The question I’m most often asked when people find out that I write for magazines is how to break into freelance journalism. The truth is that there are no secrets. I try to be straightforward and honest and I encourage people who have knowledge of the outdoors (or running, or gardening, or local nightlife in Atlanta) to try their hand at freelancing. It probably won’t cost you much to start and it is a very rewarding field. If you want to practice medicine you have to go to med school and if you want to practice law you have to pass the bar exam in your state. If you want to be a freelance writer you need a computer, email, some great ideas and a working knowledge of your subject and the magazines that publish the type of articles you want to write.
I don’t want to make it sound too easy because it’s not. However, if you like to write, have a good understanding of your field and understand which magazines publish what you know then you are off to a pretty good start.
It’s foolish to assume I can write a post that tells you all you need to know about freelance writing. What I can do is give you some basic information that will help you get started and the encouragement to keep going through the tough times. For all of you that have asked how to get started here are some pointers that will get you heading in the right direction.
1). Know your subject:
This includes a variety of things. First, you have to understand the subject matter itself. You have to spend the time learning everything you can about whatever it is you are writing about. Read every publication about that chosen subject. Do not, however, read as a casual consumer might. Really spend the time required to tear a magazine apart. What has already been written? How has it been written? There are dozens of different outdoor magazines and an article that will work fine in one won’t fit in another magazine. Study!
2). Learn the language:
Brush up on your writing skills. Dig out your old comp 101 notebook, blow the dust from the cover and delve back into the grammar lessons you thought you’d left in the past. Read more and write more. No editor is going to take you seriously if your grammar is awful. Editors usually won’t reject your work because a small grammatical error here or there, but if your pitch is riddled with mistakes you haven’t got a chance.
3). Go to the source
Did you know that most book stores have a section devoted to freelance writing? They do, and that is where you will find the phone numbers and email addresses of editors for magazines and journals that are looking for new writers. These texts usually have lengthy sections dedicated to writing and sending pitches to editors. In many cases they give very specific advice on how to contact the magazine and how submissions should be submitted.
When you find an editor’s contact info keep that on file. You will also want to keep a file of industry professionals who work for companies that produce equipment for the type of articles you plan to write. For instance, if you plan to write about gardening then you need to learn which companies produce tools for gardeners and, if possible, the name of a contact person at that company. Join a local writing club or a professional media organization.
5). Be professional
When you get that first assignment make sure you do a good job and get your work in on time. Don’t take assignments you cannot possibly complete. Also, most articles are going to require accompanying photos, so you need to become an competent photographer or find someone capable of taking the shots you need. Print business cards, go to trade shows and continue networking. For your own sanity and that of the editors please don’t call them every day to see if they’ve read your work. They have a lot to do and you aren’t going to do yourself any favors by irritating them.
6). Be resilient
Rejection is part of this game. It’s going to happen. If you can’t handle the hurt of being told that your work isn’t good enough or right for that publication then this freelancing thing isn’t going to work for you. Learn from your mistakes. Keep improving.
7). Have fun
This is supposed to be enjoyable! Keep your chin up and have fun.
If you are still reading this post then you probably are considering giving this freelance thing a shot. Go for it! It will take some time and dedication on your part but I promise it will be worth it if you see it through. I’m pulling for you!