If you would have told me, the little girl who used to create her own magazines with construction paper, crayons, and staples, that publications would one day be paying for her words, she would have never believed you. Let alone the fact that she’d be freelance writing.
I had always heard of the term freelancing while in college as a journalism major, but I had never been taught the specifics of what it really meant or how to do it. In case you’re in that same boat, freelance writing can be defined as any compensated writing assignments that isn’t a staff position.
I had been afraid of it too because I’m a person who craves stability. But once I actually learned how to properly do it, I started to fall in love with this craft and managed to get my name in publications that I admire, for rates that I had once only dreamed of.
From my limited freelance experience, here are my top five tips that helped me find my start:
1. Start at smaller publications, but remember that the sky’s the limit
Whether it’s a byline in The New York Times or a byline at a new local magazine in your hometown, it’s still something that you can add to your portfolio and use in the future. There are plenty of publications with modest rates that can give you the confidence to pitch to bigger publications as you become more familiar with the editorial process. Don’t sell yourself short though! If you think a story could fit at a bigger publication, ask around for some advice on your pitch and send away to the appropriate editor.
2. Follow publications, editors, and journalists that you admire on Twitter and LinkedIn
There’s so much inspiration out in the world and social media is a great place to start. I’ve found that a good amount of editors put out calls for pitches through Twitter or post style guides for how they prefer to be pitched to.
When you see a lede that you resonate with or a writing style that inspires you, look into the publication that published it and the journalist who wrote it. They probably have more good content too that they promote on their social media. It’s been particularly beneficial for me to familiarize myself with publications that I may hope to write for to get a sense of their style. I’d also highly recommend subscribing to Sonia Weiser’s newsletter! It has editor’s pitch calls all put into one place and gives invaluable tips and resources.
3. Reach out and form connections with those doing what you aspire to do
Many journalists within the freelance community have been super nice and helpful. It’s a sort of camaraderie built on an understanding of where we’re all coming from. Freelancing is hard and it can be scary and unpredictable. Every freelance journalist knows this to be true and is likely to give advice or answer questions if you ask them.
4. Develop tough skin & be kind to yourself when rejection inevitably comes
All it takes is one person to say yes to get a byline, but until then you’re going to get a lot of nos. While rejection is never easy, it is a guarantee in this process. The key is to not let any rejected pitch stop you.
I once had a pitch rejected three times in a row from different editors before one approved of it for $500 – much higher than the other three publications’ rates. Also, it may be a good idea to ask the editor why it was denied. This is a great way to learn and move forward with some insight.
5. Know your worth and don’t back down
I have this awful habit of saying that I’m *just* a freelancer until someone once corrected me and said, “No, you are a freelancer and that’s powerful.”
They’re right too. Freelance writers are some of the coolest and headstrong people that I’ve ever met. It takes a lot of hard work and investment to do what you do so don’t ever sell yourself short. Sign contracts for your words with kill fees that will ensure some form of compensation should, for any reason, your story be killed.
Negotiate rates if you don’t feel comfortable with how much you’re getting paid. Hold editors and publications accountable with pay deadlines just like how they have expectations for you. We’re more than “just” freelancers and deserve respect.
I’m still learning my ways around freelance writing but have come so far from where I once was. As with anything, you’re bound to mess up and this craft can be frustrating at times. Take it easy and send another pitch, you never know who might just say yes.
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