A few weeks ago, I published a post called â€œStuff I Wrote,â€ which was a round-up of some freelance work that Iâ€™ve been doing for Activewear USA.Â A bunch of people asked me to share advice and tips on how to break into freelance writing, and while I was happy to oblige, I also struggled with what to say to everyone!Â I have no advice that sounds like: â€œDo A, B, and C and you will become a freelance writer.â€Â My story is highly personal and specific.
I thought back to an oldie but goodie post called â€œHow I Got Published!â€ At the time, Iâ€™d published one of my three books, and lots of readers had been asking me for publishing advice.Â Again, I felt like my situation was so personal and specific that I wasnâ€™t the best advice-giver, so I asked a few authors, as well as my agent, to talk about the process of getting a traditional book to print, writing an e-book, or self-publishing a book.Â I thought itâ€™d be fun to do the same type of thing with this post â€“ I know there are a lot of other freelance writers out there, so I hope youâ€™ll share YOUR experiences with getting work so others can learn from everything youâ€™ve done!
So â€“ hereâ€™s my story.
I have actually been freelance writing for 12 years.Â When I was 18 and a senior in high school, I was searching the Internet for advice on whether my best friend Lisette and I should room together when we went to college (we did, and it was awesome).Â Anyway, I stumbled across a column on The Wall Street Classroom Edition website.Â The site was the virtual version of a monthly paper that was mailed out to high school students across the country.Â A lot of the magazine was written by professionals, but some columns were written by students. As I read a student-written article, I thought to myself, â€œHey, I could totally do this, too!â€Â So I did something totally ballsy:Â I emailed the editor and said that I could do a better job than any other student he had on staff, and that he should hire me immediately.
Seriously.Â I said that.Â Iâ€™m half-embarrassed and half-pleased with 18 year old meâ€™s self-assurance.
Much to my surprise, the editor actually emailed me back.Â I guess my ballsy email was actually well-written â€“ after a phone call, he offered me the job!Â That was back in 2002.
I wrote for the paper for free for a year, and then my editor started to pay me.Â The WSJ CE has since shut down due to the recession, but I wrote for them for 5 years.Â The first few years, I wrote about my personal experiences in college (very future blogger of me, huh?).Â Then I started to interview and profile notable college students from across the country.Â Most of my articles are no longer online, but hereâ€™s one from 2006 and hereâ€™s another from 2007 if you want to read my old work! Â My editor at WSJ CE was the person who made me believe that I could make a living as a writer.Â And, most importantly, his editing made me a much better writer â€“ Iâ€™ll always be so thankful for him!
There was a brief period in 2007 that I didnâ€™t do much freelance writing at all â€“ at that time, I was working at an urban planning firm and most of my writing was tied up in technical documents.Â I dabbled in a few paid projects that came my way because of WSJ CE connections.Â I also wrote a few pieces for free for a Pittsburgh fashion website start-up.Â But when I started my blog back in 2008, I dived back in.
Most of my jobs come from connections and referrals.Â Iâ€™ve been doing this for a long time, and Iâ€™m lucky to work with awesome people who are willing to refer me for other jobs.Â I currently work for a writing house that produces content for big companies.Â I write about 4 â€“ 5 articles a month about a ton of different topics.Â Most of my work is published online, but a few pieces that I write get published in store magazines.
My favorite thing about freelance writing is that I get to learn about an incredible range of topics.Â I have written about everything and anything, from articles on high-tech camping gear to techniques for keeping champagne fresh (spoiler: the best technique is to just drink it all â€“ hah!).Â My favorite thing is to interview experts, like a sommelier for the champagne article.
Could I live off my freelance earnings?Â No.Â I would have to pitch myself a lot more to make a significant amount of cash off it.Â In my experience, online writing doesnâ€™t pay as well as print, and print is hard to come by.Â But I have fun writing, and the pieces I do each month pay off a few utility bills.
As I stated in the little graphic at the beginning of this post, I think itâ€™s a wise business move to keep in contact with editors â€“ preferably more than one person at each publication because people always come and go.Â Â Donâ€™t just send in your article and never e-mail your editor again; get to know each other!Â Also – I place a lot of weight on making deadlines.Â Iâ€™m not a perfect writer, but I have never missed a deadline in 12 years.Â Editors value that.Â And lastly, I believe itâ€™s very important to pass on writing opportunities to other writers.Â When I get a job that doesnâ€™t work for me, I always try to refer someone else that I know.Â I like to think of it as building writing karma.
Some other ideas:
Writerâ€™s Market:Â This book is packed with information regarding agents, editors, contests and awards, and pay rates.
Volunteer:Â I wrote for free for an entire year to break into the business. New writers always need â€˜clipsâ€™ â€“ so offer to write content for a small business newsletter or a non-profitâ€™s website.Â I do think itâ€™s important to value yourself so others will value you, but thereâ€™s nothing wrong with doing a little free work as you gain experience.Â Just know when to say, â€œEnough! Time to pay me!â€
Are you a writer?Â How did you break into the business?