Best Ways for New Freelance Writers to Start Selling Articles

Probably the best way to start selling articles is to spend 90% of your time preparing (sharpening your ax, as Abe Lincoln would say).

These tips for new freelance writers range from preparation to execution, and are inspired by a reader’s question…“How would you recommend a newbie to start earning money from writing?” asks Jack on Job Security for Freelance Writers – Tips for a Steady Income. “Where to look for good writing opportunities? My interests are in health, fitness, finance, investment. Currently unemployed, I’m looking to writing full-time.”

You need to treat freelance writing like a business – because it is now your latest, greatest startup! How do entrepreneurs learn how to run a business? They do research. They read. They study successful professionals. They find role models and mentors.

And they keep pitching editors, no matter how many rejections they get.

AND, they keep investing in their writing careers and themselves as freelancers! I’ve read dozens of books on freelance writing; one of my favorites is Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $100,000 a Year or More.

I also really, really like The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success.

Finally, here are a few tips for new freelancer writers…

Best Ways for New Freelance Writers to Start Selling Articles

I think the biggest, most important tip for freelance writers (besides being a good writer) is to find fresh, unique, interesting slants on topics. Magazine editors crave interesting new spins on subjects that have been done to death.

The good news is that once you train your brain to think in fresh, unique, interesting ways, the ideas will come easy. The bad news is that it takes time to learn this skill! Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert…so be prepared to put your time in, fellow scribes.

Think like an editor, not a writer

I learned almost as much by hiring writers for Quips and Tips than I did as an actual freelance writer! In How to Find Article Ideas That Editors Will Pay to Publish, I describe what I learned as an editor.

Finding fresh, unique article ideas is huge. My favorite quip is that “editors and readers want the same, yet different.” Remember that even though you haven’t written an article on “The Best Ways for New Freelancers to Start Selling Articles”, doesn’t mean the editors of Writer’s Digest haven’t seen the pitch a dozen times a day!

You need to do a lot of groundwork before you pitch a magazine editor an article idea.

Remember that it takes time to build a successful freelance writing career

My first nine months as a freelance writer, I surprised myself by making over $30,000 working part-time. I thought it would be super duper difficult to make money writing, but it wasn’t. If you have unique ideas and strong writing skills, you can easily earning a living as a writer.

That said, however, I now see how important it is to build a solid reputation as a strong, professional freelance writer, to build and nurture relationships with editors, and to learn how the “writing for money” world works. I’ve switched over into blogging for myself full-time because I like it better – and I still get job offers and magazine assignments from editors. The difference is now I don’t chase them.

One of the most “boring but best” ways to start selling articles

Know how to pitch query letters to editors. Of the hundreds of query letters I received from writers, only a few were outstandingly well-written and interesting. Most (about 60%) were fine; 30% were poorly written and grammatically shameful – they begged to be immediately deleted. I acquiesced.

In How to Pitch a Query Letter to Magazine Editors, Sharon Hurley Hall shares some of her best ways to start selling articles.

Before you write or even think about your pitch, make sure you know what type of article you want to write! I’ve pitched feature length articles that were accepted as “front of the book” pieces, and research shorts that turned into round up articles. Read 11 Types of Magazine Articles to Write for ideas.

Show you have access to sources

Here’s a “best practice” tip from my favorite editor at Reader’s Digest. Actually, it’s more of a pitching tip:

“Editors look to see that writers have access to sources – ones that are willing to talk,” she said. “Which usually means you have to talk to a few people up front to get enough info to structure your pitch and make sure your article will work the way you’re presenting it.”

To see what she means, check out this example of a successful query letter to Reader’s Digest.

Embrace editorial input

Do you feel angry, threatened, or unsettled when your words or sentences are edited by your editor – who is your client? Get over it. I’ve learned that – generally speaking – the more a magazine editor makes me fill the holes she’s poked in my article, the better it gets. The editor’s clarifications, questions, comments, revisions can improve your writing.

What slays me is when I interview an expert or source, and he or she fiddles with my writing style and voice. Grrr!! One of my clients requires my medical articles to be approved by doctors, nurses, or other health practitioners before publishing. I understand and appreciate this, but it can send my blood pressure skyrocketing.

To learn more, read 6 Tips for Writing Articles That Editors Will Buy and Publish.

If you don’t know where to sell your articles, read How to Find Online Writing Markets and Write for the Web.

What are your best ways for new freelance writers to find gigs? Got questions? Comments welcome below…


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21 thoughts on “Best Ways for New Freelance Writers to Start Selling Articles”

  1. Thank you for all your wonderful information. I’m a new freelance writer out of South Dakota. I’m mostly writing for free for the local newspapers right now trying to build my portfolio and I blog at Repurposed Author. Feel free to take a look. 🙂 I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. Good luck and God bless. ~Kari

  2. Dear Melissa,

    Thanks for your comment! It’s great to hear from you. It sounds like we have alot in common. I don’t know anyone else whose husband has azoospermia, too! So while I’m sad for you and your man, I’m kinda happy to know I’m not alone 🙂 On the bright side, not having kids leaves us loads of time to pursue our writing!

    I wrote this article for you:

    I hope it helps, and that you let me know what you decided. Post the link to the article here, if you write it!

    All good things,

  3. Hi Laurie, I just stumbled upon your blog (and subsequently, your blogs, oh my you have so many of them!) and I think that they are absolutely terrific!! Thank you so much for the free valuable information. I have a question for you. I am looking to start freelancing and I don’t have any experience. I volunteered to write an article for a website for free, assuming that I would at least get to retain rights to the article and pitch it to other websites. Come to find out that this isn’t the case, they want the rights. So, what would you do in this situation? I think this would be good for experience and portfolio-building, but I don’t like the idea of giving away my articles for free and not being able to retain rights.

    On an unrelated note, while searching for an email for you, I read your “About Me” section and see that you struggle with infertility. My husband, too has azoospermia. I know the devastation and struggle you go through. I was surprised because I don’t know many others in the same boat.

  4. Yes it is a good post and really very helpful,In my personal experience the journey from when I started as a freelancer some 3 years ago to date has been quite demanding. I would like to thank freelanceindia which was a constant companion. I believe these online portals do a great deal in finding , you are not left alone in your hunting and gathering. Infact once registered you gradually see a number of inquiries seeking your services. You have to do your bit of converting it into a final well paid assignment.

  5. Thanks for your comments – I’m glad the article was helpful! I don’t think it’s difficult to succeed as a freelance writer if you’re smart, disciplined, and constantly improving your writing skills.

    When I paid for articles for my Quips and Tips blogs, I received dozens of really poor quality writing, sloppy ideas, and unprofessional emails. I could tell the writers didn’t really care about writing well. They just wanted to make money writing…but who wants to pay for crappy articles?

  6. Thanks for the great tips! I have been looking into starting a career in writing but needed some inspiration. It is so hard to get started but everyone has to start somewhere.

  7. The two tips that stood out to me most here were to treat freelance writing as a business, and to think like an editor instead of a writer. Good advice!

  8. Thanks for the reminder that it takes time to build a freelance writing career. I think a lot of us are used to ‘instant gratification’ and forget that building a career takes time. I also like the tip about thinking like an editor, not a writer. It’s good advice.

  9. Thanks for this! Some really solid tips here.

    I’ve been recently considering how best to launch a freelance career – or, at least start doing more freelance work in order to make some extra money. The two tips that stood out to me most here were to treat freelance writing as a business, and to think like an editor instead of a writer. Good advice!

  10. It takes time to be a good writer and it also takes time to be successful, but now we have different ways to make it possible in just a short time… all you have to do it have patient and work hard… 🙂

  11. The rejection thing is correct. I think that what separates the real writers from the wannabes is that real writers aren’t scared of corrections or suggestions from editors.

  12. Being a newbie it can be tough to market your content writing skills. Off course it take some time in start but when it’s done, then your work speak by itself and you’ll find magazine & editors will be looking for you. Just remember that unique ideas are the key of success as a freelance writer. Thanks for such useful tips.

  13. Thanks for this great post and the many links to other articles. I definitely see that the best way to break into magazine writing is to simply find (a) an incredible angle/slant (b) do a ton of research, and (c) write the best query letter possible. Looking forward to reading all the linked articles as well.

  14. Manjusha@English Grammar

    Selling your content can be tough when you are a newbie. I have experienced the same problem. But I think there is way to get around that. I no longer wait for other webmasters to buy my content. What I do is to turn that content into a blog.

    It is simple. You just need to buy a domain name and some hosting space. Post your content to that blog and work on it for a while. In a few months, your blog will have started getting some visitors and making some money. At that point you can sell it. You can find buyers at places like Flippa. Trust me, it is not all that difficult to find buyers for your blog. And I can assure you that a blog will fetch you more money than your unpublished content.

  15. My experiences as a freelance writer confirm your tips, especially your advice “think like an editor”. There is a subtext to this advice:

    1) read the magazine or target publication a) for articles that have been done and b) for *fresh* angles on content that works.

    2) think outside the box for article ideas your editor hasn’t seen (and whose socks will be knocked off when you finish pitching.

    3) generate lots of ideas (writing ability is less important than article ideas).

    4) embrace rejection – offer a lot of ideas and expect your editor to pass on some, assign others – part of your job is to make the editor comfortable saying “no.”

    Generate enough ideas that rejection is not an issue. The most common question people ask about freelance writing is, “Do you supply the ideas for articles or do they give them to you?” Well, once you get in the “stable” an editor may throw you a bone. But they are looking to you to bird-dog great story ideas that will leave readers sockless! Now you are thinking like an editor.

  16. Hi Laurie,

    Great post once again!

    I love the numerous links to various articles you put weave in-between, which makes the post so much more interesting! I agree that writers should think like editors and that is one way they would become better in their writing. Things do take time, and if you are a dedicated and committed writer, things work well for you.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  17. Hey Laurie, Good post.
    I believe the biggest problem newbies face is due to the fact that most of them set a goal that is next to impossible; I totally agree with what you have said “Remember that it takes time to build a successful freelance writing career.” I would like to add something: it takes time and hard work 🙂