Posts Tagged ‘freelance writing’

One Writer’s Success: 2 Paying Gigs With Zero Writing Clips

Posted in Blog on March 27th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 19 Comments

Freelance writer got the gig with no clipsBy Craig Baker

Every writer in history has stood at the starting line, pen and paper at the ready, eager for that big story that is going to launch them into freelance writing success.

But if you don’t have any professional writing clips — published articles — to give an editor when looking for your first writing assignment, it can make you feel a bit like the freshman serving punch at the senior prom. All you want is to get to the other side of that counter.

How do you go from wearing the server’s bowtie to owning your own tux in the world of writing?

Frankly, I don’t know yet. I’d say I’m somewhere in the tux-renting phase of my freelance writing career.

But I can tell you firsthand that clips will only get you so far. The rest is actual hard work.

My first clip came when I was fresh out of college; I sent an 800-word guest opinion to our local afternoon newspaper as it was spiraling down the print news drain into non-existence. Lo-and-behold, it was accepted.

The same paper took another piece from me a month later, though they printed a grievous error in the headline and then promptly went out of business.

Well crap, I thought. There went that.

Resurrecting my writing career

It was three years before I tried again. I opened my ears to what was happening in my city until something struck me as interesting, and then I pounced. It wasn’t a groundbreaking idea, but it was an idea. Specifically, it discussed various ancient Native American artifacts that can be found strewn throughout my hometown.

Though I’d been warned against writing a piece before shopping it around, that is precisely how I tackled the no-clips issue. I went ahead and wrote the article.

I wrote about 1,200 words on the subject (my best guess for the average length of other local articles based on a little cutting and pasting from the web into Word), did some research on query letters, and sent a pretty standard script out to the editors of every local publication I could find.

In my email, I told the editors I had stumbled on a neat little story about artifacts, there was a local organization tied to the information (I had a source), and I had guest opinions published in the extinct newspaper.

I sent the article out with my messages, and tried my best to forget about the whole thing.

Within a few days, two of the maybe ten editors I had queried sent responses, and to my surprise, one of them said yes.

The editor that accepted the piece told me that it was what he called “evergreen” (my first introduction to that industry term for an article that can run at any time because it has no urgent news hook). He would save the article until he needed one for filler.

Not the instant-clip-and-recognition I was hoping for but, six months later, it turned into a $100 paycheck.

The second editor rejected the piece outright but apparently appreciated my writing style enough to assign me an altogether different article for an upcoming issue of her magazine. Score! Two clients came from my one spec article.

Building on my success

As I waited for the rush that came with seeing my work in print, I knew I had also gained:

  • two publications I could continue to pitch, and
  • a stronger bio for pitches — I could say I had work pending with two publications.

Once the articles were published, I was able to use my small portfolio of local samples to land jobs with bigger, higher-paying clients within weeks.

My new clients included a $2,000-plus-royalties contract writing content for a video game development firm and an ongoing writing position with a language learning company for $0.25 per word.

I haven’t stopped since.

Putting in the work

What does all of this mean to you?

Simple: if you don’t have a clip, make one. If you don’t know how, learn more about article writing.

Learn about your target publications. How long are the articles? How long are the paragraphs in those articles? The sentences?

Are the pieces written in the first or third person, generally speaking, or do the writers use the “we” so common to alternative publications? How many sources does each article quote, and on which side of the story’s argument do these sources stand?

Preparing yourself with this sort of basic knowledge before you start writing will make sure that even your unpublished pieces are as close as possible to the real thing, which may just get you a second look from someone that calls the editorial shots. Don’t be afraid to jump in with both feet—you’ll never publish an idea if you don’t send a query.

How did you get your first clips? Tell us in the comments below.

Craig Baker is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Ariz., and shares author advice on his blog, Starting from Scratch. 

 

Writers: Soar Like an Olympian With These 4 Key Traits

Posted in Blog on February 9th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 25 Comments

Rising to new challengesIt’s a season of epic athletic contests right now. The just past (awesome! Go Hawks!) Superbowl and the Winter Olympics have one thing in common: They take top athletes who’ve performed well all year on smaller stages and put them before the biggest audience they’ll ever have.

And then these pros — who have practiced untold hours and prepared for this moment often nearly their whole lives — have to choke down their fears and grab their shot at proving they’re the best.

You know what they remind me of? They’re like freelance writers who’ve been writing for their local biweekly who get that first national magazine assignment. Or small-business copywriters who finally snag a Fortune 500 client.

In every one of these epic athletic contests, when players go up a level, some reach deep inside and pull out amazing performances.

The best soar to new heights. While others crumble.

I’ve always been intrigued by the psychology of that. What makes the difference?

I think four things are key here:

Resilience

Stuff happens in life and things don’t go according to plan. Sources don’t respond. You get the flu on a high-stakes deadline, or the day you have to skate your long program.

It’s not what happens, but how you react to it that makes you a champion. Think Nancy Kerrigan getting kneecapped and then still managing to win a medal.

You need the ability to roll with it and carry on to deliver when it really counts.

Belief in yourself

Recently in the Freelance Writers Den forums, a member commented that when she writes for clients, a voice in her head is saying, “I don’t deserve this. I’m just doing what others can do better.”

People, this cannot be the tape that’s playing in your head if you want to make it in the big leagues.

Know that you could not have come this far without talent and drive. You have worked hard for and deserve all your accomplishments. (And if you think everyone else is writing better than you, go down to your local Chamber of Commerce and read all the brochures. Eye-opening, hm?)

Not only that, but you can continue to excel and go beyond what you’ve done before.

Human beings always have more unrealized potential waiting for a chance to shine, as these Olympic athletes always show us.

It’s also realizing that the gold medalist is not the only winner. To not spend all your time judging your performance against others.

Listen to interviews with Olympic athletes, and you realize simply being able to put yourself out there and compete at an elite level — or being able to write for a living – is victory. The journey is really the reward.

An Olympic medal — or a national writing award — should only ever be the cherry on top.

Inner motivation

What makes those skaters hit the rink at 5 a.m. and go back after school for more? Nobody can drag you to all those practices against your will.

Nobody can make you write and rewrite and polish your draft when all your friends are at the movies or on Facebook or going to dinner parties.

That drive to write — and to write better, and better — can only come from you. No coach or class can give it to you.

If you don’t have it, when you get called up to the big leagues, you may just balk. You may pass. Happens all the time.

I’ve talked to so many writers who were invited to pitch a top magazine, and then just froze. You have to be willing to take more risk, to stretch, to dare yourself to be more, if you want to move up.

Focus

It’s always blown my mind how Olympic athletes do their routines while people cough, scream, walk past, and blast music or even crank their earsplitting air horns. Often, while their top competitors stand there and watch their every move. (At least we don’t usually have to deal with that!)

The true champions are completely in a zone. Nothing will throw them off their game.

Meeting an article deadline while your kids whine for snacks, the laundry is sitting in piles, you need a shower, and your favorite TV show is coming on? Same thing.

What traits do you think make a champion? Leave a comment and give us your take.

Found Money: My System for Selling More Article Reprints

Posted in Blog on January 30th, 2014 by Editor – 35 Comments

Get extra paydays selling article reprintsBy Carol J. Alexander

You’ve interviewed your sources, done your research, and worked your tail off to create a stellar piece of work — for a one-time gig.

Don’t settle for that single paycheck when you can sell the same story again and again to the right markets. Roughly one-third of my freelance writing income comes from selling article reprints.

Here’s how I do it:

What you can re-sell

You can re-sell anything you write so long as you retain the rights to it.

When you sell first rights or one-time rights to an article, after the terms of the contract are fulfilled, you are free to sell the piece elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate contracts if they ask for more rights than you want to sell.

Where you can re-sell it

Generally reprints are sold to non-competing markets — different audiences, regions, or countries.

If you write “Supplements for the Menopause Years” for a woman’s magazine, a health magazine would have a different audience.

Chicago Parent and Houston Family cover different regions.

Chickens Magazine and Practical Poultry represent similar audiences in different countries.

Where to find markets

Generally publications with a smaller circulation, regional magazines, trade publications, and newspapers purchase reprint rights.

Haunt the bookstore, peruse the digital pubs found on Issuu.com, and scour the Writer’s Market for publications that buy reprints.

Read a magazine’s submission guidelines online or email the editor and ask if they purchase reprints and what they typically pay. Some publications have a set rate. Some will pay what you ask.

I have made anywhere from $15 to $50 on article reprints in regional markets. That might not sound lucrative, but I have an extensive list of publications that purchase reprints in one niche. If I sell one article 20 times for an average of $35, that’s $700.

If that article already appeared for first rights in a national magazine for $400-$500 or more, then I think pitching the reprint market is worth my time.

How to submit your work

I group potential markets by niche in my email address book.

When I have a reprint to submit, I write a snappy cover letter (email) describing the story, listing a few places my work has been published, and what I’d like to get for this story. I mention that if they are interested in the piece I will forward it as a Word document with an invoice. I then paste the text of the story after the email.

Keep your eyes peeled and continually add to your list of markets. The more publications you have to submit to, the more opportunity you have of re-selling your work.

Have you made money selling reprints? Tell us how — and how much — in the comments below.

Carol J. Alexander writes from Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Her work has appeared in over 30 national and regional magazines, several websites/blogs, and her local newspaper.

Why You Need to Go For Your Freelance Writing Dream Now

Posted in Blog on January 21st, 2014 by Carol Tice – 66 Comments

Go for your freelance writing dreamRecently, I asked about what writers fear most — and one of the answers surprised me.

Quite a few writers told me they feared taking any action to start trying to make it as a freelance writer.

They were frozen because as long as they didn’t try to get published, they could preserve the fantasy that their freelance writing dream might still come true, one day in the mist-shrouded future.

As soon as they actually tried to be a freelance writer, they ran the risk that it wouldn’t work out. Then their dream would be shattered, forever. So they did nothing, year after year.

Oh, man. That is a disastrous attitude.

Today, I’m going to tell you why you’ve got to snap out of this and go for your writing career right away.

You see, I had a big dream like that once. And it died.

Here’s why that was the best thing that ever happened to me.

I dreamed a dream in time gone by…

The bug bit me when I was about 14. I loved music, and I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. Like Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez or Grace Slick, or ideally all of them rolled into one.

I practiced piano and learned a little guitar. I scribbled lyrics on every available space. I sang in a high-school vocal group.

I dropped out of college because I felt like I was wasting time there when I should be playing gigs. Moved back to L.A., started going to songwriting workshops, and scraped together a band.

Then I started trying to play gigs. And a weird thing happened.

Confronting chaos

Live rock performance is the ultimate uncontrollable scenario. Anything can and does happen.

Your drummer may decide to take the overnight party bus to Vegas or eat psychedelic mushrooms rather than turn up at the gig.

The sound system may malfunction and no one can hear you. Audience members may hoot, ignore you, or throw things. Or only two people show up, but you still have to play anyway.

You make mistakes while you’re playing. You forget lyrics.

When I say “you” there, of course I mean me. All those things happened to me. Some more than once.

And I hated it.

An unpleasant fact about me slowly became obvious.

Losing it

I discovered I am a control freak about my art.

I like to deliver my art to the world fully formed and perfect. The randomness of live performance both terrified and frustrated me.

Having everyone watch me while I delivered the song I was trying to get out there made me crazy nervous. It turned me into a scared little girl, a persona that didn’t mesh well with being a woman fronting a rock band.

The other requirements of building a life in rock ‘n’ roll didn’t appeal to me either, like the part where you need to hang around smoky clubs until 2 a.m. drinking and trying to get some club owner to book your band.

I’m asthmatic. Cigarette smoke makes me need my inhaler. Also, I’m good for one, maybe two drinks tops before I curl up under the table and take a nap. Hanging out with drunks is not my idea of fun.

This dream wasn’t working out at all like I imagined.

Breakdown

When you’re doing something over and over that you find radically stressful, your body has a way of trying to stop you.

For me, the performance stress made my voice shut down. I couldn’t sing properly.

The intense fears about what was going to happen during my set — what would go wrong and make me look stupid this time — made my throat constrict.

Within the first couple of songs, I would go completely hoarse. The next day, I couldn’t speak above a whisper. It became clear that getting a regular gig where I’d need to sing every night was out of the question.

I tried voice coaching. I did exercises and sang scales. I did relaxation and visualization. I’d remind myself that no matter how bad my gig sucked, 1 billion Chinese could care less.

But it was no use. I physically and emotionally wasn’t cut out for live performance.

When one door closes…

Right around this time, I entered an essay contest on a lark and won. They paid me $200.

And everything changed.

I had discovered a form of writing where they paid you — as opposed to my having to pay as a songwriter, for rehearsal space and studio time and to four-wall clubs to play gigs.

Even better, writing prose allowed me to tinker and perfect what I wanted to say. When I was happy with it, I sent it out into the world and readers enjoyed it…and I didn’t have to be there while they read it.

I loved it. And I never looked back.

Getting it right

I tried the songwriting dream — tried hard, for most of my twenties. I played the Whisky. I spent loads of money, made demo tapes, shopped tunes, got a couple of them licensed even, played a lotta gigs.

Then finally I realized it wasn’t making me happy, let it go, and moved on to find a new dream.

That new dream led to a ton of fun, earnings, and satisfaction. Years of well-paid freelancing, and then staff writing, and then freelancing again.

And then, starting this blog to share what I knew. Next, launching Freelance Writers Den, and creating a business that helps thousands of people and has made me financially secure.

None of it would have happened if I was still sitting in my room singing songs to myself and hoping some day I might be a singer-songwriter — but never going for it for fear of finding out I couldn’t cut it.

Facing that reality and learning exactly why that career wasn’t a fit for me gave me the insight I needed to find the right path.

How dreams come true

Dreams are born in our heads, but they’re forged and perfected in the fire of experience.

I had a dream of being a kind of writer, and by trying, I became one — just a bit different kind of writer than I originally imagined.

With no experience, your dream stays a vague notion that might or might not even be something you’d like, if you really tried it.

You might discover that though you imagined it would be awesome, in reality you hate meeting editors’ demands, or conducting interviews, or writing business copy, or having to endlessly hustle for gigs.

But there might be something related, two steps removed or just around the corner from that first big dream you had, that you’d love. And you’re wasting precious time not finding out.

Ever have a dream die? Leave a comment and tell us what you tried, and how you moved on.