Increasing your chances of becoming a regular freelancer
Getting a one-off acceptance is always a cause for celebration. Getting offered a regular paying gig is even better. Learn ways to increase your chances to become a regular freelancer.
When I was first starting out as a writer, I would write a fiction or non-fiction piece then try and find a home for it, scouring publications where my story might be a fit. Many never found a home. For every acceptance that did come through, I’d give myself a few minutes of feeling proud I’d sold a story. I still do. But no matter how satisfying selling a story feels, I made the process of submitting harder for myself than I needed to. Are you? After a few years of writing articles and stories first, then attempting to find a publication, I changed my method of writing and submitting and now consistently do the following three things.
Not sure what magazine you want to write for on a regular basis? Wonder what they’ll pay for a story? It’s often higher for a regular writer. Want to figure out if writing about your hobby of beekeeping can pay off?
First, find a publication you’d like to freelance for on a regular basis. Elna Cane has an excellent blog on where newbies can find writing gigs and how to get them from cold pitching to job boards with some great links included. I also like the site WhoPaysWriters as they list hundreds of publications that includes payment per word and writer reviews.
When you locate a publication, buy, read online, or check out at the library back copies of the magazine to determine what’s already been written recently. Then study the masthead for the names of the section editor or managing editor of the magazine.
For those of you who have more writing experience, find jobs on Upwork. While you’re going to give a portion of your pay to the platform, it’s a great way to build clips and find writing gigs, especially if you’re seeking to write full time.
Do not take one rejection from an editor at your dream publication as a lifelong death sentence. When the internet was still in its toddler stage, I used to dog the site of The Discovery Channel. I loved their small bites of environmental news, photos, and more expansive stories. After I had about three years of freelancing tucked into my portfolio, I decided to try for a gig with the Discovery Channel. I had no background in science except loving it while in school.
When I finally found an editor’s name and pitched, I heard nothing back. I pitched a different story two weeks later to the same editor and received: “This is a great idea but not a good fit at the moment.”
I waited another two weeks thinking about the migration of Sandhill cranes which fly through Nebraska every fall. I wanted to go view them and thought getting paid to do it would be perfect. The editor did, too. She said I could do the story on speculation—so no guarantee of pay. Even so, I decided to take a chance. I penned the best story I could at that time in my career and she bought it. And then assigned me several other stories over the course of the next three years.
MS Wishlist has an excellent article on persistent querying. Even though the article is about queries for books, it’s a good illustration of how polite persistence pays.
Solid ideas/precise writing
When an editor opens your query, one of the thoughts in her head is most likely, “Will this writer make my life easier?” As a freelancer, make it your aim to make the editor’s life easier. She will keep you around if you do.
You demonstrate that by sending a solid, well-thought out idea—one at a time is good to begin. You need an idea that your editor didn’t know she was looking for until she reads it. Since the ability to read minds only works in fiction, how do you know what an editor wants? Bring your own unique passion and personality to every query. Look at any holes that came up during research and brainstorm what could fill them. Think like one of their readers.
For example, let’s say you’re targeting “Cat World Magazine” for a regular gig. After studying the magazine and the website, you noticed a lot of articles on catnip—treat recipes, how to grow, how often to give it to your cat…but nothing on catnip’s effect on cat health.
That’s the idea you pitch. It follows a common or even occasional topic that’s already been published but hits on missing information or offers an entirely new twist. Yoga with your cat? How about teaching your cat to do downward dog?
MediaBistro has a timely article on what an editor wants to see in your query and what makes a successful pitch.
As you begin pitching, remember that publications need writers. Blogs, websites, businesses, and magazines are thrilled to find talented writers who know how to deliver quality work. Step out, query, be persistent, and go land that regular freelancing gig!