Ten of these tips are from a panel of BC magazine editors, and five are my things you need to know if you want to be a freelance writer. It was easy for me to sell my articles and earn a living as a freelance writer for two reasons: 1) I read all the books on freelance writing, and 2) I’m a good writer.

15 Things You Need to Be a Freelance WriterThe Wealthy Freelancer by Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage, and Ed Gandia was the source of both my “secrets” for being a freelance writer. Actually, the truth is that there are no secrets. If you want to be a freelancer, you need to know how to act professionally – with the knowledge that magazines are a business – and you need to edit your writing until you write well.

Even if you think you know all there is to know about freelancing writing – and you have all you need to be a freelance writer – never stop learning. “No matter how much experience you have, how many degrees you have, or how well known you have become — there is always something new to learn,” says Laura Spencer. “Don’t rest on your past experiences. If you do nothing to improve your skills, you won’t stay where you are.”

15 Things You Need to Be a Freelance Writer

The BC Association of Magazine Writers hosts an annual Writers Craft Fair at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. I’ve been thrilled to attend as a blogging panelist since the beginning, and really enjoyed the “What Magazine Editors Want” session last time.

When I asked the magazine editors what specific things freelance writers need, they said…

A strong work ethic. If you don’t know what a strong work ethic is, think of someone you’d hire to work for you. What traits to they possess? You might even make a list of those traits – because those are the things you need to be a freelance writer.

Good access to sources. If you’re a health writer, do you have access to reliable, impressive medical sources and good research sites? If you’re a political writer, can you contact the most important politicians – or their assistants or agents, at least? To be a freelance writer, you need access to sources.

Easy to work with. Specifically, freelance writers need to be diligent, gracious, and hard-working. This is another way to say “strong work ethic”, which is one of the top qualities of successful freelancers.

Humble. Freelancers who want to keep getting writing jobs. Accept editorial direction and feedback as part of your job as a freelance writer. Argue less, submit more.

Detail oriented. On this list of things you need to be a freelance writer, “good writing skills” aren’t as important as working hard, being a good employee, and paying attention to details. Freelance writers need to write well, but they also need to be professional and easy to work with.

15 Things You Need to Be a Freelance Writer

Know your audience. Are you writing for an online health magazine that encourages SEO, or a print poetry journal that values haikus over prose? Know who you’re writing for – know your audience. That’s one of the things you need to know if you want be a freelance writer – and the  Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition can help with that.

An ability to submit links and keywords when pitching to online magazines. Some online magazine editors rely on search engine optimization to attract readers, while others don’t. If you’re pitching to a magazine that wants to attract readers organically (search engine optimization), you’d do well to add links and keywords to your query letter. Tailor your pitch according to the magazine’s requirements. Writer’s Market will help you learn which magazines require what pitches. One of the most important things you need to be a freelance writer is an ability to give editors what they need.

An ability to write the article the way it was assigned. If your editor wants 5,000 words about the color of water, then submit an article that is 5,000 words long. Not a word over or under. If you’re not sure you can do this, read How to Think Like an Editor.

Be curious – and willing to do research. When I asked freelance writer Daniel Wood for the most important thing we need to know, he said “be curious about everything.” Poke around, get under the skin of people, things, activities, and life.

5 More Things Freelance Writers Need to Know

The above tips for freelance writers were from a panel of magazine editors. These are my things you need to know, from my experience…

Break the “rules of writing.” One of my favorite writing books The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. They’re successful authors and freelance writers, and they encourage freelancers to step outside the box – especially when it comes to pitching queries to magazine editors. It’s important to learn the rules of writing, and then let your own writer’s voice, personality, and traits shine through.

Express your ideas, no matter how zany. It’s easier for an editor (you, in many cases) to tone writing down or edit the zaniest bits. Give yourself freedom to push the envelope! If you want to be a freelance writer, you need to be free!

become a freelance writer

“15 Things You Need to Be a Freelance Writer” image by Laurie

Think of yourself as a revolutionary. Successful writers aren’t “just writers.” They are the creators of new worlds, new creatures, new possibilities! They know they’re creating something new and exotic for their readers. Successful freelance writers need to know that being timid will hold them down, and they have the “risk taking trait.”

Expose your secrets in writing. I’ve heard that writers need to share whatever it is they don’t want people to know. Their secrets. Their dirt. Their mistakes, regrets, woes. While I’m not 100% convinced this is something you need to be a freelance writer, I do believe that good writers share their authentic voices and selves.

Accept edits and rejections gracefully. This is definitely something you need to be a successful freelance writer! Editors and publishers request changes, kill articles, or sometimes even revamp the whole article in-house. Sometimes, they reject article pitches or book proposals with a stilted form letter — or sometimes you’ll see your idea plastered on the cover of their magazine a couple months after you pitched it. Learn how to shake it off — rejection, dejection — and move on.

If you don’t know where to start, read 11 Types of Articles to Write.

What do you think of these things you need to be a freelance writer? Comments always welcome 🙂

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6 thoughts on “15 Things You Need to Be a Freelance Writer”

  1. Thank you for sharing such great information.
    As I am some I am new to freelance writing, and it’s quite overwhelming when you don’t know what to do. I’m so busy worrying about my website and perfect grammar that I don’t spend enough time pitching.
    Would you happen to have any advice about writing a really good pitch? Any example letters you would recommend?

  2. Mark Anthony Bisset

    Thank you for this – I am just starting to explore freelance writing and you just covered everything I know would hold me back – I am glad I read this now and not in 3 months when i was still trying to learn everything and come up with the perfect pitch!

  3. I am a freelance writer who is looking to improve himself since I find myself limited in my chose field. I have trouble accepting criticism, but I’m learning fast that constructive criticism is meant to be helpful, not hurtful or personal.

  4. I have to admit that it is a nice article.I liked the way you write this article,it is really motivating.
    Thanks for writing this article!!!!!!

  5. This one is definitely for the bookmarks! So many aspiring freelance writers are looking for a quick and easy way to success. Not many want to invest time and effort in learning. And too many give up too soon. Always a pleasure to read your posts, Laurie!