10 Steps to Succeeding as a Freelance Writer

by Loolwa Khazzoom • November 28, 2010 • Writing and Editing Tips

Here are ten steps to succeeding as a freelance writer:

1. Choose focus topics

What are you experienced in? What do you love? What are you really good at? Music, fitness, environment, politics? Make sure you pick topics that will maintain your interest. Exploit your talents.

2. Choose target magazines

The smaller the periodical, and the less it pays writers, the greater the chance that it will be willing to take a chance on a new writer. Choose indie and local magazines that cover your focus topics. Also set the long-term target: What are the mainstream glossies or leading newspapers that you’re shooting for?

3. Study your target magazines

Read the magazines with an eye to sections, content, style, and tone, and take notes on what each magazine is looking for. Make sure to study back issues close to the present date. 

4. Develop story ideas

As you research magazines, also keep a pen and paper handy to jot down ideas that come to you as you read. There are a few ways to develop winning story ideas: a) Take an issue that is important to you, and figure out how to spin it in a way that your target magazine will go for. b) Keep your eye out for local stories in local periodicals, then pitch those stories to the national magazines. Be sure to read through any writers’ guidelines to see what the periodicals are looking for.

5. Write pitches

Why this topic? Why now? Why this magazine? The answers to these questions  need to be evident in your pitch. Keep your pitch concise, and be sure to put the most grabbing information up top.

6. Establish relationships with editors

Once you have researched the periodicals, read the writers’ guidelines, and written your pitches, call the editors to introduce yourself. Be sure to put the most impressive information about you right after your name. That information needs to change as you climb up the ladder. Say that you love their magazine, that you are very interested in publishing with them, and that you have some story ideas that you’ve written up (be able to describe the ideas in a few short words). You may say that you’ve read the writers guidelines, and you’re fine with sending to the general mailbox listed there; but you’re sure they get massive amounts of email, so you’re wondering if you can send it directly to them so that your pitch doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Another approach is to say you just wanted to introduce yourself and give a heads-up that this pitch is coming.

7. Follow up with the one-two punch

Wait a week or two for an editor to get back to you. If you haven’t heard back by then, call to speak with her. If she doesn’t pick up the phone, leave a message and say you’re sending an email for her convenience. Send the follow-up email. Do not do only one or the other, or chances are you won’t hear back. Continue following up like this, no more than once a week, until you get an answer. You can say, “I’m not sure if you’re crazy busy or if you’re not interested in the pitch, so I’d appreciate a quick email letting me know either way.”

8. Organize your progress

 Database flow for me is…

  • Ideas DB
  • Pitches DB
  • Articles DB
  • Periodicals DB

And for each I have an “archive” section. As you get to know editors, be sure to have a section where you make notes about your conversations — including whether the editor has any specific instructions about what she’s looking for.

9. Step-ladder your way up the ranks

Let editors know you’re progressing. Remember that people are basically sheep. Everyone wants to publish the writer that everyone wants to publish. When you have new clips, send them to the editor at your target magazine, especially when they demonstrate that you’re climbing the ranks. Stay on the radar screen of your target editor, as you work your way from indie to local glossy to national glossy periodicals.

10. Become a contributing editor or contributing writer

Focus your efforts on one magazine, and write for them enough that they will consider you as a contributing editor or writer – meaning you are still freelance but on contract and receiving assignments, instead of always having to hustle.

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About Loolwa

Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

Holistic Media, Marketing, PR

Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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