How To Become A Professional Freelance Writer
Writing for me began in a very cliche way. I had a lot of thoughts and I wanted to capture them all on blank canvases, blood in ink.
Writing professionally started during the summer before my sophomore year in college with no real work experience and an account with freelancer.com. For $50 a week, I wrote articles for a woman who contracted me to do so based off of four topics she gave me via email in the mornings. By a week's end, I produced 20 500-word articles for her. I had no idea just how much I lowballed myself back then, but I wanted spending money, was broker than broke, and I could do it from the comforts of my own home (then, dorm room), so I was game. When I found real work and had a full courseload to deal with, I parted ways with the opportunity to focus on school and a newly created passion project called The Indie Byline.
Since then, I have had the pleasure of contributing my writing to such places like, For Rent's Apartment Living blog and Lifehack, and most recognizably xoNecole. I was incredibly lucky to have connected with another blogger/writer Kiah McBride during a brunch I hosted two years ago. She read a post I wrote on my blog about loving my sexuality and its ferocity and owning it, and shared it with Necole. I remember that night in August when I read Necole's email expressing her desire to shed her old skin as a celebrity gossip blogger and be reborn into the butterfly that would be the women's lifestyle site xoNecole.com. She wanted me to contribute to the sex, love, and relationships umbrella of the site. Of course, I gave a resounding, "Hell yes!" in response. Over time, I started giving more of myself to the brand, which eventually led to an upgrade in title. Late last summer, in addition to being a staff writer, I became the Assistant Managing Editor for the site.
In addition to that, I also blog professionally for the sites UrbanMecca and MommyBrown under the AdGroups company, The Wilder Agency, where I do that and act as Media Coordinator. And the rest is unwritten.
I tend to steer clear from advice-giving because I don't feel I know everything about freelancing or writing in a professional capacity. But, I can contribute a thing or two to young aspiring writers looking to become a professional freelance writer from the lens of an editor:
Read The Site You're Submitting To
This is SO important. I cannot stress that enough. For example, I can always tell when someone doesn't read xoNecole. They spell the name wrong, they spell her name wrong, or they just pitch something that screams, "I don't read your personal essays or realize your site's demographic." Perhaps, they are a writer that is used to producing content for a content mill site or just one that thinks six lines of poetry is going to cut it as an article. Either way, if you read the site you're submitting to, you will be familiar with the type of content they produce, and, thus, the kind of content you should produce if you want your brands to collide and align with one another professionally.
Perfect The Pitch
What is about your writing that can add value to the site you're submitting to? Your pitch should be a comprehensive rundown of the article or articles you propose to write with an attention-grabbing title and potential angles. If it is something that you've seen before, or even a topic that the site has already covered, how can your unique perspective add a twist to content readers might already be familiar with? Lead with that. Originality, even on similar topics, is where the strength of your value lies. There is no ideal length for a pitch, but remember to be to the point, concise in detail, and intriguing. Too long can be overwhelming, but too short can be overlooked because there isn't enough to go by in regards to seeing if your article proposal meets the editorial needs of a given site.
Provide Your Credentials
By that I mean, include a resume with your initial email to the editor. Your resume does not have to be a traditional one that includes career objectives and the like, but it needs to give the editor a rundown of where you've written, how long you've been there, the different tasks that might have been associated with that position. This is more so for editorial jobs, but I've submitted resumes that gave relevant work histories to sites I've worked for exclusively in writing too. In terms of professionalism, I feel that it further promotes that air to the brand you're trying to work that. I tend to be more creative with the resume template that I use and include my personal site and social media links, something I do not tend to do when applying for traditional jobs. Some great resume templates can be found here.
Show Off Your Best Work
Surprisingly, this is a step that is forgotten about a lot. I read emails and see not a single link that points me to your previous written work, and I've immediately written you off. Sometimes, I'll press further and reply to the email, but other times, I have to overlook those emails because maybe another writer was more savvy in her approach and had already included links, or at the very least a resume that could point me in the direction to a site where I could locate her byline. Do yourself a favor, when you write into editors in regards to submitting work or being a regular contributing writer, include 3-5 of your best and most relevant links. If it is a women's lifestyle site catering to women of color, maybe you shouldn't include include a review for that new Logan movie as a sample. For example, when I wanted to write for the Atlanta section of the Apartment Living site I write for, I included links to past blog posts that showed original photography and writing about the city, as well as pitches that revolved around the kind of content they wanted to produce.
Before including a link, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Does this piece tell the editor who I am as a writer?
- Does this piece represent who I am as a writer?
- Is this a piece that could fit on the site I'm pitching to if I originally wrote it specifically for the site in question?
If the answer is yes, include the links with the initial email to the editor. If not, go back to the drawing board and find better candidates that showcase your work as a writer in a better light. Additionally, you could also write something original for the site as a sample of your writing if none of your past written work fits the bill. If nothing else, it shows incredible initiative.
Check for Errors
This should be a given, but proofread everything you submit for grammar and spelling errors. I can't tell you how many times I've been turned off by an email that greeted me all the way wrong just from easy spelling and grammar errors. Even if it is a simple mistake, it is hard to place confidence in someone who aspires to be a writer but sends a simple 50-100 word email with hella errors. Your email is your first impression, so make it your best one. Otherwise, it could definitely be your last.
My inbox is inundated with submissions and emails that are a combination of emails that get automatically forwarded from the editor inbox and emails I receive directly. Realistically, sometimes things just get overlooked. Don't follow up once every week, because you verge on nuisance territory. I had one woman who took persistence to a whole new level, even though it was clear - and I had made it clear - that we weren't interested. Likewise, sometimes submissions are accepted, but backlogged for months - an update on when your post will be published might be unlikely. Additionally, constructive feedback is a luxury, not a necessity and not something we always have time to do for everyone. The same could be said for declines.
However, if you know you've submitted a quality top-tier post to an editor's inbox, follow up a couple more times with two to three weeks in between your initiation date to gauge interest. Persistence when done right can definitely work in your favor. If after a few tries you don't hear back, take the L.
All in all, experience is a great teacher, so put yourself out there. The worst that can happen is that someone says no. Closed doors are a part of the journey. Just remember that you will always have the key to the ones that you are meant to walk through.
What have been some of your biggest lessons learned from freelancing?