Making it as a freelance writer is not easy, especially if you have no writing clips or samples. But if you persist, you can succeed. Here are a few tips to get you started.
As a minimum, you should know how to structure a news story or feature article. With news, you’ll need to include the who, what, where, why, when and how of the story. With features, you’ll need to flesh the story out a bit and tell it in an interesting way – and in the way that’s most appropriate for the readers you’re trying to reach. After all, you’d write very different stories for the New York Timesand the Surfing Times, wouldn’t you?
Freelancing is not an excuse to have lots of snack breaks or sit in the garden. Treat it like a job. Set some time aside each day to look at newspapers and magazines, look at job sites and, most importantly, do some writing. Keep copies of your articles, of correspondence (whether email or snail mail) and of all relevant bills so you can claim any tax relief or expenses due to you.
Make sure you have the right equipment: telephone and mobile phone; PC or laptop; a dictaphone or other recorder; a printer and a scanner.
Ideas are your bread and butter: keep having them. Have you got any interests, hobbies or obsessions? Has anything unusual happened to your friends or members of your family? These are all good starting points for articles. Look for work in new magazines that don’t have established links with freelancers. They are more likely to give new writers a chance.
So how do you get an editor to give you a try? Read the magazine or paper to see what kinds of articles they publish and suggest material that you think might be appropriate. Look in the archives to make sure your idea hasn’t been published before and then send a query to the editor (by email or snail mail depending on his or her preference). Do a bit of legwork (by phone) and find out the editor’s name so you can address your query to the right person.
Your query should lead the editor into your story. My advice is to write the lead and then say how you would develop the story. Remember to include any information about specialist sources you may have access to or areas of expertise. This will help to convince the editor that you are serious. However, don’t give away so much of your material that the editor can commission someone else to do it. Think of the extras you can provide – sending photos and material for sidebars will make the editor’s life easier.
Once you’ve got that commission, be professional and deliver on time. If you let an editor down once, you won’t be hired again.
Finally, if you want to get paid on time, find out who’s responsible for paying you (it may be an accounting department rather than the editor) so you can send your invoice in as soon as the work is delivered. Try to get the details of the commission in writing. If the editor won’t send you a letter, then you send one confirming the agreement you’ve made. That way, you’ll have some comeback if there’s a query later.
If you do all this, there’s a good chance that an editor will give you a try. A final word of advice, though; if your article is good enough to go in the magazine, it’s good enough for an editor to pay you. Don’t work for nothing unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.