I’ve had a couple of people recently ask how I got started in freelance writing, so I thought I’d go ahead and write a post about it. Please keep in mind that a) I don’t support myself fully freelance writing, and b) there are people who do and are way better at freelance writing than me, so c) don’t write me hate mail telling me that I’m not qualified to give advice on such a subject. I’m just going to relate to you how I got started.
I decided in 2008 that I wanted to try to make money off of the thing that I love doing, which is writing. I started my own blog, which is the thing you’re reading now, and tried to make it a collection of stuff I’d want to see on the Internet. I did this for a few months before I started reaching out to other blogs.
Tip #1- Don’t try and freelance merely because you need extra cash. Freelance writing takes a lot of self-discipline and a lot of self-motivation, and if you don’t enjoy writing for its own sake, you’re going to hate freelancing, and you’re probably not going to get a lot of work, either.
I developed my own voice on my own blog by disciplining myself to write a few posts a day about things I was passionate about, rather than just posting about anything because I needed to post something.
Tip #2- For every news/movie/pop culture story out there, ask yourself how you feel about it. Dig around in your brain and heart, and articulate why you feel the way you do. This is how essays are written.
I started looking at the blogs that I went to every day because I wanted to figure out why I liked them, and what posts I’d write for them if given the chance. This takes going to a blog every day, not just once, and coming up with different types of ideas. I jotted these down for a couple of weeks.
Then I found email addresses for the blogs I wanted to submit for, usually in the “about us”, “submit”, or “contact” sections. Do your best to find an actual person’s email, and not just a generic email address, so that you don’t have the excuse of going “Well I submitted but I bet it’s just an automated address so blah blah blah that’s why they didn’t respond”.
Every idea you pitch should have the following, written as succinctly as possible
- what you want to write, with a couple of details that convey the tone (listy, argumentative, nostalgic, personal)
- what your connection to the subject is
- why you think readers of this site will appreciate this idea
Submit the ideas, along with an introductory paragraph explaining who you are and why you’re qualified to write for the site. DO NOT send a resume, and do not write a long email. Editors at sites don’t have time for that mess.
Send your email in the early part of the day on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Mondays and Fridays are bad for editors.
After you send the email, wait three or four days, and then SEND ANOTHER EMAIL. This is important. Not hearing back doesn’t mean they’re not interested, it often just means that the person you’re writing to is just too busy to answer you right then. Sending a follow up isn’t annoying, it’s just a reminder. The followup should say something along the lines of “Just checking in to see if you’re interested in any of these pieces before I submit them to other sites”. Oooooh, lookie who’s in high demand?
If you don’t hear back the second time, move on, and don’t despair. Cold pitching means rejection, and freelancing means being comfortable with rejection. Never stop writing for your own personal site, and if some of your pitches get rejected elsewhere, write them anyway and put them on your own site. You may not be getting paid, but it’s more examples of how great you are to show future editors.
Repeat this process over and over until you get a positive response. Once you do, make sure you are very clear about parameters of the assignment (length, format, pay, due date), and knock it out of the park. Never pitch anything that you’re not willing to write.
Once you build a reliable relationship with an editor, you can ask if they know of any other writing opportunities as well, you can ask fellow writers for the same site, and things will snowball from there. Be game to write about anything, write with a clear voice, write with passion, and be professional as shit. I started with an editor three websites ago, and she’s brought me with her every job she gets. I’ll follow her until the end of the earth, because I trust her and we think similarly.
I’ve been freelance writing for four years now, and I’ve only started making a decent amount of money a year ago. Before that, I did it because I liked having my words reach more eyes than they would normally reach, I did it because I enjoyed fitting into the culture of each specific website, and I did it because it thrills me to have something I write touch someone personally.
…. I still don’t make much money, so basically I still do it for those reasons.
Please enjoy this video I saw on The Daily What today about what freelancing can be like. Luckily I’ve had only positive experiences.