What I’ve Learned as a “Newbie” Freelance Writer

So, when Deb offered me the opportunity to be one of the FWJ Network columnists, I was beside myself with excitement!  You see, I’ve been reading Freelance Writing Jobs for years: in fact, it was the first “blog” I ever read.  Seriously!  I laugh now, thinking how I was trying to pick a RSS reader so I could keep up with one blog.  Those were the days.

Anyway, I picked up many of my writing tricks here and am now looking forward to giving back to the community with some of my own experiences.  I’ve published a book [a real one] and I’ve written features in a lot of print and online publications.  All in a fairly short space of time, actually.  So what I thought might be nice to help introduce myself is share some lessons I’ve learned over the years.  I feel like a bit of a dunce after Deb’s blockbuster 40 lessons learned in 10 years of writing, but perhaps you’ll find some inspiration of your own in these as well.

Online publications and Offline publications really aren’t that different – especially if you want to get hired. You might think that you can relax and take it easy with online blogs, but the truth is the good ones work very similarly to a traditional magazine.  You still have to research if they accept submissions and how, you need to figure out what they pay, and you need to treat the editor with respect.  As I also manage and edit my own online travel magazine, I am sometimes appalled at the lack of professionalism with writers.

Your own online real estate is worth its weight in gold.  You must have your own website where you feature all of your work together – an online CV or resume, as it were.  I’m not saying you have to  have your own blog – that’s a double edged sword, to be honest – but having a place where you can put your stamp is priceless.

Sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time, so keep showing up. Yes, I know, it sucks: you pitch and query and nothing happens.  But you’re planing seeds, so one day you’ll have a very nice garden to live off of.  I’m telling you, it works:  I pitched everything that came though on Travelwriters.com and got nothing.  Maybe a nibble here or there, but nothing.   Then one day, I got a book deal.  If I had quit halfway, I would have had nothing.  So keep showing up.

First impressions really do count, regardless of the medium. You need a clean, easy on the eyes website.  You need to have an email address that isn’t flybynight@hotmail.com.  You need a professional email signature.  If you want to be considered a professional writer, then act like one.

Don’t burn bridges.  Ever. After a couple of attempts, I landed a very good piece with the Matador Network, a best-in-class online travel magazine.  I was elated, and worked with the managing editor to clean up my article.  But before it was scheduled to publish, a shake-up happened with the editorial team, and the new editor didn’t want my piece anymore.    I could have thrown a tantrum and stomped my feet, but I just left it – burning a bridge wouldn’t have fixed anything.  But instead, since I bowed out gracefully, I was actually offered a separate, long-term role as the network’s social media ninja.

Ask your clients for feedback on an ongoing basis. Don’t assume everything is ‘ok’ with your clients because they didn’t say anything.   I actually had a client get really upset with me because of some formatting issues with the pieces I was sending across each week.  Had I asked earlier on, we probably could have avoided friction, but since I didn’t know the issue was causing hassles, the problem built up until it got a little ugly.  So check in with your customers – they’ll be happy to know you’re looking out for them, as long as you aren’t trying to sell all the time.

You have to get on the treadmill to get off of it.  I actually had this conversation with Naomi Dunford the other day about something else but I think it also applies to writing.  A lot of people will throw pitchforks and light torches when the topic of writing for free and writing for low pay comes up.   There’s plenty of articles about it here, but I am not linking to them because I’m not interested in rehashing old topics.  My point is that you have to start somewhere – I don’t think you can’t land an amazing gig without something behind your name.  So take a few things that are a great fit for you regardless of the pay, rock them, and update your portfolio.  You might disagree with me, and that’s ok – you don’t take my advice. 🙂

See you here next time where I’ll be examining an actual query letter of mine that worked, and tweaks to make your query letters work better!

Photo by geoftheref


11 responses
  1. Sharon Hurley Hall Avatar

    Great post, Andy, and I especially like the advice about showing up and keeping no trying. Out of sight, out of mind.
    .-= Sharon Hurley Hall´s last blog ..Five Ways to Get Writing Jobs Fast =-.

  2. Mary Jo Avatar

    As an editor who works with Andy, I can attest that he does the things he writes about here — he walks the talk. That makes him a joy to work with, and a person that I’m willing to go to bat for should need be.

  3. Diane C. Avatar

    Thank you! You are validating the premise I am basing myself on: I need to prove that I indeed possess specific knowledge, by writing my own blog, and keeping up with it. Thanks to social media, we are provided with a platform!
    .-= Diane C.´s last blog ..Welcome to the (African) Dollhouse =-.

  4. Jules - Big Girl Bombshell Avatar

    Thank you for this post. I am on the starting end of this venture and this is great advice to follow. I especially like the treadmill one! Thank you
    .-= Jules – Big Girl Bombshell´s last blog ..Does the Spirit Move You? =-.

  5. Debra Avatar

    Thanks for the post. Great advice. I have been “showing up” for 10 months now on the social media/freelance landscape. Your post reaffirms my reason for doing just that–keeping on, keeping on, i.e. showing up. While I have not been as consistent as I need to be, I am believing that as I cross the one year marker my appearances will become more regular. I truly am an infant in this world of online relationships, but looking forward to the growing years.
    .-= Debra´s last blog ..‘Give it up and let Jesus take over’ =-.

  6. Kriszia Avatar

    Thanks for motivation. I’m adding “getting more published bylines” to list of goals this year, and even though I’ve been freelance writing for two years, all this still applies to me. Great advice!

  7. shanaz@MyReverie Avatar

    Wow, great piece of advice! I am definitely going to apply all the points mentioned into practice. Thanks for getting me started on using the agreement/contact. It’s the little thing that makes a big difference. Thank you again. I’m tweeting this post! 🙂
    .-= shanaz@MyReverie´s last blog ..My Mildly Mellow Patriotic Side =-.

    1. Andy Hayes Avatar
      Andy Hayes

      Wow, thanks for all the support everyone – what a warm welcome! I’m glad to hear many of you found these that resonated with you.

  8. Christopher Avatar

    Some great nuggets of wisdom here. I have agree with a few others and say to keep showing up is important. If you quit you won’t succeed. Good stuff!
    .-= Christopher´s last blog ..My Friend Lost Her Home To a Fire — You Can Help =-.

  9. Sherry Jackson Avatar

    Great post! Thank you for the tips.

  10. Ilija Brajkovic Avatar

    I really like this one about burning the bridges. I always try not to burn the bridge, and it really pays off.

    .-= Ilija Brajkovic´s last blog ..[FREE EBOOK] The Complete Windows 7 Shortcuts =-.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.