If you’re serious about making a living as a freelance writer, the first thing you need to do is forget about all of the success stories you’ve heard about and focus on your own journey. One of the biggest mistakes aspiring writers make is fantasizing about someone else’s end result, and not taking the time out to consider how they got there. Well here’s how. The most successful freelance writers are good at what they do, they work long hours, they are dedicated and motivated, they’re consistent, and they have certain skills that help attract and keep clients.
As an aspiring writer, you must realize that there is no easy path to success and remember that the overnight success stories are the exception, not the rule. So now that the lecture is out of the way, let’s get down to business. After shifting your focus, you should think about what type of writer you would like to be, keeping in mind that the type of writer you would like to be and the type of writing you’re good at might be two different things. If you feel like you’re an excellent fiction writer and you would like to sell your stories, this next section is for you.
How to Become a Freelance Writer (Fiction)
If you have a story or stories to tell, enter your excerpts and short stories into as many contests as you can. You should also try publishing your short stories or excerpts in short story magazines and other publications that accept short stories. You can find out exactly where to market your work by picking up a copy of the most recent Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest Books (Editor, Alice Pope).
This resource will tell you which publications are open to your genre or subject matter and the guidelines for each. Just about every publication has specific guidelines for submissions. If you don’t follow the guidelines to the letter, even if your story is fantastic, it won’t get past the front door. It can take several months to years to get your first story published, so be patient and know that once you have even one credit under your belt, getting past the front door will get easier.
Most large book publishers, and many small ones, do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, so after collecting a sizable number of credits such as honorable mentions, published stories or contest wins, consider hiring an agent. You can try to hire an agent without any credits, but having them will give agents more confidence in your skills, dedication and marketability. An agent will evaluate your manuscript and let you know if he or she is willing to take you on as a client. If they do, you’re still only about halfway there.
Even after an agent signs you, there’s still much work to be done. Starting out, you will have to play an active role in marketing your idea, and once your book is published, you will have to do even more. This means that it takes more than being a good writer to be a successful writer. You have to get to know marketing and business in order to make it.
To learn how to approach literary agents, pick up a copy of the most recent Guide to Literary Agents by Writer’s Digest Books (Editor, Chuck Sambuchino). If you want to get your foot in the door, be sure to follow any and all guidelines to the letter.
How to Become a Freelance Writer (Non-Fiction)
Non-fiction writers might have it easier than fiction writers (or poets), but it still takes a lot of work to earn enough to quit your day job. The good news is, non-fiction is a broad filed, so there’s a market for every subject you can think of, both online and off. If your goal is to write non-fiction books, you can follow the advice in the previous section or promote your idea on your own. Say, for instance, you have an idea for a reference guide such as a dictionary of classic cars. You can use the most current issue of the Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest Books (Editor, Robert Lee Brewer) to find publishers that might be interested in your idea. Again, if you want to impress a publisher, you can start by following directions—so follow the guidelines to the letter.
Please note that the publishers and publications in the Writer’s Digest guides have been thoroughly researched. When searching for potential publishers, always stick to trusted sources with a solid reputation in the industry. This will help you avoid becoming the victim of a scam.
How to Become a Freelance Writer (Non-Fiction, Online)
One of the fastest ways from starving writer to publication (and a steady paycheck) is by selling your writing skills online. Every website needs content, even if it’s just a company profile or a fact sheet about Peridot. So if you’re willing to pen a few web pages each month or write articles about everything from Asbestos to Zoology Careers, you can make a good living writing online. You do, of course, need experience with research, writing, and editing as well as experience with deadlines, working with editor’s, and working with content management systems.
Depending on the site, publisher, media company or whomever is doing the hiring, you may also need a degree in communications, literature, journalism, English, marketing, public relations, creative writing or a related field. Keep in mind that the more education and experience you have, the more you can charge (and earn) for your services.
Having the right skills and education is important if you want to earn a respectable salary and contract with reputable firms, but you must also be good at marketing your skills and credentials, and running a business. You have to be well-organized and excellent with time management. You must also understand how pricing and invoicing works (check Writer’s Market for current market rates for all services) as well as taxes, expense management, and handling your own health insurance and retirement savings plans.
It is important to get comfortable with the idea that starting out, you’ll be performing all of the tasks that you might be used to someone else doing, then later down the line you might be lucky enough to hire an assistant! In the meantime, the following resources will help you throughout your journey.
- -Writer’s Digest Magazine
- -Poets & Writer’s Magazine
- -Freelancers Union (www.freelancersunion.org)
- -National Writer’s Union (www.nwu.org)
- -Writers Guild of America (www.wga.org)
*Note: Craigslist is a great place to find work if you’re just starting out. Many start-ups use this site to find talent at a reasonable price. The majority of firms that use Craigslist to find writers are reputable, but occasionally, a bad apple slips through the cracks. The best way to avoid being taken for a ride is to check to make sure the company has a physical address, working phone number, and a website. Give them a call. Check out their website. If you’re nearby, take a stroll past their office. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the company is listed or just do Google search to see what you come up with. And finally, if a “company” asks for money or anything else in return for a job, it’s probably a scam.