jobs. Share what you learn with others. Master the creed of successful freelance writers: Know, Like, Trust. Clients need to feel comfortable and confident in hiring you.
Following successful writers will teach you the ropes. You’ll learn how the market works, stay up to date on Google changes, learn how to write a query letter, gain access to job boards, and more. BTW, query letters are a key tool in getting you out of the mills and into your own lucrative freelance business.
Follow agents and resource guides. In addition to a few six-figure writers, I subscribe to Janet Reid (Literary Agent), Writer’s Market, Writer’s Digest, Submit Now! and several others.
Before you can market yourself as a freelance writer you need to know how the business works and constantly work to better your craft. If you expect to offer advice and expertise to a client and increase his bottom line – and your own - you’d better know your stuff.
That’s it for now. If I can help you in any way or you have questions, fire away!
Best wishes in your writing career. I hope I’ve given you a start in the right direction.
Shauna L Bowling
Refining, Defining or Rhyming
All Rights Reserved
© 2014 Shauna L Bowling
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