If you’ve been dreaming of making your career in writing, you’ve probably envisioned the life of a freelance writer. Your work might appear in various print and online publications, with the occasional paid assignment landing you a byline on a major news website. You’ll collaborate with editors and publishers to craft a story, and may even be compensated for your efforts.
While it’s certainly a viable option for those who can master the art of selling themselves as writers, not all will be succcessful. To succeed in this endeavor, you need to develop a clear understanding of how to get paid as a freelance writer.
For those who’ve yet to dip their toes into the freelance waters, here are some of the basics you need to know to become a successful writer:
- Find your voice
- Customize your pitch
- Follow the money
- Build a portfolio
- Know when to take on a project and when to pass
- Hone your skills
- Be prepared to work hard
- Do your research
- Keep up with the trends
- Learn from the best
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Find Your Voice
No one said it better than John Steinbeck when he advised, “Don’t be afraid to experiment with tense or narrative voice. You can always rewrite later, but once the words are out of your mouth, you can’t take them back.”
The point is to find what works best for you. Do you have a more lyrical or poetic prose? A first-person-plural viewpoint that gives your writing a more intimate tone? Or maybe you prefer to write in third person, as if you’re narrating something rather than participating in the action yourself?
Whatever your voice may be, you need to hone your skills until you find the right tool for the job. Your first task is to learn how to write effectively in English, which will provide you with the basic grammar and syntax you need to succeed as a freelancer. From there, you can experiment with different styles to see which ones work best for you.
Customize Your Pitch
“Pitch” might be the most important term for a freelance writer to learn. This is the concise summary of your writing you present to the potential client, most often in an e-mail or a brief phone call. Like the term “voice,” the pitch you craft will be an expression of who you are as a writer.
In crafting your pitch, you need to focus on the following elements:
- A summary of the project
- A unique selling point (USP)
- An elevator pitch
- A call to action
A summary of the project encompasses everything you need to know about the client’s needs and the type of content you will produce. It should be concise but comprehensive enough to hold the reader’s interest. Make sure you include topics that will pique the interest of your target audience.
Keywords are highly relevant words or phrases that will aid the reader in finding your content. For example, if you’re writing about hiking, include the keywords hiking, traveling, or adventure in your summary.
A unique selling point (USP) is the benefit your product or service provides that differentiates it from other products or services. In the case of freelance writing, your USP could be a special talent or expertise that sets you apart from other writers. For example, maybe you’re known for writing romantic comedies or thrillers or something along those lines.
An elevator pitch is how you would introduce yourself to a potential client if you were meeting them for the first time. You don’t need to go into great detail about your entire life story, but you should include enough to make the person listening interested in your offering. If you were pitching yourself to a group of people, you might say something like, “I am a seasoned journalist who has worked for major publications. I’ve covered everything from consumer products to foreign affairs.”
You need to connect with your reader on a personal level in order to build trust. If you can’t connect with your reader on a personal level, then you won’t be able to convince them to buy your product or service. Therefore, make sure that your pitch reflects your personality and that it is easy to understand, memorable, and has the ability to make your target audience interested in your offering. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the pitch, the easier it will be to remember and the more effective it will be. Having a weak pitch is worse than having no pitch at all; you at least need a pitch in order to start writing!
Follow The Money
Once you’ve gotten the word out that you’re a freelance writer looking for assignments, the next critical step is to follow the money. Not all of it. Just enough so you can live comfortably.
When you first get started, it’s easy to get bogged down in writing speculative fiction or crafting an appealing pitch for a wealthy business owner who might not even need your services. Before you know it, months have gone by with no signed contracts in sight. It’s then that you’ve got to draw the line between necessities and luxuries. The former will sustain you while you seek to establish yourself as a freelancer, and the latter will help you enjoy a life of luxury once you’re consistently earning.
Build A Portfolio
An important component of any freelance writer’s portfolio is sample texts. These are short pieces of writing you’ve previously done for which you were not paid. In some cases, you might not have been credited or recognized for your contribution. In other cases, you might have seen your work go unacknowledged. One important thing to consider about these texts is that they should be of good quality. You want to show that you can write professionally, so your portfolio should reflect that. Additionally, you want to include only those pieces that can, for the most part, be published without additional editing. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.
You can also include various other types of writing samples, such as blogs, web content, or memos. The point is to have something that will convince a potential client or editor that you’re capable of taking on their project. Additionally, you can include documentation of previous work experience, awards you’ve won, or any other relevant details that will make your work stand out.
Know When To Take On A Project And Know When To Walk Away
As a freelancer, one of the most important skills you need to develop is knowing when to take on a project and know when to walk away. It’s easy for a freelance writer to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of the fact that maybe this is not the right project for you. Then you’re left with a contract you couldn’t refuse, a massive amount of work, and a bad feeling that you’ve disappointed someone. This is not what you want to happen. Therefore, make sure you approach every project with the right mindset and work hard to complete it successfully. If you feel you’re unlikely to succeed with a certain project, then it’s time to walk away. You can always circle back later if you feel confident that this is the right project for you.
Learn From The Best
No list of dos and don’ts about becoming a freelance writer would be complete without mentioning the importance of learning from the best. The most effective way of doing this is by reading the work of successful freelancers. However, be careful not to simply copy what you read. Every writer is different, and you don’t want to fit what you observe into a mold. Instead, make a note of how the successful writers you highlight approach problems and challenges, and you will find that you can solve many of your own problems by following their lead. Additionally, make sure you continually analyze what you’ve written, taking note of both its merits and its weaknesses. This way, you will constantly be improving as a writer and gaining new knowledge and experience that will benefit you in the long run.