8 Steps For Landing That Freelance Writing Job

by Anne Wayman

applying for freelance writing jobsOnce you’re prepared to actually apply for a freelance writing job it’s time to start the application process.

You’re unlikely to be hired on the basis of your resume or application unless it’s for extremely low paying jobs wanting hundreds of articles. They will let anyone start.

For the better writing jobs there are tons of applicants which means your goal is really to get an email response or a call scheduling an interview. These eight steps will help you do just that:

Remember, your job is to solve their problem. The only reason someone hires a writer is to solve a problem they’ve got with writing. If you demonstrate that you can solve that problem for them on their terms, you’re likely to land the job, or at least get a call back. Put the idea of service to the prospective employer before your needs in the application process.

Allow enough time. It takes time to do a good job when you’re applying for freelance writing jobs. The nature of our online universe makes it seem easy, but it’s not. Give yourself enough time to think through each application and to double check everything you’re sending. 

Organize your search. You know what kinds of writing jobs you’re looking for – organize your search a bit. A good place to start is the job pages here. You can start by just going through that list and the Craigslist listings. The first day you go through them will take more time than subsequent days just because you’ll be looking only for the new postings after the first day. When I find a writing job I think I might want I email myself the link and keep searching. I sometimes will put brief comments in my email like “I want this one” or “wonder if I qualify.”

Apply to the best first. Next I go through the emails and pick out the job I want the most. I apply to this one first although I usually don’t send it right away. I get it ready, but wait at least an hour and only send after I’ve read the description again as well as anything I’ve written.

Read the description and the requirements carefully. Employers and publishers always express frustration at how many people applying fail to understand the description and the requirements of the job.  Most of the better writing jobs posted provide decent information. Make sure you read it all carefully so you know if you really want to apply. Sometimes the job that sounded great on a quick reading turns out to be one you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

Make sure you understand how to submit. Some job postings have links to application sites, some ask for email. Many state something like ‘no attachments’ or ‘paste into email.’ Every now and again you’ll see one requesting a .pdf file or even that the app be sent by snail mail. If you want that job you’ve got to follow the directions exactly. Any deviance will get your app thrown out without a glance. If they want a cover letter, take time to craft it. In fact I take time with the email which often acts as a cover. You want to demonstrate you read the description and why you qualify. Toot your own horn, but gently.

Don’t bother with an email asking a clarifying question. Even when there seems to be something missing from the description you’re wasting your time trying to email a question. It won’t be answered. No, that’s not fair or even good business, but it is the way it is. Remember these people are getting hundreds of questions and hundreds of applications. If they’ve badly blown the posting it’s easier for them to just re-post correctly and dump everything that came in for the first post. If there’s a phone number you can try, but I think you’re better off doing the very best you can with your application and ask questions when you’re contacted.

Don’t bother tracking your submissions. Trying to track your writing job applications in any detail beyond just a rough tally is an exercise in frustration and it’s wasted time. You’ve got no real way to follow-up, nor any reason to do so. Save your time for something more useful.

Remember that no response doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified. It’s frustrating but there’s no way to know that they’ve hired someone else or even decided they don’t want to hire anyone.  Just keep applying.

If, after a week or two you’re not getting any responses, go back to your resumes and review what you’re sending. You may be horrified to find you’ve got a glaring error or that there’s a better way to state your qualifications or that you need to re-evaluate what you’re applying for. It’s all part of the game of landing a freelance writing gig.

What have I left out? What’s been your experience applying for writing jobs?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Robert S. Donovan

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Jackie October 6, 2011 at 12:50 am

You say not to bother tracking submissions. It seems to me that Excel was made for things like this. Just a thought.

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Klara October 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm

nice and very useful advices! i absolutely agree with the statement, that everybody has to take the time and write carefully. writing is one of the hardest ways to make an easy living:) i don’t want to advertise, but there are some sites, where you can offer your articles for sale.the worth of your text depends on the quality and quantity (and of course your ranking). but sometimes, it’s much more easier. naturally it is for those who are new in this business, but it worked fine for me.
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Anne October 6, 2011 at 11:53 am

Klara, glad you’re here.

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Tony October 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm

A great read for me. I am new to this profession, currently affiliated as a creative and technical writer. This post is/will prove to be a great help to me for sure. Earlier I randomly applied to anyone. Now I am more careful about that. Thanks for this one.
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Anne October 6, 2011 at 11:52 am

Tony, it amuses me that tech writing certificates are now almost a requirement. Back when I started there were no such certificates.
Glad you found the post helpful.

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Terri October 5, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Thanks for the great info, Anne! I am just trying to get into freelance writing after years in teaching, marketing & sales. I have found oodles of great information online and in many books, but there seems to be one glaring omission. A frank discussion of the money!
–When applying for freelance jobs how do I price my work?
–When job posts list a budget is it usually listed per article or submission or for the full body of work assigned?

A Million Thanks from the Newbie,
Terri

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Terri October 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Guess what? I just came across (& read) your series on setting freelancing fees! Great stuff! My second question still stands, though… many jobs posted on job sites that list a ‘budget’ don’t give a clear description of their expectations for the listed amount.

Still learning,
Terri

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Anne October 6, 2011 at 11:51 am

Glad you found it. If the payment isn’t stated you just have to apply and wait until they tell you – then you either accept or reject. Applying doesn’t mean you’ll accept. You’re interviewing them as much as they are you.

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Anne October 6, 2011 at 11:48 am

Which is why we have a whole topic about money here http://www.aboutfreelancewriting.com/category/dealing-with-money/

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allena October 4, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I track my submissions….I guess out of curiosity. Also, it helps me plan. I know that if I apply to 20, I’ll generally get 1. I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t track. . . And that helps me to plan my work schedule a little better. If I want to pitch magazines, then I want ONE short term job from the job lists (I have 2 major clients at all times to keep happy already). If I am NOT pitching at all, then I know I can handle 2, which means I need to apply to 40 (oy).
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Anne October 5, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Good point, Allena, some tracking does let you know how you’re doing. Knowing you’ll get 1 out of 20 is actually really useful information. Thanks for pointing that out.

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Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing October 4, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Love this post…I also take pride in not tracking submissions. I think the energy that goes into that is better spent sending more queries!
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Anne October 5, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Hi Carol, I think I remember you saying that… glad you agree.

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Nicky Parry October 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm

So true how it’s a waste of time trying to shoot off an email with a clarifying question! or trying to track your applications. The sound of crickets can be deafening sometimes!
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Anne October 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I’m chuckling hearing those crickets.

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