Writing for a living is awesome! These tips on how to become a freelance writer are inspired by reader’s questions about pitching query letters, waiting for magazine editors to respond, writing for your blog, and starting out as a writer.
If you want to make money writing, read Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $100,000 a Year or More by Robert Bly. He is one of my favorite authors on how to start writing for money because he focuses on the business end of writing as a career. Bly talks about motivation and creativity, but he’s really about how to be a professional writer. For him, writing is a business.
And that’s the first tip on how to become a freelance writer: treat writing like a career. It isn’t magic, it isn’t all creativity and inspiration. It’s work. I often recommend the Writer’s Market books – Writer’s Market 2016: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published is coming out soon, but you can get the 2015 version if you want to start immediately – because it gives you an idea of what magazine writing is all about. If you want to become a freelance writer, you need to invest time, energy, and money in learning what writing as a career is all about.
How to Become a Freelance Writer
A few writers have asked me questions about starting a freelancing career. Their questions – and my answers – will help you move forward.
It’s important to remember that there is no one right way to learn how to become a freelance writer. Even more importantly, writing is a business. As with any business, if you want to succeed, you need to become an expert in your niche. That involves learning how a freelancing business operates – but you don’t necessarily need to go to journalism school or get a degree in writing. It depends on whether you’re a natural writer, and how quickly you pick things up.
Decide how long to wait for a response to a query letter
Here’s a question from a Christian writer who has written 17 books: “I’d really like to sell to Reader’s Digest. I was encouraged that your first article with them went through the slush pile. That’s the way I sent my first query letter a couple of weeks ago, but I haven’t heard anything. How long would you advise me to wait for a response? I have another high-profile article I’d like to pitch to them, too.”
In 10 Writing Tips from a Reader’s Digest Editor, I explain the importance of knowing the magazine and the editor you’re pitching. Some editors take three months to decide on a piece, others accept immediately. Some editors acknowledge your query letter, while others don’t say a word until they assign the article.
If I was pitching Reader’s Digest from the slush pile today, I’d probably wait three months for a decision from the editor. But, as I said earlier, there is rarely one right answer to any question when you’re learning how to become a freelance writer.
Use your waiting time wisely
After you pitch an editor, move right along to your next pitch. Don’t just sit around waiting for the magazine to respond! Tweak the slant of your article so you can pitch it to a different magazine. Work on a different feature article idea. Blog. Create a spreadsheet of your “article pitches sent” and your “replies received.”
One of the best things you can do when you’re learning how to become a freelance writer is create a “Pitch Calendar.” Create a plan, set goals, and set yourself up as a professional writer. This will help you succeed as a freelancer because it’ll provide structure to your day.
Learn what types of magazine article you could write
A reader asked me if he should write full feature length articles with tips or humorous stories about his life. The answer is that it depends on all sorts of different factors – but the most important question is: “What type of freelance writer do you want to become?”
Once you decide that you want to be a tips-based health writer, then you can start aiming in that direction. If you’d rather write humorous stories, then you need to research the freelancing possibilities in that market. Read 11 Types of Articles to Write for Magazines to help you decide what type of writer to become.
Write for a variety of sources
Here’s a reader’s question about how to become a freelance writer:
“I want to eventually make money writing, and I would just love to begin a career. I would even write for free if this meant I could get paid opportunities in the not too distant future. My huge problem is how to start. Should I begin a blog (following the writing tips in your blog) and wait for it to get bigger and bigger until I can earn some money? Or should I try emailing my writing to already existing blogs or online magazines?”
My answer is to do both. Don’t focus solely on blogging, or solely on freelance writing for magazines. My Blossom blogs take up 90% of my time, but I also occasionally write for magazines, such as alive. This way, if one source dries up then you always have a backup.
Learn how to sell your writing
This is the most disappointing tip on how to become a freelance writer: you have to be a salesperson. You have to sell your article ideas to editors – and even when you build a great relationship with an editor at a magazine, she might leave. Which means you have to start over with the new editor – who is probably bringing her own stable of writers in with her.
I didn’t like constantly pitching articles (or writing for other people, to be honest), so now I blog for myself most of the time. But when an editor asks me to write an article, I say yes! That’s the beauty of building good relationships with editors: they start emailing you with article ideas, and asking if you’ll write for them. #awesome
Accept that you won’t become a freelance writer overnight
Most artists and creative types struggle financially. That’s why the majority of writers have another source of income when they’re learning how to become a freelance writer – either they work part time or they have a job related to writing (freelance editor, blogger, social media expert, etc).
It takes time to make money as a freelance writer – which is why I wrote How Bloggers Make Money. If you learn how to blog professionally, your earning potential as a writer skyrockets.
All freelance writers have their own journey, their own race, their own road map (which isn’t always obvious until they look back). I can’t tell you if the “best” or “right” way to become a freelance writer or begin a career in writing is by writing articles or short stories, or by blogging or writing for free for online e-zines. But, I encourage you to seize the opportunities that are in front of you, and make the most of every chance you get to write!
Fellow scribes, what do you think of my tips on how to become a freelance writer? Comments welcome below…
May you be filled with hope and energy at the thought of freelance writing! May article ideas come easily, and may your relationships with editors and sources be rich and rewarding.
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You’ll know the right path because you’ll be filled with joy and creativity. Your work will flow – but it’ll still require time and energy.