In that period between obscurity and publication, while you are working on your masterpiece, a diverse mix of ‘pay-the-bills’ work is completed. We are your teachers, editors, lecturers, researchers, but we are also your shop assistants, lollypop people, butchers and bakers. There are as many jobs for the aspiring writer as there are rejection letters in the post at this moment; some utilise the considerable skills of a writer and some do not. If you are interested in the former, this article is a great introduction to breaking into the world of freelance writing.
There are obviously pros and cons to freelance writing. It is satisfying to be appreciated for your writing prowess, set your own hours and spend your time researching subjects of interest, but as a career it can involve rejection and financial insecurity. It is advisable to start slowly. Feel your way into your market and don’t give up your day job unless you are assured of steady work.
There are so many markets for a writer to sell their work, from writing short paragraphs, crosswords or greetings cards to websites and business literature, but this article focuses on freelance article writing.
‘Write about what you know.’ We’ve all heard that before and it applies equally to article writing. A great starting point is making a list of all of your areas of interest. These could be things that you’ve studied, hobbies or just subjects which have always sparked your imagination. Make the list as intensive as possible; you may think that your ability to weed a garden is irrelevant, but it could be the makings of a highly informative article.
Select two or three items from the list and brainstorm each subject. These lists are going to produce concrete ideas for articles, so make them as intensive as possible. What we are doing here is leaving behind the general (e.g. weeding the garden) and becoming specific (e.g. the role of insects in keeping your garden weed free). Any magazine receives tens of proposals each day (at the very least); the more specific and original your article is, the more chance you have of selling it.
Know Your Market
Before you start writing your article(s) buy and read the magazines or newspapers you wish to sell to. Each publication has its own style and you need to write to their specifications. This could mean writing the same article in a variety of different styles and this is definitely good practice when you are starting out.
It is worth employing a little lateral thinking when writing the article. A gardening magazine may be the obvious home for your weeding article, but, with the focus of the piece shifted, a wildlife magazine would be interested in the insect angle. This means that you could use the same research and sell two versions of the same article.
Selling the Article
When selling an article, you are selling two things: the article itself and your ability to write it. Start with a short email introducing your idea and asking if the publication would be interested in viewing the article. Include information about yourself and your experience as a writer (including cuttings). If you have no experience this can seem like a Catch 22 situation, but don’t panic. If the idea is good and your letter shows an ability to write, there may be interest. Alternatively, websites and free magazines are always looking for contributions and this is a good way to build up writing samples.
If you do not hear anything after a week, follow up your email with a phone call. Do not bug the editor by bombarding him/her with emails and calls. These are busy people and they are likely to never use your work if they see you as a nuisance.
When you have a few articles under your belt it is easier to find more work. Editors will be more familiar with you; you will have more experience and more samples. As a career, there is nothing quite like freelance writing for variety, experience and staying on the learning curve.