I know this all sounds rather vague
June 13, 2012 8:09 AM   Subscribe

I want to find more freelance writing jobs, but I have no idea where to begin.

So! I went to a school of journalism but foolishly switched to the advertising track, which I wound up hating. Currently I work a 9-to-5 office job at an NGO.

I love nothing more than discovering and digesting information, and then explaining it to people in writing in an easily-understood way. I get to do a little of that at my current job, but not much.

Aside from my written-for-class articles which were never actually published, I have two legit 800-word articles that were published by a finance website, as well as a couple of paid blogging stints, one on a jokey college-student-oriented site and one for the company I studied abroad with. Currently I've been scratching the itch by writing Textbroker articles.

After my first post-college year of 'oh god must get job, any job,' I am semi-settled down and would like to begin searching out writing opportunities again. The problem is, I really have no idea how to do that. The one job I got with the finance website was because I went in for an interview for a receptionist position, and the interviewer saw that my resume said 'journalism school' and asked for some writing samples.

I know that this sort of thing isn't exactly easy to find, and I know that I can't expect to make much (or any) money doing it, especially at first. But I want to try. I'm still kicking myself for giving up on journalism school and forgoing the opportunities that would have come with that. So... where on earth do I start?
posted by showbiz_liz to Work & Money (8 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a community newspaper where you live? Ask them if they use freelancers, and if so work out some pitches for stories you'd like to do. The experience at the finance website could serve you well there - most local papers aren't going to have a writer who knows finance particularly well, so you could add some value they wouldn't get with an off-the-street J-student. Don't expect much money but you'd get clips out of the deal.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:31 AM on June 13, 2012

Usually the way freelancing works is you find a magazine or whatever you want to write for, figure out what they publish, and pitch the editor (or a similar decision maker). That's how I got into freelance writing.

Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air has an interesting perspective:

I knew that you couldn't make a living simply writing about the outdoors, so I made an effort from the beginning of my freelance career to write about other subjects. Since I had been a carpenter, I felt like I could bullshit my way writing about architecture for Architectural Digest. I had been a commercial fisherman, so I had queried Smithsonian about a commercial fishery in Alaska, and they went for it. I queried Rolling Stone early on about firewalking, walking on hot coals, and agreed to write it on spec. I tried writing for local Seattle magazines and found that it was just as difficult to get published locally as it was nationally and the local magazines paid literally ten percent as much, so I said fuck the local stuff.

I think this is good advice, as long as you remain realistic about where you're pitching (the New Yorker may be a waste of time).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:10 AM on June 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Try technical writing? As in, if you have expertise in finance, query finance magazines AND publishers that crank out financial books. You might be able to get paid for writing some sort of how-to. Also try Writer's Market. Be wary of online databases as many of them are not worth the trouble. You could also enroll in some university Call for Proposals email lists. Sometimes these will focus on less academic writing opportunities.
posted by hungry hippo at 9:44 AM on June 13, 2012

I'll say I've found Duotrope more useful than Writer's Market of late.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:48 AM on June 13, 2012

1) Become a regular. Get involved with a publication of some sort - your blog of choice, or, if you have a hankering for newsprint, an alt-weekly, and try to write regularly for them. Having a beat or niche can really help with this. Editors like reliable content, and you can be that person they turn to every week for an update on Thing X. (Local beaches! Klezmer music! Science news! NGO updates!) Also, regular gigs are the best way to write, and make money, in volume; otherwise too much of your time gets eaten up in the pitching process.

2) Socialize! As a full-time freelancer, I can't emphasize this enough. Editors assign most to people they know and trust. Some of my most life-changing gigs have come from people I've met at parties, or referrals through friends. Of course it's up to you to deliver, and your reputation will ride mostly on your work - but referrals can save you from cold-calling.

How to do it? This is another benefit to getting involved regularly with one publication: There'll be parties. In fact, the more hardscrabble the outlet, the better the parties will be. (The pay is so lousy and the work so strenuous, parties are a key payoff.) Also, if you're not already on the tweets, get moving. Freelancers and editors love Twitter - it's a big media backchannel. Lots of people build their brands that way, and in my own life it's led to everything from whole new lines of work to genuinely close friendships.

Good luck, and have fun!
posted by bicyclefish at 11:22 AM on June 13, 2012

I'm still kicking myself for giving up on journalism school and forgoing the opportunities that would have come with that.

I know this wasn't the question so apologies if I am out of line, but would you not consider going to journalism school part-time, or doing some kind of other training course that could lead to the opportunities you described?
posted by EatMyHat at 12:40 PM on June 13, 2012

i see lots of listings for freelance writing on the job listings at mediabistro (no affiliation). many of them seem like marketers looking for nearly-free writing for crap websites, but the occassional real position does come along.
posted by garfy3 at 1:51 PM on June 13, 2012

I highly recommend the book "My So-Called Freelance Life" by Michelle Goodman. It's written with a somewhat obnoxious feminist bent (and I say that as a woman), but the information inside is some of the best I've found. I've read a gazillion books on freelance writing, and I still think it's the best.

I'm currently a full-time freelance writer. I quit my corporate job two years ago and temped a little until I landed on my feet, but now I'm doing a-ok. I have a few private clients, but I get the majority of my work through web development and graphic design firms. Most small- to mid-sized firms can't afford to hire full-time writers, so they utilize freelancers. I got my start by reaching out to a few and introducing myself.

It's also very advisable to start a website showcasing your services, your samples and your bio. It doesn't have to be anything complicated, but a well-designed site will definitely set you apart from other freelance writers.

As far as freelance magazine writing or journalism, I don't have any experience, so can't offer much advice besides picking up a copy of Writer's Market.

Good luck! The hardest part is getting started.
posted by shiggins at 4:09 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

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