Sunday, 19 April 2015

Insider Secrets For Successful Freelance Writing

I was interviewed recently by fellow writer, Tony Riches, for his blog. I thought I'd post a copy on here. You might enjoy it. :-)

How did you first start to make a living as a freelance writer?

I took redundancy from a career in marketing and had a couple of short-term jobs, one of which opened my eyes to the possibilities as a freelance writer. Basically, I was much better than the freelance writers that this company was using. So when that doomed job ended (and no-one else wanted me) I decided to set myself up as a freelance writer. Getting started was hard work, but I've never looked back. I'm really glad I did it.

I started pitching article ideas to the editors of magazines that I wanted to write for - all day long, relentlessly. I got rejection after rejection initially - and those that didn't reject me, offered 'exposure' in return for working for free. Well I was serious about a career, so 'exposure' wasn't enough. I needed to chase the money.

Among those offering 'exposure' was a glossy women's magazine called Marie Claire. I agreed to cooperate with a short interview piece for Marie Claire, just so that I could say I'd been published in that magazine (or on their website technically). But as a general rule, I was very focused on the money. I had to be. I'd quit my job, and this was supposed to be my new career!

My first paid commission came through from a military magazine, followed by a couple of assignments from gardening magazines and I was away! I kept pitching relentlessly, and the work kept coming in. The rest is history (or in my books if you want more detail!).

Where can new writers find the best opportunities to build their portfolio?

Among my first regular assignments was a column in the local newspaper about events happening in my town. That kind of opportunity is a reasonable starting point - it gets you focused on the writing discipline, meeting deadlines, developing a routine, ensuring a high level of accuracy, and complying with in-house style-guides.

I also had some work published in a regional magazine some years earlier, which meant that when I started writing full-time, I had a modest portfolio of work to show off. I did those early articles for free because it was promoting something that was in my interests. Doing the odd thing for free can help you get a basic portfolio together.

What can writers do to increase their chances of success?

I think it can be very easy to give up in the face of rejection, but if you want it badly enough, you'll keep plugging away, and improve your craft until you get there. I read lots of books, asked people for advice, and persevered. I pitched feature ideas all day, every day, for weeks before I got a positive reply. Tenacity and determination really help - but you've got to have a good command of English and some decent ideas too.

Where do you start to find the right contacts for magazines and newspapers?

The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, a magazine's website, or the editorial column inside a magazine itself, are all good places to start. Staff turnover can be quite high in publishing, so it's worth checking online if in doubt.

Do you need an agent—and what can they do for you?

I don't have an agent. I got a book contract directly with a publisher. I don't think you need one, but they can be very helpful if you have your heart set on a publishing deal with a large publishing house. Agents represent your interests. They can, hopefully, get your manuscript in front of the people who matter and get you a decent advance. Getting access to the big publishers is very difficult to achieve without an agent, as most of them refuse to deal directly with authors these days.

What are the biggest challenges to a sustainable freelance career and how can writers overcome them?

Getting paid quickly is one of the biggest challenges. You don't get paid until the article is published, which depending on the publication, can take months, or even years. There are also issues with many publications having their budgets cut at the moment, so some are cutting their fees, and others are taking less freelance material. It's a real squeeze.

I think it helps to have other skills so that you can diversify a bit. I intend to do more on the photography side this year, and I hope to do more writing for business markets, where you get paid more quickly.

What are your ‘top tips’ for new freelance writers?
  • Persevere.
  • Take notice of all feedback because it often provides valuable insight into how you can improve your writing skills.
  • Read books on writing, and meet others who write, for inspiration and support.
You'll find that my latest writing book, 'Freelance Writing Aim Higher, Earn More' is on special offer for Kindle at the moment. Why not grab a copy here?

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