Want to make a living as a freelance writer? Before you quit your day job, there are a few things you need to know to achieve freelance success:
It’s a numbers game: You know the old adage, “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince?” The same holds true in freelancing. You have to send a lot of queries before you get assignments. Be patient. Have faith. And keep sending queries. I aim to have at least 6 queries out at a time to ensure assignments (and checks) keep rolling in.
Rejection happens. Often: Sending a lot of queries means receiving a lot of rejections. Getting an assignment is about sending the right idea to the right editor at the right time. If all of the pieces don’t fall into place, an editor will reject an idea. Don’t take it personally. Every writer with a byline gets their fair share of rejections.
Homework is necessary: If you want to break into a magazine, you need to study it. Read the coverlines, study the tone of the articles. If the magazine is filled with “10 Ways…” “5 Things…” and “99 Tips…” articles, follow the format when you pitch an idea.
Bylines matter: Get to know who’s writing the articles in your favorite magazines. If all of the writers are on staff (check the names on the articles against the names on the masthead) there may not be a lot of opportunities for freelancers. The same goes if most of the articles are written by the same small group of writers (even if those writers are not on the masthead).
Editors need you: It’s easy to view editors as intimidating gatekeepers. In truth, editors don’t have jobs without writers. They depend on freelancers of varied backgrounds to send ideas. Freelancers write the majority of articles published in national magazines, which means you have a great shot at scoring an assignment.
It’s ok to start small: A lot of freelancers (including me) started out by writing for low paying regional magazines. Editors at smaller publications are more likely to give new writers a shot and the experience you’ll gain will help you break into top markets. Just remember, it’s impossible to make a decent living writing for $25 per article, so think of it as a starting point, not a long-term career plan.
Writing is a business: You can be the best writer in the world, but if you are a terrible businessperson, it’ll be next-to-impossible to have a successful career as a freelance writer. Sure, you can hire an accountant to handle your taxes and a lawyer to review your contracts – you can even hire a housekeeper to tidy your office – but the day-to-day responsibilities of bookkeeping, sending (and following up on) invoices, marketing and customer service all fall squarely in your lap.
Networking is necessary: It sounds great to work from home in your pajamas (and it is) but it’s essential to connect with other writers, either through online forums, conferences or writing groups. Your network will be a lifeline when you’re feeling low from rejection, want to celebrate successes or have questions.