When you get a freelance writing assignment, do a happy dance! Then get to work. These ten steps for writers will help you write an excellent feature article and ensure the editor gives you more assignments.
Before the tips, a quip:
“Successful magazine writers have the skills fo a news reporter and the gifts of a storyteller,” write Sumner and Miller in Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdotes. “They know how to craft a gotcha lead, sprinkle anecdotes throughout their text, add action to rev up the pace, and humor to tone down the drama.”
Sounds like a lot of balls to juggle, doesn’t it? It is — but trust yourself as a writer. You won the writing assignment, which means you’re halfway there. To learn more about freelance writing, read Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdotes – it’s teeming with facts freelancers and journalists need to know (and trust me, you can never know too much!). I used this book when I taught high school journalism.
And, here are ten steps for writers who need to stop doing the “happy dance” and start working on their assignments…
When You Get a Freelance Writing Assignment – 10 Steps for Writers
1. Get the assignment in writing. You don’t necessarily need to sign a formal editorial contract, but you should hold off on researching, writing, and editing a feature article until you see a written assignment. The assignment can be via email, snail mail, or fax. The writing assignment should contain word count, due date, payment details, and information about a kill fee.
2. Confirm the details of the writing assignment. Understand what exactly the editor is assigning (the article details may be on an “assignment sheet” or in the written editorial contract). If it’s a feature, the article may include sidebars. If it’s a print magazine article based on a previously published online article, it may need to be rewritten to suit a print audience. You need to be clear on the details of the assignment before you start (or continue) researching.
3. Do more research. Most freelance writers do some research before pitching a query letter. But when you actually get the freelance writing assignment, you need to research a little more. Does the article require interviews with expert sources, or just “people on the street”? Would the library be best for back research, or is there reputable information online? Writing excellent feature articles requires doing more research than necessary. Bonus: online freelance writers and bloggers can use the excess information in their blogs or other online sites.
4. Remember the magazine’s audience. If you aren’t familiar with the magazine and the editor doesn’t mention the readership, then it’s your job to find back issues online or in the library. Six months to a year’s worth of back issues can reveal almost everything you need to know about a magazine’s audience. (This is actually a standard step for writers before they pitch the article idea and get the assignment!).
5. Tease out the best parts of your research. When you’re writing a feature assignment, you can’t include all your research. Cherry pick the most interesting, relevant, and reader-friendly information from your material. Collect it all into one monstrosity of an article. But don’t send it to the editor yet!
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6. Review the details of the writing assignment. This step for writers is one I do continuously. After writing – and before editing – your article, review the assignment sheet carefully. Stay focused on what the editor wants, and don’t trust your memory. Post that assignment sheet on your wall.
7. Edit, rewrite, edit, rewrite. I don’t have to tell you that excellent writing is about rewriting and editing (but it looks like I did anyway!). Some freelance writers let their articles “gel” for a few days between rewrites and edits, to ensure they’re editing with fresh eyes. Others edit as they go.
8. Send the article to the editor on time. If you want to get another freelance writing assignment, you need to send your work in on time (or even a day or two early).
9. Get ready to edit, rewrite, edit, and rewrite some more. Most – but not all – magazine editors return the article to the writer, asking for clarifications, rewrites, or other changes. This is part of getting the assignment – it’s a normal step for writers.
10. Follow up with a query letter for a new assignment. When is the best time to pitch another article idea? Right after your first assignment has completed the final edit! After the editor is satisfied, you’re in a great position to send an irresistible query letter.