5 Things About Freelance Writing You May Not Know if You’re Just Starting Out

Most freelance writers have common sense and the ability to judge good and bad opportunities. As mentioned recently, most you know what you’re getting into before you get into it and don’t need bloggers to tell you most of the things we tell you. Still there may be a few things you don’t realize just starting out, especially those without formal training.

Let me share a few things to think about.

1. It’s Not OK to Post Someone Else’s Writing or Images Without Permission

I don’t know how folks get the notion that just because something is online it’s public domain, because that’s far from true.  It may be out there but it doesn’t mean you can cut and paste it. Even worse, just because it’s out there doesn’t mean you can cut and paste and put your own name on it.  For most of us this is common sense, but since so many writers (especially content writers) are getting blasted for plagiarism, it’s an important thing to discuss.

It’s not acceptable to post someone else’s writing without permission, no matter what that writing might be. If someone wrote something you feel bears repeating, you’re welcome to quote with attribution. You’re also welcome to paraphrase while giving credit where it’s due. You are never welcome to use someone else’s words without permission unless it clearly states on that article or blog posts permission is granted. It’s considered stealing and can get you into a lot of trouble. Also? It get get your blog or website shut down.

Ditto images. Google Images is not a free for all, it’s only a search engine for images. The pictures showing up in searches aren’t yours to take.Always. Ask. Permission.

Again, the Internet isn’t the public domain. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t have permission to use something, don’t use it.

2. Research Involves More than Google

If you’re hired to write an article requiring research, you’re probably tempted to use your favorite search engine because it’s quick and easy. Here’s the thing: A lot of the content on the web is from people who also think search engine research is quick and easy. Some of the content isn’t even accurate. When you use only search engines for your writing, you run the risk of only producing the same regurgitated, possibly incorrect content everyone else is using. Go beyond Google. Visit the library, read some magazine articles and contact experts. You’ll find your much more respected as a writer when you take the time to conduct accurate research. You’ll also find yourself with repeat assignments as your editors appreciate your going the extra mile. Besides, there’s the satisfaction of knowing you gave your readers an accurate portrayal.

3. There Are Different Types of Writing

So, yeah. All writing is different. Newspaper formats are different from many magazine formats. Magazine formats are different from many web formats. Blogging isn’t the same as article writing and both are different from writing books or grant proposals.  So it’s terrific to decide you’re going to be a writer, but to do so is to know the difference between the types of writing  and learning about the formats that best suit your style. It’s best not to accept a gig unless you’re sure you know the format.

4. Not Everyone in the Freelance Writing Community is Helpful or Encouraging

At the risk of being labeled a whiner or a martyr, I’m going to tell you about something we’re not supposed to talk about.I don’t know any other online community where there is so much bickering and negativity.

There are plenty of freelance writers in the community who truly care and wish to help others succeed. There are others who don’t really care about your success, especially if your path to success isn’t the same as theirs. If there’s one thing that I find disturbing about some members of the freelance writing community it’s the negativity. I’ve seen incredibly petty arguments and some valid debates, I’ve seen flame wars start just because people don’t agree on rates, and I’ve seen freelancers who do their best to discredit another freelancer or sabotage a career, simply because they choose different paths. My advice to you if you’re going to be a part of the freelance writing community is to know who you’re getting into a discussion with before you get into that discussion. If it’s someone who takes everything as a personal affront or views disagreement as an attack, rethink that discussion or take it somewhere else.  It’s not worth the constant negativity.

5.The Opportunities You See Online Aren’t the Only Opportunities Available for Freelance Writers

Job hunting services like the one offered here are very convenient. We scour the web and post the best opportunities we can find.  And while we enjoy bringing you this convenience, it’s also important to note that these are only but a few of the opportunities available to freelance writers today. There are other ways to find work. For example, you can try cold calling and emailing. You can also try querying magazines.  If you’re not finding the good gigs online, take it offline and see what’s out there. You’ll find that can do very well when you’re not waiting around for the work to come to you.

What are some other things beginners might not be aware of?




16 responses
  1. Michelle C. Avatar

    Thanks so much for this excellent and helpful post for the poor newbie writers of the world. While a good deal of it is familiar advice (long-time reader here!) it’s great to have it all in one place. The reminder about Google image search is particularly valid. Out of curiosity, are there any good image sites or collections you would recommend where permission is given ahead of time? It seems like tracking down the owners of some Google images would be difficult if not impossible; I gather there are other sites where you can search for topics and images (e.g. “man fishing” or “businesspeople”) and use them without having to ask permission. Not sure of the names of said sites though, and which are free vs. which involve royalties/membership fees.
    .-= Michelle C.´s last blog ..Sample Travel Article: Akihabara =-.

  2. kimberlee Avatar

    There’s a wikipedia image search. It will tell you if the image is free to use and how to attribute. There is also a way to filter your google image search to only return images with creative commons licensing.

  3. Syeda A Avatar
    Syeda A

    its very helpful…very nice article..

  4. Heather Avatar

    This was great-I’m always looking for information directed to beginning writers, as I am one myself. I have my bachelor’s degree in psychology, but have always loved to write and have been told I am also good at it. Throughout college I took several literature and writing courses (not required) and started my own business in life insurance (which didn’t work out). From there I searched my brain for an opportunity that I would allow me not only work for myself, but also that I would love-and this is it. I conducted my own research on how to become a freelance writer (which I knew nothing about) and started writing for Demand Studios starting in the beginning of March to get my feet wet. This is the only experience in the field I have had thus far-but am continuing my search for high paying gigs. I was aware of these five things, however I need to spend more time learning about number three. Also, I can’t wait to find an opportunity where I can conduct my own non-internet related research! Reading your column is always inspiring to me. Thanks Deb!

  5. tish Avatar

    Thanks, Deb. But is there a distinction between ‘attribution’ and ‘permission’ when repeating someone’s work? Or should both ‘attribution’ and ‘permission’ be present? In other words, if I want to quote Joseph Schmoe, I would write:

    ‘Mr. Schmoe said “such and such and this and that” in his definitive book on underwater basket weaving.’

    While that is attribution, is that considered “permission” or must I also email Joseph and literally get his permission? I just feel that #1 was sort of vague — that the two terms were being used interchangeably when they perhaps necesarrily aren’t interchangeable.


    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      Hi Tish,

      When I say “quote with attribution” I’m referring to quoting a paragraph or a few lines. However, even with attribution it’s wrong to reproduce an enter work of writing such as an article or blog post. If you’re only quoting a paragraph or paraphrasing, attribution (with a link) is fine. Anything more than that and you’re dealing with copyright issues and it’s best to get permission.

      1. CeciAnn Avatar

        Thanks, Deb. Of course printing an entire article without permission is wrong. The author should be paid or receive kind of compensation. Although sometimes that seems a pipe dream.

        My husband wrote personal finance articles for the web, years ago, back when we thought $75-$100 an article was small change. After a few years, we started getting calls at home from people asking for help with their finances!The articles had been picked up by other websites and pushed out without permission, etc. This kept happening. The readers would track my husband down and call, trying to get free advice about their situations. And I would explain over and over that he was simply a freelancer quoting financial gurus, not qualified to give advice to anyone, even though some still were very adamant.

        I felt sympathy for the callers, but was annoyed others were repeatedly using his excellent work, not paying him a penny and we had to deal with the phone calls.
        .-= CeciAnn´s last blog ..Once Upon a Greenhouse Window =-.

  6. Tammi Kibler Avatar

    I just wanted to add that it has not been my experience that there is so much bitterness and negativity in the freelance writing field in general.

    In fact, I have always been amazed at the generosity of writers and the degree to which most will bend over backwards to help others out. I don’t see football players training their up and coming competition for free. Most professionals play things close to their vests. Writers give their secrets away for free.

    Of course, writers do have the advantage over those in other professions in that when we want to launch a smear campaign, we have tools and talents to do it. I think it is very sad that someone would waste their words in a bitter flame war.

    Use your powers for good, Jedi warriors. 🙂
    .-= Tammi Kibler´s last blog ..Writing Career Goals – Checking In =-.

  7. CeciAnn Avatar

    I second tish’s question. I thought quoting a person and naming the publication was adequate sourcing for printed information, something standard for mainstream news media. News services, for instance, do it regularly. Not for images, of course.
    .-= CeciAnn´s last blog ..Once Upon a Greenhouse Window =-.

  8. Angie Papple Johnston Avatar

    I love this post!

    You can get free photos at RGBStock.com – all they ask is that you give the photographer credit. It’s good manners to link to the photographer’s gallery, too. The selection isn’t huge, but if you look around you’re bound to find something you like.
    .-= Angie Papple Johnston´s last blog ..DIY Web Content Writing: A 5-Step Guide =-.

  9. Vangile Makwakwa Avatar

    Thank you for posting these vital tips! In particular, tip number 3 is something I find extremely important. Writers can actually do themselves a huge favor by taking the time to learn the differences between the different genres of freelance writing and then choosing a niche to specialize in. Even though choosing one or 2 niches can seem limiting to some people, it can actually bring you more business.

    By focusing on just 1 or 2 niches, you can build up your writing skills, really get to know your specific audience and become known as an expert. The more niches you master, the more you can branch out into. But I strongly suggest you start out with just 1 or 2 to really focus your efforts and become the best at what you do.

    Also I have a quick note about tip #5. I have found the local networking can bring a variety of writing opportunities. There are tons of independent consultants, business owners, solo entrepreneurs and artists looking for grants and proposals, blog help or constant newsletter. And you’d be surprised at the kinds of places you meet them – struggling to write up a blog post in a coffee shop or thinking of newsletter pieces on a public train. Take the time to be observant (that’s one of the main points to being a writer) and notice what’s going on around you, and always have business cards on hand just in case. You never know who you’ll meet and what they might need!
    .-= Vangile Makwakwa´s last blog ..I.T. I BE: Rhyming Resources Online =-.

  10. Diana Schneidman Avatar

    I definitely agree with point number 5: If you’re not finding the right—or enough—opportunities online, go offline. I recommend going after corporate writing assignments because they often pay the best.

    How to do this?

    Find the individuals (not just the job titles) who are most likely to hire freelancers. You may have a professional membership directory to work from or trade journals to identify possible leads. Also, participate in relevant LinkedIn groups and research the people who post. If you can’t find names, you may need to phone your target companies to find them.

    Then contact people directly. It’s a big world out there. You won’t come to the attention of the right people unless you intentionally bring yourself to their attention.

    Good luck!

    Diana Schneidman
    http://www.StartFreelancingAndConsulting.com : How to take control of your life and make great money quickly as a solopro

  11. Jones Avatar

    “You’ll find your much more respected as a writer when you take the time
    to conduct accurate research.”

    Knowing the proper usage of “your” also helps.

  12. Khanyile Lynda Avatar
    Khanyile Lynda

    A very helpful article indeed. I do agree that one will definitely drown in the world of writing if they are not well vexed with the different genres. i’ll have to do my research on that one

  13. Rose Mae Angeles Avatar

    Gives a lot of detalis that would help finding great oppotunity.

  14. Jennifer D Avatar

    Free lancers writing is really an interesting thing. Thanks so much for this blog!

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