Being a writer is often considered a dream job. You can work from home, make enough money to support yourself and your family, and you’re your own boss. What’s not to love?
The reality is that it’s a tough business. The competition is stiff. You’ve got to work hard to stand out from the sea of other hopefuls. You’ll need to establish firm relationships with several good-paying clients before you’ll earn enough to cover the bills, and because editors change jobs frequently, you’ll need to market yourself continually to keep pulling in fresh work.
Here are five important self-marketing strategies you must implement to present yourself as a knowledgeable, indispensable and memorable freelance writer.
#1: Create a Letter of Introduction
Editors are busy people. They aren’t going to appreciate receiving a phone call from some unknown writer who wants to work for them. Your best shot at introducing yourself is through email.
Craft a well-written, concise letter that lets an editor know who you are, what type of writing you do and that you’re available to take on work. Finish your letter with a call to action by saying something like, “Why not get in touch so we can discuss any assignments you’d like me to work on?” Keep this email short. Include a link to published work so the editor can read it for himself.
If you aren’t published yet, fake it ’til you make it. Write an article on a subject you feel passionate about. Make it well-researched and check it thoroughly for grammatical errors. Include that at the bottom of the email. Don’t attach it to the email; few editors will open an attachment from someone they don’t know.
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#2: Send Out Queries
The letter of introduction is your handshake; the query is a specific idea you have for an article. Make sure you put the word “Query” in your subject line of the email.
Queries should be focused. Don’t say you want to write an article about pregnancy. That’s too broad a subject. Say you want to write an article about the challenges women over 40 face during pregnancy. That’s a focused subject.
Do preliminary research ahead of time. Feel out a few obstetricians and gynecologists who would be interested in giving you quotes for the article. Find a mom or two who’s been there.
Mention these people as your potential sources in your query. Make sure to send queries that are appropriate to the magazine (for example, this pregnancy article isn’t a good fit for a fishing magazine) and send it to the correct editor.
If the editor’s contact information isn’t available online, buy the magazine and read the masthead. The masthead is the line of credits within the first few pages of the magazine that acknowledges everyone who works there.
#3: Get Attention
Imagine flipping through a magazine or through television channels. What makes you pause? What catches your eye? You’ve got to think about this when you’re crafting queries. Be a little sensational.
Write something that snags the editor’s attention and makes her curious enough to open your email. If you’re writing about all the common kitchen products that have been scientifically proven to cause sterility, try a subject line like, “Query: Is Your Kitchen Keeping You from Getting Pregnant?”
Not, “Query: Common Kitchen Products That May Cause Sterility.” The first one makes you curious; the second sounds a bit boring. You’ve got to be that face in a sea of faces that catches the light.
#4: Keep Track
Keep a log of each magazine you’ve contacted, who you’ve spoken with at each and what, if any, response you got. Date your points of contact. Don’t be afraid to return to an editor who ignores you over and over. Again, these guys are busy. If you don’t catch their eye right away, they’re moving on.
If you pitched a query with Super Pregnant magazine and they didn’t respond, shop that query to Pregnant for Nine Months. Keep going. If you get a negative response (“that idea is a bad for us”), take it into consideration. Constructive feedback will help you mature as a freelance writer and guide you in the right direction.
#5: As A Writer, Use Social Media…but Wisely
Editors traipse around on the internet when they should be working, too. If you’ve recently sent Editor Ed a query, he might be curious enough to Google your name and check out your Facebook page. Don’t lose out on this opportunity. Keep an active Facebook account.
Your profile picture should be a good one, clear and professional. Be judicious about how many self-promoting posts you make. One out of ten is a good ratio. Don’t get too personal. Don’t, for heaven’s sake, rant on about your cheating boyfriend or how you hate your mother-in-law. Check for grammatical errors before you post.
Also, be careful about who you friend in the business. Writers love to network with one another, but for every professional writer you make friends with, you’re going to encounter 20 hopefuls who have no idea what they’re doing, who will flood your feed with nonsense and will do nothing to move your career forward. You’ll become very good at recognizing who is who.
#6: As A Writer, Position Yourself as an Expert Voice
Advance your social presence online. Visit blogs and websites that are centered around the subjects you write about. If you write a lot about pregnancy, visit sites about pregnancy. Read a page or two and leave an informed comment. Don’t make it sound like you’re promoting yourself, just be intelligent and well-spoken.
Go a step further by creating your own website. You can write about whatever you like on your website, but be sure to identify yourself as a writer and provide contact information for editors who want to work with you. When you comment on other blogs, provide a link to your own website. As you get to know other writers, offer to write a post or two for their website.
Becoming a well-established freelance writer is a process of getting known, being persistent, coming up with researched, interesting article ideas and making yourself recognizable as a good, reliable, informed writer. Don’t give up- keep moving forward and you’ll make it.