Vicki's Book News and Articles

Business: Freelance Writing

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

I’m currently working on my second novel. Working full time and writing part time is not what I want to do. I’m thinking of freelancing (something along the lines of writing articles for magazines, newspapers and maybe even submitting things to Reader’s Digest) but I don’t know the first thing about it. Any suggestions as to how to get my foot into the door?

Admittedly, the bulk of my experience is in writing fiction. But I have written articles that have been published in over 20 countries. I’m not at all sure if the way I went about it is the way to go about it, but it did work, and I’ll be happy to share it with you.

I started by writing articles on specific aspects of writing and by interviewing others (editors and agents) writers wanted and needed insights into to further their own writing goals.

At first, I did these articles on spec (speculation, meaning without being assigned them by an editor) and submitted them to small publications (organizational newsletters, community newspapers). Few paid, even in copies. But they did give me what I most needed: clips of published works and contacts with the editors and agents I interviewed.

With those clips, I approached larger publications with spec articles and continued to write for smaller ones–receiving more assignments and requests from them as time passed. Before I knew it, I was getting requests to write articles and to reprint them.

Incidentally, it was through an interview with an editor that I made my first fiction sale. The editor showed it to another editor who “loved” my writing style. I had my agent submit to her, and in two weeks, she bought the book. So there are perks for the nonpaying works.

My best advice is to build a portfolio of published articles and then use that portfolio to incite interest in future works.

As for newspapers: a lot of information is available to papers over the wire these days, which makes them reluctant to pay for other material. However, local news sells papers, and this is an area where you can give the editor something s/he needs.

Study your paper and search for something that is not there. Typically, the reporters will cover larger local events, but what about smaller ones? Or there might be several events occurring on the same day. Do an article on the smaller of them. Attend an art show at your local college? Write it up. What about the fund raiser the elementary school is doing? Their trip to the senior citizen’s home to promote community? You get the idea. If you can provide photos, too, that will help.

If you have a small, community newspaper, be sure to check its classified ads for tips. Often, the paper itself will advertise for reporters to cover specific things, such as council meetings. Look for topics that will appeal to local readers.

If your thing is gardening, then create a demand for your work by doing a series of articles giving locals insight into gardening. I don’t remember the specifics, but one man did write a gardening column that he paid to have included in the newspaper. He did this regularly for a few months and then stopped. The paper called him and asked him to please write more articles and paid him for them. Readers missed his insights. So he created a demand, and then the paper filled it.

Some will say that doing spec articles and giving them away to get them published is bad business–and perhaps it is, but it worked for me and it’s worked for others. The important thing is to be strategic in your thinking. Meaning, select your speculation topics with a specific goal in mind. Do spec articles that are similar to the articles you want to sell. This way, you’ve built a rep for what you’re writing, or you want to write. You have experience.

On magazine articles, I heartily recommend you invest time in researching the market. Every magazine has its own slant, and to sell to it, you’d better fit it. The good news is many magazines state specifically in their publications what types of articles they accept freelance. Typically, they have staffers who do their recurring columns and a healthy listing of authors they’ve worked with before to do articles that are generated by reader/editorial request. There is a voracious appetite for material these days, and a lot of it is online, so don’t discount or neglect to investigate that aspect.

There’s an e-zine called INSCRIPTIONS which is excellent all-around. It usually includes jobs for writers that employers are currently seeking.

Do spend some time investigating and don’t be afraid to get creative in your quest. Often that can be the luckiest break of all.


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