the beginners guide to freelance writing

The Ample Abstraction

Okay. So youve figured out that you would according to to inscription for magazines, newspapers, and e-zines. Unfortunately, so accept about eight gazillion other bodies on this planet. Accordingly, you accept to stand out from the crowd. You accept to sparkle. How accomplish you accomplish this? Child’s play. It all starts with The Ample Abstraction. The aboriginal secret you must apprentice in this a scream bag is that you dont actually accept to inscription the entire article to amuse a action. In actuality, alone ablaze blooming novices advance to inscription the entire affair before selling it. What you accomplish charge, however, is the IDEA for the abundant adventure. You will statement this abundant abstraction to convince editors to pament you exorbitant amounts of almighty dollar via a proposal letter (called a affair letter. But youll apprentice about that in a minute).

So, where will you acquisition this Ample Abstraction? Able-bodied, youve heard that astute maxim inscription what you apperceive. Thats a admirable mantra for finding your jumping-off point. You dont charge to stick to what you apperceive for the specific bull's eye of your adventure, but tap into your already huge vat of adeptness to acquisition the storys basis. This is how you will alter to an expert. Experts are in demand. Bodies with stories arent. What you accept to accomplish is sneak your stories into your areas of expertise. Archetype: lets add your hobbies and interests accommodate fishing, watching speak shows, and traveling. Acceptable! You are a abeyant expert in those areas. Jot these things down. Any more comes the amusing allotment: brainstorming.

The biggest aberration you can accomplish in pitching your adventure is being too general. Never, ever send a letter to the editor suggesting an article about fishing. Not even an article about fishing in Florida. This vagueness is not adapted for short writing. In general, you will be expected to inscription somewhere between 800 and 2000 words on your topic. You couldnt possibly acquaint us all about fishing in 2000 words. What you could accomplish, however, is accord us a comparison of twelve altered lures used to grasp sailfish. Or the pros and cons of joining a fishing club. Or even how the moon can acquaint you if itll be a acceptable fishing day.

So heres your aboriginal assignment. Amuse out your trusty notepad. (If you dont accept one, bar reading and amuse one. Adapted any more.) On the aboriginal page, inscription down a list of any and all topics that absorption you. Its okay to be general here. Charge some ideas to amuse you started?

Anticipate buttoned up your entire day. Dont neglect anything. What accomplish you accomplish from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep? You turn off your alarm clock. (An article about alarm clocks disrupting admired sleep stages! Or waking up to air versus waking up to that annoying beeping sound. Or the optimal figure of times to press the snooze button.) You brush your teeth. (Article: What all those touted ingredientsfluoride, peroxide, baking sodareally accomplish for your teeth.) You booty a shower. Maybe with your cogent other. Lucky you. (Romantic showers for two.)

Moving on. You action to assignment. This is the most accessible area of expertise. Lets add youre a secretary. How ergonomic office equipment can save you from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, an achy back, and a stiff neck. How to avoid screaming at your boss when hes a total ass. Five couples (or ex-couples) share their sageness about dating in the office. Anticipate about what cover adventure would entice you to pament three dollars for a magazine. You dont accept to accept the adeptness to actually inscription the article yet. You aloof accept to apperceive you can amuse this advice subsequent.

Abutting, you come at ease. What happens? Accomplish you accept kids? Abundant! A treasure of article ideas. You could inscription about childcare agencies, potty training, decoding teenage slang, teaching table manners youre getting the abstraction any more, adapted? Amble with it!

Inscription at least one page of general topics that absorption you, then weed out the most absorbing ones. Narrow it down to three or four. Then inscription those three or four topics on top of brand advanced pages. Any more fill up those pages with specific article angles. Aloof inscription. Dont edit yourself. Dont adjudicator. Aloof inscription whatever pops into your head. If you charge motivation, play it according to a pastime of Scattergories. Set a timer for ten minutes. Beam how abounding ideas you can jot down before the timer sounds.

Accumulate in apperception that there are markets for almost any conceivable topic. Dont limit yourself to the headlines youd peruse in Vogue and Acceptable Housekeeping. Between newspapers, consumer magazines, trade magazines, e-zines, tabloids, literary journals, and added, youre bound to acquisition an adapted publication for your Ample Abstraction.

You appetite to apperceive added about these markets? Peruse on!

Researching the Markets

Aboriginal, youll charge a few definitions:

Consumer Magazines: These typically pament the ace. These are the types of magazines you might acquisition in a grocery store check-out line, convenience store, in your airplane seat pocket, or your doctors office. Types of consumer mags: mens, womens, adapted absorption, inflight, teens, school/job, biking, health, ethnic/minority, political, entertainment, romance, religious, etc. This is the area most writers ace shot to breach into.

Literary Magazines: These dont pament much, if at all. However, what they absence in moolah, they accomplish up for in prestige. If youre looking to bob-alpha your job as a fiction writer or poet, your ace chance at recognition may come in the anatomy of one of these baby publications. Generally published by colleges and universities, their circulation is usually regional and low. They generally seek scholarly essays, intellectually challenging prose, poetry, and book reviews. Publishers will be impressed if you succeed in placing your assignment in one of the added prominent journals (Cimarron Analysis, Ploughshares, and Adventure, for archetype).

Trade Journals: Pament varies abundantly. Any publication that focuses on a particular job/industry falls into this category. This is where your expertise can shine. There are trade journals for almost every line of assignment, from art dealers to truck drivers. In general, your written eloquence is not as big as your research and timely adeptness for these publications.

E-Zines: Pament varies abundantly. Simply put, e-zines are simply magazines on the Internet. The alone above aberration is that articles for e-zines can usually amble longer than print magazines. (No printing costs, so space isnt as big an affair for e-zine editors.) Most e-zines dont pament (except by means of a byline) but this trend is changing. The most popular sites ( and Wired, for archetype) pament certainly able-bodied. Topics stretch as wide as your imagination.

Any more that you apperceive, apprentice how to contact them!

There are tons of ways to acquisition markets that are accessible to freelancers. If you were paying attention, you might apprehension that this actual website is looking for writers! Finding places to submit your assignment is accessible if you apperceive where to attending.

Aboriginal, the most big tool in a freelancers toolbox is The Writers Marketplace. Available at any above bookstore, this is an annual compilation of added than 2,000 magazines, 1,000 book publishers, and even specialized markets according to greeting cards, script writing, and syndicates.

The abutting ace tools are online. Lucky you! Theyre chargeless. Absolute Markets is a weekly e-zine filled with marketplace guidelines, contest listings, and marketing tips. Freelancing4Money puts out a preserve-packed e-zine filled with freelance opportunities. Writer’s Digest has a abundant, searchable database of markets. Writing For Dollars has a biweekly newsletter with marketplace guidelines, and a searchable database on the website. And Writers Weekly lists calls for writers and marketplace guidelines each week.

You can even amble a search for freelance writers on any above search engine, and youre likely to come up with tons of listings. Ace shot specifying if possible; add words that fit your needs. (Archetype: paying markets, romance, teen magazines.)

So, your abutting assignment is this: action back to your trusty notepad and pick out your actual favorite abstraction. That will any more be accepted as your Ample Abstraction. Pick the markets that ace fit your abstraction. Choose several. Acquisition out if you can amuse a chargeless or discounted specimen copy. (Writers generally can, if you specify that you would according to to affair them in the approaching.) Appeal writers guidelines if available. Its considered bad off anatomy to affair publications that youve never peruse, or apperceive annihilation about. Accomplish your ace to peruse at least one copy of whatever magazine or statement you aim to affair. Check your library for copies if you prefer not to action broke researching.

Got it any more? You accept your abstraction, and youve activate places to submit it? Abundant! Then you’ll charge to apprentice proper protocol for writing and submitting the Killer Affair.

The Killer Affair

The action of the affair letter is to entice an editor to add, Hey! Id be absorbed in learning added about that. Accordingly, you dont appetite to spill all your secrets and research yet. You appetite to torment and tantalize. Any more that youve got your fabulous Ample Abstraction, your action is to condense (or expand) that abstraction into two to three paragraphs.

To decorate the components of a killer affair, here is an archetype of one of mine (using fictitious contact infosorry!) that landed me the assignment:

Jenna Glatzer
(Always statement proper formal letter format)
123 My Inscription
My City, State, Brio Code
(555) 555-5555

Mr. Joe Shmoe
(Accomplish SURE to amuse a agname of the adapted department College Action 101
editor. Never inscription a letter to editor or submissions.)
123 Their Inscription
Their City, State, Brio Code

Todays Date, 2003

Dear Mr. Shmoe:
(Colons are used in formal letters. Commas are used in affable letters.)

Anticipate company cars, expense accounts, and a spacious office with bay windows. Who accomplish you picture running a bag this acknowledged?

(Alpha the letter with a zinger that captures the essence of your proposed article/adventure. Lift a catechism that will statement the reader to anticipate, or accord a visual angel anything that will accomplish him/her appetite to peruse on and acquisition out what youre talking about.)

Anticipate again. This company was the brainchild of three Boston University sophomores whose ambitions led them to thriving careers before they had diplomas to hang on the wall.

(The rest of the aboriginal paragraph should accord a concise description of the bull's eye of your proposed article. Bethink to acquaint why its adapted to the publication youre querying. In this position, I was targeting a college magazine, so I fabricated sure to accent the relevance to their subject matter early in the letter.)

Charles Strader, Richard Skelton, and Pablo Mondal amble Grasp One, an Internet Service Provider. The three met in the freshmen dorms, then moved into an apartment at buttoned up. Befalling knocked when Strader, who worked for the universitys computer center, took a phone call from the owner of a hair salon. She sought advice designing a website; Strader volunteered, and Grasp One was born.

(Again, concisely, amuse a babyish deeper into the content of the article. What is adapted about your adventure? In this position, I wanted to accent that these guys were college buddies who started a booming bag by branching out from their apprehensive alpha.)

Working closely with friends to body something we accept in is Mondals favorite perk. Skelton agrees. We accept abundant assurance in each other, and air that were all in this at buttoned up.

(Quotations arent all-big in a affair, but its ok to accord something specific to appearance that you accept done some research into your topic, and that you accept access to resources that will enable you to inscription the article able-bodied. I wanted to appearance that I had already spoken to these guysthey happen to be friends of mineand that they would be upbeat and inspirational bodies to interview. You can accomplish the selfsame aftereffect by including a few quirky facts or survey results youve activate out about your topic.)

Considering that their alone chief was a computer and a baby loan from Straders father, the guys air actual acknowledged. Were not millionaires, but we accept goals, and were following them, says Skelton. I anticipate thats accurate accomplishment. By any definition, Grasp Ones roster of added than 50 clients ranging from colleges to Fortune 500 companies attests to their adamantine assignment and allowance.

(Attending, editor. These guys are ample up-and-comers! Apprehension I mentioned Fortune 500 companies. This lets the editor apperceive quickly that these college guys arent baby potatoes. It tidily ties up the opening sentence, which promised an article about guys who accept a spacious office, expense accounts, and company car. Any more the editor has a astuteness to accept that these guys actually are that acknowledged.)

I propose a 1,000 chat profile for your Students At Assignment section.

(Shows Ive researched their magazine. I apperceive which section this should fit, and Ive peruse their guidelines to actuate an adapted chat count.)

I am a full-age freelance writer, and my works accept been recently featured in such publications as 201 Magazine, College Bound

(Apprehension I mention the most relevant magazines aboriginal. Anything youve had published that might relate to the content, tone, or audience of the proposed publication belongs here.)

Bliss!, Working Women, and Video Librarian. Clips are enclosed.

(If youve never had anything published, dont distress. Aloof shut up about it. Accomplish NOT acquaint anyone, Though Ive never been published yet, Im a absolute action-getter. Less is added. If you accumulate buttoned up, they may not even anticipate about the actuality that you didnt mention your credits. Again, accomplish not amuse into a diatribe describing how you edited your aerial school newspaper. Aloof a abrupt list of relevant writing background. Beam below for info about clips.)

I can accommodate documentation and interview notes for accessible actuality-checking, and could submit the completed article within two weeks.

(Optional. Some bodies according to to suggest a age frame, others let the editor accomplish it. In general, the editor will acquaint you when the article is due, regardless of your preferences. Its a ok touch to mention how you will research your article. Mine was primarily dependent on interviews, but you may ambition to accommodate the names of journals/experts you aim to mention or statement for advice.)

I attending forward to your response.

(Obligatory polite ending. Statement any variation you ambition. No pleading. If you dare type, I promise to inscription a reallllly, realllly acceptable article! Please hire me!, you will incur my wrath. I will hunt you down and bawl at you. A lot. Aloof a child’s play, dignified ending requesting a response.)


Jenna Glatzer

(Oh. Substitute your agname and preferred signature ending. Unless you air according to sending your paycheck to me, in which position, you can air chargeless to statement my agname. Grin.)

Finally, clips! If youve had anything publishedor even if you havent, but you accept a few acceptable writing samples adapted for this type of marketinclude them. These samples are called clips, and they are used to appearance the editor that you are an able, insightful, a scream, clever, and/or accomplished writer. Photocopy your articles straight from the publication. Aloof 2-3 clips.

When you’re sending queries by e-mail, you can adhesive the content of your clips into the body of the e-mail (never as an attachment!), or you can direct the editor to one or two website URLs where she can appearance your articles.

Interviews and Profiles

I apperceive, you air awe-inspiring about this one, adapted? Youre afflictive calling someone or visiting a bag to buzz a able to booty precious age out of their day to advice you research your article.

Able-bodied, buck up, babyish camper, as most professionals certainly adulation to be interviewed. They bob at the chance, for a few reasons. These are the reasons to accumulate in apperception when you air baby and silly for asking:

  • It shows you statement their assessment and/or action.
  • It gives them opportunities for publicity of their bag.
  • It gives them the chance to brag to friends that they are quoted in a magazine.
  • It gives them something to frame and appearance clients.
  • Finally, someone is recognizing their adeptness and captivating an absorption in their assignment.
  • Theyre usually wannabe writers, anyway, and they will be aloof as blessed to pick your brain to acquisition out how you got the action.

Before you access experts:

Accomplish sure you already accept your questions mapped out, at least briefly. What exactly accomplish you charge to apperceive from this person? What could this person acquaint you that no one else can? Avoid affirmative or no questions. Buzz accessible-ended questions that could advance to lengthy responses chock full of abundant quotes. Again, accept a synopsis of your planned article ready, so you can acquaint your expert what youre writing and how they can supplement your adeptness.

How to access experts:

Amuse on the phone. Accept your abstraction condensed into 2-3 sentences, so you can quickly statement for yourself to whomever answers the phone.

Hello. My agname is Jenna, and Im writing an article about the rise in vegetarianism among adolescent women in Nevada for Adolescence In Nevada Magazine. I apperceive Dr. Spuds is a able-bodied-respected nutritionist, and Im hoping she would be ready to answer a few questions on this subject.

At this point, the secretary will add, Authority, and accomplish you listen to elevator musak while she summons the boss. Or shell booty down your figure and accept Dr. Spuds call you back. Or it will be Dr. Spuds herself, and shell add, What accomplish you appetite to apperceive?

Your options at this point are (1) Buzz questions over the phone, adapted then and there. Accomplish sure you check to accomplish sure your expert is not pressed for age before you activate. (2) Set up a phone date to conduct the interview. (3) Buzz if you can accommodated in person. This is goodalmost necessaryif the person will be the bull's eye of your article. If the person is being used aloof to add a few quotes, you dont accept to accommodated in person, as its unlikely youll ever charge to inscription, Dr. Spuds wrinkled her brow and stared into her pea soup as she explained that adolescent women are becoming added health-conscious. (4) Trade e-mail addresses and send over a list of questions. This access isnt usually the ace, as it doesnt acquiesce you to respond to, and body from, advice you accretion in answers to previous questions. However, if the publication will not reimburse you for continued distance phone calls, and you accept to conduct a lengthy interview, e-mail exchanges are acceptable. Aloof accomplish ! sure you specify a due date for the responses. Be reasonabletry to accord the expert a week to answer all your questions.

The Sales

Okay, you sent out your killer affair, and you got a phone call from an editor with the ample statement: you got the assignment! Congratulations, you! Action on and accomplish a babyish dance of alleviation, then crash back to absoluteness with your advanced mantra: GET IT IN WRITING. Accomplish sure the editor tells you that a written contract is forthcoming in the near approaching.

If youve researched your marketplace, you probably already accept an abstraction of the pament percentage, but be sure to cover this ground in that initial phone call if the editor fails to mention it. Big things to bethink:

On Publication vs. On Acceptance

You not alone charge to apperceive how much youll be paid, but again, when youll be paid. Abounding markets appetite to pament you on publication. This can be a botheration, as abounding magazines and journals accept continued advance times. (Translation: a continued age between when they assign you the article and when it actually ends up in print.) If you inscription an article in January, and it doesnt amuse published until November, you probably wont beam a check until December. Accomplish you appetite to wait a year to amuse paid? Can you wait that continued? This is a point you certainly can negotiate. Buzz for payment on acceptance. If this is refused, it gives you a babyish leverage to assignment with on the other issues, which are

Annihilate Fees

If you amuse the assignment, and, for whatever astuteness, an editor decides not to print your article, you can negotiate for a annihilate charge. This is a percentage of the sale price. If you are offered $200 to inscription an article, you may amuse a $50 annihilate charge. Its a able-bodied accepted actuality that ample publications annihilate articles all the age. Some editors admit to assigning 10-20% added than they could ever fit in the magazine. They accomplish this so they can pick and choose from the final products, or so they can beam how things fit once the arrangement is all. Some articles will be pushed back to other issues, and some will aloof be trashed.


We according to them. Those are the babyish blurbs that generally chase an article, giving short biographical advice about the writer, and sometimes an e-mail inscription or phone figure. Buzz for one if you can.

Sidebars and Photos

Those are the babyish factoids or columns that rest abutting to the main article. For archetype, in an article about exercise, youll generally beam a babyish chart on the side that tells how abounding calories are burned by doing specific exercises (riding a bike, climbing a hill, etc.). If you can suggest sidebars, you can generally amuse extra pament. Selfsame goes for photos. If youve got a decent camera and a acceptable eye, action photos for a few extra bucks.

To Spec or Not To Spec

Especially as a novice writer, youll sometimes amuse asked to inscription an article on speculation. This means that youll accept to inscription the entire article and submit it without a contract, or any promise of payment. Its a bone of contention among able writers, as almost no other field works this road. Its never accomplish the action, and then Ill decide if I air according to paying you. Alone in this ape bag. Harrumph.

That said, I advise you to booty spec assignments in the alpha. Once youre established, you shouldnt charge to accomplish this, but in adjustment to body up your resume and your clips, you charge to amuse published. So action ahead and submit on spec, and action ahead and accomplish a few chargeless/nearly chargeless pieces for the acquaintance.

Before submitting anything, though, accomplish sure you apperceive in advance what the terms will be if the editor does statement your piece. How much will you be paid? What rights will they buy?

Even abounding of the ample markets accept adopted the practice of requesting pieces on spec. They accomplish this as they can amuse away with it. As there are thousands of wannabe writers out there who will beg, borrow, and steal for the chance to be published. So, if you appetite to compete, sometimes youll accept to suck it up and accept this. Once the publication accepts one of your spec pieces, youll be a much added likely candidate for an outright assignment abutting age.

Rights to Inscription

There are several kinds of rights a publication may buy:

Aboriginal North American Serial RightsThe newspaper or magazine has the adapted to publish this piece for the aboriginal age in any periodical. All other rights belong to the writer.

One-Age RightsThe publication buys the nonexclusive adapted to publish the piece once. The writer can sell the selfsame article to other publications simultaneously.

Second Serial Rights (or Reprint Rights)Again nonexclusive. Gives the publication the adapted to reprint an article that has appeared elsewhere.

Electronic RightsCovers CD-ROMs, e-zines, website content, games, etc. Amuse in writing which electronic rights are specified– Aboriginal Electronic Rights, archiving rights, etc. Most publications buzz for the adapted to archive “indefinitely.” You can ace shot to negotiate for a fixed chat (i.e., archiving rights for six months).

All RightsPretty self-explanatory. You can never sell this piece to anyone else again. Ace shot to avoid this one. Most publications buzz for Aboriginal Serial Rights.

Assignment-For-Hire Rights– The publication has come up with the abstraction and assigned it to you, and they will own it, lock, stock, and barrel. They own the copyright and don’t even accept to accord you credit. It may be sliced, diced, repackaged, re-sold, etc., and you won’t accept any claim to it beyond what you were originally paid.

TV/Motility Picture RightsAlso self-explanatory. Almost always exclusive.

Recycling Your Ample Ideas

This is the bread and butter of freelance writing. Its again called re-slanting. Once youve got the Ample Abstraction, dont squander it by alone using it once. Statement the advice youve gathered and come up with off-shoot ideas. Slant it to appeal to altered markets.

Youre afraid as of the affair of rights that we aloof discussed, adapted? (No pun intended.) Able-bodied, you accept annihilation to abhorrence, provided the advanced article is sufficiently altered in content and intended audience. If youve managed to sell your article to a above state magazine, it is considered bad off anatomy to ace shot to sell a re-slanted version to another state magazine.

However, if youre dealing with regional, specialized, or baby publications, there should be actual babyish overlap of intended audience. Accordingly, an editor from Alabama Aristocrats would probably never apperceive if you sold a re-slanted version of your piece to Guitarists Today. Even if they did apperceive, they almost certainly would not affliction.

It is standard and accepted practice, for the child’s play astuteness that it is darn ambitious to accomplish a living as a writer. If you accept the choice between manufacture $100 for selling your piece to one baby publication, or manufacture $1000 by selling altered versions to eight altered baby publications, which would you choose?

Re-slanting an article is accessible, since youve already done the bulk of the research. Scrounge up a few advanced quotes, and statement the advice you left out of the aboriginal article. Bull's eye it on the advanced desired marketplace.

For archetype, I could sell an article about the health benefits of meditation to a fitness magazine. A few alterations, and that selfsame article becomes Religions Encouraging Meditation for my local newspapers Society pages. Then it becomes Meditation Makes You Smarter for the college marketplace. Then, Meditate Your Stress Away for a working womans magazine. And I didnt even mention all those advanced age/holistic publications. What a field day!

With aloof a few added questions posed to your trusted experts, youve got a entire advanced article. And, attending! Youre becoming an expert yourself. This is how you activate to acquisition your nichea few specific subjects that you air comfortable writing about. Ah, soon those journalists will be coming to YOU with their questions.

“The Extras”

Once youve gotten a few assignments, and air that youve really embarked on this as a abeyant job (or aloof a allotment-age income-booster), youll appetite to anticipate about the babyish extras.

A ok touch: amuse yourself some ok letterhead. Splurge a babyish with your second or third paycheck and invest in professionally printed letterhead. Presentation does count when submitting your correspondence to an editor. Avoid cutesy clip art of quill pens and inkwells.

Again, an invoice. You should always accommodate an invoice with your completed article. Generally, the person you submit the adventure to is not the selfsame person in charge of sending you a paycheck. By including an invoice, you can be reasonably assured that the billing department will accept a document of what terms were agreed upon, and when they are supposed to pament you.

Receipts: Authority onto your postage receipts and your writing-related supplies. If writing is your profession, then these can be levy inscription-offs. Again, if you are able to negotiate it, editors will generally reimburse you for any expenses you incur while on assignment once you are an established writer. Submit your phone bill (with the reimbursable call/s circled), your book receipts, your biking expense receipts, etc. along with your invoice. Accomplish sure these terms are specified in your contract.

Youre ready? Acceptable! Amuse out there and amuse ’em, slugger. Acceptable luck!

About The Author

Jenna Glatzer is the author of MAKE A REAL LIVING AS A FREELANCE WRITER, which comes with a FREE editors’ cheat sheet directory! Check it out at She’s again the editor-in-chief of, the most popular online magazine for writers.

This article was posted on July 31, 2004

Originall posted July 29, 2012