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Guide to: Professional Freelance Writer

Updated on August 3, 2014

Becoming a Professional Freelance Writer

The publishing/writing world is changing exponentially. Anyone with access to a PC can pretend to be a writer. This fact, makes it much harder to land REAL freelance positions with magazines, journals, and online resources. Thankfully, you have me...a freelance writer of five years who knows that INS and OUTS of the freelance world.

Here I will tell you where to start, how to get paid, and what resources are worth subscribing too.

Please leave feedback or suggestions when you are finished. Have a great day!

First Step

Know Your Language

DO NOT begin your freelance writing career without having a clear grasp on the English language! Consider a degree in journalism or taking several English composition courses at your local community college. Furthermore, purchase and READ the AP and Chicago Manual of Style. They are the life-bibles for freelance writing.


1. Perfect Spelling

2. Grammar awareness

3. Know how to make citations

4. Know when to hire an EDITOR (email me)

Second Step

Pick Some Areas of Interest and Go For It

I started out writing creatively and that is my passion, yet, I found excitement in writing informational nonfiction, too. To get started, I signed up with Associated Content. I made five or six dollars per month at first and then they offered legitimate rates for articles. That was six years ago and with Yahoo! recently acquiring AC, I am finding that this content farm is legitimately paying the writers.

On a weekly basis, I write five to six COMMISSIONED articles through Yahoo! that are published on the finance and news pages. Some weeks I make $150 and other weeks I make is variable. This is a great starting place for freelance writers.

I write here , in addition to a number of other freelance sites....most of my income stems from other resources, however.

Sign up for Yahoo! Contributor Network or Squidoo and choose a interest or two to write in. Maybe you like human interest and baseball. Go for it. Make it beautiful and concise and appealing.

Here is a link to sign up for Yahoo!Contributor Network:

Gain Experience

Again, this is redundant, but wait....this is a useful resource.

Upon setting out in the freelance world you may find yourself writing hundreds of articles and making nothing. This is a bad sign. Do not sell yourself short writing for content farms. You will not make the money that you should be earning.

Instead, use those farms to give yourself writing practice, but do not dedicate yourself to them.

SO how do you gain experience?

Start local.

Go to your local newspapers, periodicals, and magazines. Send them your resume or, if you don't have a resume, send them a letter of interest and a few writing samples. This is your foot in the door. Even if they do not hire you, they may keep you on file for later. In the meantime, you are working toward paid jobs, which you can add to a resume and resend to them.

Pick A Few National Magazines

Do you have two or three magazines that you LOVE to read? If so, then perhaps you should design a few article ideas (not features) and send the publication inquiry letters along with a few writing samples. Most magazines are completely reliant on freelance work. If you get denied, write again, with a different idea.

Edit for Free, Get Clientele

Maybe you are looking to edit. Peruse websites and publications for common errors (trust me, they are there.) and email the publication or website, letting them know that YOU are an editor and wanted to inform them of some minor errors in the content. Provide them with the corrections. Inform that you are more than happy to help them in the future for an affordable rate.

Online Freelance Sites

Again, these sites are very hit and miss. In fact, I have never heard of any freelance writer making money here, but you may want to sign up for a few of these platforms. Elance, I hear is productive, but again, there ARE SO MANY FREELANCERS on this site that the probability of being selected for a job is minimal =(

Target Your Audience

I cannot stress this enough. When you are first starting out it is important to write about what you know. Once you get establish do whatever the heck you want, but first, do what you know.

Step 1: Choose Your Audience

Write down all of your labels. Are you a mother, a student, a daughter, a gardener? Get it. Once you figure out your labels, you will know who to target your writing towards. After you've made your list, choose three target audiences to work with. This way you have variety and can avoid writer boredom.

Step 2: Find the Client

Search the Writer's Guidelines to find the right magazines and trade journals that you should be writing for. Be prepared to buy the magazines and journals that you want to write for and READ them. Understand how they write to their audience and make sure that you are writing for the same audience. This takes time. Work through it.

Step 3: Sell IT!

Sell the ideas, the pitch, the prewritten article to the appropriate editor of the chosen magazine. Wait. Don't lose Hope.

The Perfect Query Letter!

By Gail Eastwood

Here are Gail's DOs and DONTs:

DO:Make your query letter professional. It should be short (one or one and a half pages max), direct, descriptive and businesslike, set up as a business letter.

DO: address your letter to a specific editor (and make sure you've got the right one!). Find out who to send to by networking, getting information through writers' publications, or by calling the publishing house to get the name of the editor for the line you are targeting.

DO: follow what is a fairly standard format. First paragraph should introduce you and your book -- the title, projected word length, whether or not it is completed (or how far along it is), type of book and which line it is aimed for.

The second paragraph is the most important --it must summarize your book in just a few sentences, like a TV movie blurb or 30-second commercial. What is your book about? What is your theme? What is it that makes your characters different, what makes them and their conflict interesting, what will they learn, how will they be changed by what happens to them? Remember the basic fiction formula: characters plus problem = conflict; conflict plus action leads to resolution and change.

The third paragraph is about you -- your writing experience and credentials, prior publishing history, if any (of any kind, including articles, poetry, stories); professional memberships; any other relevant information -- expertise that helped you write this book, for instance, or another career...

DON'T: confuse "sales tool" with "sales pitch." This is not the time to say how great your book is or how endearing your characters are -- that's for the editor to decide. Be straightforward.

DON'T: tease by not revealing the facts of the story, hoping to entice the editor's curiosity.

DON'T: neglect basics of spelling, grammar, clean presentation, clear and vivid writing. First impressions count! Your query letter itself functions partly as a writing sample.

A Sample Query Letter

Dear Editor:

Do you know what an Egyptian mummy, a samurai soldier, and your pair of sneakers have in common? The answer can be found in the introduction of my book Sticking Together: A History of Glue. Different kinds of glue affect all parts of our lives, from kid's projects with library paste to the rubber industry to post-it notes. Glue helps hold together our houses, our cars, even our shoes.

Sticking Together combines history, science, and hands-on activities. My opening chapter explores the role of rubber cement in the colonization of the New World and explains the production process from tapping the tree to shipping the bottles to the art supply store. The final chapter includes recipes for homemade glue products and projects. My background in anthropology gives me grounding in exploring the ways that a seemingly small thing like glue can affect an entire culture.

Written for 7 to 10 year-olds, Sticking Together fits in with your series of excellent children's nonfiction "The Way the World Works", with a format similar to Hold Everything: Containers from Pots to Plastic. The proposal includes a complete outline for the book and three sample chapters.

A reply card is enclosed and I hope to hear of your interest in Sticking Together.


A. Writer

Freelance in Three Steps

Step 1: Submit

Step 2: Follow Up

Step 3: Move On

Writing for the Magazines

Research your subject:

Once you have a focus, look into that field in great depth. See what is available and topical at the moment, on paper and on the Internet. It will help to know what people are reading and interested in, before you put pen to paper. Do you feel your line of thought has not been covered yet? Perhaps that could be a door of opportunity opening for you. Websites are not difficult to get up and running these days consider setting one up for your chosen subject, with the possibility of an accompanying newsletter. It might pay dividends if you could refer editors to your site to view your style and see examples of your work.

Research the paying markets:

Now we come to the fun bit. There are more websites for creative writing and paying and non-paying markets than you can shake a fountain pen at. I will give you one to get you started. Have a look at I have been a fan of this site for a long time. You will find invaluable, practical advice here and perhaps catch your first glimpse of paying markets. There are many other sites in the same vein, not perhaps to this standard however and you have to do your homework according to the area you want to work in. Research is, without a doubt, one of the biggest bugbears, but if you are committed to a career in writing, you might as well make it your best friend, because you are going to be doing an awful lot of it!

Writers guidelines:

I can imagine the daily frustrations of an editor. Especially when he has taken the time to lay out, in no uncertain terms, the how/why/where and what fors he seeks, in an article for his magazine and yet so many conform to none of the above. For all of the magazines and publications you approach with a view to submitting a piece, there will be writers guidelines. Read them, digest them and carry them out to the letter. Your piece might be amazing, with bells on, but if you dont comply with the subject line or the addressee, it will more than likely end up in the recycle bin! It is a laborious task going through them and doing as you are told, especially when your piece is clearly the hottest thing on the market. Remember, if it were that easy, everybody would be doing it and besides, there has to be some fun in the chase.

Keep track of your work:

Once you start hopping around on the Internet, you will see there are numerous opportunities and places to submit a potential piece of work to. Keep a log of your submissions, query letters and published pieces. Create an address book of all the editors, fellow writers and useful contacts you make. Sometimes it is who you know, combined of course with what you know, but a useful contact can give you a good leg-up. Don't be put off by the response times either. I have absolutely no patience whatsoever - was never born with any - but I don't bat an eyelid with a "response within 4 months" note in the writer's guidelines. Make up files that allow you to review what you have sent to whom and keep on top of it.

...And finally:

Don't forget to have a strong signature line and a good mini-bio to submit with your piece. There is no point in somebody reading and enjoying your work, but not being able to find more of the same.

Also, keep at it! It might take months of hard work before you start to see positive results. Remember, a writer must write something every single day, without fail! It keeps your hand in and makes you look at new angles and ways of self-expression. You have to be topical, expressive, interesting and informative. Test the water by submitting your work to article bank websites and I am going to be terribly generous and give you another link - you are so lucky - By tracking how many interested parties there are in your articles, you will see where you strengths and weaknesses lie. Build on all the information you receive and focus on becoming sharper and better at the craft.

It is a big old reading world out there, don't be daunted, be focused, be clever and most of all, have fun!

Q and A on Freelance Writing as a Career

The Guardian

These Answers to questions are really helpful for any starting journalist:

A journalism course can open many doors:

There is no single simple route into journalism because there are so many different types of journalism and ways in which journalism skills can be applied these days, but taking a journalism course in higher education can open many doors. In the case of those courses accredited by the Broadcast Journalism Training Council, there is a requirement - an obligation - to ensure that all students undertake some form of structured and properly mentored work experience of at least three weeks in duration.

In addition, they are placing a lot more emphasis on employability and ensuring that students know how to present themselves for employment, and to survive better if they chose the freelance path of employment.

Having online skills makes you employable in every level of media:

Our experience at the Broadcast Journalism Training Council is that the graduates who have picked up some of the best paying jobs in recent years are those who have gone into online. What these students offer is the full range of multiplatform skills, in that they understand online writing, design and content management and are more than likely to be able to design and operate a website from scratch. They can also offer skills in broadcast, being able to interview, edit and post produce sound and video packages for uploading onto a website or for other purposes, plus they will also have some print skills. It makes them employable in every level of media - as well as being attractive recruits for business organisations, public service and charities who are all looking for people to put new life and zest into their online presence, rather than just running off yet another competent press release.

An interest can be enhanced through appropriate qualifications:

There is a very good argument for doing a specialist degree if you have specialist knowledge and interests - like economics, international politics and environmental science. That knowledge can then be applied practically through an accredited postgraduate journalism course, such as the new science journalism MA at City University London or the journalism MAs at the University of Lincoln, which also incorporate a substantial amount of specialist study of areas like sport and science.

Adapted from: Johanna Payton is a freelance lifestyle journalist, author and copy writer

Going freelance allows you to diversify and build a broad portfolio of published work:

With unpaid internships everywhere you look and staff jobs hard to come by, having a freelance career gives you flexibility. It also allows you to diversify, splitting your income between journalism and other related activities such as media training, copywriting, broadcasting, editing and lecturing.

There aren't many freelancers who earn their money just by reporting or writing features anymore. Being freelance also allows you to target publications with money to spend (they do still exist) and to create a broad portfolio of published work that will impress editors if you decide to apply for staff jobs when the market is (hopefully) more stable.

Finding ideas for stories is tough, so use your own experiences for inspiration:

Ideas are indeed the toughest part and the bit most journalists struggle with. Essentially, everything has been done before, but it's putting a unique or newsworthy spin on it that makes the difference. When you're starting out, one of the best things to pitch to editors is yourself - if you've had a unique experience (most of us have) that only you can write about then that's an original idea.

Also, when you're reading newspapers and so on, try to connect ideas with yourself - what do you feel so strongly about that you can write a blinding opinion piece on? What new health study relates to a problem you've had in the past? If you can put yourself in the hot seat, the ideas start coming - once you have the ideas flowing, learning how to express them concisely, in an amazing pitch, is the next step.

When pitching you need to be able to sum up your idea in one sentence:

Pitches are judged on the strength of an idea, how well you can express it, whether there is anything unique or exclusive about it, whether it's topical, whether that publication has covered it before, whether there is budget for a freelancer at that time, what side of the bed the editor got out of that morning and how good your writing is - in that order.

From: John Stepek is editor of weekly financial magazine MoneyWeek

It's hard to write compellingly on a subject you couldn't care less about so choose your specialism carefully:

As an aspiring journalist I believe that you should focus on learning to write well and finding a subject that you are sufficiently interested in, in order to want to write about it and learn more about it over the course of a career. In terms of opportunities, of course you will find it easier to break into areas that other people aren't interested in - competition means that it's always going to be tougher to become a sports reporter or a film journalist than to get into writing about finance or law. But if you can't bear the idea of writing about mortgages or credit default swaps or the ins and outs of the legal world, then there's no point on forcing yourself - it's hard to write compellingly or authoritatively on a subject you couldn't care less about.

From:Steve Schifferes is a professor of financial journalism at City University London

Interest in emerging market countries and business reporting is strong: Although it is tough out there, some areas are better than others - and there are a lot more jobs in emerging market countries such as China and India and among wire services, and I believe that business reporting might be stronger because of the interest generated by the recent downturn.

Use other media as inspiration for stories: The best place to start to look for stories is from other journalists. TV uses local and national newspapers all the time as their source of news. It's also the quickest way to find the pundits and people who will speak to you because they have already spoken to someone in the press. The skill is then developing new contacts, and having a particular beat can help with this.

Guestbook Comments

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    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Wow, you've put a lot of detail in here to help the freelance writer. Much appreciated.


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