≡ Menu

10 Hidden Rules of Freelance Writing

rules of freelance writing

Do you know the hidden rules of freelance writing? Like most industries there are written rules and unwritten rules when it comes to writing.

While these hidden or unwritten rules aren’t deliberately kept secret, they are less obvious, particularly for the person just getting started in freelance writing.

Knowing the real rules or unwritten or hidden rules of freelance writing will make your writing life easier and more profitable.

The 10 hidden rules of freelance writing

Why ten? Well, truth be told there may be more. By all means, add yours in comments.

You’ve got to write etc.

I talk about this one a lot because it’s apparently not so obvious to many folks. We simply have to put our hands on the keyboard and begin to write – starting with a rough draft, and rewriting until we market it. Nothing will happen, good, bad or indifferent (except you’ll experience frustration because your daydreams aren’t coming true) if you don’t write. So write!

Persistence is a must

Lovely as it would be, it’s highly unlikely your first efforts at marketing your writing won’t work. You’ve got write, rewrite, and market over and over again. Your writing will improve and so will your savvy about selling yourself and your writing. Keep at it and you’re likely to sell your first piece or land your first client – and so it begins and grows.

Get or stay disciplined

Discipline has much in common with persistence, but it’s not exactly the same. Here I’m talking about your ability to write, rewrite and market on a frequent and regular basis. Some say every day and I say five days a week just as you might with a regular job. At the other extreme, people write novels by writing only on the weekends and X number of words a day. The discipline of writing regularly, whatever that turns out to be for you, is key to ultimately successful writing.

Patience is also a must

As Carl pointed out in the first commentpatience is also one of the hidden rules of freelance writing. It may take much longer than you hope to make your first sale. That’s one of the reasons I suggest your value your first rejection.

Willingness to be rejected

Rejection is a fact of life in a writer’s life. Even the pros experience it once-in-awhile. Sure, and even the pros don’t like rejections. But we accept them as part of the game and one of the hidden rules of freelance writing. They will happen and we take them, if not in stride, with a solid recognition that it’s not the end of the world. With practice chances are you’ll be able to sell that idea down the road.

Constructive criticism can help – if you use it

Does anyone like to be criticized? Probably not and some writers are not willing to consider constructive criticism. That’s a mistake. Okay, maybe your aging Aunt Tilly isn’t exactly the one to offer truly constructive, unless she was an editor for a top publishing company or magazine or newspaper. But other writers and editors may be of real help. You might also consider joining or starting a writer’s group where everyone shares part of their writing for constructive criticism and ideas. By the way, editors are also pretty good at making suggestions that will result in better acceptance by readers.

Editors are not always right, but…

Okay, I’ve just suggested that editors can be a real help. Another of the hidden rules for freelance writers is that editors aren’t always right! Listen to what they say; consider it carefully and if you disagree, push back, but gently. It’s okay to ask them why they are making a suggestion and it’s totally okay for you to politely explain how and why you disagree. Ideally the two of you will reach an acceptable compromise. Be careful not to burn any bridges, but it is, usually, your writing and unless you’ve got a contract that says otherwise, the final decision is up to you.

Editors move

Editors are far from permanent employees, no matter where they are or how long they’ve been there. Like you, editors move – they change jobs, they quit, they change professions. The editor who loved your work last year may have disappeared completely, only to be replaced by someone who wants something totally different. You’ve got to roll with these punches. Sure, see if you can find out where your ex editor is working now, and if she’s still in publishing, approach her there. But honor her replacement as well.

There is no such thing as a standard contract or standard rate

No matter what anyone tells you, there is no such thing as a standard contract or a standard rate. Both are negotiable so don’t be afraid to ask for changes in a contract and more pay, or pay more often. If they tell you it’s a standard contract, what they’re really saying is that it’s their standard contract. Same thing for pay. Ads that don’t spell out the pay, but refer to standard or competitive pay are hoping to get you cheap. It won’t hurt to at least ask if you can get more or if a clause can be changed. You still may be told ‘no’ but you’ve asked. And often they will agree or offer something between what you want and what they’ve offered.

You’ve got to market yourself

That you must market yourself as a freelance writer may be the hidden rule that surprises the most people. While it’s true we get to control our own time, etc., that doesn’t happen until we’ve got some sales and some clients. You get sales and/or clients by marketing yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to sell your soul; it does mean you have to let your customers know you exist so they can hire you.

Master these 10 hidden rules of freelance writing and you’ll be delighted as you move toward the success you want.

If you’ve got questions about these rules, or know of some I’ve missed, let us all know in comments.

Write well and often,


{ 5 comments… add one }
  • I saw that piece this morning…recognized your byline…and have been intending to email you all day. Just saw your tweet, though, so this is easier! Great job!!

  • By Chad Musgrove 2012-05-11 – 19:49:31Very informative post – thanks. I have a question.Do you have ideas of how to use schema.org markup for a primarily service related industry? I am currently adding rich snippets to an electrician website. I have found the “local business / electrician” schema.org layout. How would I use “reviews” for a service or the company itself? Can I simply use Thing / Description for an “electrical service call”? Everything in the markup appears to be geared towards actual Items or products. Can I use a service as an Item?Thanks in advance. Reply

  • Kim

    Hi Anne, All of this is great advice! I do have a couple of questions that maybe you can help with:
    1. How do you begin to market yourself? Are there any recommended publications/websites that would give a newbie like me step-by-step guidelines on the best ways to market myself?
    2. How does one find the best “match” for marketing their material? Obviously one needs to find the correct audience for whatever it is they are writing about, whether it’s poetry, short stories, novels, children’s books etc. Do you have any specific advice on where to begin looking?
    Thank you for any advice you might have. 🙂

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Translate »