Finding a writing job is only half of the equation. Just like in the corporate world, you have to put forth an effort to secure the job as well. While there are many great opportunities available both online and offline, only those that are the most prepared will get the job.
To get the job
1. Research the publication
This is perhaps the most important step in the process, however, you would be surprised (or maybe not depending on your experience) at how many new writers fail to do this.
Researching the publication provides you with several important pieces of information that will help you nab that freelance job successfully. First, it will provide you with the contact information for the publication. This will allow you to personalize your query as well as make sure it gets to the right person.
Secondly, getting to know the publication will help you market to them better by understanding their reader demographics. A writing style that works for thirty-something business professionals will not transfer well to the teen market.
2. Know what the publication needs
This is where your previous research will do the most good. Publications are always looking for new, innovative content of interest to their readers. This will help them bring in more subscribers and consequently increased advertising revenue. The last thing editors want are, what amounts to, reprints of articles they’ve published before.
This is why most publications will tell you to read previous issues. Not only will it give you a feel for the tone they are looking for and what types of articles they are likely to publish but you will also know what they’ve already “done”.
3. Read and follow the submission guidelines
Many writers shoot themselves in the foot by not following the directions an editor gives for the submission of materials. When I was a manager, one of my duties was to hire people. Let me tell you, when a job came available I always had more than enough applications. One way I sifted through the pile was to discard those who did not fill out the application correctly. More than anything this shows that you can listen and follow directions.
It is the same with submitting to a publication. Editors get tons of submissions everyday. Even if your article would qualify you to win the Pulitzer, if it doesn’t conform to the submission guidelines, then it may only end up lining the bottom of the trash can.
4. Your query letter IS your sales pitch
The query letter does more than pitch your idea to a potential client. This is also the place where you sell yourself as a writer. In your query letter, be sure to include your areas of expertise and experience with the subject matter. Editors want to buy articles from people who know what they are talking about.
5. Be professional in your communications
You are in the business of writing, therefore all of your communication with editors and potential clients should reflect that. Use proper grammar and spelling, try to avoid the use of slang and, for the love off all things literary, DON’T USE ‘NET SPEAK.
Once you’ve got the job
1. Get a Contract
Insist on a contract that outlines the obligations of both parties. This protects you in the case of a problem or misunderstanding. It will be tempting to forgo the use of a contract especially if times are lean and the publisher is giving you a hard time about it but the fact is that you will save yourself a lot of headache and heartache by taking this extra step.
The good thing is that even emails can be considered a contractual agreement. So if you are afraid that you may scare off a potential client by insisting on this formality, at least send an email spelling out the details and wait for a response before starting or sending your work.
2. Bring Your A-Game
The quickest way to destroy your new business is to produce poor quality work. Having worked in customer service a good portion of my working life, I can attest to the fact that while praise for a good product or services is often few and far between, people will tell any and everyone within ear shot when they’ve gotten a bum deal. Always do your best work. Word gets around fast if you don’t.
3. Meet all of your deadlines
On a scale of one to ten in order of importance, meeting the deadline set by your editor rates an eleven. They are often on a tight schedule themselves and are probably running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to get the next magazine, newspaper, newsletter ready for publication. The last thing they need is a monkey wrench being thrown in the engine by an email asking for an extension.
4. Fix problems promptly
If there is a problem with your article fix it as soon as possible. Be sure to think of and ask all of the necessary questions to minimize the number of revisions.
5. Have a point of ridiculousness
On the other hand, if an editor sends an article back to you a seventh time for yet more revisions then it’s probably a good indication that you need to lay down the law. If you have done all that you can to try and fix the problem and yet the editor is still not satisfied then cut your losses as diplomatically as you possibly can and make a note to avoid working for them in the future.
6. People are human
The first thing to realize is that people are human and, as such, are subject to having bad days. This is where having a thick skin and commonsense will best serve you.
However this doesn’t excuse unacceptable behavior. If the person you are working with starts exhibiting bad behavior such as being verbally abusive, spewing racial epithets or sexually harasses you, don’t hesitate to drop them like a hot potato.
As you build your portfolio and your reputation as a freelance writer, navigating the freelance jungle will get easier. In the next article, we will look at how much to bill for your time.
Just in case you missed any, here’s a list: