So, you’ve decided to risk it all in the high-stakes world of the professional freelance writer. You know that you’ve got talent, and you’re just waiting for the world to recognize it. Just remember, you might be in for a long wait.
Unfortunately, becoming a truly self-sufficient freelance writer is a lot more difficult than you might think. Freelancing can be a great way to do something that you love and make money doing it… making a living can be another story. Freelance writing work can often be sporadic at best, and payment can come anywhere from 2 weeks to several months after the job is completed.
One of the biggest problems that beginning freelancers have is that they get too attached to their work, and are often unwilling to see what editors do to it in order to make it work on their website or publication. More than one freelancer has shuddered and raged after seeing the piece that they had poured their heart and soul into “torn apart” by an editor.
When writing, you need to make a distinction between what you write for love, and what you write for money. Your novel (everybody seems to have at least one), your poetry, your short stories... the things that you write because you want to, these are the things that you should get attached to and pour your heart and soul into. The articles, the columns, and everything else that you do for a paycheck… you’re writing them for someone else. They’re paying you (hopefully) for what you write. Let them do with it what they will, and spend your free time working on your book.
Another problem that beginning freelance writers have is finding work in the first place. Books, such as Writer’s Market, list paying markets in both book publishers and magazines. Several writing websites have listings of paying and non-paying freelance jobs. You can also find various other websites with job listings by searching on an internet search engine for “freelance writing jobs””. Job search engines such as Monster usually aren’t the best places to look for freelance work, as they aren’t really designed for freelance writing listings.
Just like any other job, you’re only going to get as much out of a career in freelance writing as you put into it. If you spend 2 hours each week looking for jobs, you aren’t going to find as many potential jobs as you would if you spent 10 hours looking. If you only write 1 article a week, you’re not going to make as many sales as you would if you wrote 5. The more effort you put into finding and completing jobs, the more your portfolio is going to grow and the more jobs you’ll be likely to get.
An item that you should consider when selling articles and pieces is the rights to the article. If you sell one-time, first, or non-exclusive rights, you’ll be able to sell the article again somewhere else. If you sell exclusive or all rights, then the party that you sold the piece to will own it outright, and if you try to publish it elsewhere then you could actually be sued for copyright infringement.
Be careful when choosing to sell exclusive or all rights… make sure that you’re getting enough money to make it worth it. You can charge less for non-exclusive rights because you can always resell the same article again to someone else… meaning you’ll get the money for the article without having to do the work!
feel free to pursue a career in writing, but you might want to hold onto your day job until you’re sure that you’ve got enough cash flow coming in to cover your bills and food. After all, the only benefit to being a starving artist is, well… being a starving artist.
There are some fundamental bottom line places to start if you are about to embark on the path to becoming a freelance writer.
1. Invest in some very important, but inexpensive “tools of the trade.” The top item on this list is a few notebooks and pens. Carry a notebook with you when you are out, and have them at various places in the house, along with a pen. All too often writers will have a great topic idea and decide to write it down later. Unfortunately, “later” sometimes becomes too late and the thought is lost.
2. Although your first instinct might be that you should just start writing and not worry about other things, take the time to set up your “space.” Make your environment conducive to being a successful writer. This not only includes your physical workspace but things like making sure you have a ledger for expenses for tax purposes.
3. Decide whether or not you will be a specialty writer. That may sound odd as an overall goal, but it will end up being important. Will you concentrate on inspirational articles? Food writing? Travel Writing? Or will your style be more eclectic with articles on all kinds of topics? Whatever your decision, start gathering fodder for articles. Day-to-day happenings and conversations are often filled with article-starter material.
4. Read! All writers need to read. It is especially true for freelance writers because you will need to know the formats and tones of the magazines, newspapers, and ezines for which you plan to write. Read the types of books and periodicals that you plan to write for, but also other kinds of publications.
5. Be sure that your “office space” is equipped with reference books such as a thesaurus, dictionary, and one of the popular books on grammar and style. These things can also be found online if that way is easier for you, but many writers still prefer picking up a hard copy of these reference types of books.
6. Learn and memorize the lingo of the trade. This will serve you well when it is time to start trying to market your articles. Find a good manual or buy the Writer’s Market and look up terms like a query letter and kill fee and many others that you will need to know before making decisions about article submissions. Learn what the different “rights” are that you will be offered, such as First Rights, All Rights, Second Serial Rights, and the others.
7. Work on growing your alligator skin. This probably sounds like tongue-in-cheek advice and alas, it is to a certain extent because it’s really nothing that we can just automatically acquire, but that does not mean that it’s not important. Often the best article any given writer has ever written will be getting a rejection letter. Many factors determine whether or not a publication will be able to use your article at the time you send it. The bottom line is that you will need to be prepared to receive those dreaded rejection letters. Many of the best-selling authors have had their manuscripts and screenplays rejected before they became successful books, movies, or plays.
8. Write in the way that you are most comfortable. You will need to keep the publication you’re targeting in mind, but don’t let the knowledge of that be so important that your article ends up sounding stiff or forced. Guide it along to where it will need to be, but don’t lose your personal panache in the meantime.
9. Be aware, even painfully aware of your environment and what is happening all around you. There are topics for articles surrounding us all throughout the day. When you see something that strikes you, write it down. It may turn into an article and it may not, but at least you have made a note of it in case you will be wanting to base an article on it.
10. Finally, when it is time to make your first submission, there is something very important to remember. Do not rely totally on a spell or grammar checker on the computer. They will catch a lot of things that you may have mistyped, but you need to read what you have written out loud. Read it slowly, word for word, because our minds often “see” words that we think we wrote and intended to write, but it just didn’t get typed.