Freelancing your writing talent is an attractive prospect for so many of us; working with the clients, brands and publications you want, having more control over your time and doing all of this from anywhere in the world — or the comfort of your own home if you’re in a national lockdown. On the flip-side, getting started as a freelance writer is extremely daunting. Although there is some information out there on how to get started, if you don’t know where to look, you’ll never find it — believe me.
Collages by Livvy Mitchell
After working on my own blog for the past few years, I knew I wanted to get paid to write and create work for my favourite publications, but I had absolutely no idea where to begin. I was naively under the impression that the work would eventually find me if I just kept writing for my blog, but as a freelancer you need to be the one going after the work you want. After fumbling around Google, Twitter and Instagram for a few months, I managed to pick up my first paid writing gig around February, and I was finally able to officially call myself a freelance writer.
Thinking of jumping into the wonderful world of freelance writing, but don’t know where to begin? There are a few things I learnt on my journey so far, so I’ve decided to put together some of my best advice for getting started:
Don’t leave your day job
You need to have a reliable way to sustain yourself when you’re starting out, as the likelihood is you won’t be making any, or very little, money. Whether that’s the job you’re currently in, a part-time job or maybe some savings stashed away; find a consistent income that can tide you over for at least a few months. For many people, freelancing almost always starts off as a side hustle, so don’t be ashamed to stick to your day job until what you make from writing, exceeds your current income.
Have a portfolio
An editor will always ask for previous work when commissioning a new writer. What most are looking for is evidence of your writing ability and evidence of your proactivity. Whether that’s published work or a personal blog, it all counts. Don’t feel discouraged if you’ve not been commissioned before: take the step in carving out a space for yourself online where you can share your writing. Make sure you keep it updated regularly as this shows consistency. WordPress, Wix, Medium are all great options to get you started and they all have free packages, so you can save those coins as you build your career.
If you have been commissioned and published by other publications, make sure all the links to your work are together in one place. There’s nothing worse than trawling the internet for your writing last minute and then sending an editor a jumbled list of links. Create a website for yourself or use specialised journo portfolios like Contently. Link Tree is another great, free option that displays all your links in a list-like format.
Follow writers/publications on socials
Get to know the publications you want to be writing for, find out what kind of content they’re interested in and what kind of work they’re already publishing. When you do pitch to them, you’ll know exactly what they’re after. Publications also post on socials when they’re looking for general or specific submissions so you’ll always be in the loop if you’re following them. It’s also a good idea to follow other journalists and check out their work. This will expose you to a range of writing styles, keep you inspired and connect you to lots more publications. As you begin to follow these different writers and platforms, you’ll come across more niche, indie and small publications that they collaborate with or write for, thus expanding your reach.
You’ll also be surprised at how many journalists and publications offer mentorships, webinars and workshops via social media — often for free — so make sure you’re staying connected.
Perfect the art of pitching
Pitching is a skill that you’ll be refining for the rest of your writing career, whether you’re a freelancer or a staff writer. It is arguably the hardest part of the writing process as you need to convince an editor that their magazine should publish your article, and that you should be the one to write it — publications have paid staff who are more than capable to take on your ideas. Most publications will have pitching guidelines somewhere on their website, so make sure you read those before you send that email. Pitches should always be succinct, persuasive and proof-read — if you send a pitch with 5 spelling mistakes and missing commas, an editor will be very reluctant to commission you. Absolutely all editors hate pitches around topics they’ve already covered, so make sure you're bringing something fresh to the table. If your proposed piece is covering something they’ve already done, think of a new angle or perspective — you’ll need to convince them even more that your piece needs to be published. This article from Journo Resources helped me a lot when I first started pitching.
Be prepared for rejection
Rejection is a very common part of the freelancing experience — don’t ever be surprised at rejection or no response. Editors are extremely busy and their inboxes are flooded with emails. Don’t take this personally or feel that it reflects you or your writing, because it absolutely doesn’t. There’s no harm in following up with an editor if you’ve not heard back from them or pitching the same idea to other publications. It’s often slightly easier to pitch to smaller publications as they won’t have as many writers approaching them and are not as swamped — this is not always the case. The key with pitching is to keep trying!
The one thing you can do to become a better writer is to read: often and widely. Not only will this expose you to new vocabulary, writing styles and formats, it will also trigger your own thought process and spark new ideas as you read around different topics.
So, that all seems like a lot right? The scariest part of freelance writing is taking the first step. All these tips as well as developing a belief that your writing is worth reading should give you the confidence to jump in and send that pitch.
Look out for Part 2 which will have even more tips to get you started in your freelance writing career.