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Applying for the Freelance Writing Job

writers notebookBy Lori Widmer

I’m not one to apply for job listings very often. To me, they create a passivity in us writers. If we’re merely responding to ads, we’re not actively taking charge of our careers and our earning potential. And many of the job listings of late have been insulting in what they think are fair rates for writing talent.

However, even job listings shouldn’t be ignored entirely. Legitimate clients are out there seeking good writers, and they’re willing to pay fair wages. If you come across such a listing, congratulations. You’re now about to compete with thousands of writers for that one job. So how to make your proposal stand out?

Here’s how I do it. Let’s take an ad. I pulled one straight from Craig’s List that sounds like it pays:

“I am looking for someone who can write and submit press releases for my company/website. I will provide the topics for content. If interested, please respond back with asking price.”

So what’s your first step? Put together your query letter. The query should address the points asked for in the ad. Start your query in a way that’s going to impress:

Philadelphia, PA (or wherever you live). March 28, 2008. Fabulous Writer, a veteran writer and editor with over 15 years of experience, is pleased to announce her new partnership with her latest client, Press Release Client. The partnership makes this the 23rd client Fabulous Writer has provided press release writing services for in the past 15 months.” (If you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re Fabulous Writer. Fill in your name there.)

That’s your hook. But why go out on such a limb, you ask? Remember, you are competing with hundreds of writers, many of whom will not make much effort at all. If you take the time to be creative and position-relevant, you’re going to stand out. Maybe it won’t win you the gig, but that person will remember you when you follow up in 4 to 6 weeks to see if he/she has found a suitable person.

Moving on. Next paragraph is your meat and potatoes. This lists your relevant experience first. Never written a press release? Then list any corporate writing you’ve done. None of that either? Then list your magazine, newspaper, or other client experience. This is critical. You have the attention of your reader. Deliver the goods. In this case, something like this:

“In addition to her press release writing skills, Fabulous Writer has provided corporate writing expertise to a large client base. These include brochures, website copy, media kits, and white papers. Also, she has written over 150 articles for numerous consumer and trade publications, including The New Yorker, Writer’s Digest, USA Today, The Atlantic Monthly, Contractors Monthly, and Barron’s.”

There. You’ve told them about you in a succinct and readable fashion.

Don’t forget to add this line:

“Her average rate for press releases is $150 per release with a negotiated discount for contracted ongoing work.”

Remember? They asked for your asking price in the ad. Don’t forget this! A lot of writers would say, “But what if I price too high?” Then this is not the client for you. You have to learn now to set a rate and negotiate from there. If the client is unwilling to negotiate, that’s not your client.

Now, ask for the sale.

“For more on Fabulous Writer and her work, please visit the URLs listed below. Thank you for your consideration.” (don’t do attachments – they clog up email and tick off people with slower ISPs) “Thank you for considering Fabulous Writer and her expertise for your projects. She appreciates it, and hopes to hear from you soon.”

Best regards,

Fabulous Writer”

While the ad did not mention a resume, make sure to have one handy. I wouldn’t send it without being specifically asked to, but you can send a link to your online version, if you have one.

If the press release format throughout the query letter seems to be too much of a good thing, you can always break off from the “hook” into a more first-person account in your second paragraph. Don’t forget a transition sentence in your first – something like “If this announcement has you intrigued, please read on to see what I can offer you.”

Remember, you’re applying for creative work. Be creative! Don’t bore the employer or do the safe thing. Safe gets you buried in someone’s email. Creative stands out. And always follow the directions. Don’t send a one-line note saying “Call me” or “here’s my resume.” That employer’s going to put as much time considering you as you’ve put into applying.

What tips do you have for applying for writing gigs?

Lori Widmer is a veteran writer and editor who blogs at Words on the Page.

Two newsletters:
Abundant Freelance Writing – a resource for freelance writers including 3x a week job postings.
Writing With Vision – for those who want to get a book written.

Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Sal

    “If we’re merely responding to ads, we’re not actively taking charge of our careers and our earning potential.”

    Not only did you hit the nail on the head from the beginning, but you pounded it in through the rest of the article! Very well done Lori, and I like the PR format. One thing I do know is how important the first couple lines are. If you can get them to pick up your cover letter and look at it, you already have a leg up on the competition.

    @Carol – I agree with you on the price, but at the same time, Lori did put it as an “average” price. This gives the client a starting point to even know if they can afford your services. The last thing I would want to do is lead a client to believe they are getting an amazing PR writer only to have them blown out of the water when the price is finally put out there.

  • Great post Lori!

    Back when I was sending a lot of resumes to online job ad posters, I got it down to a pretty concise formula. You definitely don’t want to blather on.

    I’d close with “Thanks for taking the time to consider me.” You know they’re spending a lot of time looking through resumes.

    However, I disagree with giving a price quote on a blind job ad like that. I never did that. My stock answer: “Your job description does not give me enough information to offer a bid at this time. I look forward to learning more about your project so that I can offer an accurate quote.”

    I found most legit companies will reach out if they’re interested and continue the dialogue with that sort of answer. I’ve been burned providing instant quotes to vague online ads, so I never do it anymore!
    Carol Tice recently posted..How a Writer Can Move Up From Content Mills — MailbagMy Profile

    • re price quotes in answers – I swing both ways – and sometimes just give them a range…

    • The reason I do it Carol is it does indeed weed out the clients who cannot afford me. I’ve spent too much time courting people whose budgets aren’t in line with what I need to make.

      I do agree that a caveat is in order on such bids, though. But I wouldn’t not send a rate when they specifically ask for one – that’s the fastest way to get your email deleted.
      Lori recently posted..Integrity and Writerly BoundariesMy Profile

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