Who doesn’t dream of ditching their nine-to-five office job in favor of freelancing from home? Most are afraid to take the plunge, as decent freelance jobs for writers seem hard to find. It’s a dog-eat-dog marketplace out there.
So how can you become a top-dog freelance writer, turning your skill with words into a profitable career? You’ll have to set yourself apart from the growing competition and make the best use of any special opportunities that may come your way. Sometimes, all it takes is a tweet from a publication or a referral from one of your LinkedIn contacts, and suddenly you’ve landed a lucrative freelance writing job.
In brief, here’s what you can do to get ahead of the competition:
Maintain a strong online presence
Create watertight writing samples
Learn to write great pitches
Collect flattering testimonials
Use the right job listings
Subscribe to specialized newsletters
Raring to get started?
Hold your horses. If you’re planning to start by joining a gig site like Fiverr or Upwork, you’ll just find yourself fighting tooth and nail over jobs that don’t pay off at all. Instead, follow the steps in this guide to find the best freelance writing jobs out there.
Maintain a Strong Online Presence
To land the best-paying jobs, you have to present yourself well. First, you’ll need a website and an active social media presence. Then you can build up a portfolio and gather testimonials. You’ll also perfect your pitch-writing skills so your work is more likely to get published.
The main reason to buy a domain name and host a website is all about looking (and being) professional. Demonstrate that freelance writing isn’t just a passing hobby—you’re serious about running a business and showing visitors who you are.
Your website should include the following sections:
Each page should be informative, yet concise. What kind of work have you done in the past? What’s the best way to contact you? What kind of writing services are you offering?
Most importantly, your website should tell potential clients why they should consider you. By establishing an identity on the web, you’re not just one of many anonymous writers that could ditch a contract or project in a heartbeat; you’re a professional business.
Social Media Accounts
Social media accounts are an invaluable tool for any freelance writer. Whether it’s to network, connect with your audience, or find a call for pitches, social media is a fast, expedient way to build connections and find work.
Twitter is the most useful account to have as a writer, whether you’re looking for literary agents to represent you or for opportunities to submit your nonfiction. Now more than ever, magazine and publication editors are using Twitter to announce calls for submissions. Take advantage by following publications, editors, fellow writers, and even job listing accounts. You never know who’s hiring or looking for contributions to an anthology.
However, creating social media accounts is only a small part of marketing yourself well. You’ll have to be active and communicative with your audience in order to catch your lucky break.
Create Watertight Samples for Your Portfolio
The next critical step to finding work as a freelance writer is to build up your portfolio. You can start by creating samples and pitching article ideas. Then, you collect testimonials whenever possible.
We’ll get back to pitches and testimonials in the following sections. For now, let’s discuss samples.
For fiction writers, this is a bit tricky: the only writing samples you can provide are your published novels or short stories. How do you demonstrate your potential to write nonfiction?
Luckily, you have ample opportunities to set yourself apart from the competition. You can blog, guest-post on popular blogs, or submit nonfiction pieces to magazines. Presenting polished samples will show editors and potential clients that you’re not just all talk.
Professional blogging gives fiction writers a platform to showcase their skills. The best thing about running your own blog is the freedom to write whatever you want. As long as it’s polished and organized, you can blog about any interest you have. Or you can blog about your writing.
For fiction writers, this is where you can shine. Here are some examples:
If you’re a novelist with a 95k-word manuscript, readers will be interested in how you achieved that feat. You can write a post about how you got inspired, how you created the plot and characters, and how you organized your time and efforts to bring the project to completion.
Maybe you want to make a blog series about the progress of your projects, like your experiences during participating in NaNoWriMo.
Go further: talk about the interesting facts you’ve learned while researching Medieval Italian history for your historical romance.
Blogging offers a way for prospective clients to see your writing style. You demonstrate your ability to attract audiences, be entertaining or informative, all while having a consistent writing habit. In addition to showcasing your writing to land you more writing jobs, your blog can be a lucrative business in and of itself. Through ad revenues and affiliate marketing, you can make a profit based on how many viewers visit your blog.
If you’d like to guest post on a popular website, you can use updating and maintaining your blog as a way to practice how you present yourself.
Submit to Magazines
Nothing’s more impressive in a pitch than a byline from a popular magazine. For fiction writers, it’s a great way to start making money freelancing while building up a portfolio of nonfiction work. Speculative fiction magazines are no exception. While you can submit your short stories/novellas and get well-compensated, essays and reviews also count.
Consider submitting to the following magazines. They are all award-winning creative forces known for uplifting marginalized voices.
Pay attention to the call for submissions, themes, and word count. Just like any other publication, they will only consider your submission if you follow their rules (which is more than fair, if you ask me).
Is submitting to magazines too intimidating? Start with guest posting instead. Think of guest posting as a warm-up: some popular blogs have guidelines, require a pitch, and want original content.
It’s also a win-win situation if you need writing samples. You get some first-hand experience writing for a publication (even if it’s a blog), and you learn to edit and polish your nonfiction writing. If you get rejected, you can always recycle the sample for a post on your blog or submit it elsewhere. Popular blogs give you the spotlight, and some even have paid opportunities! To get started, check out this list from The Write Life.
Ghostwriting is a tricky, but lucrative niche to get into. You can ghostwrite articles, blog posts, scripts, and even books! The good news: there are many ways to establish yourself as a ghostwriter, as long as you have a website and adequate proof of your trustworthiness. The bad news? You can’t exactly add these works to your list of bylines (other than in those rare cases when the client doesn’t mind. It’s always worth it to ask).
To find ghostwriting gigs, you need one key component: a network. This can be a Facebook group, your Linkedin contacts, or even the clients you’ve amassed in your email list. Spread the word that you’re interested in ghostwriting—and, if your contacts don’t have an assignment for you, maybe they know someone who does. Share your newest writing samples and track your leads.
Craft Great Pitches
As soon as you have a neat, practical website for your services and a few active social media accounts, you can start hunting for freelance writing jobs (whether you have your samples ready, or not). If you want to have an easier time finding work, you’ll have to brush up on writing pitches and cold emails. So, what’s a pitch, and why is it important?
A pitch is a short proposal outlining what you’re going to write, why you’re writing it now, and how you’re going to approach your subject. It’s usually included in a cold email and can range from a paragraph to a few sentences. A pitch also lists your other bylines and qualifications, though if you have neither, it’s not a deal-breaker. Editors mostly consider whether your idea is right for the publication and whether you’re the right person to write the piece.
A well-composed pitch should include the following elements:
An attention-grabbing headline
A basic summary of your piece
The relevance of your piece to the publication
Why you’re qualified to write the piece
Regardless of your experience level, an exciting or boring pitch is the difference between having a byline in a notable publication or facing another rejection. An editor’s first impression of your writing skills is heavily influenced by the quality of your pitch––especially if you don’t have samples or bylines. A unique or interesting angle on the piece is very helpful, too. Use the pitch to showcase your creativity and skill. Then, triple-check for mistakes and typos. Editors hate those.
You’ve landed your first few writing jobs. Do them well, then ask for testimonials, which you will display on your website and include in future pitches.
Testimonials are statements from people you’ve worked with (clients or editors), attesting to your professionalism and great services. Testimonials aren’t necessarily a requirement for your pitch or website, but they do give credence to your achievements and skills as a freelance writer. It speaks volumes to a potential customer that previous clients think so highly of you that they take the time to sing your praise.
So how do you ask a client for a testimonial? Just take a deep breath and do it!
If your client is happy with the service and you’re happy with the transaction, it’s always ok to ask for a testimonial. Something as simple as sending an email is more than appropriate. You can even take it a step further and ask:
Did I meet your expectations for this assignment?
Would you recommend my services?
Would you work with me again in the foreseeable future?
The answers to these questions can shape a fantastic testimonial for your pitch or website. As long as you feel a rapport with your client, feel free to ask for a testimony of your skills.
Use the Right Job Listings
When it comes to job listings, the advice you’ll find online is pretty evenly divided between two camps. Some sources swear that the most successful freelancers got their first gigs on job-mill sites like Upwork and Fiverr, while others recommend you avoid them like the plague.
The truth is, the process is different for everyone. The issue lies in how full job-mill sites have become. Every gig you see will have at least 60 other bidders vying for it. So how does a budding professional find freelance writing work?
It’s simple: don’t rely on job listings. Sites like Upwork take advantage of freelancers who are willing to work for little to no pay. The payoff there isn’t even worth it.
Instead, you should start by relying on these three sources:
Freelancer’s Den. Started by Carol Rice, a full-time freelance writer, her website is wonderful for shaping wannabe writers into professionals. Freelancer’s Den also offers boot camps on how to write a pitch, cover letter, query, and so much more.
Contena. Light warning: this is a premium job board that filters only top-dollar jobs for you. However, just like Freelancer’s Den, there’s an academy dedicated to teaching you useful skills for your business, like negotiating fair prices with your clients, calculating your rate, etc.
LinkedIn. This website is another source of job listings that connects you with legitimate clients and legitimate job opportunities. It also can show you who has taken a look at your profile—and their profession. The site is designed for professional businesses, and your freelance services are no exception.
Subscribe to Newsletters
Newsletters are the best way to find unique work opportunities, bar none. I argue it’s better than job boards. Here’s why:
Newsletters offer a curated collection of writing opportunities, distilled from hundreds of tweets with calls for submissions. If you’re not getting responses from job listings––but you haven’t quite gotten used to navigating Twitter’s filters––then these newsletters are your next best option. They find exciting offers and give you direct links so you can see for yourself. All you have to do is know where to look:
The Practicing Writer. A free resource for writers that features writing exercises for subscribers, calls for submissions for literary journals, and announcements for contests.
Studyhall. A newsletter that announces calls for pitches for freelance writers and journalists. For $4/month, you have access to a subscriber-only forum, as well as a weekly Studyhall Digest update on industry news.
Sonia’s Opportunities of the Week. An organized, informative subscription newsletter that presents paid opportunities for writers, as well as advice from magazine editors that will improve your pitching process. A subscription costs $3/month.
Whether you’re a fiction writer or an experienced nonfiction freelancer, these subscription services are a goldmine of opportunities. They narrow down the search for you and find new possibilities in places you wouldn’t think to look.
Conclusion: Great Freelance Jobs for Writers Are Waiting for You!
Finding freelance work as a fiction writer gets harder as more and more writers are drawn to the idea of working online. Not only do you have to compete with thousands of other writers who want the same job, but you also have to sell your skills and brush up on your marketing tactics to get gigs. It’s not easy, but also not impossible.
Keep in mind that finding freelance work online requires casting your net wide. If you only look in Mediabistro for gigs but ignore Twitter, it’s just as bad as creating a website, then twiddling your thumbs as you wait for clients to bombard your email address with desperate pleas for your services.
It takes a balanced strategy to find remote work: you have to know where to look and what unique services and skills you can offer your clients. Start by establishing your website to present yourself and your talents; then create samples that make a watertight portfolio, pitch your ideas to blogs and magazines, and collect testimonials; look through job search sites like LinkedIn and Contena; and take advantage of social media and newsletters. Don’t marry yourself to the idea that there’s only one way of looking for work: as long as you’re an adaptive, persistent, and driven writer.