• Advice

How to gain traction as a new freelance writer

Being a freelance writer can be extremely hard work. It is rare that the work comes to you; often, you have to go find it. Part of the difficulty is knowing where to look for legitimate projects. There are numerous sites that proclaim to help freelance writers launch their careers, but “buyer beware” because not all sites are clear about how they connect writers to projects or the nature of those projects.

I am cautious of any site that requires me to “pay” to have access to writing gigs. I fell for this when I first started, but I soon learned that many of the opportunities that they were asking writers to pay for were listed for free elsewhere—I just didn’t know where to look (which I will discuss a little later).

Another thing to be leery of are projects that are ambiguous in scope or that promise large payouts, but give very little information on the front end. There is, unfortunately, a fertile market for (ghost) writers of academic papers, theses, and dissertations. Because of my background in academia, I won’t even entertain anything that remotely suggests academic dishonesty or fraud. Because of this, I recommend that you read the fine print and ask questions before signing up.

If you are clear about what to avoid, it makes it easier to focus on what you really want—freelance writing projects that either pay or offer you a coveted byline which, in some instances, can be more valuable than a check.

Here are a few things that I highly recommend for new freelance writers:

1. Sign up for newsletters and email blasts from reputable organizations

One of my favorites is Freedom With Writing. I find that they have thoroughly vetted writing opportunities before sharing them with their large following. They also highlight outlets that are not mainstream or popularly known; this is particularly helpful for writers who tend to write about niche topics or for targeted audiences.

Additionally, they tend to share writing gigs that pay significantly more than some other writing sites. I have acquired a few contracts through their information. Did I mention that they will email writing opportunities directly to you?

2. Don’t underestimate traditional job search engines.

This may be surprising, but with the right key words, you can actually get a few paid writing gigs using sites like Monster, CareerBuilder, and Indeed. Of these three, Indeed is my favorite. On a few occasions, I have used words like “writer,” “editor,” “curriculum,” “script,” and/or a major city like New York, LA, Chicago.

Even though I don’t live in these cities, I have found that short-term or one-time writing projects or contracts are more bountiful in larger markets. I have also used “remote” as my location. As with anything else, do your research to make sure that the projects are legitimate. Also, be sure that you are clear about how payments will be made—if it sounds too good to be true, then follow your instinct.

3. Write for free

Please don’t stop reading! Hear me out. When you first start writing, many of the larger outlets that accept unsolicited pitches will want to know who you are and others will ask for published samples or a writing portfolio. Your favorite blog in a Word document will not suffice as a writing sample.

Private and corporate clients also want to know that you have experience writing for an audience, so it’s not just a function of showing them that you are a good writer, but they also want to see how you engage with an audience. Because of this, I strongly recommend writing for an occasional byline (where your name is included, tagged and/or you are able to include a short biography) if an outlet does not pay its writers.

The other important thing about writing for a byline is that you can leverage an outlets’ reach (readers and followers) and brand to gain greater visibility as you establish your identity as a professional writer. You, literally, never know who will read your content and the doors that might open for you.

4. Join online groups

I joined a FB group after someone read one of my blogs on Freelancers Union and she emailed me about it. It has turned out to be a gold mine, as I am able to listen and learn from people who have far more experience than I do. I also have a writing group comprised of aspiring and established writers.

I use the metaphor of a table to describe it—sometimes you come to the table because you are hungry and you desire to eat and on other occasions, you come because you want to feed others. Writing groups, freelancers’ groups/unions, and/or “support” groups for writers are great ways to make connections, give/receive referrals, and learn about job leads that are not posted in more public spaces.

These are just some of the things that I share with new freelancers. I’d love to hear about some of the things that have worked for you. Please tell us in the comments section.

Tyra Seldon Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.