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How to be a freelance writer

Maybe you have a blog and want to make a go at it professionally, or perhaps you’re looking for more workplace flexibility. Whatever the case, freelance writing can be an incredibly challenging but fulfilling career. Find out how to make a go at it!

Woman working from home

Working from home and making your own hours is amazing, but freelancing isn’t as glamorous as it may seem. Still, with a little hard work and patience, you can be writing about what you love in no time.

Get more ideas for how to work from home >>

Write what you know

Your first step to becoming a freelance writer is deciding what you want to write about. The easiest way to get started is to write what you know. Think back to all of your past jobs and experiences — everything has potential! College history classes, a brief stint as a paralegal, those amazing homemade greeting cards you make or even being a mother can all be a source of information and inspiration for your new career.

Who to write for

Next figure out what kinds of publications you’d like to write for. Freelance writing isn’t all about glossy magazines and national newspapers. Especially when you’re just starting out, think small to build your portfolio of published clips. Think about local newspapers, trade publications or online blogs and magazines. Another aspect to freelance writing is content or copywriting, where you write ads, newsletters, blog posts, etc., for companies. This can be a lucrative, if less glamorous, option.

Pitch, pitch, pitch

Once you’ve decided what publications you’d like to write for, it’s time to reach out to editors with a story idea. This is the hard part. You need to come up with a clear idea, along with an explanation for why their readers would be interested, how you will research the article (who will be your sources, for example) and why you are the best person for the task. The pitch should be tailored to the publication (you won’t pitch an article about dogs to a cat magazine) and should be concise and to the point. Freelance writers experience a lot of rejection — and, even more often, don’t get any response at all — so thicken up your skin and send out as many pitches as you can muster.

Get the contact info

How do you know who to send a pitch to? If there’s a particular magazine you are interested in, go to their website and scroll down to the very bottom. They’ll typically have an “about” and/or “contact” section, and one of those often has information about who the different section editors are and how to submit pitches for story ideas. Websites like Media Bistro and Writer’s Digest also offer valuable information on who to pitch and what editors are looking for.

Learn how to get your freelance financials in order >>

The nitty gritty

In many ways freelancing is a dream job; you make your own hours, don’t have a boss and avoid office politics. But it’s not for everyone and requires a lot of hustle every single day. You need to be self-motivated enough to work from home and make deadlines. You need to be resilient enough to stand up to lots of rejection. Even when you do get articles accepted, the editorial process can be long and laborious. And then there’s the meager salary, especially when starting out. Remember also that no taxes are deducted from the money you make — so come tax time you owe the government (you should set aside at least 15 percent of what you make, and you may want to consider filing quarterly taxes. Consult a tax accountant for more information.). And there’s no health insurance. But it can be the most fun and fulfilling job in the world, and if you love what you do then it’s all worth it.

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