Being a writer, especially a writer who is just a writer and nothing else, can be difficult. It can be hard to make a living as a writer, even if you’re the next Jane Austen or George Will. The world of free-lance writing has taken off to the point that it is quite easy to supplement your income by writing. Freelance writing is not only a great way to make some extra money, it is a great way to get your name out there, build up a portfolio, and get some much-needed experience before you settle into a full-time career. Here are some of our best tips for becoming a freelance writer.

Find your niche

When you’re starting to work as a freelancer, it is important that you first determine what kind of work you want to do. Op-eds? Editorial pieces? Straight journalism? Entertainment pieces? Listicles? Politics? There are so many options out there. Narrowing down your options and finding your niche will help you out incredibly.  Look at your past writing, what pieces have gotten the most engagement, and which pieces you’ve enjoyed writing most. For me, I prefer writing informational posts and lists as opposed to straight journalism pieces and op-eds. That’s why I freelance those types of pieces instead of policy memos. I simply wouldn’t be having as much success as a freelance writer if I hadn’t found my niche and let that guide me.

Create a portfolio website

You want to show off what you’ve written and highlight yourself, but you don’t exactly have a resume full of your writing simples, and you don’t want to send someone a hundred PDFs. Creating a website gives you a place to define who you are as a writer and feature your strongest work, whether it’s been for a class, a personal blog, a local or school newspaper, et cetera. There are tons of free or cheap companies that will help you build your own website. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you can make it your own. I personally use wordpress, though I know many people that are happy with squarespace or wix. Pro tip: Make your website URL your name or your social media handle so you are easy to find and connect with across the web.

Learn to pitch yourself

Once you’ve determined who you are as a writer, it’s time to let other people know! Start small and pitch your prewritten pieces, ideas, or simply yourself as a writer, to local outlets, including school newspaper, city newspapers, or online blogs that fit your niche. For example, I know I can easily get published in my school newspaper, but I’ve also worked to make myself marketable to an online conservative news outlet that knows I write the way they like and produce content their readers will enjoy. Be sure to read some pieces from those outlets before you pitch them, almost always in email, to make sure you fit their style and angle yourself that way.

Use your connections

One of the easiest ways to get work as a freelance writer is to work your connections. Know someone who just became an editor? Take them out to coffee. Ask your freelancing friends where they write. Listen in your inner circle for hums of opportunity, and follow the music. Your best advocates will be your friends and former coworkers or bosses who can attest to your work ethic, writing style, and dedication to the craft.

Write for free for a bit

It’s not easy to enter the freelance writing game and start making bank on your first article. Most people spend a little bit of time writing for free and getting their name out there, building up their portfolio for a bit before raking in the cash. Frankly, many places that are willing to publish a newer writer don’t have the funds to pay you for your opinion pieces and editorial content. Don’t hold that against them. Use it as a starting point to get your feet wet. Go on up the ladder from there. If you simply can’t afford to write for free for a little bit, then maybe freelance writing isn’t where you want to stake your post. If you’re super passionate about getting your message and your name out, you won’t care at what cost.

Stick to deadlines

Treat freelancing like a real job or like a class. Stick to deadlines. If an editor says you need to turn something in every Thursday, don’t slack on that. Yes, we all have busy lives and things come up, but you wouldn’t just not turn in a paper with no word to your professor. Treat freelancing with that same respect. This will help you earn respect from others in the field and build a good reputation for yourself that will help with future jobs.

Determine your worth

I’ve noticed that too many people expect freelance writing to pay their bills when they’re new to the game. Yes, you deserve to be paid for your writing if it is good and you are putting a lot of effort into it for a reputable company, but you’re not going to make a full salary on blog posts and listicles. It’s unfortunately just not realistic. Knowing your worth is critical to surviving in a freelance world. How much time and energy are you putting into a piece? What would you be doing otherwise? Use that to figure out how much you want for your piece and what you’re willing to expect. I’ve been paid everything from $10 to a piece to $50. Those are all for pieces that took me less than 2 hours to do. Most places will pay somewhere along those lines. A few places pay by the word, which can get a little trickier.

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member