Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Once you get the first job or two, give preference to the ones who print your work in a timely manner and pay you quickly. All of mine pay within a week of publication and the publication dates are very quick after I submit pieces.
Keep going to the papers in your area until you have as much work as you want or as much as you can handle. Keep an eye out for other publications and contact them if you notice an advertisement for freelancers or even staff positions, or even if you just think you would be a good fit for the publication.
It took me about seven months to get enough work. It took me several more months to let all the other side work I was doing go and just concentrate on my writing. Now I'm four and a half years into freelancing and I can pick and choose what I want to do.
After you get enough work you want to concentrate on keeping it! I am very careful to remain very valuable to my editors. I take great pains to submit very well-written pieces in a timely manner. During my years as an editor at a newspaper office, I greatly appreciated well-written pieces that didn't require a great deal of editing. I always cringed at the pieces that just needed to be completely rewritten. The last thing I want is to make my editors cringe because that means I'll get fewer opportunities to write and they won't call me when they need something done quickly. As it is, they know they will have to edit my pieces very little, if any at all. They know they can assign me anything or call me at the last minute and they'll get a great piece ready to print.
Monday, September 29, 2008
As with getting started on any career path, you need to keep an open mind and be willing to accept rejection. Actually, you should expect it because let's face it, it's going to happen.
My best client came after some negative thinking and then a rejection, in fact. Friends kept urging me to try to work for this newspaper, a large one, but I didn't think I could. Finally I felt ready and then I saw an advertisement for a freelance writer for a weekly advertising section in this paper. It wasn't the dream position, but by this time I just wanted to get my foot in the door with this paper. As the young lady was walking me out after the interview, she said that if things didn't work out with this particular department, I should contact this other certain department.
I didn't get the job I interviewed for so I did contact by phone the other department she mentioned. They did in fact need freelancers and they gave me an assignment right there on the spot. I eventually submitted the requested piece and that led to a stream of assignments that has kept me busy for the last four and a half years.
Another position I got after going into a newspaper office as an afterthought. I was in town on business and we passed right by the newspaper office. It wasn't on my list because at 40-45 minutes from home I figured it was too far away. My husband urged me to go on in with my resume although I did not want to. They had some work for me right then and there.
You just never know what is going to happen.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Pay rates are extremely important to most freelancers, or at least they are to me. In fact, they are the very reason that I freelance.
A newspaper that has some freelance work available probably already has in place a rate that they pay freelancers, but if not, they should be willing to negotiate with you. I have all kinds of rates that I get. One is $1.25 an inch, another is $75 for an 1,000 word cover feature, and another is $50 for about 800 words.
I had one paper that just told me to bill them. I pondered over what to charge for a while and then decided to pitch them the rate I was getting from another paper. Lo and behold, they accepted it on the spot. Several months later they asked me if I could reduce my price, but I had built that request into the original price I requested.
I like to get an average of $15-20 an hour but sometimes it doesn't always work out. At first all that matters is that you are getting paid and then you can figure out an average later and even turn your nose up at some things or pass them off to someone else. Now that is a good feeling.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The next step in getting started in the freelance writing world is to spread your resume around in the hopes of snagging a job or two. My experience has found that this works much better in person. In fact, I have not obtained one single job by emailing my resume. (I hope that changes in the near future.)
With your list of newspaper information, plan a driving trip to the newspapers. Start with the ones closest to your home and go from there.
When it's resume day, just relax, dress nicely, and get your stack of resumes, which by now should be inside the folders with cover letters in front and writing samples in back.
If you are a fumbler like me, carry only the folder with the resume in it and a card inside the office with you. Take a nice big deep breath (or two) right before you walk in the door.
Introduce yourself to the first person who acknowledges you and ask for the editor by name. If it's a small newspaper the editor is most likely there. While the editor is fished out of the bowels of the building (they could be doing anything from typing furiously to trying to get the press running) take another nice deep breath. You need to give off the impression that you are competent, professional, and timely.
Hand the editor your card and your resume and say you'd like to do some freelance work for them. Just like that. Very short and to the point. As in, "I'm Michelle Wallace and I'd like to do some freelance work for you." I didn't say it exactly like that the first time but very quickly learned to do so.
They'll either say they have something or they don't have anything at the time. If they have something for you, express willingness to do whatever is needed without appearing over-eager. The goal is a standing position but a few pieces on a trial basis wouldn't be bad either.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The third thing you need to do to begin work as a freelance writer is find all the newspapers within a reasonable radius and get the name of the editors.
Small newspapers would be the best place to start with this. They are usually understaffed and in sore need of feature pieces, sports writing, and maybe even some meeting coverage although the human interest pieces seem to be the best things to turn over to freelancers.
I had the advantage of knowing the newspapers and their editors already because of dealing with them for many years (and having a state newspaper guide handy), but chances are you know the name of a newspaper or two in your area. Start your list with them.
Go online to www.usnpl.com and click on your state for a list of newspapers. That will not be all the papers in your area, but a look at a regional phone book or a trip to the library should produce the names of some more papers and the names of the editors of the papers. If you are looking at the paper online go to the "Contact Us" tab for names and contact information. If you are able to skim through an actual newspaper, there will be a staff box inside the paper somewhere, maybe on the bottom of the editorial page, that names the editor. If it lists both an editor and a managing editor, make a note of both names. While you're at it get the phone numbers and email addresses just in case.
Make a list of the names of all the papers you can find within a reasonable distance from you and be sure to note the names of the editors.
You're almost ready to go out and distribute your resume. (Yes, you're going in person!)
Thursday, September 18, 2008
A big part of looking for a writing job is presenting writing samples. I can just about guarantee that editors will want to see your work first.
I had chosen several nice pieces that I had written for the paper I worked for and took them with me in newspaper clipping form. Not everyone has these but anything in print is the first preference. But of course many people do not have print samples in the first place. That's what they are out there trying to get.
The next choice for writing samples would be anything published, online or otherwise. Many people have had pieces published online at places like Associated Content, Constant Content, or one of the many tips/how to websites. Print those out on paper if you have them.
If you don't have anything published at all, print out something you have written.
If you need to write something to submit as a sample, here's a story idea: Interview one of your friends who is a community volunteer, a sports parent, a youth group leader, or some other such selfless person in the community. Write the piece in third person with a length of about 300-600 words. Use a program that has spell-check (like Word) and have someone edit/proofread it for you.
Some inside information about print media: Newspaper people think print is the Alpha and the Omega of all mediums. (Now you know where I'm coming from!) Many small newspapers are still run by second and third generation newspaper people who have ink for blood and may be up in years. They tend to view other mediums as inferior and may even be suspicious of the Internet. That's why it's really important to have a sample that has been published in print or at least is physically on a piece of paper.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
For many getting started as a freelance writer seems very overwhelming. It helps to break it down into small steps.
The very first thing you need to do is get yourself ready to market. You need a good resume, a cover letter, a professional looking cover for your cover letter and resume, and some business cards.
When I got ready to go into freelancing, I didn't even have a resume. I had never even so much as prepared a resume before, having been hired straight out of high school (really before). I was completely out of my league in the resume department. My sister and brother-in-law prompted me for things to put in the resume and actually built it for me. Some of my other sisters and my brother looked at it and made some suggestions. Get some help with your resume if you need it and most certainly have it edited/proofread before you present it.
You'll also need a cover letter that says in a few sentences what your purpose is.
There are some good free resources for writing a resume and cover letter. Check online and at the library for them.
Print off several copies of the cover letter and resume and put them inside a clear plastic cover, such as a report cover, or something professional looking like that.
The last thing in marketing materials that you will need is some business cards. Go to www.vistaprint.com and order some of the free cards there. It costs $5.25 to ship them. There are many very nice designs in the free cards.
Now you are ready to collect writing samples. Check back tomorrow.
Monday, September 15, 2008
The print market pays much better than online work and I highly recommend looking into that avenue. I'm doing newspaper feature writing right now along with producing a few newsletters for nonprofit organizations. My background is in the newspaper business and that is what I know, but of course I'm not limited to that. There are tons of publications out there -- newspapers, news magazines, newsletters, and even advertising publications -- that cover all manner of subjects.
When in the freelance job market, many people don't consider the print market because they think they can't do it, or they don't think of it at all. Any writer looking to make a career in freelancing would do well to seriously consider print.
In the next few days I'll share the steps I took to get started as a freelance writer, and I hope that some of the pointers will help you. Please check back frequently as there are several steps, and I'll be posting them one at a time.
Let me know if you have any questions. I am glad to help if I can. Happy writing!
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Here's my short version tutorial on getting started in the print market. It's a bit rough in places, but more details on each aspect are coming in the next several days.
Getting started in the print market (short tutorial)
That's great you're wanting to get into the print market. It pays so much better than online work. I'm writing some newspaper human interest writing right now along with putting together some newsletters for nonprofits. My background is in the newspaper business and that is what I know, but of course I'm not limited to that. There are tons of other publications out there.
Here's what I did to get started. I did have the advantage of 16 years in a newspaper office and my work and I were both well-known but this should still work for you. Find all the small newspapers within a reasonable radius and get the name of the editors. Do up a resume and get a few writing samples together (published if you have any) and go up to the paper office and ask for the editor by name. Have business cards if possible. You can get them for $5 at Vista Print. Have your resume in a report cover or something that looks professional. Hand the editor your card and your resume and say you'd like to do some freelance work for them.
Small newspapers would be the best place to start with this. They are usually understaffed and in sore need of feature pieces, sports writing, and maybe even some meeting coverage although the human interest pieces seem to be the best things to freelance out. Be willing to do whatever is needed. Leave them with the impression that you are competent, professional, and timely. They should have a rate that they pay freelancers but if not they should be willing to negotiate with you. I have all kinds of rates that I get. One is $1.25 an inch, another is $75 for a 1,000 word cover feature, and another is $50 for about 800 words. It just depends. (I like to get an average of $15-20 an hour but sometimes it doesn't always work out. At first all that matters is that you are getting paid and then you can figure out an average later and even turn your nose up at some assignments!)
Keep going to the papers in your area until you have as much work as you want or as much as you can handle. Once you get it going, give preference to the ones who pay quickly. All of mine pay within a week of publication and the publication dates are very quick after I submit pieces. It took me about seven months to get enough work. It took me several more months to let all the other work I was doing go and just concentrate on my writing. Now I'm 4.5 years into freelancing and I can pick and choose what I want to do but I am very careful to remain very valuable to my editors. I’ve also gotten a lot of my current work through those first jobs I got.
I have found some websites that have a lot of good information on them. Here's the link to a list I created. My favorite is the message board at Mommy Jobs, and then most of the links to those writing sites have message boards.
Be sure to take a look at my writing website since it might have some ideas for you.
I really feel like more people would be happy if they would just try the print market. I know I had a big advantage but I think this is very feasible for just about anyone.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
I get asked quite often how to go about getting started in the print market. A while back I composed a very brief tutorial and have provided it to anyone requesting it. Recently I took that brief tutorial and expounded upon it greatly, adding many more details and insider tips.
Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting this expanded tutorial in sections here. Watch for it and check back for new ideas and suggestions.
Friday, September 05, 2008
I raved yesterday about all the advantages of working from home but my answer to the above question is yes!
But on my terms. (Sounds like a work-at-home mom to the core, huh?)
Working outside the home during the day during normal business hours isn't even an option for me right now. I have a baby to care for all day long. I have four kids to get to school and take care of after school. Plus I have a wonderful freelance writing business that has grown tremendously in four and a half years, and the potential for more growth is as big as I want it to be.
But, working during normal business hours isn't the only option out there. That's why I would consider going back to work.
My dream job outside the house would be in a coffee cafe located inside of a bookstore. (It could happen.)
I've worked odd hours before, in particular at a chain sandwich shop, and I'd go back in a minute, mainly for the chance to get out of the house. I'd like to do this when my son gets old enough to be okay with his dad or auntie for several hours in the evening on a regular basis. We'll see about it then; for now I just get to dream about it.
What would you do?
Thursday, September 04, 2008
That would be one of the biggest advantages of working from home.
Here are a few more!
* I take my kids to school, pick them up, and go to the school in the middle of the day for lunch. I'm available on a moment's notice if someone forgets an important paper or gets sick.
* I don't have to fight traffic to get to work. After going to the store this morning after dropping the kids off at school and sitting through I don't know how many lights backed up with dozens of vehicles, I had a brand new appreciation for the term "fighting traffic." I don't ever want to have to do that on a daily basis.
* I can watch TV and drink coffee in the middle of the day if I want. I don't do it a lot, but the opportunity is there.
* I get the shopping and errands done during the day. That is opposed to spending lunch hour paying bills or running off to the store as soon as my husband gets home like I used to when I worked in an office.
* Expenses like the laptop are tax-deductible. Mileage, phone bill, Internet bill, a ream of copy paper ... it's all tax-deductible. What's not to love about that?
What are the advantages of working from home for you?
Ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil, I have been writing. I penned several books as a child, including one that was circulated in all the third-grade classrooms, much to the chagrin of a painfully shy eight-year-old! I scribbled poems throughout my adolescence and was editor of the school newspaper during my final two years of high school.
I got my official start in the newspaper business as a brand new high school graduate in May of 1988. I worked as a writer and photographer and later an editor in the office until December 2003. During these years I wrote news, took photographs, and worked in page design while learning the ins and outs of newspapering strictly by experience.
I started freelancing in January 2004. I began writing human interest pieces for a nearby daily newspaper each week and advertorial material for another area newspaper on a regular basis. Later I began to write feature pieces for that newspaper, too.
In the summer of 2004, I began writing for the state newspaper's three zoned editions that it publishes twice a week.
My newspaper freelancing went smoothly for a couple of years, and then I tossed something new in there -- newsletter production. When I contacted a nonprofit organization with which I was very well familiar from my days in the newspaper office to do a freelance piece, they asked me to consider taking over their quarterly newsletter. Finally, I agreed. A few months after that another nonprofit organization that I got to know as a freelancer asked me about taking over their newsletter, and we got that started. Earlier this year a consultant for two nonprofits contacted me requesting work.
Along the way I acquired another newspaper job (I was referred to them by a current client) and ended two because of the distance; and one of the newsletter jobs was ended for budgeting reasons.
I have to say I never expected to be doing newsletters but it is quite enjoyable because I get to use all my newspaper skills -- writing, photography, editing, and design -- all in one concise publication.
The newspaper pieces are all very enjoyable as well, since I'm writing about wonderful people and places right where I live.
Looking back on my many years of writing, I seem to have let my words take me where they wanted me to go. This has opened up new avenues of writing for me, and I delight in the experience.
Tell me about your work-at-home mom job!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Aaaah, how I love it.
I wrote books as a child, penned poems as a teenager, and went to work at the local newspaper office as a young adult.
I left the newspaper office four and a half years ago, came home, fired up the Internet, and realized people were writing for websites and getting paid for it.
That wasn't something I was familiar with, but I investigated, emailed a few resumes, and waited. Nothing happened. I didn't pursue it because I was focusing on what I was familiar with, print writing. That was taking off for me.
From time to time I revisit the notion of getting paid to write online, and sometimes I even check the job openings. I have done that a lot the past few months, more so than I ever have before. I finally figured out where to look, I think.
Over the past few months I've probably applied to an average of a job a week online. I've gotten some bites, too, but nothing has worked out. I was accepted to write reviews of books (mainly instructional in nature), but it required a membership and purchase at a popular online bookseller. I didn't pursue the job. I was accepted to write a feature at a site that publishes pieces on interesting and unusual places, with the promise that I could write more if they liked it. I submitted something and my poor piece has been in review for two months now. I was accepted to write for a new national print and online publication, one that I really believed in. Two story ideas and two column ideas were quickly shot down. I decided not to pursue that either.
Not discouraged (much) I continue to peruse the online writing jobs available, but it is obvious what my focus should be: print writing.
Currently I have five clients; all but one contacted me with work proposals. Print work comes easier (for me anyway) and it pays so much better than what I've seen for some online work. Plus, newspapers smell so much better than the Internet.
Monday, September 01, 2008
List #1 is 26 places to find telecommuting jobs. These can generally be completed from anywhere.
List #2 lists places that have jobs that are more area-specific at times, like Craigslist, Morning Coffee, and Freelance Writing Gigs, three of my favorite places to look.
List #3 is niche-based jobs, like journalism.
Thanks Freelance Writing and Allena!