A fortnight ago, I was guest speaker on a freelancing panel at Northwestern University Career Day for the MA/MFA Creative Writing Program, along with Tony Adler from the Chicago Reader and Donna Seaman from Booklist. I gave the audience my 10 Tips for Freelancing Success, as well as a reading list.
Here they are:
Marla's Top 10 Tips for Freelancing
1. Network and expand your networks. Go to writer's workshops, conferences, Mediabistro events. Join local journalism and writing clubs such as SPJ.
2. Use your passion as starting points. Turn your interests into specializations. Mine are art, travel, food, and everything in between. Make a list of your Top 5 Loves, and go from there. Go to the bookstore and pick out magazines that correspond with your interests. Read, read, read!
3. Create a web presence. Get your name out there with a personal website, a Linkedin account and a Twitter page. I started out with a web page on FreelanceSuccess.com, then Mediabistro and now, I have my own website. Even if you don't have clips you can create a webpage that lists your specializations and writing experience.
4. Pick up the phone and call an editor before you even send a pitch. See if the editor is interested in your topic and get a feel for the magazine's tone.
5. Believe in your idea before it sells. Do your research, write a killer query and then pitch, pitch, pitch, tailoring the pitch for each magazine. Don't give up until it sells or results in an assignment. Follow up.
6. Stay engaged with the community. Take underwater basket weaving classes if that interests you! Gets out of the house, do something that sparks a creative idea.
7. Finish an assignment way before the deadline, put it aside, and go to the movies. Then come back to it, and refine, rewrite, and polish.
8. Become a perpetual student. Read books on freelancing, journalism and writing to constantly improve your skills. Take online classes and attend writing workshops.
9. Keep an open mind about your areas of focus. You may start out writing about nightclubs and progress to investigative journalism. Don't be afraid to try a new beat. Constant change is one of the great things about freelance writing.
10. Stay true to your own vision and don't give in to the competition. By focusing on what you do well, you have a better chance of creating a successful niche.
Get a Freelance Life, by Margit Feury Ragland
This book published by Mediabistro includes sample resumes and pitches, and step-by-step instructions for creating a freelance writing career.
Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
This is not a book for journalists, but Goldberg's advice about keeping your hand moving across the page while writing is sage advice. Overcome your writer's fears with this book.
The Art and Craft of Feature Writing, by William E. Blundell
An oldie but goodie. Wonderful tips for features writing and developing stories that will have editors eating out of your hand.
Feature & Magazine Writing, by David E. Sumner and Holly G. Miller
A journalistic bible about the nuts and bolts of feature writing, interviews and story development.
Writing Down the Bones