Written by Sarah Yoon
It’s easy for writers to get stuck in our own heads–we label ourselves as novelists or poets and fail to look into the uncharted regions of commercial writing. Sometimes we ask, why would I even want to write for a magazine? I want my muse to guide me, not some stressed editor; I don’t want to be told what to write!
While much can be said for creative freedom, experiences with editors, deadlines, angles, and readers are immensely beneficial for your writing career—even if you just want to focus on your magnum opus. They broaden your experience, deepen your resume, and help build a useful network.
Don’t wait for your ‘big break’ to start building your career.
The publishing industry is a business and getting published is hard. Even when you’re published, hitting the best-seller jackpot is extremely unlikely. Getting to the top takes either a bloody battle or a concoction of talent and luck. Since we can’t depend on luck or assume that we’re the most talented writers out there, we’d better sharpen our swords. Build your foundation by writing anything that you can. Get clips, bylines and experience; find trade journals, commercial magazines and literary journals. This will show agents and editors that you’re willing to work hard for success.
Be a chameleon; adapt to your market.
Being a freelance writer has stretches your skills by destroying that false purism that blocks you from adapting to new writing styles. Don’t typecast yourself. Flexibility is important. Can you make your writing light or heavy, happy or sad, flippant or contemplative? Learning new writing styles will help your characters find their own voices and will help publishers know that they’re working with a rounded writer.
Foster curiosity and professionalism by building interviewing skills.
For some articles, you’ll need to call complete strangers and ask probing questions. Thankfully, people like talking about themselves. A few interview questions will bring out unique passions, expertise or quirks from the most ‘average’ person who has the most ‘boring’ job. Not interested in modern aviation, Laundromats, or the invention of corkboards? Well maybe you should be! It only takes a few well-placed questions to find rich fodder not only for articles, but also for characters, plots and settings.
Interview skills help you practice professionalism. These strangers won’t believe that you’re a professional unless you believe it yourself. Be prompt, courteous and confident. Any of the people that you work with may end up being helpful connections, so learn to hold your own!
“This is great and all, but how do I start?”
Good question, hypothetical commentator! Invest in a copy of The Writer’s Market, or browse writing positions on job search websites. The Writer’s Market has fantastic tips on how to submit to magazines. Once you’ve researched enough, write query letters and keep sending them out. If you’ve got a good query with timley content, you’ll hopefully get a positive response. Write the article and follow up either with another article idea or expressing interest in writing more for that particular company.
If this is too stressful to think about right now, just start a blog. Learn what people like to read and explore networking. Basic social marketing can teach you a lot, but make sure that it doesn’t steal time away from your writing. Make sure to explore our free crash course on personal branding, and read the next article in the series: Finding a Home for Your Articles – Researching and Understanding the Publishing Market
What has freelance writing taught you? How are you reaching toward publication?