No one said freelance writing is easy.
Sure, life as a digital nomad has its perks. Nothing compares to the freedom and flexibility you gain on your time. It’s awesome to work from home and try new coworking spaces. And being your own boss? Yes, it’s awesome.
But the skill set is different when it comes to working for yourself. Instead of showing up to manage a small, specialized portion of someone else’s business, now you have to cover all the bases yourself (because everything is in your job description). You’re responsible for concept, expansion, and the bottom line. It’s a lot of responsibility.
Here are a few tips to help get you started.
Just Starting Out? Here’s How to “Fake” a Writing Sample.
If you want to pitch editors, you need a writing sample. Period. But if you’re just starting out, the idea of an editor asking you for a writing sample before you’ve published can feel like a catch-22. It doesn’t have to be. Because all the editor really wants is to know if you can write.
You can demonstrate your writing chops with:
- An unpublished article you wrote just for this purpose. Write it like an article for a magazine and either link to it if it’s online or include it as a PDF in the pitch email. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written.
- Blog posts you’ve written. Link to your most popular posts, and include stats like traffic numbers and shares on Facebook and Pinterest. The more traffic the post gets, the better it demonstrates how well you can engage readers. I pitched my first editor with links to a few of my top performing blog posts and had my first assignment the same week. Blogging is a godsend for new writers. Use it to your advantage.
Master The Art of The Cold Pitch (It’s Actually Kind of Easy)
Ah, the dreaded cold pitch. Do people ever really respond these? Editors do.
The trick is, don’t think of yourself as a telemarketer slinging crap no one wants. Because unlike the annoying phone calls that interrupt you at dinner every night, editors are actually LOOKING for new writers and fresh content. That means they really do want to hear from you (I promise.).
You’ll still get the inevitable rejections because the key is still landing the right pitch to the right editor at the right time.
To maximize how often you hear yes from an editor:
- Pitch. A lot. Aim for 10-20 pitches per week. You can adjust this number later. But 10-20 is a great number to start with because the more pitches you send the more yes you’ll hear (that’s just statistics). But too many and you might be tempted to skimp on the research and personalization in these emails that makes each one effective.
- Write an email pitch template, and reuse it with each new pitch. This will save you time. And it won’t feel impersonal if you include details like the recipient’s name, what you like about their work or company, and how your ideas will appeal to their specific readers (so do your research!).
- Send pitches to a wide range of publications. Include your dream publications. But pitch the smaller ones too. Sometimes smaller or local publications are more open to new writers. And you can use the resulting print creds to land assignments at more prestigious (and better paying) publications later.
- Ignore rejection. You already know rejection in the writing business is inevitable. So when an editor says “no thanks,” assume what they really mean is “no thanks right now” and follow up with a new article idea the next week. Eventually they’ll say yes or ask you to piss off. Don’t stop until one of these happens.
- Write your first article for free. Look, I’ve heard all the strong opinions (and shitty comments) from people who say no writer should ever write for free. But if the only hurdle between you and the freelancing gigs you want is a measly free article, who cares? Because what’s the difference between writing an article for free once and writing hundreds of undergrad papers to get a degree? And your first articles give you the chance to work with an editor, improve your writing, and get a publishing credit that will help you get paid work somewhere else. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Don’t Think of Yourself as a Writer
I don’t know about you, but the second I have a deadline, the pressure alone ensures I get the work done. That means once I have the client or project on board, the rest takes care of itself. So self-motivation comes into play only when it’s time to pitch new editors or say yes to old ones.
If that sounds like you, focus your energy on booking assignments first. Freelancing is easier when you think of the pitching session as your real job. It’s a mindset shift that makes the writing itself feel like simple housekeeping, which is a good thing when your perfectionistic editor kicks in to tell you the writing isn’t good enough.
Because the writing’s not your real job anyway. You did what you were supposed to do when you landed the gig. All that’s left is to deliver on the promise you pitched in your email. Easy, right? 😉