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Advice For Freelance Writer Wannabees

Updated on March 6, 2014

So You Want to Be a Freelancer, Eh?

Well what in the hell is wrong with you? LOL

Okay, seriously, it’s not that bad, so I’ll toss aside the silliness and see if I can’t help you on this freelancing path.

I have been a freelance writer now for three years. You might be interested in how I got started, so let me share a quick little story with you.

Before I became a “professional writer” I was a school teacher. One day, while sitting in a staff meeting being led by a new principal, I was told that one of my comments was very unprofessional. Immediately a light bulb went off over my head. I asked myself if I really wanted to endure an entire school year working for someone who did not think I was a professional. The answer was no! Once I arrived at that answer I stood up, took my classroom keys out of my pocket, and tossed them to the stunned principal and wished her a good life.

The next day I declared myself to be a freelance writer.

As you might suspect, I have made mistakes during the past three years. Let’s face it, I had no idea what I was doing that first day, and in truth the first few months were a collective trip to the dark side. I had bills to pay and I thought it might be nice if I could actually eat a meal occasionally, and I had no clue what I was doing.

But…..

Fear and desperation are great motivators, and I eventually learned the business through trial and error. I got my first paying gig after two months, and within six months I was making $600 per month, and since that time I have managed to not only have food in the cupboards but even go to an occasional movie AND pay all of my bills.

I would love to save you some of the angst I had to experience, so what follows are a few thoughts and suggestions that will help you if you are considering the freelance writing life.

This is your place of business. Treat it as such.
This is your place of business. Treat it as such. | Source

START SMALL

Forget about writing an article for Better Homes and Gardens and getting it purchased in those first few months. It won’t happen! Freelance writers need to build their platform and establish credibility before the big magazines will touch them…so start small. Your goal starting out should be to gain experience and accumulate some “clips,” or bylines.

Start with the town in which you live. Query your local newspaper with ideas. Branch out from there to your state magazines. Check the alternative press publications. The first byline is crucial because you can build from that, so find that first byline anywhere you possibly can…and that anywhere just might be, and most likely will be, in your own literary backyard.

KNOW THE TRENDS

If you are going to query newspaper and magazine editors, it is helpful to know what is hot. Check out the latest trends and let those trends be your guiding star as you begin writing articles….but….find a new angle for those trends.

Remember that there are millions of freelance writers out there, and every one of them is pitching ideas to editors and publishers. It is your job to not only find out what is hot, but to find a new angle that will interest those who can pay you for your ideas and writing skills. “Ten Ways To Go Green” has been done to death. Find that new angle or don’t bother writing it.

MEET PEOPLE IN THE INDUSTRY

If you think you can sequester yourself in your writing studio and churn out copy and get rich, think again. Learn to network!

This may be the hardest thing for freelance writers to do; well, this and marketing. Contacts within the industry are invaluable.

Again, start local and work your way up. Establish contact with editors and then regularly follow-up on those contacts. Join writing communities like those found on Linkedin. Go to writing workshops and meet other writing professionals. You cannot overdo this important step. The more contacts you have the better your chances are of eventually landing a big-paying gig.

Start local when pitching ideas
Start local when pitching ideas | Source

EMBRACE REJECTION

“Love is all you need.” Well, that’s a nice thought, but in the writing business you also need a thick skin and a strong belief in your abilities. You will be rejected. You will be rejected often. When you are first starting out you might see a success rate of one or two percent.

Instead of cowering in a corner when you receive a rejection notice, use it as motivation. Learn from it. Rejection does not mean you are a poor writer; it might just mean you had the wrong idea at the wrong time to the wrong person….or the right idea at the wrong time…or…. Keep trying and do not give up.

AVOID CONTENT MILLS

I know! The bills are piling up and you need some quick cash, and those darn content mills are offering five bucks for 500 words, and you calculate that you can probably do ten of those each day and that’s fifty bucks per day and that’s better than nothing.

Well, yes and no. Financially fifty bucks is better than nothing, but at some point you have to ask yourself how much your time is worth. You have to come to the realization that being trapped writing for a content mill keeps you from landing a really big, great-paying gig. You have to also grasp the fact that when you work for peanuts you are driving the price down for everyone.

It isn’t worth it. Don’t do it!

ALL ASSIGNMENTS ARE IMPORTANT

Let’s return to something I said earlier in this article. A freelance writer needs to establish a platform, a body of work that represents who they are and what they are as a writer. Your work is representative of you as a professional. With that as a guiding light, it should follow that every article you write should be considered vitally important.

Half-efforts will come back to haunt you. Treat every single assignment as if it were your first gig with a national magazine.

Start local when looking for ideas
Start local when looking for ideas | Source

LONG RANGE MENTALITY

Short-range thinking is the bane of many freelance writers. They get all their supplies together, they boot up their computer, they watch as visions of success dance through their heads, and then they are crushed when success, and money, do not arrive after one month.

Freelance writing requires a bulldog mentality. It takes months of hard work to build a platform. It takes months of hard work to make contacts and get that first paying assignment. It takes years to break through to the big time, and once success has been found it takes the realization that you need to get up the next morning and do it all again.

DEVELOP DISCIPLINE

Develop some discipline or don’t even consider freelance writing.

Freelance writing is a job, just like any other job anyone else has. You go to the office and you put in your eight to ten hours per day. While in the office you work at your job. You do not phone friends and catch up on the latest gossip. You do not stop in the mornings and visit with neighbors over the fence.

You go to work and you work!

Set up a schedule and then stick to it. Tell friends, neighbors and family that you have a job working from home and you can’t be interrupted while you work. Treat freelancing like a job and you just might find success; treat it like a hobby and you will most definitely fail.

Are you interested in being a freelance writer?

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And That’s Enough to Get You Started

I don’t want to discourage anyone from being a freelance writer, but I also don’t want to paint a rosy picture that is inaccurate.

There is money to be made as a freelance writer but you have to be willing to work hard for it.

One last word: If you should ever need any help, feel free to contact me and pick my brain. I believe in helping others and I’m more than willing to help you….but you have to ask.

With that I will wish you good luck and let you get started on your career as a freelance writer....oh, and one more thing...unlike me, don't quit your day job. :)

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Wonderful advice Bill and you are right it does take a certain person to do this daily. I never thought or dreamed I would be able to, but like you now I can't even think of another way. And I truly grateful you did turn the keys in and try your hand at this, because from you I have learned so much, as well consider lucky to have you as such a great friend in this field. So thank you and wishing you a wonderful Thursday now.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, the feelings are mutual my friend. I learn from all of you with each passing day, and people like you give so much to the writing community...so thank you, and I hope your day is filled with wonder and love.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Love the story about the staff room! Good for you - I wonder how many of us have wanted to do that at one time or another. Our deputy-head walked into the staff room one day and announced, looking mainly at the older female staff, that we needed younger, fresh blood in the school. Did we feel valued? I'll let you guess.

      Lots of great ideas here (and the best are always based on experience, of which you have loads). The reader knows s/he can trust your advice and support; it's what you do best I think and always with humour and enthusiasm. You certainly do help writers spread their wings and fly.

      Have a thriving Thursday, bill. Ann

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 3 years ago

      very useful for the freshers bil

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      Very useful information! Good for you for taking the bull by the horns and not taking it sitting down. I've been told my whole life by family and friends that I should have been a writer. I've often thought about writing children's books, but I find it so satisfying to write about life experiences. Through writing, I experience fulfillment in knowing that if I just help one person, then I'm writing well.

      I used to be in a corporate position, and it was never satisfying. The money was great, but I just felt like I had another purpose in life.

      It is so important for people to understand rejection. Becoming a writer means taking on a little bit of the spotlight, and people have to be ready to accept rejection as well as approval. Great insight Billy!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Ann, for your kind words. I would have walked out of your staff room as well. People should never be de-valued in any situation. I have very little tolerance for it, and life is much too short.

      Thank you as always my friend. I hope your Thursday is progressing nicely.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      sujaya, indeed, they are refreshers. Most writers know these things. I'm just the little reminder that will not go away.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Crafty! I would have never made it in the corporate world. If you ever saw the movie "Office Space" that would have been me, plotting to burn down the building. LOL

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      So you're that pesky fella who just up and quit one day. I love it. I have heard of similar situations. People get tired of being jerked around. I always carried around the mantra that I would leave at the time and place of my own choosing. It helped me get through some tough times.

      I like that you believed in yourself and figured out a way. There is no way I'll work for content mills undervaluing the worth of my skills. I like your advice.

    • cecileportilla profile image

      Cecile Portilla 3 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Hi Billybuc

      Very useful information here. So many great ideas for readers to explore. I just directed two friends to check out Elance for writing opportunities. I looked into Elance and there is just so much competition there that people may get lost. I will refer my friends to this hub.

      Another great hub as always! LOL

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Flourish, I have always believed in treating people with respect, but I expect the same in return. I wasn't being respected and I decided enough was enough. It sure felt good to toss her those keys. LOL

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much cecileportilla....it is a tough business for sure, and the competition is formidable. If this article helps anyone then fantastic.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

      This is another great advice Bill. I´m glad you quit your job as a teacher and became who you are now. I have learned a lot from you. Thanks for the advices you have given to us. I appreciate that. Good job! Great article. Thanks for sharing. Have a nice day!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Helpful tips to being a freelance writer you always produce what writers are in need of the best advice.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Thelma! Although I miss teaching I now love my life as a writer, and I love the friends I have made on HP.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm very happy to hear that, DDE! Thank you!

    • liesl5858 profile image

      Linda Bryen 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you Billy for your useful tips on becoming a freelancer. I am thinking of doing translations using my own language which is Tagalog and my second language which is English, do you think I will make a success of it? You encourage me and I might try it.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 3 years ago from Hudson, FL

      I can't quit my day job for another 18 years, at least.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      lies.....that's an area I know nothing about. What is the demand for such a service? If the demand is there then you should do well. I guess there is only one way to find out my friend....do it! :)

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Good for you for not sticking with a principal who did not think that you were a professional. It must have been a very hard experience for you!

      Whatever the kind of work we do we might encounter people with which one working could be hard. Sometimes leaving can be the best solution because it pushes us to go further to finding deep down inside what we really want. In that case, we have to be ready to stumble a few times but the most important thing is to get up each time and continue while we make some tweaking :-) Life is definitly a work in progress!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience!

      Have a nice day, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lizzy, let's hope it's only eighteen. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Joelle. It was surprisingly easy when I quit. I had a moment of apprehension but then that passed and great relief followed. It was just the right thing to do....and she was fired three months later. :)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Not only the people who want this route, but we can all benefit from the lessons especially on discipline. Thanks for your continual advice and encouragement--and example.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is my pleasure, Dora. I'm just happy there are those who find this information helpful. Thank you my friend.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Bill, you've done what a lot of us would dearly love to do, but daren't. We need to challenge ourselves now and again, the leap in the dark worked very well for you, although it must have been pretty scary at first. Another great write. Take care and my best to you.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 3 years ago from Northern California

      I love your writing style :) I had given up my childhood dreams of being a writer by trade, but by following tips like yours here, I have been able to do it through HubPages :) It definitely requires me to stay on top of trends, realize that any topic can be worth writing about, and sticking with it.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Bill, if you don't mind, I'd like to throw some of what I've learned since embarking on a freelance career. I, too, quit my job cold turkey and it's been a rough road since, but I've learned some things in the past two years.

      1. Content mills and bid sites give you some practice but you do not retain rights for anything you write, meaning you have no clips to show. Clips are a very important part of any freelancer's resume. If you want to practice writing, choose a site such as HubPages. You'll earn a very meager amount, but you retain copyrights, have a byline and a link to send prospective clients.

      2. Build a writer's website. Showcase your work, talk about what you can do for the client and talk about yourself.

      3. Gain a presence on the Internet. This can be done through leaving comments on the blogs/sites you frequent, having a website, LinkedIn profile, Google+ profile, Twitter, etc. Be active.

      4. Set up a blog in your niche. This helps to gain readers, increases your online presence and provides built-in clips.

      5. Set up a free business listing with Yelp, Superpages and your local city's directory. (Again, this helps give you an online presence)

      6. When writing online under a pen name, be sure to include your real name somewhere in the copy. (online presence). When a potential client, agent or publisher Googles you, it will be your real name they plug into the search engines.

      7. Guest post on blogs within your niche. Be sure to include a bio, link to your website and link to your Google+ profile. This will result in backlinks to your site, more traffic and will raise your rankings on Google. Whether or not you employ SEO writing, it's important that you show up on the first two pages of search results when a client wants to know more about you. It gives you credibility.

      8. Learn all you can from the larger writers sites and marketing sites. This may result in stealing time you could be working, but it is absolutely imperative you get a handle on what works in today's environment.

      9. Understand that you must, must, must market yourself. Giving yourself an online presence helps, but until you become well known across cyberspace, you're going to have to stick your neck out whether you like it or not.

      Bill, it's so important to reach out to newbies and you are the master of encouragement. I hope I haven't overstepped any boundaries. Just wanted to share what I've spent the last year learning.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Jo! I don't know if I would have done it when I was younger, but there was no hesitation at that moment. I just say a whole lot of unhappiness if I continued....so I quit. :)

      blessings to you my friend

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good for you glassvisage. I love to hear that people are following their dreams. Thanks for sharing that.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, you didn't overstep at all. There is only so much I can put in one article, so this addition in the comments is just great. My goodness, I could write ten articles about this subject....but I don't want to. LOL

      Thanks for sharing your insights my dear friend.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 3 years ago from New Jersey

      Excellent information and guidance. I think often people forget when they decide to become writers or dabble in getting published that it is very rare to strike it big the first time. People love naming successful writers, but they have many tales of woe before they made it where they are.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Bill, after leaving my comment, I thought I should write a hub about it. I've thought of two more since I hit "post comment".

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Useful tips here, dear Bill, as always! Thank you for sharing that story and it must have been a challenging time for you with that particular principal, but I am glad you stuck to your guns!!! We are all reaping the benefits of that scenario now, thank goodness : )

      Up and more and sharing.

      Hugs ... and I am enjoying a chicken salad sandwich this day for lunch,

      Faith Reaper

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Bill, I ate up and digested your hub because someday I may find myself in the same shoes, only I will be retired on a pension that buys groceries and other necessities. I will be freelancing to supplement it to buy luxuries like shoes (I am a Southerner, born and bred, so shoes really are luxuries!)

      I love your story about the t***t @**ed principal. Not professional indeed! I have worked with some of the most professional people in the media business, including the Disney Corporation, and not a one would have hesitated to put a whoopee cushion in my chair if he’d thought of it. That principal is one of the academics who cause children to hate school. Bravo to you for not supporting her position.

      Anyway, I take your advice to heart and will bookmark this hub for future reference. Voted up++

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 3 years ago from California

      You have guts! Just threw in the keys and left, wow. Sometimes you have to ram forward like a rhino. I'm glad that you found a career that you deeply love.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Stephanie, you are very right. This is a long, hard road and success is earned over time. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Go for it, Sha! You have definitely paid your dues.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, life is too short to work for someone who does not value your skills. That's what it came down to for me in a moment of clarity...and I'm glad it happened.

      Thank you dear friend.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, if I can ever be of help feel free to ask. I love to help freelancers that are just starting out. Drop me a line when the time comes and I'll see if I can't save you some mistakes. :)

      Thank you as always.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Availiasvision, guts? Maybe! I just knew I was a good teacher and I also knew that I deserved respect. There was an incredible moment of clarity when I realized I did not want to work under those conditions and that I was worth more than the disrespect I was experiencing.

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Marello 3 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the tips as always! I've looked into "content mills" from time to time but I never got as far as writing for them. I just got my first real gig from someone who found me through my Minecraft hubs, so I'm ever thankful for putting myself out here. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dreamhowl, that is great news. Congratulations on the first one; now build on that and hopefully good things will follow. Thanks for sharing that.

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 3 years ago from United States

      once again Bill you did it!

      Sound advice coming from a prolific writer.I agree with negotiations of lower amount cause that just does not help..

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Ruchira! Prolific? Maybe! The jury is still out about quality. :)

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 3 years ago

      I had you pegged as one who had some fire in their belly. Nope, would

      not want to piss you off. But, you have been nothing but a gentleman

      on HP. I usually read comments made by your readers. A few comments

      were enough to make me grit my teeth. You would come back with

      something like, "I appreciate your comment. Yes, that is another way

      to look at it. You have yourself a great weekend."

      I think to myself, "I wonder how many laps Bill ran around the house

      before answering that comment?" LOL

      You are always the gentleman, and I appreciate that!

      DJ.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      DJ, thank you for that. I actually have a fairly quick temper when it comes to disrespect, but I have learned to count to three before reacting....as far as negative comments goes, I just don't feel like debating with people. That's why I stay off of the forums. Nobody wins those debates and life is too short to argue just for the sake of arguing. I like to save my efforts for the important issues in life, things I can actually make an impact in doing.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      I agree with these. It's always important to know what your time is worth. I'm glad that at HP, we decide what we earn.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Michelle, I like that as well...and the fact that the HP community is fantastic. Thank you!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 3 years ago from Dubai

      Great advice, embracing rejection and never giving up is important in the field of writing. Content mills will take up so much of time and the actual writing will suffer. Great hub.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vellur, your last point is a good one and it happens to many writers. Thanks for mentioning that.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 3 years ago from Pune, India

      Great tips, very useful for wannabees. Thank you for writing this article. Shared with my hubfollowers...

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure jainismus, and thank you as always.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you once again for all the useful tips and suggestions, Bill. Reading about your experiences as a writer is very helpful.

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for sharing this awesome advice, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad to hear it Alicia. Thank you and enjoy your weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome vkwok; thank you!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Useful suggestions, Bill. Will come in very handy especially for me. Thanks.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glad to hear it Rajan! Thank you my friend.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Every word that you have said here makes so much sense. When I was a contractor I worked seven days a week. Just don't overdo it!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, I have cut down to five days a week now and I'm happy I did it. I am fresh and excited to write every Monday now. Thanks for the warning.

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 3 years ago from Georgia

      I have often wondered if by writing for content mills I am taking time away from really GOOD writing I could be doing which in the end will result in more money and a better profile. Thanks for this...it's a great help.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Karen, it is kind of a Catch-22. We need the money, so we grab poor pay to help us pay the bills, but by doing so, we take away any chances of making great money....that is a lament of many a writer my friend. Thank you for that observation.

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