I’ve been writing articles for media outlets since I was 19 years old. Back then we actually clipped our works from papers and magazines and pasted them in a binder (this is why we journos call our writing samples “clips”). Yes, I’m old AF. But no matter your age, you can start a freelance writing career of your own in just 7 simple steps.
Step 1 — Read, read, read.
Make a list of publications you’d like to write for and read, read, read. While you’re studying these publications, pay attention to what kinds of content they seem to prefer but also make note of what’s missing that you think would be a good fit. Be sure to pay attention to tone, too.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out this list of 150 freelance writing jobs.
Step 2 — Network up and across.
Use social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook groups, and Instagram) to start building relationships with editors. Editors are more likely to open and reply to emails from names they recognize.
But don’t forget to connect with other writers, too. They can open doors for you as well. Whenever I’m offered an opportunity that I don’t have the bandwidth to take on or something I don’t think is a good fit for me, I pass it on to another writer in my circle.
And if you have a friend who’s writing for a publication on your byline bucket list, ask her if she’ll introduce you to the editor she works with.
Related Reading: The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Freelance Writing Career Right Now
Step 3 — Shoot your shot.
Once you’ve come up with an idea for a publication, pitch it! Your pitch needs to be brief (editors are busy) but should convey why this story should be written right now and why you’re the right person to do it. Be sure to start with a hook, something that will grab the editor’s attention. Come up with a possible headline, too, and use that in your subject line along with the word PITCH, of course.
Step 4 — Keep pitching.
When you start pitching you should expect some (many?) editors to say no. Some will say nothing at all and never respond to your email. (Yes, it’s OK to follow up once after a week or so.) The freelance life comes with a lot of rejection. But celebrate each rejection email. Yes, you read that right: CELEBRATE REJECTION. That rejection means you’re at least trying.
A rejection of your idea is not a rejection of you as a person. It doesn’t mean you’re not smart or you’re not a good writer. It simply means your story idea isn’t right for that publication right now.
Step 5 — Do the work.
Once your pitch is accepted, it’s time to get to work. Research, report, and write your article. Be sure to manage your time wisely so you won’t miss your deadline. Organizing your thoughts with an outline will help you write faster. I outline my articles with Post-It Notes.
Be sure to edit your work before sending it in. Use Grammarly to check for grammar errors. Use Hemingway App to check for hard-to-read sentences. And try reading your piece aloud as well.
Related Reading: How to Balance Freelance Writing with Your Full-Time Job
Step 6 — Get published and paid!
Once the work is done, it’s time to secure the bag! Send that invoice. (Each publication has a different protocol for submitting invoices, so find out exactly what you need to do to get your coins.)
Step 7 — Rinse and repeat.
Getting that first check for your writing should give you the boost you need to keep the party going. Keep reading, keep developing ideas, keep pitching, and keep doing the work.
If you want to take deeper dive into the world of freelance journalism, check out my online course See Jane Freelance. Now through Labor Day (September 6, 2021), you can get 20 percent off with the code SJFEARLYBIRD. Learn more about the course here.