Advice For Freelance Writer Wannabees
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.
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.
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.
The Bible For Freelance Writers In the U.S.
“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.
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 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?
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.”