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Freelance Writing – How To Break In

get started writingYesterday I talked to a women who thought she might like to write to earn some extra income, but as she put it, she had no idea where to start. I hear this so often, but at least this woman had actually written something!

That’s significant because you’ll never make it as a writer if you don’t write. I know that seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people approach me and other professionals and it turns out they’ve never written a word.

So where do you start if you want to become a professional writer?

It depends in part on what you think you want to write. Even more, perhaps, on what you find yourself actually writing.

Although it’s an over-simplification, in many ways you can break freelance writing into three broad categories:

Corporate writing – which includes all sorts of businesses, including both for profit and not-for-profit. If you’ve worked in offices you’ve probably done this kind of writing. I think the best place to start is with Peter Bowerman’s Well-Fed Writer. He give you an excellent overview of writing for organizations and shows you how to sell yourself and your writing ability.

Magazine writing – this category now includes consumer magazines, trade magazines and blogs. Here the go-to book is Writer’s Market. The front part of the annual volume tells you everything from how to write a query to an overview of pricing your freelance writing for clients. The balance of the book is market listings. The Magazine Writing FAQ will also help.

Writing books – Books of course come in all flavors, fiction, non-fiction, children’s, poetry, etc. etc. Then there’s the whole issue of trade publishing v. self-publishing. None-the-less, I recommend you start with Writer’s Market which has market listings by book publishers as well as magazines. There are two categories here that may help – Books, and Self-Publishing. Writing With Vision is another blog of mine that deals exclusively with getting your book written.

Pick one of the three areas, buy and study the books and sites, but not for very long. Give yourself maybe two or three weeks max, then do something!

Nothing will happen until you take action. You don’t need more information than the above to get started, I promise. I’m all for continued learning unless you use it as a way to avoid writing and/or contacting clients. You can learn more later, after you’ve tried some things and maybe even gotten one or two articles published or sold a press release or two.

So get started!

How did you break into freelance writing?

(Shameless self-promo department – if you buy the books through the links I make a bit as an Amazon affiliate. And if you want real support as you get started or as you expand, try the 5 Buck Forum – a truly supportive writing community.)


Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by jakeandlindsay

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Elizabeth West May 4, 2012, 8:07 am

    I’m not the least bit interested in copywriting or business writing. Thanks to the listings you used to have, Anne, I managed a content job last year, which helped out a little in terms of extra cash and gave me a credit. Too bad it’s so hard to sell books (fiction) because that’s my dream. But I’m not going to give up, and I’m going to keep looking for extra things that I may be interested in or good at.
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    • annew May 4, 2012, 9:09 am

      There’s lots of writing out there that isn’t copy or business writing. Fiction is possible too… I think there’s a Writer’s Market book for fiction.

  • Nikki April 11, 2012, 10:35 am

    I broke in with ghost writing and the almight SEO content writing. I still do a bit of that from time to time but thankfully in the last six years I’ve started finding my way back to the art of story telling first and SEO later. Thanks to you and Lori, I’m hoping to get more into print. I haven’t written anything for print in the last four years and I sorely miss it.
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  • Ellen April 7, 2012, 11:58 am

    Great post as always Anne. Between this site and the forum, you’ve given me tons of ideas. I just need to get rolling on them! :)
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    • annew April 9, 2012, 8:39 am

      I keep a project list going in addition to my daily to os.

  • limon April 6, 2012, 11:02 pm

    Writing is one of the most obvious freelance career choices. If you have a reasonable command of the English language, and you can express yourself well, freelance writing might be a viable work from home job. Gone are the days when freelance writing meant sending pitch letter after pitch letter to magazines (although you can still do that, of course). These days, you can make a living providing content online.

  • Amelia Ramstead April 6, 2012, 9:34 am

    I actually sat down and googled “How to be a freelance writer”! I found a lot of interesting sites (including this one) and read through as much as I could find. I made a few mistakes, but I seem to be on a much more solid road now. When I started out, I wasn’t sure where I would end up, but I found a magazine that really likes me. When I had questions, I asked, (and usually got very helpful answers) and I continue to follow the blogs that I found the most helpful.
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    • annew April 9, 2012, 8:30 am

      I suspect lots of people google that or something similar… are you writing for more than one magazine?

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