The ultimate guide to finding work as a freelance writer
Want to be your own boss? Determine your income? Work on projects chosen by you? Spend all day in your underwear?
Although this might sound like the chimera of careers, thousands of people across the world are enjoying the above and more as freelance writers. There are so many perks to ditching the 40-hour work week and taking the self-employed route – flexibility, control, growth. And heck, the clue is in the name: it’s not called freelancing for nothing.
Being your own boss is an attractive concept, so why isn’t everyone doing it? Aside from the obvious distractions (those cat videos aren’t going to watch themselves), it can be freakin’ scary. Finding the right number of clients to provide enough income to ensure your bills are paid on time is no simple feat.
And while the internet has opened up an entirely new world of opportunity for freelance writers, it also means there’s more competition. You need to be on the top of your game if you want to succeed as a self-employed boss bitch.
Fortunately we’ve got your back! We’re here to provide you with the ultimate guide on how to master your workflow and guarantee you make the most bank while picking the jobs you want to do. No dodgy Craigslist ads necessary – we’ve got you covered.
Show us the goods
The first step to achieving your goals? Be as prepared as possible. This might seem like an obvious tip, but you’ll be surprised at how many people screw up a job application because they haven’t catered to the publication’s tone.
It’s important to get a solid online portfolio together and include links to articles that show off your skillset and relate to the organization you’re applying to. You could take this one step further, suggested freelancer Penny Layne Writes, by starting a blog or a website.
“This is a great place to hone your craft,” mused Writes. “Plus the blog acts as a portfolio, giving you a good place to send prospective customers or providing a quick link for pitches. Many people would prefer getting links to related work rather than attachments these days.”
Portfoliobox offers a sizeable space for free, or if you’re looking to build a blog or website or even set up your own online portfolio, WordPress is your best bet. If you’re a total tech newb, WordPress has got your back with a whole bunch of free tutorials and courses to get you started. You’ll be a blogging pro in no time.
Make your pitches perfect
When it comes to consumer publications, pitches are everything. It’s not always easy and you need to be prepared for a lot of rejection, but landing that first assignment will get the ball rolling for more work in the future.
First things first: know the publication to whom you’re pitching. Whether it be magazines such as Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping, and Country Gardens, or websites like Buzzfeed, Distractify, and Uproxx, first spend a solid amount of time reading through the articles and getting a feel for the voice of the publication. It might seem like an obvious point, but you’d be surprised at just how many people skip over this part and end up pitching tone-deaf features.
Once you feel you’ve nailed the tone, now it’s time to gather some ideas. Freelance writer Lisa Iannucci – who has written for Weight Watchers, Muscle & Fitness, Parenting, Shape, ePregnancy, SkyGuide Go, USA Weekend, and New York Magazine, to name a few – explained the importance of coming up with a fresh idea.
“So much has been done before,” Ianucci declared. “What new twist can you give it – new research, new anecdotes? Say you want to write about diets. What new research is there? Is there a new weight-loss procedure?”
Find a gap in the editorial output of interest to the mag’s readers. And if it’s a topic that’s been covered before but is in desperate need of an update, explain to the editor why it needs an update and how you’ll bring it into the present.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to pitching. Some publications are happy to accept completed pieces, others simply want some ideas thrown at them. However, there are some pointers you should always follow when pitching to new publications:
- Suggested title: Ensure it’s snappy, attention-grabbing and fits the tone.
- Sourcing your sources: Include the contact details of people you intend on interviewing for the piece (Profnet and HARO both provide access to expert sources for journalists).
- Offer your angle: Provide the approach you’ll be taking with the piece and why it’s essential for their readers; fresh, creative stabs at a known topic can be a great way to grab an editor’s attention.
- Provide a deadline: Let the editor know when you can hand over the first draft, but be realistic; don’t say two weeks if you can’t stick to it.
- Short and sweet: Editors are busy people, so don’t waffle on in your pitches; try to keep each one to 100 words max.
- Spell check, spell check, spell check: A surefire way to ensure your pitches are thrown in the slush pile is sending over a batch filled with grammatical mistakes and typos. Before you send your email, proofread the shit out of it first.
- Find the right editor: Don’t go pitching your business article to the food & drink editor; look for the most suitable editor for your ideas and find that person’s email address online. (If it’s not online, pick up the phone!)
There’s no limit to how many pitches you can send to any one publication, but as said, editors are busy AF. They’re unlikely to read through a stream of weak pitches.
Instead, aim to send one to three really solid ideas, provide the details listed above, and you’re far likelier to get a reply. If they’re still radio silent after a couple of weeks, there’s no harm in chasing up your email with a quick phone call, but remember to stay patient.
How to pitch to . . .
The Writers & Artists’ Yearbook is the freelance writer’s bible, an essential investment if you’re embarking on a self-employed career path. This bestselling guide to all areas of publishing and the media is completely revised and updated every year, so be sure to purchase the most recent edition.
Not only is the Yearbook packed full of advice and inspiration, but it includes an up-to-date directory of publications that accept pitches, what type of features they’re looking for, editorial contact details, and pay rates.
In addition, trade publication The Press Gazette features a number of How to pitch to _____ articles, providing insight into the type of ideas certain editors are hoping to see in their inboxes.
In How to pitch to Men’s Health, features editor Dan Jones revealed they’re looking for anything original and useful on the subject of men’s health and well-being. “It could be how to become a millionaire in 12 months, or going undercover to investigate organ trafficking. Surprise us.”
When it comes to the pitches, Jones recommended making it punchy and detailing which experts you’re going to use. “And, above all, tell us what new facts you’re going to add to the sum of human knowledge about a subject. If you’ve not written for us before, consider attaching a PDF of previous published work so we can gauge your writing style.”
There are dozens of similar articles online, so before you get pitching, be sure to search the target publication for a guide to writing for their site or mag. Here are just a few to help you on your way: How to Pitch to Motherboard, How to Submit Freelance Pitches to Bustle, How to Pitch: Good Housekeeping, and Contributor Guide for Film Daily.
Trade magazines: A secret goldmine
Although it’s tempting only to shoot for consumer mags, trade magazines are proverbial goldmines for freelance writers. Not only do they pay well, but the editorial process is faster and easier, there are less hands to deal with, and their readerships are established and focused.
While consumer publications have a broad audience, trade mags are niche and center on a specific industry sector. Some examples include Coastal Shipping, BirdWatching Magazine, Creative Screenwriting, and Interior Design – you’ll find a magazine no matter what niche you’re in.
“If it’s very technical or medical, then you should come to the table with some knowledge of the subject matter,” explained Iannucci. “Also, some magazines require a specific background to write for them, while others don’t. Read the articles and see who the writers are.”
Unlike pitching to consumer publications, B2B’s tend to have a set editorial schedule for the year, making the entire process more straightforward. While consumer magazines or websites might pay more per word, they can often involve many edits and one article can take months or even a year to go from idea to print. On the flipside, trade magazines are more direct when it comes to regular work and pay.
Seek the editorial schedule by downloading or requesting a media pack from the magazine in question, then drop an email to the editor or deputy editor with your portfolio of work and why you’d make a good candidate as a freelance writer. In terms of seeking out trade mags, Writer’s Market is a great resource, but you can also just contact associations and find out the publications representing them.
“If you want to write for a medical journal and you’re a nurse, say it,” coached Iannucci. “If you want to write for a bird magazine and it’s your hobby, say that.”
Many publications pay between $100 to $300 or more per article. Bag a few of these per month and you’ll be well on your way to freelancing success.
Embrace online job boards
If you’re new to the freelancing world and want to find consistent work, responding to job ads is a strong starting point. Speaking to FutureFemme, Content Division Manager of Virtual Vocations, Inc., Kimberly Back, declared her number one tip is to embrace reputable job boards.
“I began my content career as a freelance writer for a local newspaper then branched out to digital content using websites like FreelanceWritingGigs.com and VirtualVocations.com to search for new writing contracts,” explained Back.
“The benefit of using sites like these is that they curate a wealth of freelance writing jobs across a spectrum of writing categories and specialties. In my experience, job board users are often the first to know when these websites are in need of their own freelance writers – that’s how I started contracting with Virtual Vocations and, ironically, through my work there, had the good fortune to be presented with opportunities to guest post at FreelanceWritingGigs.”
You’ll also find regular jobs posted on sites such as Problogger and Blogging Pro. But you don’t have to stop there – while Reddit might seem like a confusing web-based wasteland, it’s one of the most useful tools a writer can have. You just need to know how to work it.
If you’re looking for writing gigs, there are numerous subreddits worth scanning each morning for new job posts. We suggest checking in with /r/ForHire, /r/WritingOpportunities, and /r/HireAWriter on a regular basis, either for new writing positions or to advertise your services.
Make friends with entrepreneurs
In addition to applying online, try cold pitching to business owners. Author and story development coach, Jennifer Blanchard – who runs her own freelancing course called Freelance to Freedom – told FutureFemme one of the best ways to find work as a writer is to offer your services to entrepreneurs.
“So many online entrepreneurs are looking for help creating content for their blogs and social media channels, so having a specific service that you can offer them to help with that will help you get more clients,” Blanchard explained. “For example, when I was freelancing I created a Guest Post Guru service where I would write or help write a guest post for an entrepreneur to submit to a website; the service was hugely popular.”
With freelancing, you may not have a specific writing service that you offer – though it’s recommended that you do. Regardless, it’s important to get your writing out there and create content every day with a “call to action” for people to reach out to you when they need the services you offer. The question remains: how do you find entrepreneurs who want to hire you? That brings us nicely onto our next point:
Social media is everything
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn – social media networks make up the essential tools for every freelance worker. But perhaps no network will find you quite as many clients as Twitter.
Need entrepreneurs to pitch to? Hoping to connect with consumer magazine editors? Want to keep up-to-date with industry happenings? Seeking sources for an article? You can do all of this and more simply by following and interacting with people & businesses on Twitter.
But if you want to really utilize your time, sign up to ManageFlitter – a web-based application that assists Twitter users with gaining insight into their Twitter account. Business writer Courtney Danyel offered up an example of how she uses this tool to find prospective clients. After connecting ManageFlitter with your Twitter account, head over to the “Search” feature and click on “Refine”, then use the advanced options for searching.
Here you can indicate you only want to see profiles that have your niche keyword in the bio; in Danyel’s example, she searched for “Marketing Software”. “Then, I selected to see only active accounts,” she explained. “No need to market to people and businesses who aren’t really there.
“After that, I set a minimum number of followers for the accounts. I’m assuming that if a business can’t invest in building their social presence, they probably can’t invest in hiring me as a freelance writer either. Next, I click ‘Find People’.”
Take these steps and you’ll be provided with a slew of potential new clients you can follow with just one click.
When it comes to pitching to consumer mags, you’ll seriously bolster your chance of getting a reply by following and interacting with their editors on Twitter. You can also search related hashtags or keywords to find people looking for freelancers and follow pages dedicated to posting relevant jobs, such as Freelance Writing Jobs and Write Jobs.
“Facebook Groups are another helpful resource,” revealed Penny Writes. “If you follow blogging, freelance, or other related groups, you can regularly find people looking for freelance writers to help with content. Plus, just like on Twitter, people in these groups share opportunities as they come across them.”
There are endless Facebook groups for every writing avenue – we recommend starting out with Freelance B2B Writers, Freelancing Females, Remote Work & Jobs for Digital Nomads, Remote Jobs, and The Freelance to Freedom Project. Get connected and start hustling, buster!
Be the freelancer of the month, every month
Just because you’ve landed a freelance gig doesn’t mean the hard work is over. To truly succeed as a self-employed writer, you’re going to need consistent and regular work that pays; to do this, you need to make sure you’re the company’s MVP.
Freelance writer and author, Kelly Hayes-Raitt, outlined the importance of being a valuable employee. “The easiest freelance work to get is repeat work,” explained Hayes-Raitt, but to do so, you’ll need to “deliver content early, be generous with edits, be appreciative, and gracious. Strive to be your client’s ‘go-to’ writer.”
Stay in touch with the editors, but don’t be pushy. Hit those deadlines and go above and beyond to provide your best work, and in no time you’ll be the editor’s first port of call for new projects.
Whether you’re at the start, in the middle, or teetering towards the end of your freelance writing career, hopefully this guide has given you some inspiration to get started or keep going. And if you’re in need of a bit of motivation to carry on with the freelancing gig, just remember once again: you can spend all day in your underwear.