Freelance Writing - A Quick Overview freelance writing, writing gigs, freelance writer, write from home, reporters, writers Freelance Writing - A Quick Overview Freelance Writing

By Mridu Khullar

If learning about new things on a daily basis excites you, working with words and sentences is second nature and your wife has banned you from reading promotional material in order to stop you from pointing out grammatical inaccuracies, freelance writing may just be the career for you.

Writing for magazines can be a very lucrative and enriching experience. Payment rates go anywhere from $100 per article to $4,000 per article, and you can talk to experts about the very things that interest you, and actually get paid for it! Here’s what you need to know to start on the path to becoming a full-time freelance writer.

Setting up Shop

Don’t start dreaming of a life filled with grandeur and visions of lying in your hammock waiting for the muse to show up. It’s going to be nothing like it. You’ll be required to get up every day, show up at your computer, reply to e-mails within a 24-hour period like a reliable person and actually produce work. But the benefits are many—freedom from the rat race, no boss breathing down your shoulder, and the independence to actually do what you love and get paid for it.

Writing is a business, and you’ll be expected to treat it like one. Showing up in your pajamas is acceptable, acting like an unprofessional slob who can’t keep deadlines, isn’t. If you’re not self-motivated, efficient and good with deadlines, life will be rough. Learn those skills, and you’ll get through it with enough time to spare for a two hour lunch break.

Here are the minimum requirements for setting up your freelance business:

As you become more successful, you can start accumulating more tools such as a professional business card, a fax number, letterheads, etc.)

Finding the Right Idea

Newbies often dive headfirst into the business thinking that they’ll write articles and the editors will buy them. Not at all. In fact, if you actually do write the article first, you may be doing yourself a disservice. What you need instead, is the IDEA for an article. This is the idea that you will send to the editor in the form of a proposal and then you’ll either be hired to write the full thing or rejected.

But how do you come up with this idea? Simple. Cash in on the numerous experiences in your life. Even a simple thing such as your job can help you find dozens of ideas for your articles. For instance, if you’re a teacher, you can identify the problems that children have and reach out to their parents through parenting magazines. If you’re a tech support gal, you already know the most common problems users face and can help solve them. And if you’re a sales person, improving your sales pitch, dealing with rejection and understanding people would be high on your knowledge list.

Another way to keep coming up with ideas is to follow the trends. Read the magazines you want to get published in, at least one newspaper a day, and log on to online message boards and informational websites. What are people talking about? What are the current trends? What’s the most common problem people are facing these days? Focus on these trends, and try to think up ideas related to them.

Finding Markets

Now that you have an idea, you need to find a magazine editor who will be willing to run it. First stop is of course, the magazines that you’re already subscribed to. Look up the names of the editors in the masthead and contact the editor who handles the section you want to write for.

If you’re looking for even more market listings, here are some more resources to check out:

Writer’s Market: The Writer’s Market book is published each year and has hundreds of updated listings for magazine markets. You can also subscribe to the online database for a fee. WM is the most respected resource for markets today. The free newsletter offers a weekly selection of paying markets and you also get an e-book with over 400+ markets on subscription. This site has been around since 1997, and is a respected resource for verified market listings and paying jobs.

Worldwide Freelance: Gary McLaren publishes two newsletters that contain international writing markets on a weekly basis. He has also published several reports that contain markets on various topics (Christian, Travel, Women’s Interest, Canadian, etc).

Funds For Writers: Another free offering of a variety of newsletters that list paying markets for various types of writers. The focus of this site is on grants, so you can expect to get a huge selection here.

Writing the Query Letter

Now that you have a market and an idea, it’s time to contact the editor. And you do this by sending her a proposal. This proposal is called a query letter and is meant to convince the editor that your article is suited to her publication. You also need to convince her that you’re the right person for the job, and that if she hires you, you’ll make her life easier.

A query letter usually has four main parts: the hook, the briefing, your bio and the clips.

The hook is meant to entice the editor into reading more. Editors are a busy lot, and you want to be able to get and keep her attention till the end. Draw her in using this hook. Some writers like to use the shock effect, by giving eye-opening statistics, unbelievable anecdotes and unfamiliar experiences. Most writers will usually start off the way they’d start off the actual article.

In the next paragraph, you’ll usually talk about what your article plans to cover, what part of the audience it’s meant for, and why the editor should publish it. Remember the research on current trends and fads that you’ve been doing? It’ll come in handy here.

When you’re writing the query letter, it’s not the time to be shy. The next paragraph is your bio, and you should make sure you include any writing achievements, publication credits and awards worth mentioning in there. But be professional and refrain from using lines such as “All my family members think I should be a writer,” and “I was voted most likely to be a writer in high school.”

And finally, include samples of previously published work. These articles and essays are termed as “clips” and the norm is to include at least three. If you don’t have any clips, just stay quiet about it.

For a sample query letter and more tips, sign up for my free 12-day e-course on writing query letters that sell at

Rights, Contracts, and other Business Stuff

When you sell an article to a magazine, you’re selling them particular “rights” to the piece. According to how much they pay and how much work the assignment will take, editors usually buy first rights, one-time rights, electronic rights, all rights or a combination of the first three. When you’re selling first rights it basically means that the article will appear in that magazine first. You’re not allowed to resell the article to another publication until that happens. When you’re selling one-time rights, who publishes first isn’t important, and you can sell the same rights to other publications simultaneously. All rights, on the other hand, means that you’re giving up the rights to the material and will no longer be able to re-sell it elsewhere.

When the editor finally does come back with an offer, negotiate! I can’t stress this enough. Most new writers are so thrilled to have an editor interested that they’ll agree to anything the editor says. But the truth is, editors always leave a little wiggle room for authors to negotiate. So use that in your favor! More money, less rights, payment on acceptance of the article (as opposed to publication) should be high on your agenda. Ask the editor to send over a contract before you begin the work. Without a contract (or some written communication), you have no proof that you were actually hired to write the piece and no legal recourse if the company doesn’t pay you.

The Real Deal

You’ve probably already lined up some interviews for your piece if required, but if you haven’t, now’s the time to do it! Profnet ( is a fabulous resource for finding experts for your articles and books, and you’ll be able to get in touch with dozens of people.

Once you’ve written the article, make sure you include an invoice when submitting. That’ll ensure that your payment details reach the right person and you’re payment processing starts immediately.

And when the check arrives, don’t forget to celebrate your newfound career with some bubbly. Good Luck!

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