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magazine-806073_640I’ve been doing freelance writing in one form or another for 25 years now. When I started out, I was getting only a few assignments to write articles. Nowadays, I have plenty of work, and the best part is that many times the editor offers me the assignment without me having to send a query letter.

So I thought I would share some tips with you to improve your odds at getting the assignment. Many of these are quite simple, even logical, but I have run into writers over the years who have neglected them and then wonder why their query letters are rejected.

Going the Extra Mile

  1. Reply quickly to any inquiries made by editors. You would like them to do it for you, do it for them. This includes being quick about proofing. The quicker you are in responding, the more time they have to do their thing. I have had more than one editor thank me for doing a quick turnaround on a project.
  2. Be willing to be edited. Your words aren’t gospel. Unless an edit is incorrect, be willing to consider and accept the changes. You are being paid for the work.
  3. Add extra information when appropriate. For example, provide captions for any pictures you submit.
  4. If you are submitting pictures with your article, submit more than needed so the editor had plenty to choose from.
  5. Keep to the assigned word length. I’m not saying that you have to hit the number spot on, but you should stay within 10 percent of the assigned length. If you fall too far short, your story may no longer meet its purpose. For instance, your short feature story, might only be the length of a department piece. If you go too far over the limit, you are creating extra work for the editor who will have to edit the piece down to the proper length.
  6. Produce quality work. Always turn in the best story you can write. Poor work won’t win you more assignments.

By going the extra mile, you make an editor’s job easier. If you’re doing that, when an editor is considering who to assign stories to, you will be topmost in his or her mind as a writer who not only provides good work but also relieves some of the stress of their job.

Next week, I’ll provide some tips for developing a long-term relationship with an editor.

Here are some other posts that you might enjoy:

 

 

 

Man Relaxing Behind Stack of DocumentsYou can certainly jump right into full-time freelance writing without any preparation. It’s the sink-or-swim method. I can’t say that that way works for most people, but maybe you’re one of the lucky few. Either way, you are certainly making it much harder on yourself to succeed.

I speak from experience on this. The first time I became a full-time freelance writer in the 1990s, I just jumped right in with no work or clients lined up. It was extremely stressful. I was working harder and longer hours than I had ever done before.

The second time I became a full-time freelance writer about 10 years ago was unexpected, but I was actually better prepared than I had been the first time.

Why? Because I had already started doing some part-time freelance writing on the side about six months earlier. I was lucky enough to have a boss who said that as long as the story wasn’t something that could run in the newspaper I was editing, he didn’t mind me freelance writing. Not all bosses are that kind. I had one boss try to tell that I couldn’t do any paid writing outside of the newspaper that I was writing for whether or not it was something that the paper could publish.

Ease into freelance writing. Start writing while you still have a regular paycheck. That way you can gain clients and experience. If you are really new to the writing game, you may need to make your first freelance assignments free or at a very low price in order to get clips. You might also need to do this even if you have experience but are trying to break into a new area. If you have a regular paycheck from a full-time job, you can do this without too much worry.

I would also recommend not specializing in a certain area, at least not at first. That was a mistake I made my first time freelancing. I had a few people lined up who were all part of the biotech industry. The work paid well, but it put me in a narrow pocket that I had a lot of trouble digging out of when I needed to.

Some freelancers can specialize right from the start, but because of that early experience I had just writing biotech materials, I’ve always felt like its too much like putting your eggs in one basket.

The second time I started freelancing, I started out as a generalist. I have developed specialty areas over the years, though. For example, I once pitched a Spanish flu story to a magazine. The editor liked the idea, but wanted it to look more at modern flu, too. So I wrote it from that angle (another reason to query) and turned in a health story. This lead to another health story with the same magazine about colds. With two clippings of health articles, I was able to successfully other health articles.

Another reason to start freelancing on a part-time basis rather than full-time is that it allows you time to build up a savings account that you can run your freelance business from until the checks start coming in regularly. This is called capitalization and under capitalization is the main reason that most businesses fail within 5 years. While freelancing doesn’t require as much capitalization, it does require some, particularly since it may be a month or more before you get paid after turning in an article.

Your overall goal starting out is to build your business. You do that by any means possible. At this early stage you can’t afford to be too choosy. Try everything. You never know what will work or not. Once you can start making a living and reach the point where you can’t fit more in, then you can begin prioritize and cut the least profitable areas from your business.

It’s a nice position to be in.

Sometimes my goals exceed my endurance. I expect it to happen when I’m working out. My goal is to bench press 300 pounds, but I can only manage 280 or I want to bike 28 miles in 90 minutes, but I can only manage 20 miles.

cycling

The same sort of thing happens when I’m writing, but it sort of sneaks up on me. I set daily and weekly goals. Sometimes I hit them. Sometimes I don’t. I can handle that.

However, sometimes I have the time to achieve one of my goals but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Some people call it burnout and other call it writer’s block.

I see them as two different things. They both show themselves in the same way. I just can’t get anything written. The difference is how I recover from them.

When I first hit a point where I can’t write, I assume it is mild burnout. My treatment for that is simple. I take a day off of writing and rest from it. I even have a rest day scheduled into my weekly plan. I don’t write on Sundays. I take a break and usually come back strong on Monday. I use the same theory with my biking. I bike hard on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I do some other type of exercise that allows my legs to recover.

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If a day’s rest doesn’t allow to start writing again, then I assume that I’m suffering from writer’s block. Beating writer’s block is more than simply needing a rest. It’s your subconscious trying to tell you something. The cure can be a variety of things or a combination of things.

The best way to avoid writer’s block is not to run into it at all. Here’s are some tips to do that:

  1. Write every day. If you are keeping your writing creativity primed, then it’s easy to keep things moving. Newton’s Third Law of Motion: An object in motion tends to remain in motion. An object at rest tends to remain at rest.
  2. I like to keep multiple projects going. If I get stuck on one article, I’ll jump to another and come back to the original project at another time.
  3. I had an editor give me useful advice. Don’t try and get it perfect. Just write through it. You can always come back and edit it.
  4. Jump to another place in the book and article and work on it. If the problem is the story itself, either the change will give you a fresh perspective or you’ll realize you need to play with the story.
  5. When all else fails, I’ve found that nothing beats having a deadline that I need to meet.

Your goal is to do what is needed to get your writing project moving again.

 

            I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for five years now. In all that time, I might have written three articles for free. Though I didn’t earn any money from them, two articles added to my scholarly credentials and one earned me a good contact for future articles.

            That’s not the way it has always been, though. When I was first getting started in writing, I wrote a lot of free articles that earned me clippings and credentials that I have used many times since then. Luckily, I had a job at the time so I could write for the pure pleasure of it.

            My point is this: While writers write, professional writers get paid.

            Yes, if you are just getting started in the business, write for free, but make sure you get something out of it whether it’s a clipping, a new publication, a new market that you want to expand into or a new contact who could help you down the road.

            I used to teach a magazine writing class at a local community college about writing for magazines. I would draw a triangle on the board and label the top point “Pay” and the two lower points “Market” and “Story.” This was a mental representation on how I decided whether I wanted to write an article for a particular market.

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Pay is at the top of the triangle because it is the main reason I write articles. I’m a professional who wants to be paid. I’m always looking for higher-paying markets.

The Market corner of the triangle represents my desire to get into the magazine. For instance, I wrote an article for Maryland Historical Society Magazine this year. I’m not getting paid for it. I did it because it’s a prestigious scholarly publication. It will help me when I try and market some books I’m working on.

            The Story corner of the triangle represents how badly I want to see my story in print. This could be either because I really want to write the story or I want the clipping.

            As the potential pay drops, then I should be able to move along one of the sides of the triangle towards “Market” or “Story”, meaning that my interest in getting the story in print or in a particular magazine is overriding my need for pay. If I can’t see that movement, then the story isn’t worthwhile for me.

            Don’t undersell yourself or your abilities. If a magazine wants to print your article, they should be willing to pay for it. Your pay doesn’t necessarily need to be in cash, but you should get a payoff from your writing.

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