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Freelance Writing Tips from the Homeplace - A

Updated on September 2, 2014
Homeplace Series profile image

Dr. Bill's first passion is family history. His second is a passion for creating family saga, historical fiction stories that share it.

Home and Hearth

Fireplace glows for inspiration
Fireplace glows for inspiration | Source

1. Find your niche

Freelance Writers write at home, their “Homeplace,” so this is the first of a series of tips from someone who had been there and done that. I published 85 print magazine articles in a five-year span, while also going to graduate school (doctoral) and graduating. I was writing part-time, needless to say… and you can do it too! (Did I mention that I was also 50-55 years old, at the time?) This is aimed at beginners, primarily, but others may find a gem or two that works for them.

I will focus here on writing magazine articles. My experience was writing for print, but much of what I have to share applies just as well to online writing. [The more things change, the more they stay the same…]

Two key elements. Know your market. Know your subject.

What is your niche? What do you know enough about that you can create good content with only a little supplemental research? You should always do supplemental research, but it should not be excessively time consuming. You don't have the time. But, you also cannot be successful by writing shoddy content that no one wants to read.

My niche was "small business acumen." What does the small business person need to be successful? What are the pitfalls? How to avoid them? Where do most small businesses miss the mark? What is your niche?

I arrived at my niche partly by experience. I had tried to run several small businesses and, to some degree, failed at each one. I also exceeded, in some degree, in each one. But, I learned what I didn't know, didn't do right, and started sharing some of that knowledge. So, your niche may come from what you know well, or, it may come from what you realize you didn't know.

Where would this information be useful? Not in "Tips for Small Business Owners" - although you might try that… Everyone else will, you can be sure.

Here are some of the "niche markets" where I found success:

  • "CM Cleaning and Maintenance Management"
  • "Physician's Professional Development Review"
  • "Water Technology"
  • "Mini-Strage Messenger"
  • "Writer's Connection"
  • "Your Church"
  • "Today's School"

There are literally thousands of these small publications directed at very specific niche markets, that you and I never would have thought existed. You just need to find them.

Each of the operators of these different niche markets - the people who were reading these magazine articles - had a need for "tips on business acumen." That is how I would, and did, get my articles accepted - and was paid for doing so.

When you seek them out, read their "writer's guidelines." They each have them. That information should tell you if they are a good candidate for a well written query. Be realistic. If they say, for example, that 10% are free-lance articles… go on to the next one. If they say 90% freelance, and pay in other than copies, you may want to look at them a little more.

The original novel in "The Homeplace Saga" series of family saga historical fiction stories

Have you found your niche?

Lantern near a niche
Lantern near a niche | Source

2. Work your niche

Read the details in the "writer's guidelines" to see where, within the publication, your specific content would fit - for that publisher. REMEMBER, you are writing for them, and their audience, not for yourself. You can write the greatest prose or poetry, but if it isn't meaningful to their specific readers, in the view of the editor, your article does not have a chance of acceptance.

Don't expect to start getting Feature Articles accepted right away. I found my success by looking at Departments, Columns, How To, etc. - smaller articles in each magazine. They each have them, different names, different formats, different sizes (word count), but you fairly quickly learn what to look for. In a handful of magazines, I quickly became a regular columnist. More on this later.

In preparation, be sure to have at least three well-written generic articles, and at least one longer and one shorter, already prepared before you make your first query. And, of course, carefully craft what you want to use as a query letter.

Let me step back, for a second, on the "query letter" issue. There are many available articles, and even books, on query letters, so not a lot of detail here and now. In this context, it may be an actual letter. It may also be a two or three sentence email. You have to find the right approach to each situation.

With your generic articles, and your generic query letter, at the ready, when you find a possible prospect for one of your articles, take the time to tailor both specifically to "the needs of that editor at that publication." This is based totally on the "writer's guidelines." When these are ready, send it. Do not wait. You have now entered a "numbers game." The more you send, the more you get accepted. Most, of course, will be rejected. Be prepared for that. It never ends.

Go find the next set of prospective "writer's guidelines" where you feel you can make a positive contribution to that magazine. Keep several queries in process at all times. Keep accurate records of what was send to whom, and what, if anything you heard back from them. You may get an almost instant email response. You may not hear back in weeks.

In the meantime, begin to think about how you can shape your article by using your creativity to meet the differing needs of the several magazines you have queried. When you start getting responses, requesting samples of your work, or, a specific request for an article, you will be ready. Or, at least, ready to be ready to further adapt one of your generic articles to the specific need the editor indicates. REMEMBER, again, that you are writing to fulfill the perceived need of the editor for content he/she believes their readers will be attracted to. That is now your job. It is a wonderful job. Enjoy every moment.

The novella in "The Homeplace Saga" series of stories

Will you adapt?

Could you adapt to a fountain pen?
Could you adapt to a fountain pen? | Source

3. Adapt to the niche that accepts you as the expert

You will be surprised, as I was, at who accepts what you write. Also, who wants more, and what it is they want. Be prepared to adapt. But, do not do what you know you cannot do. Adapting to the needs of others can be a real challenge. If you just want to write, write your stories on your blog, HubPages, Squidoo, or such. If you want to be paid to write freelance articles for magazines, and others, be ready to learn to adapt specifically to their perceived needs. That is what successful writers do. You cannot predict what they want. But, you can adapt to what they want. When you do that, you will find success.

Once someone has accepted your writing, take the first opportunity to pitch your next piece. Understand, it may get either a positive or negative reply. But, once an editor has accepted what you have already provided, you are far down the road to getting another one accepted. You still must think, you still must work, you still must adapt. But, you don't just have a leg in the door. You are inside, you have been accepted. It is now up to you to suggest the next thing that the editor will want to see. The editor is far busier that you are. Make it worth their time to read your next query and reply with a positive request.

The latest novel in "The Homeplace Saga" series of family saga historical fiction stories

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    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you. Love it when people say my words caused them to think a bit more about something. Really appreciate the visit and the comments!! ;-)

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 2 years ago from Texas USA

      I don't know yet what my niche is. I'm not certain I have one. I hope over time to find one strong subject, even though I don't want to stop writing on other topics of interest. That's one reason I didn't want to become a contributing author on Squidoo because I understood it to mean I would be limited to only one topic. Great hub. I look forward to reading your other hubs on this topic.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Hope it works well for you! ;-)

    • profile image

      Donna Cook 2 years ago

      Thanks for the link! The book is in my shopping cart right now.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Niche magazines are in both print and online, Donna. When I was writing in magazines, I depended heavily on the Writer's Market each year, such as this: http://www.amazon.com/2014-Writers-Market-Robert-B...

      They are now online, and I assume still have similar listings.

      Also, if you have a niche market in mind, you should be able to do a Google search to find them there, as well. The digi-mag monthly work I do now, the In-Depth Genealogist, came from my work with genealogists over the years.

      Thanks for the visit. Love hearing from you. Best wishes! ;-)

    • profile image

      Donna Cook 2 years ago

      Hi Dr. Bill, I'm just now starting to think of myself as a writer. I was wondering if the niche magazines are hard copy or online. Also, how did you find them? As a Squidoo refugee, I'm trying to expand my horizons and not be dependent on just one Web site. Thanks!

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      For sure... thanks for the note... and the visit/comment!! ;-)

    • Richard-Bivins profile image

      Richard Bivins 2 years ago from Charleston, SC

      All solid advice here... Magazine article publishing has been my least profitable source as a freelance writer only because I don't put enough effort into soliciting that type of work. But now that I am changing my focus over to full time freelancing it will be a major cornerstone of my writing strategy.

      One note... I had to Google your "Mini-Strage Messenter" above and returned nothing so I'm assuming it was just a typo and you meant "Mini-Storage Messenger." Don't you just hate auto-correct?

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      That is the constant dilemma, isn't it. I still suffer from it, for sure! ;-)

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Great advice here. I think one of the most difficult things as a freelance writer is having to adapt. I'd rather do my own thing but if you want to pay the bills.....!

      Good hub.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you for your comments, ubanichijioke, research is essential for good article writing, for sure. I'll try to share what I have on column writing in an upcoming tip hub. Thanks for your suggestion.

    • ubanichijioke profile image

      Alexander Thandi Ubani 3 years ago from Lagos

      A detailed study indeed! I agree that because one is good at Prose or Poetry will not make the person good in article writing. Research is very important too just and also adapting to your publisher's needs.

      I'd be interested to get a tidbit about your winning column trick(s). :-)

      Great write. (I also love prologue)

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Those are two excellent choices for niches. Hard combination to beat. Thanks for the reminder! ;-)

    • tobusiness profile image

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

      Great advice, this is a useful and very informative. You are quite right about choosing the right niche. I tend to write about the subjects I know best and the ones I want to understand the most. Nice work, have a great weekend.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      We are a sharing community. Thank you stopping by and leaving a comment, vkwok! ;-)

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for more amazing, useful advice, Bill!

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Your comment is much appreciated, AliciaC. Thanks for your visit! ;-)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a useful hub, Homeplace Series. Thanks for sharing your experience and advice.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I hope this hub will help some folks. That would be very gratifying. Thank your of your comment, and your visit! ;-)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This was helpful information, especially how you found and developed your niche. In the forums I sometimes see that beginning Hubbers struggle with that.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Nice to hear that the niche concept is working for you, teaches12345. Very encouraging. Thanks, so much, for your comment! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you, Eric. Much appreciated. Thanks for stopping by. ;-)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Thank you for the advice, it is all encouraging. It took me a year to find my niche through trial and error but it is now a goal I focus on daily.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Fantastic straight forward hub.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Great, MsDora! Jump back into the pool! Thanks for your comment... it should help spur others... just don't take my niche! ;-) Just kidding, of course! ;-)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Great advice and congratulations on your sucesses. I wrote for a bi-monthly magazine column for about two years. I loved the assignment, but never got another stint like that. Here you come, whetting my appetite again. Thanks.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Welcome to the 'Over 55' club! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I know I'm mostly "preaching to the choir" here, but newbies arrive every day. I really like your comment "every day is always a new beginning" - so true!! ;-)

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thanks for the visit, DDE. I've always felt knowing your niche was important.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Great advice, especially for a freelancer who's over 55!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      You have some wonderful tips here. Although I have freelanced most of my life, it's always good to know how things have changed and how you can continually update your craft. As a freelancer, every day is always a new beginning. Thank you for this useful information.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      The niche is important as the you have mentioned. Your advice sounds helpful and most informative to all writers.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I have come to see that both our experiences and our approaches are sufficiently different, even though with much the same goals, that they can actually be complementary here. Thank you, for your support! ;-)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent information from the voice of experience. Thank you so much for including my link. I greatly appreciate your kindness in doing that.

    • Homeplace Series profile image
      Author

      William Leverne Smith 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you for stopping by, Rachael. I enjoy each and every visit!! ;-)

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 3 years ago from United States

      Lots of good advice here. I'm bookmarking for future reference. I will be checking out your blog sometime this week too. Thank you for sharing.