October 21st, 2007

More on Freelancing

And since we are talking about writing for money, I thought I would also share with you this article I wrote on the topic a short while ago:

4 Freelance Myths

Good for you! You’ve got a dream and you are ready to make it a reality: You want to shift over from being an apa annotated bibliography maker to be a freelance writer. Before you get started, though, let’s consider some mistaken ideas many beginners have about the business of writing for money.

1. Writing is art. A good writer shouldn’t have to work at it.
Writing may be an art form, but even the very best professional writers will tell you that they work at their craft. Not only is good writing work, it’s hard and sometimes tedious work to boot. Freelance writing means producing content for someone other than yourself. That might mean doing research or conducting interviews in a subject area you find rather uninspiring. It might mean tailoring your style to suit a particular audience. It might mean swallowing your pride and re-writing an article that an editor sends back to you for changes you don’t think are necessary.

Artistic inspiration is a wonderful thing, but if you want to turn your art into a profitable business venture, you will need to work at it. Editors will not be impressed with first draft writing, no matter how “inspired” it feels. They want professional writing that is honed, clear, concise, polished, and targeted to their readers. To get there, you will have to work and re-work, write and re-write.

2. A rejection letter means I stink and I should give up.
A rejection letter might mean you stink, but it also might just mean you sent the wrong pitch to the wrong editor at the wrong time. To increase your chances of success, you need to know and target a specific magazine’s editorial needs. Sending out generic queries to dozens of magazines without researching them first is a waste of everybody’s time.

If you focus on a few publications that publish material similar to your work, research them, and send out focused queries, you will greatly increase the chances of finding the right home for your work. Keep in mind that most publications work on issues 6-12 months in advance. Knowing a particular publication’s lead time will help you pitch seasonal topics at the appropriate times.

Even with the best of research, however, you will need to keep in mind that rejection is an inevitable part of the freelance process. As hard as it might be, try not to take rejections too personally. Look at rejections not as failures but as a stepping stones toward your future success and look for ways to learn from them.

When I was first starting out, a particular editor at Family Fun repeatedly rejected my submissions. Though I was disappointed each time, I brushed myself off and kept submitting and she kept rejecting, often with one or two brief comments explaining why.

This continual rejection process helped me to further understand that particular magazine’s needs, fine-tune my work, and make my name recognizable to the editor. As a result, I did eventually make the right submission in the right way at the right time. I was published in the magazine and, though she is now at a different magazine, I have maintained a working relationship with the editor who rejected me so very often. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t persevered after receiving that original rejection letter.

3. I have talent. Once I am “discovered” finding freelance work will be a piece of cake.
An important part of the work of freelance has nothing to do with the writing itself. It has to do with self-promotion, looking ahead, and planning future projects. Successful freelancers keep projects going in three different stages:

1. projects in the “idea stage” that they are actively pitching to editors
2. projects they have been assigned and are actively researching and/or setting up interviews for
3. projects for which they have completed the research and are now writing, re-writing, and polishing for final submission.

Part of the thrill of freelance work is that you work for yourself, no one “owns” you, and you can pick and choose your own projects. A consequence of this boss-free living, however, is that no one is going to be handing you work (not in the beginning anyway) unless you actively seek it out. To be continually successful, you need to be continually selling yourself and your work.

4. I am an artist. I can’t be bothered with such practical things as figuring out how to send email attachments or maintaining a professional website.
Being an eccentric “artistic” type might have worked for Hemingway, but if you want to find freelance success in the 21st century, you need to make your talents, your pitches, and your submissions as readily accessible as possible for potential editors to consider.

While some publications still accept snail mail queries and submissions, many do not. Like it or not, the trend is headed toward more and more editors expecting even their on-paper writers to be as web-savvy as possible. Simple computer skills are just plain expected. Also, a well-maintained, professional website makes it easy for potential editors to review your work and read your clips when they are considering giving you an assignment. The more professionalism and techno-savvy you can exhibit, the more likely editors are to take you and your work seriously.

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