May 7, 2010
Freelance Writing 101
IconFreelance Writing 101 by Leslie Godwin, MFCC Would you love to earn a living as a writer, but don't know how to take the first steps toward getting paid to write? Do you see yourself typing away at the kitchen table after your kids are off to school writing something that engages your imagination and lets you touch others with your stories? Many of us who enjoy writing have at one time or another fantasized aboutgetting published. But most people who write for the love of it never getpaid for their efforts. And in many cases, it's not due to a lack oftalent. There are two main reasons that many good writers don't get paid to write.The first is they don't understand the business side of writing. The other is they get discouraged by the first few rejection letters, and give up before they sell their first article or book. So how can an amateur writer overcome these obstacles and make the leap tobeing a published writer? The Business of Writing It's a Catch-22, explains Susan Carrier, a freelance writer for more than a decade. You can't get published until you get published. So anything you can do to get published is a good place to get started. One place to start might be pitching one or more topics of local interest to the editor of your community newspaper. Susan didn't have any writing credits when she decided to quit the job she'd held as a marketing manager for Pacific Bell for a dozen years to become a full-time mom. When her daughter was four years-old, she wanted to work part-time from home and thought that freelance writing might be the perfect solution, since it would provide a lot of flexibility, didn't require a capital investment, and she thought it would be more personally satisfying than some of the other business ideas she'd considered. Plus, Susan didn't have to replace an existing income right away, since she had been a full-time mom and wife for the last four years."I had sent out dozens of query letters the first year I decided to become a freelance writer, and the only response I got were rejections. I thought, what if I write a whole essay? That way the editor can see more of my work. So I wrote 'Grandmother's Garden,' a story about how I recreated my grandmother's garden in my backyard. I sent it to the Los Angeles Times with a picture of my daughter in the garden and the editor loved it." Now that she was published, Susan a had a copy of the article, or clip, to include with future query letters. Clips prove that an editor thought her writing was good enough to publish and this makes her less of a risk to other editors considering her work. Write What You Know for a Publication You Know Your niche can be an area of professional experience. If you are abookkeeper, you might write a series of money management articles for yourlocal newspaper. If you don't have a professional background, considerwriting about an experience that others would find interesting or helpful. A woman I met in a writing class was working on a book about her experience as a young German girl living through WWII. She described bombing raids that caused her family to evacuate their Berlin apartment, as well as her confusion caused by praying during the war as a child for the Germans to win, only to find out later about Nazi atrocities which made her thankful her country was defeated. She had a compelling story and told it in a suspenseful way. What experiences have you had that would touch others? What publicationsfit your idea for an article? Or would you like to write a book about your area of expertise? Susan decided early on that she wanted to write for Sunset magazine. She had read Sunset for years, and was very familiar with the tone of the magazine and the kind of articles they published. If you want to increase your chances of getting published, take notes as you brainstorm so you'll have more than one idea to follow up with if you get a rejection at first. Persistence Pays Off "I got a form rejection letter the first time I sent them a query. The next one resulted in a more personalized rejection letter. By the third or fourth pitch, I was getting hand-written notes saying we're not doing this now, but keep trying. I didn't wait long after getting a rejection letter before I sent my next pitch." Most novice writers think that better writers are going to beat them out for the next writing job. Actually, the writer with the smallest ego and the most persistence is most likely to win that job. Yes, you have to have writing skills. It's also important to hone your skills by taking classes, getting lots of feedback, and simply writing. But the good writer who keeps sending out query letters will get more jobs than the great writer who doesn't. Karen E. Klein, freelance writer for the Los Angeles Times ,, and both Newsday and, started freelancewriting 15 years ago. She typed up articles on her DOS-based computerbefore modems and cell phones existed so she could stay home with her newbaby. Karen's advice to new writers is to... be persistent. Keeppitching. Rejections don't mean your writing stinks. It's critical not to take rejections personally. You might have simply pitched something that publication ran three months ago. Karen recommends reading a publication for six months to really get to know it. Karen advises, "If you're unknown, go to the front of the magazine andnotice the brief blurbs. They're about 150 to 300 words. Come up with anidea for one of those short pieces. In some magazines, there are pieceslike that in the back, too." A magazine I've been studying, Family Circle , has short pieces in the front called Circle This. And the last page is an essay called Full Circle. I can see they use freelancers because each article includes a brief bio of the author in italics. RESOURCES FOR FREELANCE WRITERS San Marino Public Library offers free access to the archives of the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor. Writers Market Lists contacts for many publications, as well as informationabout whether they use freelance writers, if new writers should submitqueries, and other helpful tips. IWOSC Provides service and support for professional, self-employed writersand those wishing to become freelance writers. The Web site has anexcellent reference list of resources for writers: Writers Guild of America A national organization for writers: Writers Weekly Karen Klein's website Take the First Step You may need to keep your day job a while, or if you're a stay-at-home mom, you may need to be frugal a little longer. In either case, commit tospending a certain amount of time, like an hour three times a week, writing drafts and doing research. Join, or start, a writer's group. Take a writing class. Then, focus on one or two publications, get to know themwell, and keep generating ideas that you consistently form into queryletters. You'll eventually be in the right place at the right time. Andonce you have one clip, you'll have credibility that will help you in yournext pitch. Leslie Godwin, MFCC, is a Career Life-Transition Coach specializing inhelping people put their families, faith, and principles first when makingcareer and life choices. Leslie is the author of the new book, "From Burned Out to Fired Up: A Woman's Guide to Rekindling the Passion and Meaning in Work and Life" published by Health Communications, Inc.. For more information, go to . Permission granted for use on

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