The First Five Steps to Take in Becoming a Freelance Writer
I Get Questions
I get tons of questions, and most of the time I can answer them in my weekly series, The Writer’s Mailbag, but occasionally I’ll get a question that requires a detailed answer, and that is what we are dealing with today.
“How does one get started as a freelance writer?”
I’ll leave the young lady’s name out of this because I didn’t ask her for permission, but I am sure she won’t mind me answering the question in a public manner. It’s a question I’m asked at least once a month, so let’s tackle it head on and see if we can’t clear things up a bit.
For clarification, let’s start with a simple definition. A freelance writer is one who writes for pay. I could make that definition much more complicated and detailed, but that’s basically what we are talking about.
The types of jobs available to writers today are seemingly limitless, so I’m not about to tackle that phase of the business in today’s article. Rather, I’m simply going to tell you what I think you need to do before you start applying for writing gigs that pay real money.
Mind you, these suggestions are based on my experience. I’ve been a freelancer for three years now, and I do this full-time and yes, I pay my bills entirely from my freelance earnings. In fact, I was paying my bills from freelance earnings within six months of starting as a freelancer, so obviously I had to be doing something right.
If you’re ready then so am I. By the way, the following steps are in a particular order, so you would do well to follow them in this order.
Learn How to Write
Learn how to write!
I’m sorry, but this is non-negotiable. You might be able to get away with poor grammar on a site like HubPages and still make fifty bucks a month, but that poop won’t fly in the real world of writing. Agents, publishers, editors and other experts who pay writers won’t give you the time of day if you don’t know a participle from your elbow.
Learn how to write.
No, you don’t have to be the reincarnation of Hemingway, but you better be able to write a simple declarative sentence without tripping over dangling modifiers.
Learn how to write.
Is that clear enough?
Declare to the World
Declare to the world that you are a freelance writer.
This is important so pay attention. I was a teacher before being a writer, so I have a little experience when it comes to human nature and how we see ourselves….and by extension, how others see us.
This step has everything to do with positive self-image, and how others see us. If you believe you are a freelance writer then you will act like one, and if you act like one, people will take you seriously. Even I had trouble with this step when I first started out, and I’m Mr. Confidence on most days. When someone would ask me what I was doing now that I wasn’t teaching, I would hesitate and then stutter in telling them that I was a writer. Why? Because I had a hard time convincing myself that I was a writer.
Today I can look anyone in the eye and proudly declare that I am a writer, and they believe it. That kind of confidence will go a long way when it is time to start looking for paying jobs, so I want you to go to the bathroom right now, stand in front of the mirror, and say these words: I AM A WRITER! Repeat is as long as it takes for you to believe it.
In other words, I want you to fake it until you make it.
Begin marketing yourself immediately.
No, you do not need to rent a billboard, but you do need an online presence in the form of a website or a blog. The blog you can do for free. The website might cost you a few bucks, but it is money well-spent.
Do you need an example? You can see my website at www.williamdhollandauthor.com. Please notice what that website name says. It says I am a professional, and that I expect to be taken seriously.
When you go to my website, you will notice it looks professional, and it has samples of my writing for all to see. I am my business and my writing is my product. Repeat that after me: I am my business and my writing is my product. Keep saying it until you believe it, and then you will be ready for the next step in the process.
A must for any freelance writer
Start Looking for Work
Now that you are a business, you can start looking for customers. There is work out there, but it won’t come to you. You need to go find it, scramble for it, beg for it, be better than others for it, out-hustle for it, and do the two-steps-forward-one-step-back shuffle for it.
Most jobs that you apply for will ask for a writing sample. No problem. Give them your best and hope. Some will ask you for a bid. Do yourself a favor and don’t give away the farm for mere pennies. Value your work and charge accordingly. And some will ask for your previous bylines. You can’t fake this one. If you don’t have any, then you need to get some.
I’ve written before about how to find these jobs. You can find writing gigs on Craigslist. You can find them online by simply searching for writing jobs. You can get a copy of The Writer’s Market and start sending out query letters to magazines. Heck, you can actually leave your writing studio and go find work downtown at local businesses. The work is out there. It’s up to you to snatch hold of it.
Build Your Platform
Grab a figurative hammer and saw and begin building your platform.
Your writing platform is your body of work and your efforts in the business so far.
Bylines are huge in the freelance writing game, so start looking for your first byline. Contact small magazines and alternative newspapers and see if you can’t sell an idea to them. Contact any publication, hardcopy or online, that will give you a byline on your article. Once you have a byline you have taken a huge step towards respectability in this business. Makes no difference whether you were published by the Olympia Alternative Lifestyle Gazette or the Des Moines Farm Report, someone paid you for that byline and that is huge for your career.
Then keep building! It becomes much easier after the first paying gig, but be prepared for rejections before that happens, because being rejected is like breathing for a writer.
How many of these steps have you taken?
Take Those Five Steps And…..
Go forth and conquer the writing world!
Well, okay, maybe you better save conquer for a few years down the road, but at least now you are ready to establish yourself as a player in the writing community.
Are all those steps necessary?
I believe they are, but who am I?
Let me add one more step that should be taken throughout the early stages of your career: never stop learning. Take classes, attend workshops, join writing groups, do whatever it takes to become a better writer.
If you are serious about this, then settle in and get ready for a long haul. It will not be easy. There are literally hundreds of thousands of freelance writers out there, all scrambling for small pieces of the literary pie. You will be starting at the bottom of the pile and how fast you scramble out of that pile is up to your work ethic and your determination.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”